If Poyet cannot make Sunderland less turgid, can he make turgid work?

Jake: 'not convinced, Gus'
Jake: ‘not convinced, Gus’

Amid all the gloom that has descended over the collective support base of Sunderland AFC, the one sentence that some will have found hardest to stomach after the narrow escape from a fifth successive defeat against Hull was Gus Poyet’s statement, in his post-match e-mail reproduced here: “I think we played well.”

Some of us would have taken the 1-1 draw at Hull if offered it beforehand, but for no better reason than that the rotten form and uninspiring tactics of recent weeks, all season with the exception of a couple of games if we’re honest, made another defeat much more likely.

Forget all those upbeat Guess the Score predictions before each Sunderland game. That’s not even blind faith, just loyalty combined with a reluctance to wager against your own. Defeats are what we have come to expect and the only consolation is that some expected defeats (along with a lot of games we should have been winning) have ended in draws.

Poyet was a very good and often exciting footballer. He must know, at the bottom of his heart, how dishearteningly turgid Sunderland’s style of play is. Not boring in the old-fashioned “1-0 to the Arsenal” sense, but both deadly dull and ineffective. Poyet needs only to look at the Premier League table to work out where his style of play, and his calibre of players, has taken the club: fifth bottom with a record reading P28 W4 D14 L10 F23 A39 GD-16 Pts26. It is not the worst record; Villa have scored fewer, the bottom pair Burnley and Leicester have also managed only four wins and only eight teams, all in the top 10, have been statistically harder to beat.

But despite his praise for the Hull performance – canny psychology or staggering complacency? – he must also know current strategy is not working. Lose or draw to Villa in the game and only continuing dire results for QPR and the bottom two will save Sunderland, and many will say another survival would be ill-deserved. If forced at gunpoint to bet honestly on the outcome, my money would not be on a home win.

That SAFC clawed a point from the match at Hull owed a lot to the home side’s wastefulness after taking the lead and nothing to that wretched starting formation with Catts, Bridcutt, Rodwell and Larsson crowding the midfield, the back four none too sure and Defoe and Graham reduced to chasing long punts and rare-to-invisible moments of creativity. What was the point of hoofing high balls to Defoe? He’s hardly the size of Niall Quinn.

Yes, things got better after we’d weathered a storm that seemed likely to see the Hull lead doubled or trebled. Yes, Mike Dean got the free kick and booking that led to the single City goal hopelessly wrong, since it was a determined but fair tackle by Wes Brown on Elmo. But Rodwell’s headed equaliser was, as Rob Hutchison put it in his ratings, the card that got us out of jail.

And that improvement, with Patrick van Aanholt at last on to bomb down the left flank, and Reveillere pressing forward more tellingly with Alvarez on the right, came far too late.

We must bow to Poyet’s greater knowledge of fitness levels and other factors. Maybe Alvarez was, as he has argued to the Sunderland Echo, not up to a full 90. But did that apply to PvA, too? And if PvA sometimes looks alarmingly vulnerable in his defensive duties, is there not merit in Jeremy Robson’s idea, expressed on these pages post-Hull, of relieving him of them, playing him as a winger and putting Larsson or someone else at left-back?

“I made a decision and I stand by it,” says Poyet of his selection.

His self-assurance deserves respect. But when he begins preparations for Villa, on a high after beating WBA and in with a chance of sending morale higher by beating the same team in the FA Cup quarterfinals this weekend, he must accept in return that we, or many of us, will fear the worst if we start with a similar shape, negative without being remotely secure at the back. There is absolutely no point in alienating this fabulous bunch of fans by being boring failures.

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake
M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

14 thoughts on “If Poyet cannot make Sunderland less turgid, can he make turgid work?”

  1. We’re rotten to watch with results to match . I think one of the bottom three will probably escape by law of averages . We need to beat Villa and the Mags to give us a good chance of not being leapfrogged . Confident ? Absolutely not .

    • I also think at least one of the bottom three will survive. QPR have a genuine goal scorer [ Austin ] and Leicester and Burnley, although lacking quality, fight for every point and seem to have good team spirit.

      I think Villa will pull away under Sherwood, and the other lower placed sides look as if they will pick up enough points to be safe.

      We, on the other hand, never look like scoring, given GP’s bewilderingly stupid selection and tactics, and IMO, occasional goalless draws will not be enough.

      I think you are right that the Villa and Newcastle games are critical.

  2. Certainly agree with both Smoggie and Malcolm on that. The heart has gone out of the club. You can date that back to when Quinny was discarded.

  3. All joking and jesting aside whens the last time you lot played consistently good football, not just the odd game here and there where you shine. Its been a long time. Every manager you bring in you expect him to break eggs with a stick but they never do. Best thing that could happen is for Ellis Short to sell the club to somebody that knows something about the game

    • Smoggie – I hate to agree with you but I made a similar point a couple of years ago and think Short has not always had – or maybe has but hasn’t listened to – the best advice. Marginalising then driving Niall Quinn away was a big mistake in my view. Sir Niall may not have got everything right but at least we knew he had the club’s best interests at heart.

      The problem with football at the highest levels is that most of the top clubs are now owned by business people who see it purely as a business. Their motivations are financial not sporting.

      Some of them might pretend they are in tune with the fans but it takes more than attending games in a replica shirt to prove they share the same aspirations as supporters. Mike Ashley a case in point. And at least Ellis Short doesn’t wear a football shirt with a suit and tie like the owner of a certain Welsh club.

      Should the Boro go up they will struggle just the same as all promoted clubs do but at least Steve Gibson has an affinity with the club and seems to me at least to be in it for the right reasons.

      • Gibson is a genuine Boro fan and has ploughed a fortune into the club, but I can remember him getting serious stick on the 3 Leg Ends by Boro regulars during the relegation season and the Strachan year .He’s popular again because they’re winning again . We’re all fickle with short memories to a degree , its all about winning

  4. His arrogance and ignorance is likely to be our undoing as well as his. His defence of his tactics against Hull is pure blindness (as you say William).

    Unless there is a radical departure from the stupid formations and selection etc then we are doomed. Any other chairman would have given him his marching orders by now, For me the Hull game illustrated that the team are not bad as individuals, simply that players and formations are not being optimised.

    PVA to left wing. Play Rodwell up front with Defoe, and Alvarez down the right hand side.

    • It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall and know what the players actually think of his management/tactics?

      Especially the very experienced ones – Brown, JO’S, Larsson, Cattermole etc

  5. It looks as if he might be faced with a touchline ban. When he has to sit in the stands he might get a better view of things.

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