Whatever pre Christmas spirit there was in Sixsmith Towers on Saturday morning had evaporated like the fumes of flaming brandy on the Christmas Pudding, by the time Martin Atkinson blew for full time after yet another disappointing afternoon at the Stadium of Light. It was no secret that this was a game which could define the rest of the season. A win would still have left Gus Poyet’s men bottom but with a narrowing gap that would surely act as an incentive in the winnable games to come. Anything less would mean what was already an uphill task would involve taking the steeper route on gammy knees with no stick. Pete Sixsmith left in a mood reminiscent of George Bailey before his meeting with Clarence Oddbody. It’ll take a win at Everton, another in Wales and a third on New Year’s Day to convince him that somewhere, there is an angel yet to earn his wings, looking down on him.
I SUSPECT THAT’S IT
Yet another disappointing performance against a side who are, in theory, at about the same level as we are i.e. hanging on to the Premier League and all the riches and entertainment that it brings. On Saturday, Norwich climbed a little further away from the precipice. We are over the edge and desperately clinging on but only because teams above us are proving to be almost as useless as we are.
As it is Christmas, we should look for some positives. We didn’t lose. We kept a clean sheet. It didn’t rain. And that’s about it. Not much is it? Oh, and Norwich didn’t look that good either.
However, the negatives far outweighed the positives. Another red card and this time one that will not be overturned. I haven’t seen it on TV as I was not prepared to sit through Match of the Day until the bitter end to have my views confirmed that this was a foolish and totally unnecessary blot on Wes Brown’s hitherto impressive season. It looked to me that all the frustration of being stuck in a side that is heading for the Championship came out and he clattered into the cartoon character that is Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Not a great example to set and indicative of the awful season that we are undergoing. So, Brown can have an extended Christmas break and will miss the next three games that will now define our season.
Anything less than 6 points will leave us with a hopeless task in avoiding the ninth relegation that I have witnessed. However, to get six points, it is essential to score goals. We have gone 180 minutes in the League without hitting the back of the net. Last week, we hit the bar and the post and forced Jaaskelainen into a couple of saves. Schwarzer had to extend himself on Tuesday night and we buzzed around The Pensioners’ goal.
However, John Ruddy had a quiet game in the Canaries net – a couple of catches and parries being the extent of his activity. Post and bar remained intact, although we did put a number of shots into the crowd.
That number was considerably less than it could have been as our players consistently failed to get a shot in. How many touches are needed to line up the ball? For good players it is one, occasionally two. Ours need three or four as they move, crab like, across the 18 yard line.
Jozy Altidore was the biggest culprit. He did well on Tuesday but had a shocker yesterday and looked like a player who cannot score. The Dutch league must be an absolute doddle, looking at the number of forwards who do well there and flop in this country. Remember Alfonso Alves at Middlesbrough? Has Wilfreid Bony been a success at Swansea? The midfield was pedestrian and allowed Norwich to filter back to stop any surges from Borini who looked as if he might do something. But the ponderous build up was not to his liking and he had to pick the ball up deep or move inside to collect it, negating his pace and his enthusiasm.
It really was a depressing afternoon. The teams around us are little better at the moment, but some or all may gather a bit of momentum and leave us stranded. To gain anything from this season, we have to pick up the pace and find someone who can play a quick, killer ball to whoever we play up front. That will almost certainly be either Fletcher or Altidore as neither Wickham nor Graham are likely to be recalled early from their respective loans. Mandron looks a work in progress and may be a season away from first team football.
What we need is a forward who can play alongside the big centre forward that we have been landed with. Could that be Borini feeding off whoever it is? Could we play with our forwards higher up the field? Can Poyet and his coaches encourage a quicker, more accurate final ball, played before the opposition smother us in midfield?
On Thursday, after we have all stuffed ourselves on poultry and pudding, we are at Goodison Park, a ground where our record of winning is about as long as a pleasurable Cliff Richard singles list. Everton are looking to offload Jelavic and Heitinger, both of whom are looking for regular football before the World Cup. We need a short term boost. These two may provide it – I can’t see many other players queuing up to don red and white stripes in the January window.
So, not a happy Christmas for Sunderland fans. Most of us are resigned to relegation, older ones like me knowing a relegation team when they see one. There is hope, but games have to be won and time is running out. There are other clubs in turmoil (Cardiff and their mad owner) and others who could get dragged into it (Norwich, who looked little better than average) but none are as poor as we are.
And a Merry Christmas to all our readers.