Soapbox: Boro blues


Pete Sixsmith‘s first text from the Riverside read “Brrrr……” and until the last 10-15 minutes, it got little warmer for Sunderland supporters, the one obvious piece of football in the first half being Downing’s run and neat pass, following by Alves’s class strike, albeit without being troubled by anything so revolutionary as a marking defender. By the end, we should have won, but it was a grim game. Pete somehow conjures lyrical prose from a dispiriting experience….

The great
Liberal Prime Minister, lumberjack and saver of fallen women, William Ewart Gladstone once described Middlesbrough as “the infant Hercules”, as a tribute to its 19th century industrial prowess.

The only comparison to Hercules that this dreadful match brought to mind was the knackered out horse that pulled Steptoe’s cart.

Let’s deal with the ‘Boro first. They are in trouble with Downing, and in serious trouble should he leave in this transfer window. He is their only quality player and without him they would have little chance of staying up. He seems ready to move, but why anyone should want to go to such an awful club as Spurs is beyond me.

The rest of them were honest toilers (Walker, McMahon, Digard), players who are not quite top class (Arca, Pogatetz, Tuncay) and men with arses as big as my garage door (Mido, an absolute embarrassment, who should be auditioning for a part in Fat Camp).

Enough of the opposition – what about us? It was a deserved point from a game that we should have won. We should have won it because we have better players, not because we played better on the day. In fact, we only started playing properly when the substitutions were made.

It was clear to all that the midfield without Reid works hard, chases around and ends up going sideways. Whitehead ran himself into the ground, fetching, carrying, chasing and harrying, but he never once produced a killer pass that would enable our two forwards to put a creaky Boro defence under any real pressure.

Richardson was the same – lots of honest running, but little or nothing at the end of it. He has stopped making those runs at the heart of the opponents defence and like Whitehead, Tainio and to a lesser extent Malbranque, he is moving sideways, sideways, always sideways.

Diouf was a disappointment and I got the feeling that as he disappeared down the tunnel, he would be sat in the dressing room and on the phone to his agent telling him to get him fixed up with Fat Sam at Blackburn and “end his Wearside nightmare” (circa any tabloid journalist at this time of year)….

Reid made the difference. He is always looking for a pass and although it does not always work for him, he is the one genuinely creative midfield player that we have.

Louise Taylor said in this morning’s Guardian, that Sbragia needs to make the decision to put him in the centre of midfield even if it means switching Richardson to the left. I agree wholeheartedly and I am sure that the vast majority of fans do. Reid can be peripheral on the left; let him have a run in the middle and see if he can supply Cisse and Jones on a regular basis.

At the end, we could have snatched it. To win with a Carlos Edwards header would have been a real bonus, but the ball was not over the line. We could have done with the same linesman at Reading last season. McMahon’s tackle on Cisse was a good one, although the tattooed one took a split second longer than he needed to line up his shot. He knew it as well, and spent a good minute on his knees, with his head in his hands.

The equaliser was deserved in that it showed that we could break quickly. A great ball from Reid (nicely positioned in the centre of midfield) and an even better ball in from Forgotten Man Healey and there was Kenwyne to stroke it home. Look how quickly he moved to get to it and doesn’t it just show that if we get the right kind of ball to the forwards, we will score?

Neither Jones nor Cisse are foragers who are good at rooting out the ball. They need the ball played in front of them quickly, not when the opposition defenders have had time to get back. To do that we need a Don Hutchinson figure in midfield who will push us on. It could be Reid, it might be Jimmy Bullard. Half a season with him might just push us up the league. If Wigan and Fulham can do it, why can’t we.

Three home games coming up before we visit the dark side. A hat trick of wins would be very nice and would set us up for what could be the defining game of our season. Hercules has been portrayed as a wise leader and a good friend. If Ricky can navigate the choppy waters of January he will truly be a mighty Hercules – not an infant one.

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