The thoughts of Bob Chapman grace the pages of Salut! Sunderland every so often and he seemed an obvious choice for the end-of-season reporting panel. Here is an honest appraisal, warts and all but with plenty of recognition where due, of a season that failed to shake Bob’s innate optimism …
I have watched Sunderland since the start of the 1964/5 season.
My father took me as a very excited nine-year-old to see his newly promoted team play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Fifteen-year-old Derek Foster played his second game in goal as a replacement for the injured Monty. You can still see MoTD footage on Youtube (duly dug out and included – ed). We lost 3-0 but I was heartened by the fact that in another six years I would almost certainly be making my debut for the team …
Ever the optimist, that’s me!
Apart from the League Cup Semi Final “riotous, horse charging” victory in 85 it’s invariably been an expensive disappointment down there. However, apart from being ripped off yet again, this year was different. The 3-0 win was undoubtedly the performance of the season and probably up there and amongst one of the best since the Quinn and Phillips combo was causing havoc.
Apart from those two seventh placed seasons under Reidy, this season 10th is the highest placing we have achieved since I started watching.
That has to be progress surely. However it has been a frustrating season for sure. After the start we had, to more or less clinch survival against Wigan with just four games to go is very disappointing and far too close for comfort. With only 38 points, I must admit my optimism was certainly being tested when Diame put Wigan ahead. I really did think, sat in the East Stand with the prospect of a 230 mile drive back home, that yes, we could go down after all!
I always thought that Steve Bruce was being rather conservative when he said he would be happy with a top 10 finish at the start of the season. The squad was much stronger than in the previous season and with four decent strikers I felt the potential was there to match and possibly improve upon the 7th position achieved under Reidy. What waas that I said? Ever the optimist, that’s me!
The strength of the 2000 side was that Reid knew what his best 11 was and was able to play it regularly with just minor changes. I am not sure Steve Bruce had the time to work out what his best 11 was and how best to organise them. Once the injuries kicked in he was always playing catch up time to maintain a healthy league position. I suppose it could be argued that Bruce never once had the opportunity to play his best 11 throughout the whole season.
So, what positives can be gleaned from the season?
Phil Bardsley emerged as a consistent performer capable of playing in either full back position. Why Brucie ever contemplated moving him out was always beyond me. Asamoah Gyan made a promising start. He is an extremely talented player, very adaptable and can play alone or in a pair. He may not be as prolific as Bent but I feel in the long run he will improve the side and is a better option. I particularly enjoyed his interplay with Sessegnon down at West Ham and I think that the 4-5-1 we played, with Sess in a free role in the hole, may be the way forward.
Jordan Henderson, despite a dip in form during the bleak period, demonstrated why the big clubs will once again come looking. However, he will need to think carefully about his options. Does he sit on the bench somewhere as a squad player content with playing against the weaker opposition and a few cup or European outings, or stay put playing week in, week out?
The emergence of Jack Colback is a bonus. He is a neat, tidy player who doesn’t lose possession. The ability to pass a ball is fundamental and teams can’t score if they haven’t got the ball.
So what can we learn from this last season and what is the ambition for the next?
Survival achieved by the January would be nice. Progress in the FA Cup would be refreshing. When will we ever learn about playing weakened sides against lesser teams? The top clubs can do it as they have two players at least for each position. We clearly don’t have such resources and that needs to be rectified.
Although the injuries were bad this season, they were for other clubs as well. To lose the spine of your side is going to happen periodically for all teams and what the bigger clubs like us have to do is manage such setbacks. The alternative to do a Birmingham.
So what are my hopes for next season? When I started supporting in 64 the ambition was always to win the FA Cup. That was achieved nine years later – but that was also 38 years ago; wouldn’t it be nice to do it again? Just back it up with a top eight finish and we’d be talking real progress.
Ever the optimist, that’s me!