Stoke Soapbox: a little something for the weekend, sir?

Guess which jaunty little number Pete Sixsmith is hoping to stream from the public address system at the Stadium of Light around 4.50pm on Sunday? Yes, the one that is played only when we win …

The age-old question asked by barbers of their gentlemen clients certainly applies to we Sunderland fans. Three points would suit us as well as a packet of three of the barbers little specials would suit the men of the 1950s.

This has been a tumultuous week for Red and Whites in the North East. Another home defeat, the departure of our last marquee signing, suspension for the Player of the Year and a general mood of unhappiness and frustration that could well spill over should we lose to the Potters on Sunday, means that we are in a bit of a mess at this early stage of the season.

It could be said that things don’t appear to be as bad as they look. Two respectable away draws and two narrow home defeats a crisis do not make. But, scratch the surface of these four games and they are closer to crisis than complacency.

Steve Bruce has a nerve racking weekend as he clings to his job. The four games played have not been encouraging. The two away draws consisted of 45 minutes decent football at Anfield and a scrappy performance at Swansea.

The two home games have been very, very disappointing. The derby defeat was a shocker, against a side who played far worse than we did but pinched the points with a decent free kick. Chelsea outclassed us in a distinctly worrying way.

Gyan has left us for the UAE and Bardsley has left us for a four-game rest, thanks to his stamp on Juan Mata. The new players have yet to settle in and the crowd are restless, while the message boards and blogs are going haywire.

What happens now? We have a difficult game on Sunday against Stoke City, newly returned from Ukraine and the glorious city of Kyiv. The Brucester has to select a team to play against the Potters that will be able to match their strong and distinctive style of play. The usual midfield then?

This has not been the start we expected. Most fans realise that new players take a while to fit in, but we thought the management team had moved early and had picked up players that they had identified as those who would move the team on.

Pre-season was not great, with tepid performances in Germany and nothing outstanding in Scotland or Lancashire. The old maxim is “Good pre season = poor start to season”, so we remained hopeful.

But what a disappointment. Results and events have left many of us wondering if we have a manager who is really up to the task of managing a club where the fans live, breathe and eat the game. Bruce has never had that before and after a stint at Wigan, where survival is the sole requirement, the questions are being asked: “Can he motivate players and can he convince supporters?”

Disappointing results don’t necessarily mean that the team has played badly – and we haven’t. But at no stage have we looked like taking real control of a game. The first half against Newcastle was fine – but how close were we to scoring?

We have lost Gyan in what appears to have been a shambolic episode. I agree that he was overweight, ineffective and lacking motivation (a perfect summary of my teaching career), so, with hindsight, it may have been better to have moved him on in the window and found a replacement from somewhere.

However, players may be beginning to latch on to the fact that Bruce and Sunderland have issues with centre forwards. Jones, Bent and Gyan have all left in a 13-month period, all players with egos and all players who needed to be nurtured. We, as a club, have not done that and are subsequently left with one experienced striker for the first three months of the season.

We are not a creative side. Two years ago, when Bruce and Black arrived, we played some decent football with Cana and Cattermole shoring up the middle and Reid and Malbranque playing the football on the flanks. Three of those have left and the one that remains is struggling to hold his place in the current midfield.

Last Saturday, we tried to squeeze Chelsea physically and failed, due to the strength of Meireles and Lampard and the skill of Mata.

If we try to slug it out with Stoke, we will lose out and will probably have someone sent off. Maybe a place will be found for David Vaughan, who is streetwise enough to deal with whatever we have to face from the Potters.

Let’s at least try to win it. We have two young forwards who must be desperate to claim a first team place and who now find themselves in a far stronger position than they were before Gyan decamped to the desert. Give one of them a run; I would go with Wickham first and use Ji as cover.

Whatever we do, we must go all out for a win and abandon this awful 4-5-1 formation which we are not equipped to play. Hopefully, our opponents will be tired though, sadly, not downhearted after their long trip – although I wouldn’t bank on it as Stoke epitomise the word resilience.

A good performance will give us all a lift, while a good performance and three points will send us up the table. Should we lose, the nerve of those in charge may well vanish as a result of the howls of derision that management and players can expect to hear as they troop off. Here’s hoping we get a snatch of Paint Your Wagon at 4.50ish on Sunday afternoon to put a smile on our faces just as surely as the barber brought smiles from purchasers of his special envelopes.

4 thoughts on “Stoke Soapbox: a little something for the weekend, sir?”

  1. What I fail to understand about Bruce is that his negative approach has left us with a record of one home win all of 2011.

    Someone once told me that the best definition of stupidity is someone who does the same thing time and time again and wonders why the outcome doesn’t change. It fits well here.

    Time to be positive Bruce, even if it makes you squirm.

  2. well written sir ! as a stoke supporter i found your piece interesting however if you would like to offer half the 8million we paid for that useless lump of ……… i think we might be only to pleased to accept the gracious offer …..pleeeease !!!

  3. As has been well documented we don’t travel well,but off the back of nine games without defeat confidence is high.Woody and Etherington have fitness tests(hamstring and shoulder) hence our strange formation yesterday :-0 .
    Not on fire going forward at the mo but then again our shots to goals ratio is second to none lol.
    Good luck to you after Sunday 😉

  4. Crisis at the Nou Camp; Barcelona have drawn their last two home games. A Bruce for Guardiola swap on the cards?

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