Malcolm Dawson writes…I have seen some dire Sunderland performances in my time but I can’t think of any previous season when I sat thinking I had wasted my money on a season ticket after half an hour of the first home game. Last week after thirty minutes we were three down. Yesterday we were only two behind. Does that constitute progress? What I have seen in the two games this year is a lack of running to close the opposition down, a lack of running to create space when we do have the ball and a lack of running to get back into position when caught out in the wrong area of the pitch. I know it’s not all down to running but there seems to be little desire amongst this lot to actually work off the ball. I thought Steven Fletcher did put himself about a bit second half harrying down opponents just before he went off but didn’t see much evidence from anyone else, other than Watmore who had a point or three to prove. It was as depressing as it was disappointing yesterday and as always Pete Sixsmith tells it as he sees it from his soapbox.
NORWICH CITY (h)
I was strolling through Darlington on Thursday when my eye caught a poster in the window of a William Hill’s offering the odds on a five team accumulator. “Bet £10 to win £150” it said to the passing punters. I looked at the list of teams; Celtic (certs), Middlesbrough (ditto), Sheffield United (look good), Northampton Town (need to check up on that one) and….. Sunderland, the bookies saviour, because any mug tempted to part with his tenner would have had little idea of how terminally useless we appear to be.
Hill’s would have made a tidy profit on that bet. Five of the six won leaving us to let the poor punter down and bemoan the fact that it “woz the Mackems wot let me down.” I know how he/she feels.
Why were we there on Hill’s list? For that ultimately disappointed punter, here was an established Premier League team under the command of a Head Coach who has been a success all over Europe. The team is made up of allegedly top level players, some of who have played at international level and who would be eager to bounce back after the trouncing they had received at Leicester the week before.
The opposition were newly promoted, retained much of the team that had seen them slide out of the Premier League two years ago and who had been active at the bottom end of the market. Their Head Coach was young and inexperienced at this level and would surely be outthought by the wily old fox in in the home dugout.
But bookies know a thing or two and they would realise, far more than the casual punter in Doncaster or Dorchester, that Sunderland are in a mess and that this had all the potential of being the game that would ensure joy for the shareholders and misery for the punters, not to mention those whose allegiance is unfortunately with Sunderland.
And as they usually are, the bookies were right because we turned in a performance that was even worse than the one the previous week. Worse in that the errors in team selection had not been heeded, worse in that players continued to make the same individual and organisational errors that had been made at Leicester and far, far worse because this shambles was played out in front of a sceptical and ultimately cynical home crowd.
Over 41,000 turned up for this, a number that will be greatly reduced next Saturday and on subsequent home days unless something drastic is done. Mutterings were heard all over the East Stand section that I sit in – an area that contains some of the club’s most loyal fans, people who are not prone to vocal demonstrations but who are the heartbeat of the club. And that heartbeat is getting fainter as they look at the mess that that manifested itself on the pitch.
The performance was a catalogue of errors. The first goal came after Cattermole lost the ball in midfield and from a corner. Norwich worked a short one with no Sunderland player coming out of the box to challenge, allowing Brady to have a clear shot at goal. Pantilimon parried it (could he have caught it?) and it hit Martin and went in. Heads dropped on the fields and on the terraces.
The second one was an embarrassment for us and a tribute to Norwich’s crisp play as Hoolahan and Whittaker played a one – two inside the box (!!!) and the Scottish full back finished with aplomb. Van Aanholt failed to pick him up and Kaboul was not quick enough to tackle him. Game over.
The third goal was very similar to the second. Hoolahan, playing just behind Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond, set up another one-two with Redmond and the England Under 21 winger tucked it in, followed by the clattering of upturned seats as the bar staff in The Colliery Tavern braced themselves for hordes coming through the doors.
A shanked goal from Duncan Watmore made absolutely no difference, although it could keep us off the bottom if both Arsenal and Bournemouth lose heavily, though I am not sure what odds you would get off Hill’s for that.
So what do we do after that? Dick Advocaat struck a forlorn figure on the touch line as all he had hoped for disintegrated as comprehensively as Buckaroo did when you placed the sticks of dynamite on its back. Afterwards he said that the players did not follow instructions – we may ask why that was.
What about the players? How bad were they? The answer my friend, is that they were atrocious. The two full backs are clueless. Neither can defend properly with van Aanholt turning in a performance that Ian who sits next to me, rated as the worst he has seen from a fullback in a Sunderland shirt. I would find it hard, nay impossible, to disagree. The central defenders were better than they had been at Leicester but that is like saying that cholera isn’t quite as bad as bubonic plague. Kaboul, allegedly a thoughtful footballer, hoofed the ball up field at every available opportunity, making us understand exactly why Spurs were so keen to offload him. His first two appearances have us looking back to Titus Bramble with some fondness.
They were not helped by a total lack of cohesion in midfield. Cattermole gave up in the second half – a fine example from the team captain. M’Vila stared off well enough but his legs went in the second half and Larsson was as anaemic as I have ever seen him. He set the tone with a free kick in the third minute that surprise surprise, failed to clear the first defender. The groans from the crowd said it all.
Lens also gave up in a wretched second half, while Fletcher was beaten to the ball by Bassong with regular monotony. Defoe was anonymous and the arrival of Graham at the start of the second half to replace Larsson was greeted with incredulity by the crowd. I can only assume that there was a scout there from Sheffield Wednesday or Blackburn Rovers who were keen to see him. They won’t have been impressed.
They might have been by Duncan Watmore who showed an energy and enthusiasm that his elders, but by no means betters, would be advised to take heed of. He ran at defenders and created a couple of quarter chances before he pounced on a poor clearance and drove it home with his shin. May we see more of him please? But he is no saviour.
Do we have a saviour? Advocaat’s body language during the game and words afterwards suggest that he does not know what to do. He can demand new players until the cows come home, but how many players are going to be interested in signing for a club that stumbles from one crisis to another? How many agents will be looking to place good players at a club that changes its manager as frequently as we do? The answer, my friends, is very few.
Team selection was poor. John O’Shea must return for the Swansea game and I would not be against putting Wes Brown back in. Matthews must be better than either Jones or Van Aanholt. Where was Giaccherini yesterday? He could have played the role that Hoolahan played for Norwich, sitting behind the front two and playing them in. The Italian didn’t even make the bench for this one; Bridcutt and Graham did.
There are 36 games to come, 108 points to play for. On this performance we will be lucky to get into double figures and the ghosts of Christian Basilla, Anthony Le Tallac and Tommy Miller are gathering above the Stadium of Light no doubt saying “We know that we were rubbish, but we weren’t as rubbish as you.”
I may well pop down to Hill’s and wager a few quid on Derby County’s record being beaten but I suspect that the odds will be reducing by the minute.