TONY Mowbray dragged himself out of his sick bed but Sunderland’s below-par display in their home defeat to Huddersfield Town on Wednesday night must have made their boss feel even worse.
Mowbray was absent from Sunderland’s training ground on Tuesday because of a nasty chest infection but braved the freezing conditions to take up his usual position in the home dugout for the visit of the Terriers. But what he saw was the worst home display of the season as Sunderland slumped to a miserable defeat to a Huddersfield team that had won just one of their previous 11 games and headed for Wearside just a place and three points above the relegation zone.
Sunderland paid the price for a sluggish start when they fell behind to Michal Helik’s opener but Luke O’Nien’s leveller five minutes before the break should have been the springboard for a much-improved second half display. They were indeed better after the break but failed to take their chances and were stunned when the visitors scored what proved to be the winner through striker Delano Burgzorg midway through the second period.
On the subject of strikers, the wait for a goal from a Sunderland frontman goes on. Eliezer Mayenda was handed his first start after some impressive cameos from the bench and while the teenager was bright and full of running, he never looked like scoring. That was mainly down to a lack of invention from those tasked with creating chances. Yes, Sunderland had their moments – enough to have won the game – but the home side were poor.
While Mayenda and Adil Aouchiche were brought into the team to create and score goals, it was defender Jenson Seelt, also handed a start at right-back, who had more of an impact in the opposition box. He created Sunderland’s equaliser and had a glorious chance to score himself.
After the Plymouth defeat on Saturday, this was another missed opportunity for Sunderland.
The Black Cats were frustrated by Huddersfield in a home draw at the back end of last season but that was when the Terriers were managed by Neil Warnock and had surged to unlikely survival.
Staying up is again the aim for Town. Warnock walked in September and has since been replaced by Darren Moore but the former Sheffield Wednesday boss has found life tough at the John Smith’s Stadium and his side headed for Wearside woefully out of form.
They did, however, scramble to a point against Southampton at the weekend and after their late goal against the Saints should have been celebrating early against Sunderland.
Just nine seconds were on the clock when goalkeeper Anthony Patterson was forced to smother a loose ball after momentary penalty box confusion and the game wasn’t even five minutes old when Sunderland needed their keeper to come to the rescue again, this time saving well at the feet of the unmarked Jaheim Headley, who was picked out by Josh Koroma.
Sunderland had more than 80% of possession in the opening quarter of an hour but it was Huddersfield who posed the greater goal threat. Burgzorg broke in behind the home defence on the counter attack and hit Patterson’s side netting.
For all Sunderland were hogging the ball, it took almost 25 minutes for them to muster their first shot on target, a speculative effort from Aouchiche from distance that was easily saved by Chris Maxwell. The home fans aired some frustration and an exasperated Mowbray stood with his arms outstretched in the dugout when Luke O’Nien slowed the game to walking pace. The moans weren’t aimed at the defender, rather the lack of movement and options in front.
Frustration very quickly deepened when Town opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark. Sorba Thomas’s corner from the left was nodded back across goal by Tom Lees and his fellow defender Helik bundled the ball over the line at the back post.
Sunderland’s much-needed leveller five minutes before the break wasn’t too dissimilar. Roberts’ free-kick from the right was deep but Hume kept it alive with a header back across goal for Seelt to nod it into the path of O’Nien, who couldn’t miss from close range.
After Seelt’s assist for the leveller, the defender had a glorious chance to get on the scoresheet himself just two minutes into the second half when the Dutch defender met a corner from the right at the front post, but his effort was off target.
Bellingham had a great chance on the hour mark when he broke beyond the Huddersfield defence but was denied by Maxwell and the visiting keeper frustrated the Black Cats again three minutes later when a dipping Hume strike from distance was turned around the post.
Huddersfield barely left their own half after the break, never mind threatened to score, but completely against the run of play the visitors got themselves back in front. Headley charged forward on the counter and when he was tackled the loose ball fell into the path of Burgzorg, who fired a low drive into the far corner.
Mowbray responded with a quadruple change, introducing Abdoullah Ba, Bradley Dack, Hemir and Alex Pritchard and the latter stung the hands of Maxwell with a free-kick. Mason Burstow was the next attacker called from the bench but, aside from a penalty shout in stoppage time, Sunderland couldn’t fashion any late chances.