With John Terry and Rio Ferdinand both looking uncertainly at their futures as age and injury begin to take their toll, two much criticised central defenders who would hardly have been in the thoughts of England fans until now and who would probably bring any England manager who dared pick them far more criticism even than the recent choices of Kevin Davies and Shaun Wright-Phillips in Fabio Capello’s most recent England squad, have both been enjoying a renaissance in their club football so far this season. I speak, somewhat unexpectedly, of Sunderland’s Titus Bramble and Bolton’s Zat Knight.
Both in the past have been accused of failing to read the game and of lacking concentration, despite possessing brilliant physical attributes for playing football; in Bramble’s case, his pace and in Knight’s, his height.
It would seem Titus Bramble, who for much of his career has needed a settled, solid and consistent defence surround him and who instead found players like Jean-Alain Boumsong, would appear to have finally found what might amount to a solid defence to play with at Sunderland.
Having found himself one of a number of players who Steve Bruce has brought with him from old clubs, Bramble has been the mainstay of Sunderland’s defence; finally given the confidence that comes with having a former Manchester United centre back and legend so clearly believing that you are the right man for his team.
Zat Knight too has been helped by having found a handy little partnership with fellow former Villa central defender Gary Cahill, especially since Cahill’s return from a suspension brought about by his straight red card against Arsenal.
Key to both players has been new found levels of consistency, not seen in previous seasons. Knight’s only less than par performance of the season came against a rampant Arsenal team, though extenuating circumstances such as Cahill’s afore mentioned red card can probably alleviate part of the blame. In the two following matches, Knight recovered brilliantly, notably without Cahill alongside him; enabling Bolton to hold on for two draws against difficult opponents, in an awkward run of games for Owen Coyle’s team.
Many may have seen Knight as a player who preferred dealing with lofted balls into the box, but as it turned out in the game against Villa he also proved his capability against young and lively attackers, helping Bolton to a 1-1 draw, despite pretty solid pressure from Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton. In the second game of Cahill’s suspension, a rare goal was a nice little bonus in the match against United, along with another solid job done defensively, despite a moment of brilliance from Nani.
Bramble, like the whole Sunderland team made a slow start in the opening two matches of the season, but he managed to quiet any who may have been tempted to boo their new signing with a superb display against an as always expensively compiled Manchester City team. Coming off the back of a 3-0 win over Liverpool, much was expected of the unchanged front three of Carlos Tevez, James Milner and Adam Johnson. What resulted was a display from Titus Bramble and Anton Ferdinand that managed to keep Tevez more quiet in that match than he’s been against any other opposition all season. Without him, City posed little threat and looked to be too heavily packed with defensive midfielders, against a team in Sunderland who preferred to get the ball out to the wingers and didn’t as often like to play through the centre of the pitch.
Bramble, like Knight at Aston Villa, got the opportunity to prove a point against his old team and supporters, the 15000 who were there at the DW stadium. Another dominating performance helped a disappointing Sunderland side gain a useful point, after for the second time being forced into playing with ten men, after another former Wigan player, Lee Cattermole, had been shown another red card.
Getting back to this week, fans of exciting football may have been less than impressed with Sunderland 0-0 Blackburn, Wigan 1- 1 Bolton and Sunderland 1-0 Aston Villa, but for managers Steve Bruce and Owen Coyle, you can guarantee that they will have been hugely impressed and delighted with the continued form of their sometimes undervalued defensive stalwarts.