T S Eliot (not a renowned football fan) wrote that “April is the cruellest month”. For Sunderland fans, replace April with February and you have a truism if ever there was one.
February sorts out the teams who will and the teams who won’t. Go into March top of the League, be it FA Premier or Northern, and the chances are that you will finish the season there. Ditto at the bottom.
Hit a slump in February and you can wave goodbye to a top six finish – it happened in 2000 with 2 points out of 9 and again in 2001 with a similar return and with an FA Cup exit thrown in.
This year we have played three games in February and have lost all three. We have scored some good goals, played some neat and tidy football – and have defended like Stockport County on a bad day.
The Spurs game was a great example of all that is promising and all that is disappointing. We played some lively one touch football and had a good Spurs side on the back foot early on. Gyan scored an excellent goal; good ball by Malbranque to Richardson (who had made a superb run), neat pass to Gyan, who turned the defender and shot across Gomes. For the third game in a row we were a goal ahead early on. You know what happens next.
We continued to move the ball around well, with Muntari playing the Dwight Yorke role. Pick the ball up, lay it off, put pressure on a shaky Spurs defence. Henderson ran around to left and right to collect it and give it to Muntari while Sessegnon, Malbranque and Richardson probed and looked for gaps that Gyan could exploit.
But the killer ball was not played and the second goal did not come. Instead, we gave away two avoidable goals.
I am sure that Gordon will be castigated by some because the ball went through his legs, but let’s ask about the marking of Dawson from the corner. Non-existent. He is the tallest player on the field and not one of our defenders went to him. His downward header was a strong one and it came at Gordon through a crowded goalmouth. It looked like Gallas had positioned himself in front of the keeper, blocking his vision.
The second one was a hat trick of defensive blunders. Sandro was allowed to gallop down the right hand side and when Mensah headed his cross away, it went straight to the unmarked Krancjar. His volley was a low and hard and left Gordon with no chance. But, two unmarked players and a poor header and you are 2-1 down and chasing the game.
We weren’t up to it. The midfield ran out of steam, just like it did at Stoke. Muntari was allowed less room than he had had at the Kick and Rush Stadium and was forced further and further back. Consequently, Henderson had to play deeper and that made it difficult for the ball to be played forward. Sessegnon tired as did Malbranque and Richardson got involved in a squabble with Corluka. End of game for us.
It wasn’t a bad game though. Both sides are a cut above the hoi-polloi in the middle of the league and I was impressed with the Spurs’ work ethic. Krancjar was excellent. He ran hard, passed well and took his goal brilliantly. Modric and Bale must be good if they can keep him out. I would love to see him in a red and white shirt next season.
Defensively, they looked sound once Gallas had sorted his footwear out. He and Dawson did well and looked a very solid partnership. Dawson is similar to Michael Turner – big, strong and willing and you only realise how important he is when he isn’t there. All credit to their fans as well. This was an excellent turn out for a late kick off. I hope they do well against AC Milan next week.
We now go into another difficult group of four and these will decide whether we are battling it out with the Bar Codes for the vitally important Cock Of The North Championship. The new players have a little bit of time to bed in and there is the possibility that one of Campbell or Turner may be available for our trip back to the 60s at Goodison Park.
Hopefully, we can work on these defensive frailties in that time. Mistakes and errors have cost us dearly in the last few games and have shown us that we are still well short of challenging for a European place. If people are to sacrifice Greek TV and several pints of John Smiths Smooth, the players on the field and the coaching staff need to convince them that The Stadium of Light is a better bet than The Willow Pond or the Mountain Daisy.