Sixer’s Villa Soapbox: where’s the resolution on Wearside?

Pete Sixsmith shares his blues on Salut! Sunderland
Pete Sixsmith shares his blues on Salut! Sunderland

Malcolm Dawson writes….back in the not so dim and distant past, I was enjoying a pint in the Kings Arms prior to the League Cup quarter final, repeating the message contained in several of my comments on Salut! Sunderland – that we would be fine. Our squad, I argued, was at least as good as those of the teams around us and there were enough points to be won to ensure we would climb out of the relegation zone. I was not alone in my opinion. There was plenty of optimism and the win against Chelsea that night only increased the feel good factor. But this morning I feel like I’m in the kind of relationship, so beloved of the soap opera script writer, where all my friends are saying “get out of it…she’s no good for you…she makes you miserable….it’ll only get worse” and I pathetically reply “but she’s promised she’ll change.” And for a time it seems like she has but then normal service is resumed. If we’d beaten Norwich we would only be 3 points behind them; a win at Cardiff would have put us 1 point behind them; victory against Villa only 3 adrift of them ….and if we’d won all three we’d be almost mid-table in 12th spot. It’s all very well beating Man City, Newcastle and Everton but it’s beating the teams in the bottom half of the table which is the key to finishing in a respectable spot. Pete Sixsmith was in his usual seat and left with the all too familiar feelings of anger, despair and frustration which too often is the lot of the Sunderland supporter.



Just when there was a bit of hope stirring, along comes a performance like this! Just when you thought that the team could fight its way out of the relegation zone, along comes this! Just when you think that the manager and coaching staff have got us on an even keel, along comes this!

The points that we had picked up at Everton and Cardiff all had a distinct tinge of the fortunate about them. Mannone kept us on target for a win at Goodison and Cardiff imploded on Saturday night to let us back into the game. But we hoped that that good fortune would act as a catalyst and give us the strength, the inner, mental strength to go on and beat a Villa side who don’t score goals and who were on the edge of the relegation places themselves. Who am I kidding? In the fifty years I have been going to Sunderland, how many times have they failed to produce the goods when they had to? How many times when the chips were down, did we fail to pick them up? To a list that goes all the way back to Chelsea in 1963, now add Aston Villa 2014.

This was the game that confirmed, in my mind, the fact that we are heading for the Championship. There we were at home, to a team a handful of places above us. Four points had been dug out from two tricky away games. Four of the others in our predicament were playing each other. If we won and the other results went our way, we were out of a relegation spot for the first time this season. And we blew it.

We gave away a ludicrous goal which will have every fan of every club in the bottom eight saying to themselves that there are two places left. We can always rely on Sunderland to shoot themselves in the foot. We should have been ahead before the catastrophe that cost us the game. Fletcher was played in by Giaccherini and it cried out for a firm shot into the net. For whatever reason, he tried to place it wide of the keeper and succeeded in putting it wide of the post. That would have put us ahead and may well have settled us.

Ten minutes later, the Villa goal arrived. It was nothing to do with scintillating play from a side who play very much on the break, but it was due to a degree of mental alertness from Gabby Agbonlahor that none of our players could match. Lee Cattermole failed to control the ball and was dispossessed by the Villa player. He ran on and scored. End of game. Cattermole then tried to give the ball away on another two occasions and was baled out by his colleagues.
What is it with Cattermole? He will have two or three decent games and then he starts to think that he is a good player. He isn’t. So, to make up for his inadequacies he either fouls someone then gets sent off or drops clangers like this. Managers have spoken of his commitment and effort and I am sure he impresses them with his approach to the game. It is just that he is so unreliable and, at times, inept with his clumsy tackling, his poor control, his inability to make a telling pass and his dreadful goal scoring record. Does anybody think that he is any better than Grant Leadbitter.

But he wasn’t the only one. The defence was all over the place and never looked like a unit. In fact, that was the entire problem; we never looked like a team at any stage in the game. It was as if the effort and concentration that we had shown at Goodison and the fight back at Cardiff had never happened. For most of us there, this was depressingly familiar. We had seen similar hapless performances under the previous three managers and we hoped for better under Poyet. Did he pick the right team? Why move Bardsley to left back? Should he have played Ji? What are his options?

Dossena hardly inspires confidence and Altidore was widely regarded as dreadful on Saturday. In fact, Ji did far better than he had earlier in the season (not a difficult feat to perform), but he is no answer to the goal scoring problem that we have. If you don’t score, you don’t win. What is the situation with Steven Fletcher? He turned in another anodyne performance today and never looked once like the player we saw last season. Does he want to go? Gary Bennett suggested that there may be a problem between him and the manager and it looks more likely every time you watch him play.

Why do we never seem to trouble goalkeepers? Guzan had an easy afternoon, with no difficult saves. Why can we not put in a decent ball from a corner or a free kick? I can’t remember the last time we caused panic in the opposition box with a string of good dead balls. Villa were not brilliant, but did not need to be. They had done their homework on us and knew that if they pressed us we would make mistakes. They were sharper, were prepared to have a shot and broke into open play, where we go sideways and backwards like a driver lost on Spaghetti Junction in the belief that if he keeps going round, he might get to where he wants to be in the end.

There is still a flicker of hope, but our record against the other teams near the bottom is an absolute embarrassment. We have drawn with Norwich, Cardiff, Villa and West Ham – not one win against teams we need to beat. It is no good beating City and Everton and then collapsing against the likes of West Brom, Fulham and Palace. As a supporter, I have no idea of where we go from here. Good players will not be attracted to a club that is stuck at the bottom and the current playing staff are clearly not good enough. We need another 27 points from the remaining games to stay up, We’ll do well to get 12!

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19 thoughts on “Sixer’s Villa Soapbox: where’s the resolution on Wearside?”

  1. Like most of our players Cattermole Johnson,and Fletcher are good Championship players but at best mediocre Premiership ones .How many clubs in the top half of the Premeirship would buy them for what we paid for them ?Answer ? None?

    It seems to me that that whilst most of our players are honest hardworking professionals they don’t have that extra bit of quality or intelligence to make the best of the ability they possess ,required to be really good Premiership players .

  2. Regarding Cattermole. It was a terrible blunder on New Year’s Day but in mitigation:

    He had been handed the captain’s armband and seemed to wish to show his leadership qualities. In the opening minutes he was waving his arms around directing the players around him.

    He has shown the ability to be a key player sitting in front of the back four but equally he has been a liability, making stupid challenges in areas of the pitch where there was little threat. I felt against Villa that he was trying to be Poyet’s man on the pitch.

    Poyet’s style demands passing and possession. Catts was trying to implement that and lead by example. But he took his eye off the ball in a dangerous place and paid the price. At least Mannone didn’t get sent off.

    But after that costly mistake Cattermole did the same thing twice more, losing the ball through lack of control/concentration.

    For all the pretty football that Poyet is encouraging we are still lacking in ideas where it matters – in front of goal. This has been a problem for years and when Fletcher isn’t firing we are short of alternatives.

    Mind you our goal should not have been ruled offside.

    • Agree about Catts – it looked to me that he was trying to implement what the manager had instructed them to do – ie keep possession and play the ball out from the back – possibly not what he would do instinctively. I fully support what Poyet is aiming for, but I wonder if thinking about what he’s doing led Cattermole to hesitate with the resultant errors. In his defence, I was impressed with the way he was directing the team. Maybe he tries too hard. While I fully agree that we cannot afford these mistakes, the biggest problem is that we don’t create enough chances, and we’re not sharp enough to put away the ones we do create.

  3. Is there any current Sunderland player who can stir up such heated emotions as Cattermole? He’s either a born leader, injecting steel into our team’s spine, or a walking disaster of reckless tackles and indisciplined stupidity, frequently suspended when not pulling absolute clangers as we witnessed against Villa. About the only thing the jury can agree on, is that offensively, Catts is a big zero. To my mind, his career can be summed up as wildly inconsistent, and at this level, inconsistency is the one thing that can’t be tolerated. That his stay with us has lasted so long speaks more to the quality of our midfield, or rather, lack of it.

    Regarding Fletcher, and his uninspired play of late: he reminds me of a man who no longer enjoys reporting to his current place of employ. It couldn’t be more obvious if he wore a sign on his back saying ‘Please move me along in the January window’. I would love to see Sunderland recoup major money for Fletch and invest it in an eager, quality striker, but let’s be honest, what sane player would book a berth on our Titanic?

    It’s amazing how we work our socks off to upset the elite teams, yet stink out the joint against the weak sisters. Are our players personally ‘auditioning’ before the high-profile clubs? It certainly looks that way to me. The result is we steal a point or three, then follow it up with 90 minutes of slop, basically mailing it in against low profile opposition. We can all see the pattern.

    This team is too untalented to get away with not giving 100% all the time. Any lesser effort will always result in disappointment, and eventual relegation.

    • Nice post, Roddy. I disagree with almost all of it.
      Let’s have a look

      “About the only thing the jury can agree on, is that offensively, Catts is a big zero.”

      The jury doesn’t include me. He’s better offensively than any of the other midfielders at the club (including Ki who can do no wrong)

      “I would love to see Sunderland recoup major money for Fletch and invest it in an eager, quality striker, but let’s be honest, what sane player would book a berth on our Titanic?”

      Even in ordinary circumstances I find it hard to think of a better striker than Fletch who we could reasonably expect to get. If there’s something wrong with him it’s down to the “never my fault ” Gus to sort him out.

      “invest it in an eager, quality striker,”

      Two or three names to play with – who do you fancy

      Frazer Campbell
      Connor Whickham
      Ji Dong-Won

      The rest’s ok – well done

      • I take it you’re the president of the Lee Cattermole fan club? Just asking.

        Invest it in Connor Wickham or Ji Dong-Won? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was my understanding they were already Sunderland properties.

      • Funny that, I’d thought Ki had already scored a few for us while Cattermole never has and probably never will, how long has he been here? In he’s defense he’s been either injured or suspended for most of the time, get rid! Oh, know one wants him!

    • @whitburnlad

      To be frank, I’d take Frazier Campbell in front of Fletcher any day of the week. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate that Fletcher is a decent poacher.
      Campbell however, IMO, is a much more complete CF. He is quick, brave, holds the ball up, and works tirelessly for his team. I cringe every time I remember that we gave him away for £650.000 – what on earth was O’Neill thinking about? Maybe MO’N hadn’t seen much of him, given the part time nature of his employment.?

  4. To be fair, Osman was taken off straight away to be replaced by Robles, the goalkeeper. Di Canio would probably have taken Cattermole off straight away – if he had ever played him.
    I take no pleasre in criticising individuals, but I can no longer defend Cattermole. It may be best for all concerned for him to leave the club as soon as possible.

  5. The same mistake as Osman? Except Osman didn’t make the same mistake again, and then again within 10 minutes of the original one; and that’s the issue: an inability to learn from mistakes or improve. Catermole, like Bally under Reid, is fine away from home protecting the back 4, but when at home against another poor team we need a midfield of people who can pass, in yesterday’s game, and in our situation, Cattermole is a waste of a good shirt; add Ji into the starting line-up and we started with 9 men. Poyet blew it yesterday, with team selection, tactics and subs, aided and abetted by some lethargic and amateurish football.

  6. I just think that he is a liability and epitomises all that is wrong with our club at the moment; we think we are far better than we are.

    • In what way do we think we are better than we are?

      Personally I would say that we tie with Palace as the worst team in the Prem and would struggle to get promotion with this lot.

      Poyet does us no favours either, enforcing his tiki-taka philosophy onto the players he has, many of whom are not good enough.

      Not sure what this has got to do do with Lee Cattermole though.

  7. Cattermole made a mistake – a very similar one to Leon Osman’s that gave us the win at Everton. Give him a break.

    He is, of course, infinitely better than poor old Grant Leadbitter. He isn’t supposed to make loads of incisive passes in the position he plays but this season he’s made more decisive forward passes than the rest of the team put together, including the sainted Ki who constantly strolls around passing the ball sideways creating no danger whatsoever,

    So please lay off Catts Pete – for what it’s worth (very little) he’s the best midfielder in the club at the moment.

    • Cattermole is mediocre at best, so if he’s the best midfielder at the club at the moment what does that make the rest of them? Crap? Well that’s about right!

    • The ” mistake” was on New Years Day, the day after New Years Day, it was Cattermole, put two and two together and he wasn’t alone by the looks of it. Leadbitter was streets ahead at the time and is still , but fatty Bruce had to justify waistng ( see what I did there?!) another £6 million quid .

  8. Grant Leadbitter is maturing into a good player at the Boro. I fear Jack Colback will tread a similar path.

  9. A pretty damming (and sadly accurate) appraisal of where we find ourselves this morning. Malcolm leaves a glimmer of hope (nice use of bold text) but it’s that glimmer we of blind faith cling on to. Yes we’re only four points from safety, it’s only a couple of games in theory, but where oh where are the wins going to come from ?
    Confidence seemed to hit a season low yesterday (players and fans) on a day that was set up to see us take a massive step towards safety. We need the spark a couple of decent signings can provide but who could we hope to attract to a side in our predicament.
    Initially I though Poyet’s knowledge of Spain or South America might have enabled him to unearth a gem or two but now I fear we’ll be restricted to his more recent experience of Championship players to try and dig us out of trouble.
    All the stats and realists will show us all but down already but where there’s hope ……

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