The Fletcher goal apart, and a failed attempt to connect on a wicked cross into our box, Sunderland offered little in the way of an offensive threat, and, for the most part, parked the bus and challenged us to score. And on another day, with more luck and Carroll playing, we would have hit three, four or five.
I said at half time that Nolan would take a chance sooner or later, and boy did he take his second half opportunity well. In the first half two efforts screwed wide and another forced a brilliant save. This half, with time ticking down, he dropped his shoulder superbly and smashed home a wonderful volley. People scoffed when I said he should have been in Woy's England squad, and West Ham fans howled in protest when I claimed he was a more deserving winner of player of the season than Parker two seasons back, but this goal showed what he brings to the table. If we stay up, and we look good enough to do so on this showing, Nolan will be a key factor.
And so will Noble. Once again he was the hub of the team, delivering diagonal ball after diagonal ball into the final third of the Sunderland defence creating opportunity after opportunity. Get Carroll on the end of those passes and opposition defences will be at sixes and sevens, just as ours was when Carroll and Nolan killed us off at Upton Park when Newcastle stole a victory two seasons back. Noble will not be credited with the assist for Nolan's goal, but it was his delivery that caused the initial panic, delivering to a clearly predetermined Allardyce game plan. And how many times should we have scored from Noble's corners? Time and again he found West Ham heads only for chances to be missed, the Collins header that thumped against the bar summing up Sunderland's good fortune and our bad luck.
First half, Vaz Te, Cole and Nolan all wasted good opportunities to score and Nolan forced a World Class save from an even better volley than the one that hit the back of the net. Second half, the pattern repeated, with Vaz Te failing to connect properly on the edge of the six yard box, Benayoun missing a wonderful Jarvis cross because of a touch off Bramble's head and Collins thumping a header against the bar. Time and again we battered at the door and had we failed to equalise, it would have been a terrible injustice.
Indeed, such was our superiority that, for once, the crowd remained 100% behind the team, roaring them forward and only expressing frustration at the officials and Sunderland's time wasting tactics. Overall, we looked impressive when we had the ball, and when we didn't, Noble and Diame harried and chased and pressed a high line, and Nolan did a similar job on the edge of the final third.
The big question must be why Allardyce did not start Jarvis. The guy looked electric when he came on, transforming us down the left. The only explanation is that Doctor Evil does not rate O'Brien at left back and so wants Taylor to protect him - quite rightly perhaps but you then have to ask why he didn't hunt down a proper left back in the summer. This position has been an Achilles heel for two long and it could yet prove an expensive oversight again. Two O'Brien headers set up half chances for Sunderland and he was nowhere to be seen when Vaughan failed to get on the end of that cross. That said, he looked reasonable going forward and forced a tidy save with a driven shot from outside the box.
We wanted more than a point but O'Neill teams are hard to beat when set up to defend, and with more luck, we would have won this comfortably. Give Jarvis a start and get Carroll fit, and this team will offer a threat to any defence. The problem remains our defence which looks vulnerable, despite impressive performances from both Reid and Demel.
Player ratings: Jussi 5, Demel 7, Collins 5, Reid 7, O'Brien 5; Noble 7, Diame 6; Vaz Te 5, Nolan 9, Taylor 6; Cole 4. Subs: Benayoun 6, Jarvis 8, Maiga 5