Sixer’s Soapbox: Spurs blunted as Gardner digs deep

Jake yawned; Spurs fans squealed 'it's not fair to stop us winning'
From his seat in the stands, Pete Sixsmith reflects on a Sunderland performance which may not have set the pulses racing from sheer excitement, but nor did it set them racing from inept defending. Another satisfactory team display in which three of Bruce’s under utilised performers come in for special praise.


It was Cec Irwin’s 70th birthday yesterday and as he left the pitch at half time, the general comment was that he looks little different than he did when he was 25 and was marauding up and down the touchline at Roker Park, crunching into wingers.

In those days, he would have come up against Spurs sides made up of the likes of Alan Gilzean, Dave Mackay, Jimmy Greaves and Danny Blanchflower, all internationals and all icons for those who grew up watching the game in the 60s.
The current Spurs team has players as prominent as those, but who will not become Spurs’ legends, due to the more transient nature of football in the 21st. Century. That Gilzean was a far better player than Adebayor is hardly open to debate and Parker is certainly no Dave Mackay – a player born in Edinburgh and moulded out of the rock of Arthur’s Seat, whereas Parker, with his floppy fringe and sticky out tongue, is the epitome of the urban metrosexual.
But they are a good side and should qualify for a Champions League place for 2012-13 – which makes our performance against them all the more satisfying.
Unlike last Saturday, where we thrilled the nation with our scintillating attacking display, this week we drove the ever more ridiculous Alan “Greeny” Green to distraction as he complained about the cold, our tactics, the atmosphere, the size of the crowd and the fact that Sunderland is a long drive from his mansion in Cheshire. Poor lamb!
It wasn’t that cold (or maybe we are more used to it than effete Cheshiristas) and it was one of those awful lunchtime kick offs where you are rushing about early morning to get the shopping done, do the housework and read the paper, before setting off, with little time for a drink and/or lunch.
The crowd was a tad under 40,000, which seems pretty good to me. We seem to be stuck in this upper 30,000 bracket, partly as a result of the dismal football played earlier in the season and partly due to the current economic climate. When in doubt, blame Bruce and the Tories!! Credit to Spurs for the size of their following, but even they found it hard to get excited after leaving North London at silly o’clock.
The atmosphere was dictated by the game, which was not a thriller but was by no means dull. Here were two good sides, both of whom had managers who prepare their teams well. Good ol’ ‘Arry paid us a compliment by turning out his full first XI, including two of the most coveted players in the PL in Bale and Modric. No run out for the fringe players here – this was a serious game against a serious team managed by a serious Ulsterman.
The Ulsterman selected his strongest team (kindly bequeathed by the sadly misunderstood Tynesider who had preceded him) and had them prepared from the start to make sure that, if Spurs were to win, they would have to work for it.
The back four had to be solid and it was. The midfield had to close down and break quickly and it did. The forwards had to be prepared to come back and look for the ball and they did. The majority of the 36,000 home fans fully understood what O’Neill had sent the players out to do and rejoiced in the fact that we now have a manger who can give clear instructions to players and inspire them enough to make sure that they have bought into his philosophy. The previous incumbent was unable to do that for the last 9 months of his tenure.
Take Matt Kilgallon. If you were Steve Bruce, you were quite happy for him to go to Middlesbrough or Doncaster , the footballing equivalent of the Siberian Power Station that disgraced members of Brezhnev’s Politburo were sent to run. He bought him, dabbled with him – and then ignored him.
Against Emmanuel Adebayor, Louis Saha and Jermain Defoe the Bruce reject looked a class act, reading the game well, tackling crisply and forming an excellent partnership with Michael Turner.
Take Jack Colback. If you were Steve Bruce, you would give him a couple of games and then put him back on the bench and would never dream of playing him at full back.
On Saturday, Wayne Bridge and Kieran Richardson sat and watched Colback turn in as accomplished a full back performance as you will see. When Bale was tired of failing to find a way past Bardsley’s nagging persistence, he wandered over to try his luck against a midfielder filling in. He got nowhere and nor did Aaron Lennon when he came on. Apart from one misplaced pass in the 90th.minute, Colback was outstanding.
Take Craig Gardner. Homesick because he was sick of not playing, he cemented a place in O’Neill’s first team after Christmas and has done very well. He is not the quickest of players and sometimes plays with his head down, but his effort and commitment stand out.
When Bardsley went off, he slotted in at full back comfortably and pulled off the tackle of the season on Bale in the 90th. minute, one which would have been greatly appreciated by the Birthday Boy from Ashington watching from the boxes.
The whole team played its part and there was not one weakness to be seen. Sessegnon was well marked but slipped away a couple of times and, like all teams now, there was a double cover on James McClean – a man who, had the currently unemployed former manager had his way, would be on loan to Peterborough or Barnsley instead of causing full backs to have copious fits of the vapours.
This result and performance is a testimony to how far we have come since losing to Wigan and Wolves in the autumn. The same players but with a different mindset and a manager who knows how to organise and encourage rather than bemoan the expectations of the fans who, wanted to win more than three home games in a year and not roll over against the so-called big teams.
The former occupant of the hot seat was summarising the Chelsea v Wigan game on 5Live. He did a decent job and, came across well enough, showing his knowledge of players and the workings of the game. It was interesting that his colleague, Darren Fletcher, referred to him as a former Wigan and Birmingham manager, with no mention of Sunderland . Perhaps the denial continues and he is attempting to air brush out his time on Wearside. I can’t see him being asked to comment on a Sunderland game, can you?
Everton on Monday and probably some changes from both sides. The Leigh Arms beckons.
Ha’way The Lads.

12 thoughts on “Sixer’s Soapbox: Spurs blunted as Gardner digs deep”

  1. It’s refreshing not to hear you pondering whether or not to renew your season ticket Pete. See you in a few weeks. Hope Mike has some good beer for you to try.

  2. You’re not seeing entertainment value in Sunderland, Ivor? I dunno where the “Biggen” comes in but it’s sure as hell not your perspective. The football Sunderland has played and continues to play under O’Neill is in a different league (no pun intended) to that played under Steve Bruce, whose mantra was “shut ’em down and come away with a point.” It was dull, counter-productive, depressing football. That is NOT what we’re getting from O’Neill. As Pete says, this is a manager who knows how to organize and encourage.
    Leaving aside the fact that MON’s mentality is anything but to “defend at home to stop the opposition from playing football” (the opposition play football, all right, but these days we tend to play BETTER football), a well-played defensive game can be very entertaining to watch.
    The one depressing element to Pete’s piece is the reminder that Cec Irwin has turned 70. Mortality sucks!

    • Cec turned 70 Bill but as has been pointed out to me more than once, growing older surely beats the alternative.

      • Isn’t it strange the way that some people are now repeating the Sky mantra of “entertainment” value?.

        Having brainwashed those same individuals into believing that they invented football, in 1992, it would appear that they now wish to, also, convince them that entertainment (at all costs) is more important than playing well, gathering points and maintaining team moral in a way that remaining unbeaten does.

        Why has nobody questioned the way HR set his team up for Saturday’s game and the number of men they put behind the ball?

        Or, is it only teams like “little ol’ Sunderland” that are supposed to be expansive and allow the current Sky favourites (insert name of team here) to pick them off at will?

        The main purpose, for any team, has to be to gain as many points as possible over the course of a season and I can remember when, in 1964, two days after losing at home to Liverpool, 2-3, we had to play the return fixture, at Anfield.

        The team had learned it’s lessons well and was set up with a certain Mr Irwin playing, ostensibly, at outside right, with John Parke behind him at right back, to negate the threat posed by Thompson (IIRC).

        The result was a 0-0 draw and clearly demonstrated that, at times it is necessary to be pragmatic, rather than adopt some romantic idea of how the game must, always, be played!

        Some people should understand that!

      • There’s a lot of truth in what you say Phil though I will confess there have been times, sitting in the stand when I have asked myself if I shouldn’t be spending my cash on something else. But Saturday wasn’t one of them. It was a decent game I thought and heard no-one moaning as I left the ground.

        As far as I can work out, it’s only those who watched on TV that have said that.

      • I think that most supporters, who care about their team, (whoever they support) accept that not all games are going to be free flowing “entertainment”.

        There will, always, be games when some players are not on top form or the opposition has, successfully, countered their strengths.

        In others, there can be two sides who play, intelligent, “cat and mouse” (almost like playing chess) which can, maybe, be described as not being good TV, for the neutral.

        Football is a sport, which can enrapt & entertain – NOT entertainment which is also a sport!

        Personally, as long as I can enjoy some form of contest (tactical or otherwise) which forces me to focus on what is happening and attempt to guess what might happen next then I’m, normally, happy.

        As long, though, as they that is linked to effort, desire and demonstrations of skill, when appropriate.

        Gardner’s tackle, on Saturday was, for me, as enjoyable as watching a mazy run where someone goes past 3 players.

        Sky boys, though, would probably not understand a word of what I’ve just typed.

      • Very well said. Football is sometimes about strategy. TV pundits, Hansen included, seem to be only thinking now of the global audience – there has to be a ‘story’, drama and ‘entertainment’. Whereas supporters want to see their team play well, which we did on Saturday. All the Sunderland supporters I spoke to after the game were satisfied with the match and the result. TV commentary – and Alan Green – have become a joke.

  3. I think you are missing the main ingredient in football. The entertainment value. I think you will get used to these poor excuses with Martin O’Neil . Sunderland are on 41 points and no relegation fears,only have a few more home games left and the mentality is to defend at home to stop opposition from playing football. Only Martin O’Neil teams do advice to you is bring your cushions and duvets with you next season,it will be more exciting than watching the new Leicester City in Stadium of Dull.

    • Were you at the ground or did you watch on TV? The restricted views produced by the cameras, the close ups and the replays don’t always reflect the true nature of the game. It wasn’t the greatest game I have ever seen but it was far from being the most boring. It was interesting watching the individual contests going on in various parts of the pitch, sometimes away from the ball. I don’t mean players were niggling each other but that off the ball they were trying to create spaces, working for each other etc.

      It was interesting watching the different set ups of the two teams with Sunderland a clear 4 4 2 and Spurs much more fluid, playing a kind of 2-1-3-2-2 turning into a 2-1-3-1-3 game.

      Of course entertainment at the prices you quote, has to be value for money or people will stop going. Believe me the home performances against Notts County, Wigan, Fulham etc. did much more to make me question the cost of going to the SSOL than yesterday’s game. Am I easily pleased? I don’t think so but I want to see the team I support being competitive and hard working. That is what I am seeing at the moment.

      I would hope that once the foundations of the team have proved solid, then with some inevitable tweaking a more positive approach maybe forthcoming. By the way did you see the performance against Man City? Now that was an entetaining game and the same 11 players started. Credit the manager for adapting the approach to the opponents.

      This to my mind is an accurate report of the game I saw.

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