Do not despair (?)

What was it I said? A draw would not be enough? And that’s all we got. Does the fact that we did it with 10 men, with defeat staring us in the face, make it reasonable to reach a softer conclusion?

No, sadly, it does not.

Overlook the spirited finish, once Greg Halford had seen red for the second time in a season that been a personal catastrophe, and the reality is that this was an abysmal performance against a not very good team of the sort we have to beat if we are to stay up, let alone attain mid-table comfort.

At half time, the shots on goal tally spoke volumes. Fulham had managed three on and three off target, our totals were one off target, none on.

Passing was woeful, conceding possession in midfield and beyond. A sitter had been handed to the opposition by Higginbotham’s lunatic punt acros the edge of the penalty area when he and Craig Gordon were stranded. Fulham’s failure to seize that chance had just left us thanking our lucky stars we were playing a bunch almost as bad as us.

Halford? I said he needed a stormer just to save his SAFC career and have yet to see replays of the second booking. He looked utterly disconsolate and I do not wish to add to his distress. But in spite of a couple of good crosses, he did nothing to suggest that he can rise above his clear collapse of confidence, and quite a lot to suggest that he can not.

There are those who think it is unfair to single out Halford.

At the Blackcats forum, Ian Todd says:

I remain very disappointed with him but I
was beginning to see an improvement in his two recent performances. He’ll
be predominantly remembered for that dreadful pass across the front of the
defence at West Ham but apart from that I didn’t think he was too bad there.
And yesterday we finally began to see the benefits of his forward play in
which he excelled at Colchester. Certainly his crosses, bar one which
lacked height were probably the best we’ve seen this season….OK, I know he’s a
defender first and that part of his game remains suspect but that is
possibly as much due to his low (but slowly improving) confidence as lack

of ability. I also felt, after an early moan at one of his interventions,
the crowd were sympathetic to him and indeed he earned ripples of applause a
couple of times.

And Gordon Taylor, another Blackcatter:

I think you’re being a bit harsh on his attacking contribution; he was our most potent threat in the first half and there was some discussion about moving him up into midfield as Miller was a total waste of space on the right. I thought he got in a few decent challenges and headers and his throws are a great way of getting the ball up the park to Jones, but he got in a couple of mix-ups and you could see him kind of visibly deflate as the crowd lost their patience.

Points taken. As one who very much wanted Halford to come, I am bitterly disappointed – for him as well as us – at how it has so far worked out. If he can somehow claw his way back, and put the red cards behind him, I will be as chuffed as anyone.

Back to Saturday. Certain Fulham players acted in loathsome fashion, with their absurd play acting and despicable attempts to “win” cards against our players. The referee will say he applied the letter of the law, but seemed at times to succumb to the pressure they were applying.

The desire to get opponents booked or sent off is almost as nasty a feature of the modern game as cynical fouls. By the latter stages of the game, one or two of our players were at it as well. And while the tit-for-tat instinct in humans is strong, it is just as obnoxious when done by your own.

We (Murphy) had a glorious chance before the equaliser, and there was another afterwards when a more composed striker than Stokes would have won us an undeserved victory.

But the bottom line is that we managed one scrambled point from a game we seriously had to win. It doesn’t mean we’re down. It doesn’t mean we cannot produce a string of better results with returns.

But any Sunderland fan who says he/she is not now worried is either a liar or a crazed optimist.

* The excellent photo montage appears courtesy of Jon Hall, a Fulham fan who clearly had a full day out at the SoL. Visit his site to check out more of Jon’s football images.

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