Sunderland 0 Tottenham 0

First published in Sunderland Durham Times: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

IF a goalkeeper can instantly recall how many saves he had to make during a match then he has not had the busiest of afternoons.

And if he can remember the number of crosses he has had to come and gather as well, he must have been a mere bystander.

The fact Belgian shot-stopper Simon Mignolet could do both after Tottenham's visit to the Stadium of Light highlighted how often he was tested. Given his easy outing was against a team boasting an array of internationally renowned attacking talent, his lack of activity was quite satisfying for him.

Tottenham, desperate to retain the Champions League place they have held for much of the season, lacked invention and purpose in the Sunderland half.

Even with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart in their starting line-up, Martin O'Neill ensured Sunderland were set up to annoy. It was an effective tactic, certainly defensively, and got right up Harry Redknapp's nose.

The counter-attacking system which had operated so well at Manchester City seven days earlier may not have quite gained similar rewards in an attacking sense, but Spurs' creative talents had nowhere to turn.

There were attempts on goal, more often than not Tottenham found it impossible to test Mignolet because of the wall of red and white the defenders in front of him.

After Benoit Assou-Ekotto had shaved the upright from 25 yards with a half volley early on, Sunderland's goalkeeper had to get down low to gather a routine drive from Modric. That was pretty much Mignolet's afternoon.

So much so, he could have cracked open the Easter eggs on his line and waited for the final whistle. “I only had one save to make and it wasn't really a save. Apart from that I took two crosses,” said Mignolet.

In fairness the manner of Sunderland's defending was excellent. In Matt Kilgallon, seven days after thwarting Manchester City's advances before going off with cramp, O'Neill has found a defender clearly intent on making the most of his latest chance.

When Wes Brown and John O'Shea followed Titus Bramble on the sidelines there must have been reservations about who to play at the heart of the defence. In Kilgallon, O'Neill has found a defender hungry to prove he belongs on the Premier League stage.

Alongside Michael Turner, for the second week in a row, the central defensive pairing combined to keep out some of the best attacking talents in the Premier League. That was not lost on the man behind them.

“The defence did their job again. They did what they had to do,” said Mignolet. “We can't be happier than that. You don't think of it in terms of the attacking players you are up against, but Tottenham are a big team so you expect them to create chances.

“It helps to have big competition in the squad. When everyone is fit, we have a very decent team. When someone gets injured, somebody else steps in and does a good job. Matthew and Turner have done that. You can only be pleased with the manner in which they have responded when they have been asked to play.

“But it is not only the defenders doing well. The whole team is doing very well. If the players can keep the ball further forward it makes the job of defending a lot easier. We did what we had to do.”

Only Manchester United and Manchester City have claimed more points than Sunderland in the period of 18 matches since O'Neill took over from Steve Bruce at the beginning of December.

And while Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel was never significantly tested either, there were enough passages of play moving forward to suggest Sunderland could actually have claimed all three points.

But during a game best summed up by a comical second half 30-second spell in which Lee Cattermole, Scott Parker, Stephane Sessegnon and van der Vaart all failed to find their own men with routine passes, a point was probably the fairest outcome.

It perhaps would have been worse for Sunderland had Craig Gardner, switched to right-back after the departure of Phil Bardsley with a groin problem, not made a crunching last-man tackle on Bale in stoppage time.

As things stand Sunderland could climb to the seventh place they crave if they return from Everton this afternoon with sweet revenge for the FA Cup quarter-final replay defeat almost a fortnight ago.

“You can do one of two things after being knocked out of the FA Cup. You can let the season go and start to think about holidays, or on the other hand there's still lots to play for,” said Mignolet.

“We can still finish seventh or eighth. We are looking forward to that. That's the thing we want to achieve. Everyone was disappointed when we got beat by Everton. We all wanted to go to Wembley, but that's behind us.” Sunderland, despite a pretty lame goalless draw, continue onwards and upwards.

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