Sunderland 08/13/11: The Proverbial Game of Two Halves

So. This marks my first official foray into football journalism, if I am qualified to call it that. The alternative name would just be rambling about the team that I follow like a madman week in, week out. Either way, it’s the start of my new project, one that I’ll be keeping up with every week this football season. Very ambitious.

Just like the project that’s going on at the magnificently-sponsored Etihad Stadium, whose bloated coffers are bringing in a terrifyingly effective Sergio Aguero. Or our own Kenny Dalglish’s project here at Anfield. Oh, didn’t you see that coming.

Speaking of which, you know what Luis Suarez didn’t see coming? Kieran Richardson’s tug from behind on 5 minutes. And what Kieran Richardson didn’t see coming? A yellow card instead of a red for a professional foul. And what I didn’t see coming? All the above, plus El Sua’s talent for emulating Steven Gerrard at shooting down clay pigeons from the pitch. Pssst, Luis, that ad was not entirely real.

Let me go off on a tangent here and posit this thoughtful question: why was Charlie Adam not in charge of that penalty kick? I presume he was brought here for his dead ball skills, and a penalty kick is a dead ball situation. The (variable) pecking order for PKs should be Gerrard, Kuyt, Adam. I still hold fond memories of the tail-end of the 08-09 season, where we seemed to score within the opening 10 minutes in every single match. When we got that PK in the 5th minute, I had a brief, pleasant sense of déjà vu. Alas.

Well, I suppose notching the first goal on 11” kind of makes up for that. Mr. Deadball doing what he does best, being in charge of dead balls, and Mr. Suarez picking up those great little pockets of space. A great combination. Of course, we would go on to see plenty of good combination plays and confident, flowing football in the first half, which was a pleasant surprise, given the minimal amount of time that these players have had together. We saw Stewart Downing slalom his way from the halfway line and hit the bar. A couple of decent long-range hits from Charlie Adam. Good link-up play between Downing and Jose Enrique. Quick, assured passing from the midfield.

And then half-time happened. Somewhere in that dressing room, some memories, collective and individual, were lost. We forgot that we were playing at Anfield, not the Stadium of Light. John Flanagan forgot that he has a far more accomplished predecessor (Martin Kelly) and an England international (Glen Johnson) in front of him at right-back. Jordan Henderson forgot that he is a ways away from being the big-game, consistent workhorse that is Dirk Kuyt. Stewart Downing forgot that his main job as a winger, be it left or right, is not to disappear from the match entirely. Andy Carroll forgot that he was capable of producing such great finishes as the one that got chalked off in the first half. Or, God forbid, Kenny Dalglish forgot all of the above.

Now, I recognize that Kenny is widely regarded as our best ever player, and that our last league title came under him. I think it’s an appropriate time to announce that I only truly started following us when Rafa Benitez came in. I am a huge Rafa fan. To me, just like Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish will need to prove himself as manager. He’s had us produce some scintillating stuff at times, but if we are ever going to get back in the top four, we need to reproduce that on a weekly basis. There will come a time when I comment on his transfer policy, not in the least because the new guys have only had so much time together.

But our season opener, while offering plenty of good moments in the first half, showed our Mr. Hyde in the second. Without European football this season, there will be no escaping the spotlight. We will need, and we are looking forward to, more of the same, Kenny. Just please make it the pass-and-move from the first half, not the non-existent second.

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