A Week In Football – Sunderland’s miracle escape marred by ineligible player controversy

Given recent results, it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that Sunderland were able to steal a result against Manchester United. However, with all the positivity surround Old Trafford since the departure of Moyes and the appointment of Giggs, the Red Devils were widely expected to notch a win. United’s win against Norwich came from a much improved performance, the loss to Sunderland marked a massive step back.  Possession statistics constitute the only impressive aspect of the Red’ s day. Most culpable once again was the centre of United’s midfield, with Fletcher and Carrick ineptly combining to hand Sunderland the lead. It was perhaps inevitable after his goals against Cardiff, Manchester City and Chelsea that that the rejuvenated Connor Wickham would play a role in any success had by the Black Cats at Old Trafford. It was his cross that Fletcher failed to close down; a good delivery which was tapped home by Sebastian Larsson. The Swede’s run was not tracked by the particularly Michael Carrick, and United were perhaps lucky that the scoring stopped there, as Sunderland hit the woodwork three times.

On the same day that Sunderland effectively secures safety, Cardiff and Fulham suffered the pain of relegation. Inconsistent recent form had given both sides a small glimmer of hope just a couple of weeks ago, but brief highs failed to arrest either of the teams’ catastrophic slides. They look certain to be joined in the Championship by Norwich City whose disastrous final run in shows no signs of getting any better for the Canaries. Considering the remarkable manner in which Gus Poyet’s men have lifted themselves off of the foot of the table, arguably the relegated sides can have no complaints and must accept that the better side has earned another year in the top flight. However, if Norwich do as expected and remain in the bottom three come the end of the season, they will almost certainly take legal action against Sunderland.

The controversy comes from the Black Cats having fielded an ineligible player. The Dortmund bound Ji Dong Won played illegally on four Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but their offence was largely kept hush by the FA and only a fine was handed out as punishment. Ji did not have international clearance following his return from a loan spell at Ausburg, a simple misunderstanding, but one that has been severely punished when made by teams such as Altringham and Wimbledon in the lower leagues. Sunderland will doubtless point out that they gained only one point in the league during the matches which Ji featured in; the relegated sides will argue that is hardly the point. By the letter of the law, in addition to their fine, Sunderland should have been docked the point which they accrued whilst fielding the ineligible player.

Whilst they were bottom, little fuss was made that this deduction was not enforced. Now that the Black Cats look to have pulled off the improbable and clawed themselves across the line, the likes of Norwich will certainly cry foul play. Sat two points behind Sunderland having played a match more, it is very likely that the Canaries will finish more than a point adrift anyway, and regardless, it is unlikely anything will come of their legal action. It is just a shame then that a wonderful run to survival will be marred over such a petty dispute.

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