A trip to South Norwood was a trip too far for the intrepid Sixer. Having had a few days in the deep south before the Southampton game, followed by three days watching Durham revive their County Championship hopes at Scarborough, Salut’s Pete Sixsmith chose to watch his local Northern League team take another step along the road that leads to Wembley followed by Sky’s coverage of the latest counter revolutionary action at Selhurst Park. It had the makings of a good afternoon but alas the real ale bars of Darlington took a hammering on Saturday night. At least Durham CCC won!
As grim goes, it doesn’t get much grimmer than the latest defeat. Beaten by a side that scraped into the Premier League, who had lost their first two games and who were tipped as relegation bankers. We may just join them in that assessment.
I didn’t make the trip, having an irrational fear of being cast adrift for days in the area around the South Circular Road so I watched it on the telly at Horan Manor, after witnessing Shildon’s dismal exit from the FA Cup by 2-0 at home to a Penrith side who seemed far keener than The Railwaymen to win the game and the £1950 that went with it.
Having stood shaking our heads at the disappointing efforts of the Shildon team, we sat shaking our heads at the dismal performance that Sunderland turned in at Selhurst Park, a ground where we have been consistently dismal since Neanderthal Man first kicked a sabre toothed tiger bladder around the floor of the cave. The serious head shaking started when we saw the team and realised that Ji was playing. I am sure that he is a charming young man and that he does not play badly on purpose, but, having seen him in all three games this season, if he is the only cover that we have up front, we are in trouble. Mandron is surely a better bet, as is kit man John Cooke or even, at a pinch, Jarvis the Cocker Spaniel, who may or may not have been in attendance yesterday.
Bad start made worse when, for the third League game running, our defending from a set piece was totally ineffective. The keeper did not come for the ball (admittedly a good one), no defender dealt with it and Gabbidon shinned it into the net. It was the kind of goal that will have been conceded on public parks all over the country this morning – we manage to do it on national TV.
It left us with a hill to climb and it would be true to say that we never looked like clambering over it. The usual pedestrian midfield was overrun by a Palace side that actually moved forward at pace. Puncheon and Jedinak both created space and carried the ball forward. Vaughan and Larsson ran around a lot and achieved nothing. That we went in a single goal down was a minor miracle.
We could have been level if the unfortunate Ji had made a decent attempt to head in a very decent cross by Johnson. He didn’t and his attempt to do so can only be described as a mixture of comedy and pathos. It was like watching Norman Wisdom trying to catch a balloon.
The second half started brightly, as Ji left the scene to be replaced by Steven Fletcher. He made a difference, looked hungry for the ball and actually seemed to want it. He linked well with Mavrias (on for the disappointing Giaccherini) and Colback and planted a header firmly in the net to show exactly how vulnerable the new boys are to a bit of quality. We then sat back in anticipation of us maintaining our grip on the game and finishing Palace off. Ha!!
For whatever reason, (not good enough, thought it would be an easy win, couldn’t be bothered) we handed them the opportunity to retake the lead, when O’Shea completely misread a through ball, failed to get to it but succeeded in pulling down Dwight Gayle, giving away the clearest penalty this season and also earning a simple red card. Gayle rattled it in and we were finished. O’Keefe’s belter was the icing on the cake for Palace. Gayle is an untried Championship player from Peterborough who cost them £6m. At times, he struggled but he never gave up and as the game went on and he realised that there was bugger all difference between Sunderland and Barnsley, he looked a good player.
Compare him with a man of a similar age, with a similar price tag, one Connor Wickham. Here he was, in the team on merit after a barnstorming spell against MK Dons, with a great opportunity to show Paolo Di Canio what he could do.
And what did he do? He fluffed it. No pace, no positional skill and little real evidence of wanting to establish himself as a Premier League player. It was a tale of two young men, one with something to prove, the other with a large bank balance obtained whilst achieving nothing. It looks like we have had another bum deal here.
The whole demeanour of the team and manager, shown to a chuckling nation in HD, was extremely worrying. The body language was poor, there appeared to be little encouragement on the field, while the Head Coach looked bemused and puzzled at times. He has a good right to as Mr Horan and I were of the opinion that this was looking like a 20 point season and that unless we began to play soon, we would be down by Halloween and that the “Revolution” would be cancelled.
I would like to pose these questions;
1. Has the Chief Coach been given the players he wants? If so, does anyone out there think that he has the faintest idea of what to do with them?
2. Why is Ji playing? Is he brilliant in training or is Di Canio making a point about the lack of cover that we have in order to get Ellis Short to cough up a few more million?
3. Is Diakite any better than Cuellar? Is Roberge an improvement on Kilgallon? Is there any chance of Wes Brown playing? Our central defence is worrying.
4. What do we do with Connor Wickham? Should we continue to hope that he comes good or should we cut our losses and send him back to Ipswich?
5. Why can’t we have a centre midfield player who will carry the ball forward at pace like Jedinak did? Why does Vaughan run around in circles? Why does Larsson push forward and then stop to pass the ball sideways?
6. Is it too early to write this season off?
Arsenal are the next opponents. Take a calculator or an abacus – it could get even grimmer.
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