With the opposition firmly ensconced at the bottom of the league, a team that had lost seven consecutive games and hadn’t kept a clean sheet in the league since August 27th, Pete Sixsmith travelled to the Stadium of Light in high spirits. Here was a great opportunity to cement that push for a top eight finish. By the end he was fantasising about non PC seventies sitcoms and the latest equivalent of Watney’s Red Barrel …
LETTING THE WOLVES IN THE DOOR
There are some games that warm the cockles of your heart on a cold day. This was, most emphatically, not one of them. It was as poor a ninety minutes as I have seen this season – a season that has so far, taken in 178 games – including every one played by Sunderland. I am on target to achieve my first ever full season and my first ever 200 games.
But I doubt I will see one as dreary as this. At one stage I was thinking about what would be preferable to this shocker. Root canal work without anaesthetic, a lock in at a pub that only served John Smiths Extra Cool Extra Smooth or an evening watching George and Mildred and On The Buses all came to mind and were all dismissed as the stultifying boredom of Sunderland v Wolverhampton Wanderers took over.
From our point of view we looked jaded, lacklustre and lacking in the confidence that ran through the team in December and January. It might make us realise what a lopsided set of players we have with no natural goalscorer and a collection of decent, if uninspiring, midfielders. O’Neill has done very well to get us to where we are.
Games like this can enable the manager to formulate his thinking for the summer and MON will have gone back to his home having a much clearer idea of what needs to be done for 2012-13.
He will have learned that neither Craig Gardner nor Jack Colback is capable of leading the midfield. Both are tidy players and both have qualities, but seizing a game by the scruff of the neck and injecting some pace into it is not their style.
Once again Gardner’s lack of pace and difficulty in seeing a clear pass let him down and he looks like the one who will drop out if Cattermole is fit next week. The captain was missed badly and it is probable that his presence might just have given us the edge in a midfield that Karl Henry found far too easy to have ascendancy over.
Both Larsson and McClean are struggling at the moment. The Irishman spurned a couple of good chances in the first half and he no longer seems to have the boundless enthusiasm that he was showing up to three weeks ago, when he destroyed QPR.
Our sole creative player is Sess and he was the one player on the park who made this game look like a Premier League clash, rather than something from the middle of the Championship.
His running and his strength caused Wolves problems and his final pass was often far too good for his team mates. He threatened to win the game for us but could just not find that little bit extra to give us the three points, that would have made this a game more fun than a six hour bus trip from Belfast to Athlone, with a hangover.
Sess apart, the other positive that can be taken is Simon Mignolet, who once again showed that he will be the first choice keeper for Sunderland and Belgium for a long time. He handled the ball well and made a stunning save from Steve Fletcher towards the end, although it is a pity about his distribution which needs to improve. I gather that Jordan Pickford, who has done well in his loan spell at Darlington, also has problems with his disposal of the ball – something for the coaching staff to work on in the summer.
Defensively we looked OK, although Turner was never completely happy against Ebanks-Blake, a player who has caused him a lot of problems in the past. Kilgallon did well enough, while Bardsley and Richardson never allowed Kightley and, later on Jarvis (the player, not Billy Longworth’s dog) to dominate.
But the overall picture is one of disappointment at an opportunity missed. Whereas last Saturday’s goalless draw was quite an interesting game, this one was anything but and it meant that we had a miserable afternoon on a bitterly cold day. Ian and Susan who sit next to us were off to Australia to visit their son, so not a great goodbye for them.
The mood wasn’t helped by the fact that Everton had blown their chances at Wembley. To lose to Liverpool was bad enough, to lose to an Andy Carroll goal was even worse, but to lose and let the Mags into Europe next season was unforgivable. I think that David Moyes should be sent back to Preston North End and Steve Bruce parachuted in to Goodison.
And finally, as Sir Trevor used to say, what of Wolves? They are a grand old club and I hope to see them back soon. They worked hard, had a couple of decent chances and, in Steve Fletcher, had a player who MON must be thinking about very strongly. Defensively though, they looked shaky and it was clear at times why they concede so many goals.
Doesn’t say much for us that we couldn’t add to that tally!!!!