Malcolm Dawson writes…in all honesty I’m not sure many of us in our heart of hearts expected a win but as always most of us will have wished for a performance that would produce an upset. We always go in hope, even when we don’t go in expectation and for a while on Saturday, it looked as if our hopes and dreams just might come true. It was a gutsy first half followed by the down to earth reality which is part and parcel of being a Sunderland fan. As usual Peter Sixsmith was perched on his eyrie, high in the East Stand and as usual he brings us his version of events on the pitch.
David De Gea was, according to his former goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, “a poor trainer, who ate too many tacos and who still had some issues at Manchester United”.
After the game turning save that he made in the 34th minute 40,000 Sunderland fans went away wishing that he had stuffed himself with tacos on Saturday lunchtime, thereby reducing his agility to the level of Iain Hesford.
There we were, 1-0 up and playing some very good football. The defending was solid, with the mistakes of the past few weeks eliminated. The midfield, wonderfully led by a resurgent Lee Cattermole , was ratting around and disturbing Carrick, the ephemeral Cleverley and Rooney, while up front, Altidore had seriously unsettled Vidic and Jones.
These two had very kindly presented Craig Gardner with an easy opportunity in the fifth minute which he promptly took and, despite a couple of scares, we were by far the better side.
Then, in that fateful thirty fourth minute, Adam Johnson did what he is very good at as he wriggled away from two defenders, and delivered a superb cross to Emmanuelle Giaccherini, unmarked at the near post. De Gea was poised to go to his left, so Giaccherini changed direction and headed it towards his right hand post. The mercurial Italian was celebrating a brilliant goal, but it was De Gea who changed direction and pushed the ball round the post – and it was United who were celebrating one of the finest saves I have ever seen, reminiscent of the one Monty made at Boothferry Park in 1973 to thwart Roy Greenwood.
There was another chance as Johnson once again set up Giaccherini, but this time De Gea’s rubber like agility was not needed as the ball was placed emphatically over the crossbar – and with that, went our chance of taking our first three points of the season.
The general consensus, as we discussed the first half, was that we would do extremely well to maintain that level of intensity for another 45 minutes and that if we could see that, Moyes and his staff certainly would. George In Front said that we had to hold them for the first twenty minutes if we were to hold on; alas we didn’t.
They came out with a much more positive approach and took the game to us. Legs and minds were tired and we conceded two goals to a Belgian/ Kosovon/Albanian child from Brussels, called Adnan Januzaj. That both were exceptionally well taken is scant consolation. The second came from a poor defensive header by John O’Shea, who, more and more, looks like yesterday’s man.
Mind you, Januzaj has been well versed in Manchester United tactics. As a midfielder, he will have spent time with Ashley Young and Nani, the biggest baby ever to play professional football, and they must get him to dive better. The one at the start of the second half, which earned him a booking, was in the Steven Taylor class – thank goodness that Howard Webb wasn’t the man in the middle.
As it was, Chris Foy had a good game, but I was very disappointed with his booking of Craig Gardner for a handball offence. Patrice Evra had been guilty of an identical misdemeanour in the first half and was not booked. It looked as if Foy was going to make the same decision re Gardner, until Vidic (probably still smarting from the cock ups he had made in the first half) started waving an imaginary yellow card around and shouting at Foy. Predictably, Foy buckled, Gardner was booked and was now one slip away from a sending off. You could see the effect it had on Gardner, who had had a very good game and it led to him being replaced by Larsson between the equalizer and the winner. As Mike Gatting once said (probably through a mouthful of cheese roll);”One rule for one and one for another”.
It was a creditable performance and the first half was as well as we have played all season. But once again, we came away with nothing and the position at the bottom of the league is looking increasingly permanent as the likes of Fulham and Norwich begin to pick up points.
Any watching managerial candidate (that guy in front of me with the patently false beard looked a lot like Tony Pulis) would have been impressed with the ethos of the team. They worked hard for each other, there was no sign of fragmentation and they played some decent football. But, chances at this level have to be taken and the fact that we didn’t, allowed an initially shaky Manchester United team to drag themselves back into the game.
What now? We have two weeks off and it is essential that a permanent manager is in place before the game at Swansea on the 19th October. Bally has stabilised things and the players clearly like him. Whether he can give us a long term lift is debatable. There is nobody I would like to see succeed more, but I have my doubts.
Poyet , Pulis and the former Hoffenheim coach, Ralf Rangnick look to be the front runners , but Ellis Short cannot afford another mistake like O’Neill and Di Canio. The season is retrievable and the next three games are winnable. That would put us back in the pack. We have wasted four games due to managerial histrionics and bizarre team selections – lose the next three (which is just as possible as winning them) and we are dead men walking until May and a return to Derby, Barnsley and Blackburn.
Eric Steel also said that De Gea has “calmness, composure and inner strength”. If ever those qualities were needed at The Stadium of Light, then it’s now.
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** For Monsieur Salut’s view, visit the Sunderland pages at ESPNFC.com: http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/2198?cc=5739
No one should dismiss the cruelty of the fixtures list; it simply defies natural justice to have a home programme that includes all the likeliest top six clubs in the first eight games at the Stadium of Light.
The real issue is that by the time the supposedly easier games come along, confidence will be as low as the most probable league position: rock bottom. It would then, indeed, be a great escape par excellence for whoever happened to be in charge.