The Lars Word: looking back, looking forward

Lars Knutsen
Lars Knutsen

John McCormick writes: Lars Knutsen, who has been gracing these pages a lot longer than me, has made a resolution to post more on this site. That can only be good, as you can see from his reflections on the year we’ve had and the transfer window that opened a few hours ago:

So Sunderland have become a team which is “hard to beat”, meaning that, aside from that out of character “aberration” at Southampton, we have been competitive in nearly all our games this season. And I do include the home defeat against Man. City, when they had 4 shots on target, scoring from every one, with Agüero in lethal form. And I am sure they knew they had been in a game fixture after that return on New Year’s Day.

For fans looking back on the best parts of 2014 for the Black Cats, there was obviously the miraculous “Great Escape” as a highlight – see below – but also the way we have been dominating Newcastle. The 1-0 win at St. James’ on December 21st was terrific, but not really unexpected, given our recent form against the Mags, it appears that we are rapidly becoming their bogey team.

Lars Knutsen touching base
Lars Knutsen touching base

Talking of bogey teams, is Hull now ours? We did very badly against them last season and after the heights of Adam Johnson’s effort a few days before, it was a very limp performance against Steve Bruce’s side, which had more possession, scoring three goals, and ended five-and-a-half hour goal drought.

To be honest, winning one home game this season is not acceptable. The lack of goals is clear to any spectator. As Poyet has himself said, we do need a striker who can reliably hit 20+ goals a season, and that is something the team has not had since Darren Bent’s departure.

Are we playing boring football? I say no to that, as many of the games have been very entertaining and we have only lost 6 league games, and usually while “having a go”. But the fact of 11 draws in 20 games tells its own story; we have not really had the quality to turn many of those into victories. Again, the need for a reliable high-scoring striker is very obvious.

I must admit I expected more this season. Take another look at the way we destroyed Chelsea, Man. Utd., West Brom and Cardiff during that “Great Escape”. The turnaround after the 1-5 loss to Spurs, when Poyet memorably said “he needed a miracle” did not happen immediately. We unluckily lost at home to Everton, and if you have a chance to watch the Youtube video, courtesy of Barry Unwin, just look at how disconsolate Wes Brown looks after his own goal at 0.46 in:

Brown went on with the other senior professional and Connor Wickham to turn the season around in spectacular fashion, which justifiably raised expectations for 2014-15.

How did things turn around so memorably at the end of last season? We did have fighters like Bardsley and Colback in the side, but if we look at the team which won 2-1 at Chelsea in April the only absentees are Alonso, Colback and Borini. What happened to that spark? Admittedly we have not seen much of “supersub” Giaccherini through injury, but I was delighted to see him return against Man. City at the weekend.

If I was manager I would not want to give goals away cheaply, and start matches by not conceding. The first half at the Etihad Stadium illustrated that tactic, and aside from St. Mary’s, our defence has been quite tight, and it has been protected well by the born-again Lee Cattermole, but clearly 18 goals scored in 20 games is just not enough.

How do Sunderland’s management improve the team in the transfer window? I very much doubt that Fabio Borini is the answer. To be honest, I hope he does not come back to the club. He did a job for us last season, but if he had a passion for Sunderland Football Club he would be with us by now. In 2013-14 I found him a bit selfish and more focused on his own performances than that of the team. I would rather see Darren Bent back than the Italian joining us at £12 M! We reputedly netted £24 M for the guy four years ago, when we were sixth in the table, and he is a free agent in the summer.

A fresh face or two upfront would fit in better. To quote BBC pundit Robbie Savage,

“January is the month where you pay over the odds for players who you need to make an instant impact”.

He links us with: Ezequiel Munoz, 24, CB (Palermo), Curtis Davies, 29, CB (Hull), Mohamed Salah, 22, LW (Chelsea), Jay Chapman, 20 AM (Michigan State), Yaya Sanogo, 21, CF (Arsenal) Danny Ings, 22, CF, (Burnley), Fabio Borini, 23, CF (Liverpool), Giampaolo Pazzini 30, CF (AC Milan)

One thing is for certain, we need a top-quality striker who can help us to turn all those potential draws into victories in 2015, and it needs to happen fast.


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13 thoughts on “The Lars Word: looking back, looking forward”

  1. The mistake wasn’t selling Bent Drummer, more in the fact that we have failed completely to adequately replace him, and that the money was squandered on the likes of Altidore and Graham.

    Neither of these two (at a whopping 12.5M) would have been adequate replacements for Darren Byfield, let alone Bent.

    Furthermore, GP continues to give Altidore a game as often as not when he shouldn’t be anywhere near the bench,. This makes me wonder whether there is an appearance clause in his contract, as it’s difficult to imagine that the manager would give him house room otherwise. The argument that there’s nobody else is a reasonable one but only as much as the sticker on Altidore says “centre forward.” Otherwise there’s no way of knowing.

    If the likes of Mandron and Watmore (currently injured), do not constitute more of a goal threat than JA or Graham, then why are they on the books and being paid good money? They should be in the back of the same taxi that takes Altidore to Ponteland airport when we finally shift him.

    The contractual issue is the only theory that holds water for me because there are 40 thousand people in the stadium every other week and the only bloke who thinks Altidore is worth a game is the manager, apparently. I doubt whether our of all those people, that Poyet is the most stupid, don’t you?

    • It’s probably the shop window theory for me , we might get a proportion of our huge investment on Jozy back from some poor unsuspecting team abroad . We’ll get nowt back on Graham who is a better player in my view .

  2. Bents signed for Derby on loan but we’ve certainly missed he’s goals . Whatever went on behind the scenes and whoever was to blame , he’s departure has hit us hard . None of he’s replacements , while better overall footballers like Wickham and Fletcher are ,have he’s goal scoring gift . Whether Bents still got that gift we’ll soon find out , but in the recent history of SAFC , selling Bent was pivitiol and yes we got it wrong yet again .

    • That was part of Steve Bruce’s legacy – bringing in Gyan, winning 3-0 at Chelsea without Darren Bent, and from then on he was unsettled, asking for a transfer in January 2011. OK we made money out of Bent, but we were left without strikers once Gyan lost interest. Bruce should have managed them both much better, and paid the price himself in the end.

      Top goalscorers like Bent, Phillips, Rowell and Gabbiadini are blessed with amazing gifts but often have fragile egos, and need special handling by the staff. Bruce failed there and although Fletcher is good, we have not really replaced Darren Bent.

      • Bent (or his agent) were agitating in his first summer at Safc. He was being linked with a move to Turkey. He wanted more money from the start and only joined us as he was not starting regularly for Spurs thus reducing his chances of playing for England. His move to Villa was also allegedly with Engand in mind and had nothing to do with doubling his salary to £80K per week. After his traditional bright start his Villa trajectory was downhill. Waste of talent. Weak psychologically. Needed to man up. Imagine he regrets leaving Safc…..if not he should

      • Many major stars have fragile egos; I have learnt this from reading Roy Keane’s latest book, but more of that later. Keane tried to sign Darren Bent for Sunderland.

        Bent seemed like one of those fragile characters, his nose was put out of joint by Gyan’s arrival. I was at SAFC;s 1-0 win at Villa when I am pretty sure some of the club’s England players tried to “attract” Bent to the club. So he went, under Houllier he was good, but he was put out by the arrival of a new manager and training staff, who probably wanted more from him than just being a goal-hanger”.

        Bent was devastated by the “my grandmother could have scored that” comment from Harry Rednapp. AS you say, too weak psychologically to stay at the top of his game, and very hard to manage.

      • I gave you a Thumbs Up. Why? Because, I am sure that when Darren Bent played for us he played for something else. To prove Harry Redknapp wrong.
        I do not think Darren Bent has had that same situation since. But, Sunderland got the best out of him, and sold him at a profit.
        I would like to focus on what we have and what is happening. I saw rumours today that Hull will poach Fletch. I like him. He is not ideal, but he has skillls in front of goal. I believe in my heart that if we cash in on Steve Fletcher, that Connor Wickham will step up, and Dozy Altidore (who is not so Dozy), will start a fresh relationship, that could be better. Emphasis on “Could”. Nothing at Sunderland is Guaranteed. I would love it to be so.
        Watch that video. That describes my LOVE. I just love Sunderland AFC, and I know there are lots of fans out there, as I have travelled with them to games. We deserve more. Come on Gus. In you we trust. Step up a level, sell and sign. Make us a decent Premier League team. And then win the FA Cup, in your own time, but before you leave. As I see you, Gus Poyet as top dog, Manager of my team for a long time.

  3. The City game was exactly the same as the “Great Escape” we only started playing when all seemed lost. We have at times been too cautious but when we decide to “have a go ” we have different qualities. There are players who can attack and get behind defences. They had a go at Newcastle and created many good chances, we were not prepared to settle for a draw which has not been the case in many of the 11 we have drawn when we were happy to settle for a point. Gus must shake things up and stop blaming the personell. He has the players his tactics should not be over cautious, unshackle them and see us thrive

  4. The midfield wasn’t slow to get the ball forward and into the box when Alvarez and Giacccherini became part of it.

    The midfield has become the focus of attention because it’s become rather boring to keep on blaming the failing strikers.

    How many goals has Altidore got this season? How many has Wickham got in his name so far? Chances have come their way and they have gone begging. Then of course there is Danny Graham. There is always Danny for us to count on.

    Blame the turnstile operator or the groundsman, or the lads working for A Love Supreme. Most of the time the simplest explanation is the right one.

  5. You know, . . .The real reason Pardew left the Mags is because he didn’t want another sequential loss to us on his record. . .FACT! 😉

    Obviously related to said article. . .somehow.

  6. Personally, I think we need more quality in midfield. We are very slow and predictable with very poor delivery to our strikers. I would rather see money spent on a couple of attacking midfielders. Creating more chances and unlocking defences would hopefully see our strikers, with the exeption of Jozy, score more goals.

    • With Giach and Ricki now starting to get time, plus Rodwell and Bridcutt showing they can do the holding, defensive role Johnson, Seb, Giach, Gomez and Alvarez should see us OK in midfield. I don’t see Buckley as a real Premiership player but when van Aanholt is fit again and with Jones at right back I think our attacking midfield play should be good enough. We’ve actually got a decent squad when all are fit but apart from Fletch we are short of proven goalscorers. Wickham might be able to do a job but another proven, prolific goalscorer is what we need.

      Trouble is everyone else in and around us is also looking and clubs like Chelsea and Man City are just as likely to snap up anyone available then loan them out to Holland or Turkey just to ensure they are not playing against them.

      This time last season when all was gloom and despair I thought we had a good enough squad to stay up. I believe that’s true this season too BUT we need to take the teams around us apart – Burnley, Leicester, Villa, Palace, QPR, West Brom at home are the crucial games. Win those and we have 38 points. Pick up another half dozen and we are mid table and with the Mags to come at home we should be OK!

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