McCormick’s Craic: the half term report says Sunderland must do better

John McCormick:
John McCormick: looking to the future


John McCormick writes: I’m beginning this on December 29, the day after we’ve drawn against Villa in our 19th game of the season. With match reports from Villa (er, whatever happened to Bob Chapman’s?), then a game on New Year’s Day, then a cup match, the site will be busy with posts for the next few days, so my reflections will take their chances and appear when there’s a gap (just identified! – Ed).

I don’t think it’ll need much updating. My forecast is that Jozy won’t score against Man City. I seriously doubt whether Fletcher or Wickham will, although I don’t think the result’s a foregone conclusion. In fact, I’d keep Fletch at home and save him for the Leeds game rather than have him battered and risking injury against City … let us see

For a moment, before Christmas, I detected a sense of optimism about SAFC. I was detecting it second-hand, of course, as I haven’t been to the SOL since we self-destructed against Arsenal. Basically, I picked it up from the post-Mag reports and comments on  the “A Love Supreme”, and Salut sites, and from post-match interviews on MOTD and Final Score. That’s not much of a base on which to make judgments so, really, I didn’t know how widespread or how deep the optimism was. I don’t think it matters now. The home defeat to Hull was a harsh dose of reality, a result which exposed the weakness of our squad and the failings of our forwards. It might also, and you have to remember I’ve hardly seen him live, illustrate just how important Connor Wickham is to us. Our subsequent point at Villa has done little to change my view.

This time last year we had 14 points after 19 games so I suppose we’re doing better. However, a longer view reveals that not only have we failed to sustain any improvement since promotion but also that the omens for the rest of the season aren’t good.

In 2010-11, after two reasonable years of consolidation and a managerial change (or two, depending on your viewpoint) we were hovering around seventh place at mid-season. We stayed at those heights for a while but then lost a string of games and dropped to 14th, only to stage an erratic recovery of sorts which saw us finish in the top ten with 47 points.

Then in 2011-12 we won five and drew six of our first 19 games and we reached the half-way stage with 21 points and a goal difference of plus 1. That put us in 13th place, which is where we finished, with 45 points and a GD of minus 1 after we failed to win any of our last eight games.

Those seasons, mediocre in themselves, have proved to be our post-promotion high point. In 2012-13 we finished one place above the bottom three, despite having 22 points and 13th place at mid-season, because we lost nine of the remaining games.

Then came last season. Three wins, five draws and eleven losses comprised the first 19 games and their 14 points. We were rock bottom at Christmas and we remained there until mid-April, apart from a short rally in January. In fact we remained dead and buried until four wins from our last five games, allied to losses elsewhere, saw us overtake Norwich and five other clubs to reach 14th place. You can see from the second of the graphs below just how unusual that performance was:

what was and what might have been.
what was and what might have been.
position at games 19 and 38
League position at games 19 and 38

“Three wins by mid-point last season”, I hear you say. “We only have three wins now.”

And that’s a concern. We’re better off than last season purely because we’re not losing, not because we’re winning. Most of the clubs around us – Villa, WBA, even QPR are doing better in the winning stakes. No clubs are doing worse than us when it comes to winning and the others with three wins occupy the bottom four places.

As big a concern, however, is our history since promotion. The graphs show we have a track record of poor performances in the second half of the season, often leading to final places lower than those occupied at the half way stage. Last season’s four last-gasp wins were very much an exception. Do you think we can do that again?

It’s great that we are now usually hard to beat. I have written previously about one point per game normally being enough for safety, and it’s draws instead of losses which are making the difference for us this season.

That said, to be absolutely sure of staying up, not to mention some decent merit money, we need to get some wins in the bag and we need to do it soon. The next graphs show  our average points per game for the last eight seasons, and how this average correlates with final league position. A small difference in points earned can make a big difference in final position:

average points per game for each season since promotion
average points per game for each season since promotion
A small difference in average points per game can make a big difference by the season's end
A small difference in average points per game can make a big difference by the season’s end

We have some tough games coming, games which could see our competitors catching up. Then we play some of those competitors. It’s quite possible that by then  draws won’t be enough, and that requires goals.

In the last twelve games of 2014 our strikers, i.e. Fletcher, Wickham and Altidore, scored three goals.

Do you still feel optimistic?

Happy New Year and roll on the transfer window.

* See also: Colin Randall, on tour at ESPN, answered a few stock questions about what we want in the transfer window (when asked who needed shipping out, I completely overlooked the possibility, now a reality, of Danny Graham being sent straight back from Wolves). See what I made of the rest of it at



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6 thoughts on “McCormick’s Craic: the half term report says Sunderland must do better”

  1. Everton have provided a good example of that for many years John, but at the current time they are sinking like a stone having won 4 points out of the last 24; losing away at Hull. Everton look a very poor team from what I’ve seen recently.

    That said, they had a manager in Moyes who provided consistent if unspectacular achievements. They never actually won anything but never looked like relegation possibilities either, even if they might be drawn into it now

  2. Good post Drummer. It all depends upon your perspective of what constitutes achievement and success I suppose, but I really don’t think that the club has got anywhere near where it should have done, given the resources facilities and support.

    The money that was spent on the likes of Bent. Gyan etc was at least recouped but wasted subsequently. Add to that the sales of Mignolet and Henderson etc and you should see a healthy surplus. Then Di Fanti and his mate shot us in the foot big time of course.

    The gulf between the top and the rest of the PL in terms of purchasing power has reached ridiculous proportions so without the income from European football it has become unbridgeable. However we should be in a position to consistently do better than a lot of the clubs we are rubbing shoulders with in the bottom half of the table, and we aren’t.

    • The key issue, as ever, is getting a top manager. Which I’m afraid we have failed to do in all the years that I’ve supported Sunderland.

      I don’t want to bang on about the past, but people like Shankly, Clough, Ramsey and Revie managed to turn clubs round, and produce great success, often with very limited resources.

      A more modern example may well be Eddie Howe at Bournmouth.

      I truly believe that Sunderland have the potential to be a great club with it’s history, support and facilities. Unfortunately we simply cannot seem to find a manager with the vision and charisma to light the fire.

      I thought briefly that we had found one in Peter Reid, but unfortunately he lost the plot and went the way of most of the others.

      The search goes on.

  3. To me its no coincidence that our best seasons were the results of spending a few quid and benefiting from a succession of top notch loans . Both seem to have dried up this season with the exception of Rodwell who hasn’t set the world on fire . It’s obvious that Congerton and Poyet are working under strict financial constraints and untill we can shift the likes of Altidore and it seems Graham from the wage bill ,hopefully with a few quid in transfer fees coming the other way ( ha ha ) it won’t change . The loans we’ve got arn’t the quality of the past so this January window is crucial . This management team hasn’t really signed anything apart from steady Eddies in my view , Pantillimon and Van Anhollt aside, so I’m not holding my breath for this one . Another season of struggle I’m afraid and Gus for all he’s qualities needs to be more flexible and more aggressive at times , he’s won us points but lost a few also with he’s tactics . We’ll probably stop up I think but in all honesty we should have pushed on a bit after eight years . While its a genuine achievement for us to have such a long time in the top flight , is there any other club apart from us that hasn’t being relegated in the last eight years that hasn’t finished higher than tenth ( copyright Steve Bruce ) ?

  4. When I look at the fixtures in the final weeks of the season it fills me with dread, as there are some really hard games then.

    Unless we can put clear daylight between us and the chasing pack with 4/5 games left then I think we are going to be in real trouble.

    The problem we have is a simple one. We can’t score goals, and the attempts (well complete lack of!) to address this problem are the source of a major worry. Worse off than a year ago in that department we were desperate to sign a a striker, but a misfiring misfit came and went without troubling the scorers (as they say in cricket).

    For the most part the players are giving their level best but unless the goalscoring drought is fixed in this window, it is impossible to do any better. Ellis Short needs to give the likes of Congerton a vote of confidence and back him with the cash to buy a proven goalscorer (if not two), It’s two that we really need and not one but one would do for now.

    On the subject of non-scoring I see Wolves have sent Graham back. We can’t even give him away.

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