The Sunderland-Norwich Soapbox: a textbook demonstration of ineptitude

Can it get any worse? Jake probably knows the answer to that
Can it get any worse? Jake probably knows the answer to that

Seven full internationals started the game for Martin O’Neill. Pete Sixsmith could be forgiven for wondering whether it was San Marino they had all played for until the manager decided they weren’t quite up to it. This is not the place to come on a wintry Monday morning if your spirits need lifting. It is, however, as incisive an analysis of what is wrong at Sunderland as you’ll find and we are not saying that just because it’s Pete’s birthday …

Thank goodness that weekend is over. Work will seem a welcome release after sitting through two games that were as exciting as a plank warping contest at a paint drying convention.

Alloa Athletic and Brechin City didn’t matter much as John Penman and I traversed the back lanes of Fife and Clackmannanshire looking for a game. Brechin managed a single goal, the Wasps not one in a game that was of little significance.

Fast forward 22 hours and there I was at the Stadium of Light telling Katy Gornall and a Late Kick Off camera crew that I was confident that we would win, that a win would settle our nerves and that relegation was a worry rather than a fear.

That was at 12.45. When I spoke to her again at 3.30pm, the optimism had gone the same way as the fleeting Sunday morning sunshine and, as cold rain began to fall, a cold chill crept along my spine as I remembered past relegations that looked unlikely.

For make no mistake, we are down among the dead men, where the brave prosper and the weak go under. The Darwinian end of the Premier League is one we have flirted with in the past but have had sufficient quality and spirit to stay out of. This time, we appear to be lacking both.

This was a truly dreadful display where the players seemed to have little idea of how to win it and also little inclination to go that extra mile. Not one of them did anything to enhance his reputation and some did themselves more harm than good with sloppy, lazy performances that had the crowd gasping at the ineptitude of it all.

The goal we gave away was indicative of our slipshod approach to this vital game. A needless corner was given away. A routine defensive header was missed from the cross, allowing Kamara to flick the ball on. Hoolahan (all of 5ft 6ins) was unmarked in the box and headed home.

Training ground routine for Norwich, absolute shambles for us. Does anybody look around and say “Who’s got him?”

Does anyone in our defence take any responsibility for marking and picking up? Do we practise defending corners? Probably not, as we don’t appear to have anybody who can take an accurate one. Awful.

We were handed a lifeline a few minutes later when their keeper was sent off for handball outside the box. Looked a good call by Chris Foy to me but we hardly took advantage of it as Norwich just worked that bit harder to make up the one man deficiency.

And if that helping hand wasn’t enough, Bassong then gave away a penalty which Gardner converted with the kind of authority that was so missing in our general play.

Even in Spain, Jake feels a shiver
Even in Spain, Jake feels a shiver

The second half exposed all of our weaknesses. There was a complete lack of pace and creativity from our midfield. Vaughan and Larsson were dreadful, turning back all the time, misplacing passes and never once looking as if they could get the better of depleted opponents.

Sessegnon was back to his form of the autumn where he looked like the 234th best player in Benin, while Johnson had a few decent touches but crossing reminiscent of Brian Usher or Tony Cullen on a bad day. He was taken off again and must be beginning to see his international career (and Premier League one) going down the pan.

Up front Graham and Fletcher, who we hoped could be footballing equivalent of Morecambe and Wise or Fry and Laurie, were more like Mike and Bernie Winters, who once appeared at the Glasgow Empire, a notorious graveyard for London based “comics”. After Mike’s opening routine had had all the impact of a Seb Larsson corner, Bernie appeared on stage, prompting a Glaswegian, intoxicated by Bucky and filled up with Tunnock’s Snowballs to utter the immortal line “F****** hell, there’s two of the b*******”.” After today, I know how the inebriated Glaswegian felt.

Graham missed a good chance just before the end of the first half, while Fletcher did very little and was comfortably shackled by one Michael Turner.

The returning Turner looked positively world class compared with the three central defenders that we fielded. John O’Shea must surely be the worst passer of the ball to have played for Sir Alex Ferguson. For the umpteenth game he gave it away so regularly that we began to think he suffers from colour blindness and has a visual block about anything in red and white stripes.

Carlos Cuellar did ok and continued to show that he is very good at recovering from slips, errors and misplaced passes. Of course, we could ask why he makes those errors in the first place thereby obviating the need to recover so well.

And then there is Titus Bramble, who came on in the second half and summed up this half hearted, ragged, incoherent squad with a performance that contained both the sublime and the ridiculous. Two thundering tackles and a couple of strong headers were cancelled out by allowing Grant Holt almost to win it for City, and a series of aimlessly booted clearances that would have been better suited to Cockton Hill Rec and the Wear Valley Sunday League.

Where do we go now? The prospects are not good. The next four games are difficult verging on the impossible. Should that grim prediction prove to be correct, we will be in the bottom three and heading for a one way ticket to Palookaville.

The paucity of our squad is now being well and truly shown up. The poor buys that Steve Bruce made combined with the disappointing ones that O’Neill has brought to the club (only Fletcher and Rose of his signings were there at the end) leaves us with a squad that is a long way short of genuine Premier League quality.

We have eight games left to save the top-flight place that we won back six years ago. Southampton and Stoke should be winnable games. But the mood around the place is an unhappy one and the crowd have had enough of these turgid, tiresome tactics. I can’t see the Season Ticket Renewal staff getting much overtime this year.

And if we do stay up, what do we do next season? Does the owner stick with O’Neill or does he say “Thanks very much” and start yet another search for the visionary who will lead us back to the Promised Land?

I wish I knew.

Monsieur Salut, by Matt
Monsieur Salut, by Matt
M Salut fought a tough battle with stop-start streams (including even the one he pays for, Barnes/Benno’s Radio Newcastle commentary via the club site), but saw enough to chill him to the bone. The ESPN report is at this link:


That it could have been a good deal worse
is beside the point. The minimum requirement from this game was the maximum available, three points. With no intended disrespect to the Canaries, they are not Chelsea or Manchester United and Sunderland’s next opponents are. Follow that with two further games from which points may be scarce, Newcastle United away and Everton at home, and it is not difficult to see what sort of fix O’Neill and his often lamentable players – and they were lamentable today – have placed themselves in.

27 thoughts on “The Sunderland-Norwich Soapbox: a textbook demonstration of ineptitude”

  1. If our midfield is particularly poor, and I agree, then of course systems matter. Take an extra man away from it and watch .them sink

  2. Goldy, 4-4-2 is no worse that the one-man-up-front rubbish which preceded it (the recent terrible run started before 4-4-2 was introduced). The fact is we’ve been utter, boring garbage all season, the situation worsened by MO’s lunatic activity in the transfer window.

    Every department of the squad is lacking (apart from the keepers) – particularly the midfield. It doesn’t matter what system we play now – the hopeless manager, his cardboard-cutout backroom staff, and now a team which hasn’t even got any spirit, means we need a miracle to survive.

  3. I understand he wasn’t ideal in hindsight but mid Jan we appeared on the rise. O’Neill probably thought now until the end of the season would be a spell where he could develop. The senior players have fooled us all again and their lack of ability is being exposed and isn’t providing a helpful learning curve for N’Diaye.

    Should O’Neill have bought tried and tested? Maybe. But that would have came at what price? People criticise his domestic buying policy and by all accounts Sissoko alway wanted a move to them up road and didn’t want to know. Every signing is a gamble to some extent.

    I thought Graham would be used to rotate with Fletcher – at least until a better midfield was acquired. I said all along that 442 would be disastrous for us. So it’s proving.

  4. I think he is a good natural footballer who can control the ball comfortably.I just think the pressure is intense and I m not sure he is for a premiership scrap.In my view we need blood,sweat and tears…..well maybe not the tears.

    The squad is good enough they just are not trying hard enough.
    I mean Johnson’s work ethic is nothing short of a joke.But he gets picked every time….where is his motivation?

    Though don’t get me started, they should be self motivated,the overpaid,idle bunch of …………now see, I ve got myself agitated again when I vowed I would stay calm.

  5. And I struggle to see how N’Diaye gets thrown to the dogs after a handful of games, put straight into a struggling side. He’s 22 years old and looks like he has something there. Chill out with him.

    • Goldy,
      I wouldnt throw anyone to the dogs.He could well turn in to a fine player,just right now he is not what we need.

    • Goldy,The problems were clear to see in January. O’Neill HAD to acquire players who could step straight into the side and improve it. He spent most of the month chasing a Swansea City reserve player, whilst N’Diaye looks completely out of his depth. As for Mangane? – your guess is as good as mine.

  6. I have found it very difficult to find anything positive about our performanced in recent weeks and hence have been very inactive on this site. After beating Man City, West Ham and Reading we had 29 pionts with 15 games remaining, it seemed a cake walk now we need 9 points from our remaining games which means we have to beat Everton, Stoke and the Saints to stay up. On recent results this seems far from easy. Why did the transfer window start the begining of our bad form and the up-turn in N’castle? They bought wisely and we simply put didn’t. Notwithstanding this the team that beat man City was capable of seeing us home why did we change? All questions MON needs to answer, on whose authority did he waste our money in the window and why did it take him so long to realise he had bought badly. If we survive and I pray we do, we need a new start and a new manager MON is not the answer, Paulo Di Canio would be my choice a gamble yes but entertainment definitley. Millions have been wasted by MOn Fletcher aside the team he plays is Bruce’s team or at least our best team, Graham, Alfie Boy, and Cuellar are not good enough, and Johnson hasn’t hit the heights we all expected.

  7. I interviewed Michael Parkinson back in 1973 and he said he’d rather watch an entertaining Second Division (as it was then) team than a run-of-the-mill First Division side. I saw and still see his point but I really don’t want to go through Sunderland being in the lower tier once again. Worse, I have a horrible feeling they might turn into a run-of-the-mill Championship team.

    What are there – eight games left to play? And none of them easy. I still think we’ll stay up by the skin of our teeth but that undignified scramble for survival and whatever happens post-season don’t make an attractive prospect.

  8. Said it last week, we need FIGHTERS back in this team.I picked out Johnson, O Shea, NDiaye, and Graham to be dropped for lack of effort.Well MON only dropped 1 out of 4,and it was another epic let down.He eventually realised I was right, eventually subbing two failures. By which time it was too late, we has lost momentum.

    To make matters worse when the anonymous Graham is finally taken off he brings on……..McClean??????When he has 15stone of rippling center forward, fresh from triumphs elsewhere sitting on the bench.The Irish numbskull contributed with his usual serving of absolutely nothing.and poor Sess is stuffed back up front where he never does well.

    At that point I gave up all hope……with MON at the helm we are going down no two ways about it.

  9. He’s lost the dressing room, simple as that. I pointed out a few weeks back how he doesn’t acknowledge players he substitutes, think back to the hugs and arm around the shoulders he undertook when he first came.

    We all know the team can perform a lot better than this and on paper they are a lot better than this, but collectively something is not right and they need to sort it before its too late, which it could be already.

  10. Reidy and Bally til the end of the season? At least they wouldn’t put up with the turgid football currently being witnessed under hapless management. Anyone notice after Gardner scored no-one came anywhere near him? What team spirit?
    Sick of change but this season has digressed quickly into an absolute nightmare and there are rumours of unrest behind the scenes. Awful performances, gutless displays from several players and pathetic signings overall make you ask should MON be given more to spend?
    We all deserve better. Yesterday was disgusting.

    • I racked my brains all night last night thinking who we could turn to, if MON is shown the door, and there is’nt a lot of names that jump out at you that could get a reaction from the team, but my only conclusion was Reid and Ball until the end of the season. The players are not good enough O’Neill
      should of addressed this over 3 transfer windows but has not. The Mags signed players who could make an instant
      difference to their team as they were in bigger trouble than us 6 weeks ago. We signed a player who is not any better than the striker we sold, a really crap midfielder and he will never be any good, the scout who spotted him should be sacked!, and a defender who is injured.
      We have to make a change or O’Neill bring in John Robertson to help him short term. Stay the same I don’t think we will get another win this season and we will be down.
      Billy Leed

  11. Make no bones about it this was a must win game and once again we were left wanting, its the final nail in the coffin. I said last week we need a miracle to stay up as this lot of so called players( I use the term loosely) will take us down. We have no pace -craft- energy or will power in the side to win games. MON seems unable to motovate the side and only gives us the same old excuses week after week. How we get the fans support in the numbers we do to watch to watch this crap is beyond me. It gives me no pleasure to write this as i,ve been a supporter for 65 years. Bill.

    • You must have seen some decent players in your early days bill. How have we degenerated into the club we are now?

  12. We offered nothing for virtually the whole game. Had we not got the penalty, we could still be playing now and we wouldn’t have fashioned a chance. Well, maybe I’m being harsh, there was one, the rebound from Larsson that Graham really should have buried.
    I didn’t see a single leader on the pitch, so we just seem directionless. Nobody wanted the ball (except Larsson, and you could see the frustration on his face – only he seems to care about the plight we’re in).
    I worry because I don’t see how this bunch can turn it around, and it will have to be this bunch. MON clearly has no intention of promoting anyone from the reserves. Is there a good reason for that? Is the well really that dry that we don’t have anyone at reserve level capabable of stepping up and freshening the side up a little? A hungry striker to bang a few goals in? Someone that has any pace whatseoever? Tell me things aren’t that bleak.
    I think the man utd game is a foregone conclusion. Collectively, we’ll put in our best performance of the season, yet somehow we’ll lose 1-0, and we’ll comfort ourselves in the knowledge that if we play like that, we’ll be alright. Except we won’t, we’ll revert to type. I am usually mildly optimistic for the derby (yet secretly fearing the worst), this year, I fear another horror show.
    The only positive I can think of is Gardener’s penalty, every one he’s taken has been unsaveable. The best taker we’ve had in many a year.

  13. For me, it is MONs tactics that leave a lot to be desired. For example the corner that they scored from was their from their fifth corner in a row – we cleared the previous four, but because we had all eleven players back defending the corners, every time we cleared the ball it came straight back.
    By contrast, even when they were down to ten men Norwich left one player up front when they were defending corners.
    If we leave two players on the halfway line when defending a corner they have to leave fout players back, we have an outlet that stops the ball coming straight back and there is more room in the box for the goalkeeper to get to the ball.

  14. This crisis has been coming for many months now. We were playing some woeful stuff at the tail end of last season and the amount of decent performances we have produced this season you could count on two fingers which would be Reading and West Ham at home.

    The turgid dross served up yesterday was much of what we have been served up for most of the season so far.. Players with no sense of urgency or determination to get us out of a mess which is of their making and seemingly not caring about the plight of this great club.Lets face it relegation or not, most will be moved on in the summer and if they aren’t they certainly should be.

    I was filled with great optimism with the arrival of MON and saw it as an opportunity for the club to stabilise and even push on with an established and highly regarded Manager at the helm. In all honesty the last year has been disappointing at best and downright abysmal at worst.

    Some of the signings have just not delivered. Johnson sunk to new depths yesterday with a performance that would not been amiss in the Alloa versus Brechin game that Sixer and I suffered on the previous day. Manchester City must have thought all their birthdays had come at once when we offered £10m for this waster.Graham is quite simply a Championship player at best and although he didn’t play yesterday N’Diaye has shown nothing so far to suggest he will ever cut it at this level.

    In past relegation battles (apart from the 15pt and 19pt seasons) I have always felt that the team had a fighting chance and were capable of grinding out some results from somewhere. Yesterdays pathetic performance gave me no hope that we are likely to get a win from anywhere in the remainder of the season. We hardly created a chance against 10 men for an hour and a 3rd choice keeper.

    Quite how we expect to escape this is down to the Manager and the players but Ellis Short may have some big decisions to make in the coming weeks. I don’t believe this bunch of spineless wasters will get us out of this mess so I suggest we look out the prayer mats.

    • One thing we COULD do is to bring in a motivation coach. O’Neill looks to me as if he has lost the dressing room. There are still eight games to go, and a couple of wins might see us survive this season.

      As you say, Mr Short will need to seriously re-think the existing set-up, post-season.

      • Kevin Ball would kick them up the arse and get them fighting with the spirit we might expect of our team. He might even kick O’Neils backside ,

  15. Maybe our only saving grace is that the teams around us all have games against each other between now and seasons end.

    But I agree Mr Short has some serious thinking to do regardless of where we end up because we are witnessing a disaster of biblical proportions right now, piss poor management, piss poor squad, piss poor outlook for season ticket sales, piss poor prospects!

    If we are on the end of another drubbing from ‘them up the road’ then things may become untenable for the Club. We are stuck with what we have and how we get the best out of it for the remainder of the season will be a really taxing issues for those concerned. The crowd response at the final whistle was becoming Brucesque.

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