Wigan Soapbox: the final countdown

Pete Sixsmith, with apologies to Bon Jovi (or was it a band called Europe?) for his headline choice, is fed up. From Bardsley’s impersonation of Jonny Wilkinson (can conversions be that high in rugby?) to the kamikaze defending, yesterday was no day for faint hearts; Sixer’s nearly gave up the ghost …

At 4.49 on Saturday, the usually reliable Wes Brown made an elementary error to hand Wigan Athletic their first away win of the season and, in all probability, start the process that brings down the curtain on Steve Bruce’s 30 months in charge at the Stadium of Light.

Brown’s error was inexplicable, on a day that featured hapless central defenders in Wesley, the manager and David Corner, dragged from well deserved obscurity to do the half time draw to applause that was so muted as to be almost sepulchral. However his error at Wembley did not lead to howls of derision coming down from the stands. Brown’s did.

I have never heard Sunderland fans turn on a manager like this. From all four stands came “Bruce Out” and it got louder as the final whistle went. Reid got some of it, Wilkinson was booed, Keane was grumbled at, while poor Mick McCarthy was given oodles of sympathy because he had nothing to spend.

This was a full scale mutiny from fans who love the club, who want it to succeed, who have sat and suffered for 11 months and have been rewarded with two home wins. These are fans who pay £400 for season tickets, who come every game and, like Peter Finch in Network are “as mad as hell and ain’t going to take it any more” The clear feeling was that enough was enough.

And yet, it started so well. The passing was crisp and sharp and for 35 minutes, it looked like a game between a side on the up and a side stuck at the bottom. Bendtner held the ball up well, Sessegnon ran at the defenders and was kicked for his pains, Richardson looked dangerous and the defence was untroubled. When the impressive Larsson took advantage of an error by Al-Habsi, we sat back and awaited the oft promised kick start.

It failed to materialise. The keeper made up for his mistake with good saves from Richardson and Brown, but the turning point came when Phil Bardsley missed an absolute sitter in front of goal. From that moment on, the confidence drained away and Wigan began to believe that there was something in this game for them

Moses began to run at the permanently disappointing O’Shea and when Larsson clumsily nudged him in the box, Gomez put away the penalty to level up a minute before half time. Had we gone in 1 up, it would have eased the pressure. The crowd would have applauded them off. Bruce could have emphasised the positives. But we didn’t.

We started the second half well, but it soon began to fall away. Bendtner kept out of the Wigan box, allowing Caldwell and Stam (hardly world class central defenders) to organise and clear their lines. Al-Habsi was not forced into one worthwhile save in the second half as crosses whizzed along the line and defenders blocked shots.

The substitutions smacked of panic. Off came Cattermole and Bardsley to be replaced by a new central midfield combination in Gardner and Vaughan. They had 25 minutes to try and change the course of the game and they failed. Then, O’Shea went off to be replaced by Ji and Larsson went to right back rather than slinging in centres at the still to convince Korean.

This decision probably sums up Steve Bruce. Here was a game we had to win – a draw was as bad as a defeat – and he cannot/will not trust his defenders to hold out while the kitchen sink (or in our case, the kitchen washing up bowl|) is thrown at the opposition. Safety first all the time; so little spark and imagination.

Then came the blunder that will be talked about for weeks and it was all over. Wigan had not forced Westwood into a single save, yet they had won. Players slumped to the ground prostrate and the jeering cranked up.

Martinez took over at Wigan at the same time as Bruce took over at Sunderland. He has had considerably less money to spend and cannot lure players to the DW Stadium with promises of a passionate crowd and immortality.

But what he can do is organise a side. Whoever he picks, they will know exactly what they have to do. They will be well prepared, well briefed and will play to a pattern. The midfield pushes forward, they have pace and although they are lightweight up front, they have willing runners who do not drift in and out of the game.

We far too often appear to be 11 men in Red and White shirts who are told to go out and play. Midfield sits deep. Sessegnon is told to be tricky. Bendtner is told to put himself about. But there does not appear to be any plan or any coherent approach to the game. It’s all about “rolling the sleeves up on the training ground”. I can hear Martinez and the young breed of managers coming through (Adkins, Lambert, Rogers), having a wee chuckle at that.

What now? Bruce handled the press conference with dignity and a degree of honesty – although he was not publicly prepared to admit to any shortcomings. He said he is not a quitter and that he is sure he can “sort this out”. I wonder.

He will have an awful week. There are many who would happily drop him off the Wearmouth Bridge and few who would throw him a lifebelt. He will probably remain in charge for the Wolves game and, if we win that, the Blackburn one. Lose either and he will be gone.

Ellis Short is from Missouri and Missourians are known to be sceptical. It is known as “The Show Me State”, indicating that, for those from Independence Mo, actions speak louder than words. His actions over the next two weeks will show us if Short can follow in the footsteps of Harry Truman and make a very difficult decision and cut loose a manager he has backed. 40,000 people wait expectantly, Ellis.

20 thoughts on “Wigan Soapbox: the final countdown”

  1. I imagine that Bruce would say that the dignified thing for him to do, from his perspective, is to turn the season around, and not slink out by the back exit. He’s talked about staying tough in the face of adversity and not backing down from the challenge of this season. I’d hate to speak for him, but that’s the impression I get anyway.

    For a more cynical approach (I’m in a terrible mood today, and so unable to calm the spiteful cynic within) if you look at his managerial career, he’s left the clubs that he’s left for ‘better’ offers (Crystal Palace for Brum; Brum for Wigan; Wigan for us; etc). There’s not really a better offer than Sunderland anymore– much as I like Bruce (he seems like he’d be good company at the pub), I don’t think he’s in line to suceed Sir Alex. If he doesn’t do well here, he may not get another job in the Prem for a while. Whilst most SAFC supporters could give a flying monkey’s toss about his future career, I’m sure that’s what Bruce is thinking of.

    In George Caulkin’s column in the Times today, he notes that Bruce’s mum and dad were at the SoL on Saturday, and bore witness to the ‘fat geordie bastard’ chants. I wasn’t even chanting and I feel guilty as hell about that.

  2. I can’t imagine Lee Clark getting the job; we’d have to check his t shirt evaery game.
    Sixsmith Major

  3. Geoff-when I do ‘sloppy grammar’, which is quite often, I can still hear Sister Mary Elfreda’s fierce Irish voice in my head admonishing me and telling me to ‘pull my socks up’.

    I am also doubtful about Hughes. I have come to think that a younger, hungrier manager might be our best option, but if MON is available then we could do a lot worse. I just wish there was some clarity now.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree Jeremy re an up and coming manager with some fresh and modern thinking. Lambert and Poyet are great examples but I would be surprised if they left their present clubs at this time. MON is simply available and allegedly willing and certainly intelligent. I am equally doubtful about Hughes as well. There doesn’t seem to be much around in the way of managers (Lee Clark anyone!!)
    Hi Hilary. Most of the Sixsmiths on this new Salut!Sixsmith site attended a ‘sloppy grammar’ – but unlike me, came away with the ability to be perceptive and witty writers.

  5. I agree about abusive behaviour and personal insults being unacceptable. However I see some of this in terms of the massive salaries that players and managers now demand. These people are in a position vastly removed from the average supporter. They literally live in a different world -the stakes are higher. The supporters contribute to their salaries and privileged life styles and have higher expectations than they may have had thirty years ago. Obviously I am not condoning this, only making the point.

    I was shocked by the way some of the fans turned on Wenger, who has given such service to Arsenal and is a great manager. I also would expect Villas Boas to be given more time to bed in, but Chelsea is not a comfortable billet and the owner has crazy expectations. I am obviously less surprised at the fans anger with Kean and Bruce, both of whom seem at sea in the Premiership. My feeling is that if Short allows the situation to continue that fans should vote with their feet. You can’t expect supporters to turn up every week to watch their team in free fall. If Bruce won’t step down it is the responsibility of the Board to do something about it. There is no indication from the way that Sunderland are playing that they are improving or will do so. That we lost because on Saturday because of personal errors is a debatable point, but even if it were true, it is still the case that a well disciplined and managed squad are less likely to be vulnerable in this way. I think that in this case it is Bruce that should have the dignity, which you are demanding of the supporters. He should step down.

  6. I guess the point of my post wasn’t to draw parallels, as such, but to reflect on the level of abuse (and it is abuse, because if you shouted it at someone on the street, you’d get at least an ASBO). And it’s certainly not just our club– very few sets of supporters seem happy with their manager, from Wenger to Villas-Boas to Kean to Moyes to MicMac to Bruce.

    I’m not pro-censorship, and I wouldn’t dream of attempting to instruct fans on what they can and cannot say at the SoL, but personally, the screaming abuse is just so undignified. I understand anger and frustration when we have lost, or when we haven’t played well, but for me, Bruce’s post-sacking parachute payment (or whatever you want to call it) isn’t carte blanche to be abusive. And it has to take a toll on the man. Think back a few weeks to when McCarthy had most of Molineux screaming ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ at him. He was clearly livid, and clearly hurt in his post-match interview on MotD.

    Managers don’t want to lose matches. They live and die by their reputations, and in order to remain a Premier League manager, they have to win matches; simple as. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. But there isn’t a single manager in this league who doesn’t care about his job. You may argue that Bruce has no real emotional attachment to the club in the same way we do, but he’s not going out with the intention of a poor performance. Ultimately the manager will receive accolades for the team’s successes, and bear the brunt of blame for the team’s failings, but we have to recongise that sometimes the players can let us down as well. Ultimately both of Wigan’s goals on Saturday came from individual errors, as opposed to an overall failing.

    Here comes the anorak again (it is a cold day after all), but I’m not sure there’s an amount of money I’d accept to suffer the indignity of having 30,000ish people screaming that I should lose my job; that they disapprove of my birthplace; that my physical appearance is displeasing (and for the record I’m lovely*). I don’t doubt that most of us are normal, stable and sane people, but it seems that for so many punters, when they enter the stadium they lose all ability to control themselves. I’d just hate for the match day to devolve from singing our hearts out for the lads, to spending 90 minutes chanting for Bruce to be sacked (or worse). Managers will come and go but it seems we’re slowly losing focus on supporting the team, in which case, why bother attending matches. When we went 2-0 down to West Brom last month I know several reasonable people who openly discussed their pride in standing up and screaming abuse at Bruce and at the players. It’s appalling that anyone would be proud of that. Some of the rage (and I don’t use that word lightly) bandied about at the football is disturbing. Surely it’s far less expensive to buy a Sky subscription and have a meltdown in one’s own home.

    Again, people can say and do what they like; we live in a free society after all. But the way we treat footballers and football managers ought to be more about ‘should’ rather than ‘could.’ That is, ‘should I call the manager a fat c**t?’; ‘should I call Gyan the n-word?’ (I heard it at the friendly at Hibs in August– horrifying); ‘should I use my attendance at a football match as means of venting my spleen because I secretly hate my job/partner/life?’ It’s up to the conscience of the individual how s/he behaves, but for me we’ve veered into the extreme.

    *attempting to inject a bit of levity– forgive me.

  7. Geoff. Given what you say about players on the up rather than those on the way down, I would much rather see the club take a chance on someone with promise. There`s little imagination being used even amongst the rumour mongers when it comes to potential candidates.

    How about Gus Poyet, or Paul Lambert at Norwich for example. `For me O`Neill`s best days are behind him and as for Hughes, I really wonder which job he thinks he`s in line for.

  8. Sorry Phil – but I don’t think he is a ‘buffoon’ or a ‘coward’. I have never met the guy, but I suspect that he is a decent bloke and seems very well liked in the game. However, he is not clever enough or sharp enough or up-to-date enough to manage successfully at this level. I can see us picking up the odd win here and there but not enough to stop us looking over our shoulder and ultimately swapping places with West Ham.
    Someone somewhere wrote earlier this term that signing ex- top players from ‘top’ clubs is never a good idea as they think they are doing you a favour. Better to have younger players making their way up.
    We have produced some good football in many games but cant add the killer touch. This is an ongoing Sunderland problem apart from the Quinn/Phillips days when we always knew we would score.
    I googled Martin O’ Neill earlier today typing to find out why he has been out of the game for so long. Didn’t get an answer but saw headlines that rumours were flying around that he had been sounded out by Quinn/Short about the S’Land job. Then I saw the dates of the reports were in October.
    I think he is a sharper, more intelligent and tactically aware manager who would drive the team forwards and not worry overly about being the good guy.
    Bruce is a good guy, MickMack was a good guy, Reidy wasn’t very bright but a loveable blokey sort of guy, Keano was too complex. O’Neill is none of these because of his razor sharp mind. Maybe he is the type of leader we need – who demands the very best from his club, whatever it takes.

  9. I think that it is inappropriate and a bit sanctimonious to make connection between the truly tragic news of Garry Speed’s death and the kind of gallows humour that Pete indulged in, on what was a dire day for Sunderland fans. I am sure nobody on this site feels anything but sadness at what has happened to Garry Speed. I disapprove of abusive and threatening behaviour towards Bruce, but the fans anger is understandable. In a period of economic anxiety and increasing unemployment, they contribute to his vastly inflated salary and many could have made better tactical decisions than him in the past months. As will probably be the case he will not only have been paid for his failures over the last year, but also like the bankers, he will be compensated if he is given his marching orders.

  10. Maybe the Wearmouth Bridge comment was glib, but it was meant as a metaphor and to insert some local colour. I wrote this on Saturday evening, before I began to have second thoughts. I stand by the statement – there are few who would come to the assistance of Bruce and his management team.
    The Gary Speed news is very sad,but I had absolutely no knowledge of it. The abuse aimed at Bruce is not the way I would do it, but others feel differently from me.

  11. He’s abused the supporters with his rhetoric about “expectations” let alone the crap that has been doled out in terms of performances. His post match mail brimful of the same pale excuses has insulted people’s intelligence. The “club” is Short and also Quinn have stuck with him in the face of unmitigated and repeated failure on all fronts. It this is what it takes then that’s fine by me. Bruce out!

    The reason we want rid has nothing to do with his parentage, trouser size of Tyneside birth. He’s just no good.

  12. Whilst I agree with Chatnoir regarding the unacceptbility of some personal abuse, one feels it is the thin edge of the wedge due to Bruce’s intractable stance regarding his employment at the Club.

    By not resigning and seeming to wait for the now inevitable pay-off I think he will merely whip up the sentiments towards him from the support to a higher pitch.

    If he does not resign then it is going to get a lot more ugly as regrettable and lamentable as that may be. He will only have him self to blame to a large extent.

  13. ‘He will have an awful week. There are many who would happily drop him off the Wearmouth Bridge and few who would throw him a lifebelt.’

    You couldn’t have known, obviously, but in the light of the death of Gary Speed, this feels exceptionally harsh.

    I don’t wish to sound like a massive anorak, but as important as football is to us, there are other things that matter. There have been a number of contributers in recent weeks who have (independently) debunked Shankly’s most famous saying.

    Maybe Bruce will be sacked, maybe he won’t. But the baying punters screaming that he’s a ‘fat geordie bastard’ and the threats of violence perpetrated by the same, ahem, gentlemen as they departed the SoL yesterday evening just lends pause for thought.

    Whether one is religious or not, it is likely we’re all familiar with the ‘grant me the serenity…’ invocation. It is tough now to support SAFC, it really is. But dwelling in anger; dwelling in rage; dwelling in grief over the club isn’t healthy. What’s done is done. The Wigan match is over, and unpleasant as it no doubt made our collective Saturday evenings, it has passed. Time to focus on the future.

  14. The article is spot on!

    It became clear to me in around February that Bruce is an unambitious apologist for his own mistakes and had to go.

    Nothing has changed – not his tactics, not his unadventurous playing style, not his inability to put players in their best positions, not his inablity to recognise (never mind learn) from his own mistakes and CERTAINLY not my mind.

    The guy is a buffoon and needs to be fired ASAP.

    Of course, he will not resign – he is too big a coward to admit that he has failed dismally and too lacking in pride to hang on for his “pay off”.

    What the idiot, seemingly, fails to recognise is that he is rapidly making himself unemployable, at any senior level, because of the way he is displaying his lack of ability and character!

  15. After listening to the game with ever increasing gloom, all I can say is thank you Kate Bush for giving me something positive this week! Time up Steve.

  16. Bruce is like the proverbial chicken, yesterdays result merely took his head off and he is now running around as if nothing has happened, by and by the seriousness of the situation will catch up with him.

  17. How many times will we hear those words from SB, does he really believe that by saying it over and over that it will somehow put itself right? NO IT WON’T. He is devoid of the knowledge on how to build a team, he has bought individuals, without knowing howing they will all play together on the pitch, hence the reason we see players playing in different positions week in week out. He has been supported by the board and given plenty of money and FAILED, SB can have no complaints, and it’s time he went, Mr Short take the advice of the supporters and do it now, and at least allow a new manager to do something in January.

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