It’s perhaps too early to panic, but there is no mistaking the gloom that has descended on the Stadium of Light. If losing 2-0 to a buoyant Aston Villa side was not in itself disastrous, the defeat followed all too many dismal Sunderland performances.
Pete Sixsmithexplains why a decent display last night was not good enough …
We were well beaten. Villa were a better side. We have some problems. Three statements that, to my mind, are non-controversial, but I hope those who read them want to bite back at me.
Let’s deal with last night first. I thought the overall performance was better than Saturday’s. The passing was better, the movement was quicker and the effort was there from all 11 players. Had we performed like this against Portsmouth, we would have been out of sight by half time.
Unfortunately, a number of errors against a very good side undid us. The first goal came from a woeful McCartney sideways pass, which was then moved forward and rammed in the net by an onside Heskey. So, Emile joins the ever burgeoning Club Of Non-Prolific Centre Forwards Who Have Scored Against Sunderland This Season. His fellow members Dave Kitson, David Nugent and Bobby Zamora will welcome him with open arms.
The second goal was a cracking shot from James (“I love playing against Sunderland, me, like”) Milner. But we had given the ball away again. After that Villa closed the game down and never looked in danger of conceding.
It could have been different if Henderson’s tremendous first half shot had been a little lower and if Andy Reid had converted a very good chance early in the second half. But it wasn’t and he didn’t and Villa tightened up, controlled the game and ended up winning it easily..
I thought they were very good, a better side than last season and genuine contenders for a Champions League place. The back four were immense: two mobile full backs and centre halves who complement one other. Dunne is rock solid – one tackle on Jones was brilliant- while Cuellar is a quick, alert defender who reads a game well. With James Collins on the bench, that’s an impressive line up.
The midfield is better for losing Gareth Barry and they work and move like a well oiled machine, with Petrov as the fulcrum. He was always there, ready to pick up the ball, use it wisely and sensibly and tackle crisply and cleanly. A year ago, I heard a Villa fan on 606 pull him to pieces. How times change.
Perhaps they are weakest up front, but Heskey and Agbonlahor do enough to keep defenders busy. They have a good bench as well; one top notch player goes off, another comes on. I wouldn’t mind a bench of Carew, Sidwell and Reo-Coker amongst others.
So, what about us? To use railway metaphors (most appropriate for someone from Shildon), we have hit the buffers and have come off the rails after running out of steam. We looked Gresley A4 class early on, but now, well it’s more hard working main line V2 locomotive; not much class and prone to break down.
The defence is still weak down the flanks; full back is a serious problem for us. We don’t appear to have an above average one in the club, and I can see Bruce making a move for at least one in January.
In midfield we have less creativity and originality than an Ant and Dec script. Cana has seen the game pass by him recently, usually because he has been booked early on. Happened again yesterday, and although I thought the booking was a tad harsh, he is a marked man. The red was just a matter of time. Richardson was as enigmatic and frustrating as ever and achieved little in his “favoured” position of centre midfield.
Pleasing to see Cattermole back, despite it taking some gloss off the Reserves game with the mighty, mighty Hartlepool tonight. He may give us that little bit of vision that we lack. And be able to supply Bent and Joes with some decent balls.
We are not yet in trouble, but we are now looking for the Bolton and Wolves scores rather than the Villa and Liverpool ones. Two hard games to come; this is where players and management begin to earn their vast wages. Lose these two and we are up to our ankles in reindeer poo.