Wembley and Safe (3): everything’s not all right

Jake is sleeping soundly again
Jake is sleeping soundly again

Jeremy Robson would be the first to acknowledge that he does not suffer fools gladly. Woe betide them, as our old teachers used to say, if the fools are currently wearing our red and white stripes. In an ideal Robson world, football would still be something viewed from the Clock Stand paddock of Roker Park, just to the left of the halfway line. Here’s Jeremy’s very particular take on the ups and downs of the season just ended …

We’ve seen everything
and it’s nearly all been said about this season.

Two weeks of elation or just plain relief have masked the month after month torment of dreadful performances, schoolyard defending and a lack of goals. It seems almost impossible to consider that Paulo Di Canio was our manager for the first half a dozen games. De Fanti also now seems a dark and distant memory. That’s not to say that all is well with the current incumbent. It isn’t. Far from it.

A large section of our support are firmly behind Poyet, but I am yet to be convinced that he can bring real stability or even just consolidation in the PL. Why you ask? OK. Let me tell you why.

Any manager who would persist almost unremittingly with Jozy Altidore as his first choice striker for several months is clearly missing something. It was obvious to everyone except Poyet that this was a player out of his depth from day one. Most of us could see it in 20 minutes. It’s not as if he performs his striking role badly. He doesn’t perform it at all. It’s like a rock band looking for a bass player giving the job to the first bloke to turn up with a ukulele. On such a basis, George Formby could have been in Led Zeppelin.

Poyet described the need to bring in players in the January transfer window who could “hit the ground running.” Ustari was no more than insurance cover for Mannone, and while Santiago Vergini has shown in recent games that he has a lot to offer, some of his earliest performances showed that adjusting the the pace of the PL was a hurdle. He could hardly be described in the manner that Poyet put it.

The same applies to both Scocco, yet another “striker” yet to find the net, and Bridcutt. Therefore any evaluation of Poyet’s judgement of players can at best be described as mixed. Having said that, allowing Connor Wickham to languish at Sheffield Wednesday and then Leeds before bringing him back in a last dying act of desperation is what really should concern us about Poyet.

Jake captures the essence of Jeremy
Jake captures the essence of Jeremy

Watching young Connor return to such a run of form and goals must have Poyet experiencing one of those rare moments of quarrelling emotions, somewhere between agony and ecstasy, the sort of feeling that I could only get if my mother-in-law were to drive off a cliff in my brand new car.

Wickham should have been brought back months ago. Player of the Month immediately upon his return, he might have been dreaming of a plane ride to Brazil in the summer as opposed to another weary trip up and down the A1 to Yorkshire and back.

The other real blot on Poyet’s record is the nonsensical 5/6 man defensive formation which was designed to contain Liverpool at Anfield (and did), was then used against West Ham at home (and failed), before collapsing completely at White Hart Lane. Rather than accepting this tactical faux pas, Poyet dropped his captain, John O’Shea, for pointing out the error of his ways, and spouted long in the media about how the players approved of it. Their approval was so great, that it was immediately abandoned.

Following the White Hart Lane embarrassment I was reminded of a Saab I owned some years ago. There was something wrong with it, and in fact there were so many things wrong with it that it was difficult for even the smartest Saab mechanic to figure out precisely where the problems lay. It was fixed eventually at the end of a long process of trial and error. One fault impacted on another in a concatenation (now there’s a first for this site -ed ) of worrying events, much like the formation and team selection for the Spurs game.

Ki disappeared from the team as either a result of injury, form or a general lack of interest in proceedings. The fans’ darling earlier in the season, who in reality is a lightweight, one paced midfielder who can’t tackle. He passes the ball well enough, but not where it matters. The longer he was in the team the more it became clear why he was 6th or 7th choice for Swansea City’s midfield.

The reappearance of Wickham and disappearance of Ki, and the sudden upswing in performances and results is not coincidental. Nor is the emergence of Vergini as a player of real PL quality, despite the fact that he only got to start because of Bardsley’s suspension at Man City. The defensive experiment of previous games was cast aside and that has also contributed, but these factors have all combined more or less at the same time either through management, but more likely through desperation and default. They have worked and we should be grateful for that of course. Cattermole stayed past January and his commitment to the cause has seen him play some of his best football since he arrived. He has even had a shot and scored. Who’d have thought that possible?

The roller coaster of a season we’ve had has been the most bizarre nine or 10 months that any of us have seen. It’s hard to lay the blame for our earlier failings on Poyet, much as it was hard to blame Di Canio either. Likewise, good fortune and happenstance are probably where we should credit our recent good run of form. What was it Napoleon said about generals?

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This is the latest contribution to our Wembley and Safe series of end-of-season reviews. To see all postings in the series, click anywhere on this paragraph.

11 thoughts on “Wembley and Safe (3): everything’s not all right”

  1. This little thought popped into my head after safety was confirmed . I think this is the first season since the 37 final that we’ve reached a final and will start the following season in the top flight .It puts our success or lack of it into perspective

  2. All Prem league managers with 2 or 3 exceptions are in the revolving door. There’s no such thing as being ‘proven’…they’re all only a few games away from the sack. Suddenly Moyes is tarnished and yet the stability he was afforded enabled Everton to build to where they are today. Look at West Ham…surely Sam A has been successful but the fans look to have driven him out. Sherwood has been treated poorly by Spurs but at least knew what he was doing. Mel sacked by the Baggies etc etc. so I agree Poyet isn’t perfect but what Safc needs is stability on field and off. Of course Poyet made mistakes….who wouldn’t??….but that’s how we learn. This assumes people are willing to learn…..unlike some former managers

    • Pragmatism is a great virtue in a manager , seems to be in surprisingly short supply though. I think Poyets got it though, doesn’t seem too stuck in he’s ways,which can only be a good thing.

    • I agree. We’ve sat through manager after manager playing negative tactics which clearly didn’t work or repeatedly using players either out of position or who are not good enough. GP has made mistakes but he seems to learn from them. He is willing to make changes and try new things. Yes he persisted for too long with altidore but in his defence there wasn’t really much option with fletcher’s form and injuries and wickham not looking good enough until recently.

      Gus has definitely earned a chance to try to take us on further in my opinion. He’s not perfect but he is still relatively new to management and hopefully he’ll continue to learn and improve. We can’t afford a Mourinho or a Ferguson nor would they come to us if we could so we have to take a chance with someone less proven and hope for a little luck along the way.

    • On Alladyce . Bolton , Blackburn and the mags all thought mid table security wasn’t good enough for them under him so they gave him the sack . All three were relegated and only Newcastle came back . West Ham fans don’t seem to have learned their lesson from history .

      • Using Sam as an example is not, IMO, not a great comparison. By any criterion, he is a successful manager.
        He has never been relegated, and has a very good record of signing decent players at a reasonable cost.
        The issue with him is the type of football he favours. As we all know, he plays percentage football. Long ball, get it forward quickly, big centre forward to win headers, and someone to latch onto the knock-downs.
        [ As pioneered by Watford in the 1980s and later, by Wimbledon ]

        The debate on here is whether Poyet was instrumental in our last minute miracle, and was not just been lucky in getting four good results at a critical time [ had that purple patch not happened, I think without question, he was on his way ]

        I don’t know the answer to that question, and I doubt that anyone else does. Poyet might, so might the players.

        I really hope that the brilliant final few games was the result of a manager finally finding a solution to our [ mostly ] hopeless early league form, and I fully agree that he has earned the chance to take it forward.

        Both Bruce and O’Neill [ and even PDC ] were credited with saving our season. Unfortunately neither found the formula for taking the next step. It will be fascinating to see if Poyet can go one better.

  3. As far as I am concerned the jury is still very much out on GP, and I agree with all the points outlined in this excellent article Jeremy.
    I don’t think that you can explain away three quarters of a season of muddled illogical decision making on the basis of five/six very good performances at the end.
    I honestly think that Poyet had more or less given up the ghost three weeks ago [ when he was talking about miracles ] and I think he would have walked, or been pushed, if the players hadn’t pulled their socks up, and produced that stream of incredible performances. In that sense, he is IMO a lucky manager.
    I wish him well, and hope that he turns out to be the miracle man that some seem to think he is.
    I’ll reserve judgement.

  4. Good summary Jeremy ,Poyet got lucky on a couple of occasions. Playing Wickham when even Poyet had finally given up on Altidore and Wickham hitting form . I still maintain there was some pressure from above to play Altidore. Johnson hitting form and the net January time , trying to a impress Hogson also helped .Ironically being virtually relegated took the pressure off the team and allowed them the freedom to play which built into our amazing escape act. But it can’t all be down to luck surely? A cup final and more importantly 37 points from 31 games from a team that had the stuffing knocked out of them by Di Canio must garner the man some credit . The jury’s still out on Poyet and it seems next season we’ll find out . He’s earned he’s chance to try though, my sense of fair play even afforded Di Canio that chance this time last year , even though in my water I feared it would be a disaster . I don’t feel that with Poyet.

  5. A terrific article, it said what I wanted to say but much better.

    Poyet will probably be fine as long as he’s learned something from this debacle. I’m left a bit uncertain given his meltdown when things looked black and what feels like his less than 100% commitment to the Sunderland cause.

    Let’s see how it goes.

  6. Yes lucky I will agree….and is exactly why I would keep GP.Napoleon wasn’t bad judge.
    For all the negatives.we have had positives and i do not want yet another manager before this one has decorated his office.Give him a chance…if he wants it…..he kept us up and did his job.

    Whickham is still an unproven centre forward who is far from the finished article.He should have been blooded more last season but for me he never really stepped up to the plate till 5 games ago.

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