x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Bent rises above mediocrity

Sam Allardyce, Pascal Chimbonda and El-Hadji Diouf barely merit a footnote in Sunderland's story, but each made a decisive contribution to thwart Blackburn.

While mentions of the ghost of Christmas past abound at this time of year, Sunderland were disturbed by three figures who emerged from the shadows of their history. Sam Allardyce, Pascal Chimbonda and El-Hadji Diouf barely merit a footnote in Sunderland's story, but each made a decisive contribution to thwart his former employers yesterday. Blackburn trailed 2-1 when Allardyce, a former player and coach on Wearside, made a triple substitution. Then Chimbonda, who had an ineffectual spell as a Black Cat last season, crossed. Rising highest was one of those replacements, Diouf, a teammate of the defender's at the Stadium of Light, to head in emphatically against his former club.

"We've been frustrated over the last four or five weeks," said Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager. Irritation had come from results during a run of seven games without a victory. Eight injuries and the suspension of Michael Turner became another source of annoyance before Diouf denied a makeshift side a win. "I'm delighted they've taken something. Three of [Saturday's side] have fallen to bits in the last 48 hours."

Indeed, they were depleted but not defeated. After five successive away defeats, a point was gained courtesy of a rare survivor from Bruce's first-choice team. Darren Bent's brace took his tally to 13 Premier League goals. His first ranked among the scrappiest of the season: after Paul Robinson parried, four men flung themselves at the ball and Gael Givet's attempted clearance struck Bent's thigh before he pounced.

The second was altogether smoother, as Sunderland's record buy met Jordan Henderson's perceptive pass with a precisely-placed shot. "He has done terrifically well," added Bruce. "The kid is a breath of fresh air. He wants to play for Sunderland and he has had a wonderful start to his career for us." "Give us a 13-goal striker like Darren Bent and we'd probably be sat about eighth in the league," lamented Sam Allardyce.

Instead they languish in the lower half of the table and are without a win since November 7. However, they displayed the resourcefulness to level twice. First Morten Gamst Pedersen slalomed inside the sliding pair of Phil Bardsley and Nyron Nosworthy to drill in a shot. Then Diouf, another out-of-form winger, struck four minutes into his cameo. "Too many of our players haven't lived up to their reputations regularly enough," said Allardyce. "That's been our problem."

A reputation for attacking impotence was almost cast aside. Diouf's header meant Blackburn, scorers of just two goals in their previous seven games, had as many in 25 minutes. Displaying their new-found potency, a third almost arrived, with Marton Fulop brilliantly saving Ryan Nelsen's header and Christopher Samba stabbing the rebound wide. The drama came in contrast to the tedium that preceded it. "The first half was possibly the worst game of football I have ever witnessed," said Bruce. Man of the match: Keith Andrews (Blackburn) @Email:rjolly@thenational.ae