Malcolm Dawson writes…Last night’s downpour has passed and shadows in the garden indicate the presence of some sunshine so Peter Sixsmith has made his way to Chester le Street to see if Paul Collingwood and the boys can polish off Middlesex in the County Championship. But before he set off he sent us his customary personal report on yesterday’s game as seen from his seat high in the East Stand.
It was better. After the last two embarrassments it had to be and it was. We put the first point on the board, came back from a goal down against a side that have started the season well and showed the effort and commitment that we expect to see from our team. There was no mass walk out for Match of the Day to laugh at and absolutely no booing or jeering. The support was tremendous – not my words, but those of the admirable Gary Monk.
I wouldn’t say that I basked in glory on Saturday night, but there was more basking than slinking. The TV was not avoided, phone calls and texts were taken and objects were not thrown at Messrs Lineker and Shearer as they dissected our performance. All of a sudden, life looks better.
I had spent the last week becoming increasingly impatient (a trait I rarely show) with people who ask me “What are you going to do about Sunderland” as if I have a magic bullet that will enable us to win the League and relegate Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle at the same time. By Monday, I was shrugging it off with a “Well, I would sign Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo and Kompany and raise the money by selling Graham to Real Madrid and Bridcutt to Paris St Germain” but by Thursday I was getting heartily sick of it and told the man in the hairdresser’s that I would put him in charge and he could have a go at it – only I wasn’t that polite.
It looked as if Advocaat felt the same. His news conference on Friday was edgy and he looked and sounded concerned. Retirement and the liberal use of his Dutch bus pass and his Nederland Railways concession card seemed very attractive and there was a feeling that one more performance like the last two and Mrs Advocaat would be preparing breakfast for two from Monday. But he showed his calibre as a man and a coach by coaxing a performance out of his players that was reminiscent of the efforts that they made in April and May of last year and for that we should be pleased. There was a greater tempo about our game, a greater intensity and (or so it seemed to me) a greater understanding of what Advocaat and Petrovic wanted.
The return of John O’Shea made a huge difference. His personal performance was a good one, reading the game well, making the kind of interventions that we expect of him and winning headers against the combative Gomis. His effect on Coates reminded me of the great Irish steeplechaser Arkle, who insisted in his horsey way, that a donkey travelled with him wherever he went. If the donkey stayed at home, Arkle failed. If the donkey went with him, Arkle won. Without O’Shea, Coates can look like a donkey. Alongside him he looks relatively comfortable, if not quite in the Arkle class.
Throughout the team there was a dogged determination and some good individual performances. The Giant Pantilimon made two outstanding saves when Swansea were in the ascendancy with the one from Ayewe’s header straight out of the top drawer. M’Vila looked good in midfield, picking up the ball and rarely wasting a pass, something which is rarely seen in a Sunderland side. He could be a very good player for us and he controlled that darker side of his game very well. Lens did well in the final third of the match and looked to be coming to terms with the Premier League and its physicality, something which Giaccherini has never done. The ball he played in for Defoe’s goal was reminiscent of the one the Italian put through for Wickham at Eastlands in The Great Escape (Vol 2) season and there is no higher praise than that.
Every player played their part. Jones did well against Montero, a player who had caused problems for Ivanovic and who had got Janmaat sent off the previous week. Van Aanholt was more disciplined than he had been in the previous two games where he played like an ADHD kid who had forgotten to take his Ritalin. But he did leave the gap for Swansea to exploit for their goal. Cattermole looked more comfortable and was restrained after his booking while Rodwell turned in a performance that quietly grew in stature and he looked a good player for the first time since he arrived.
We are limited up front. Graham challenged and harried and started the move for the equaliser but he is not a Premier League player. Fletcher missed one good chance and always seems to be playing on the edge. A more relaxed approach may help. Both know that a replacement/competitor will be coming in in the next ten days and that they may well be calling in the removal men.
Ellis Short responded to criticisms in a dignified and honest way. Not for him the Ashley route of ignoring fans or the Oyston route of abusing them. His programme piece was balanced and fair. Yes, he has made mistakes. Yes, he is still paying for those mistakes. Yes, he is still committed to the club. Yes, Michael Gray is a gob*****; I gather he is not welcome at the club. No, he will not be walking away as there is not exactly a queue of wealthy owners wanting to take over.
The next few days are crucial for us. Between them, Short, Advocaat and Congerton need to bring in a creative midfield player, an accomplished forward who will bag us 15-20 goals this season and a top class full back. Names are relatively easy to come up with; getting them to come to Sunderland isn’t. Four years of struggle and constant change makes us a poor option for upwardly mobile players and a good one for those who heading in the opposite direction. Dick must have looked at Swansea and wished that he had the stability that they have which helps them to attract the likes of Montero and Ayewe. I liked their system, with Cork (available last season and scouted by Poyet) playing behind the ever so busy Shelvey and with Sigurdsson in front of the former Liverpool man, although I disliked the constant whingeing of the Icelander who appears to think that tackling has been outlawed – as did the terminally wretched Neil Swarbrick. It was a poor performance from a consistently poor referee.
The crowd backed the team to the hilt with even the genteel and reserved East Stand Centre Block roaring and shouting, showing that whatever the London centric media think, Sunderland supporters back their club when they are shown that the players are making the effort. I wonder if West Ham supporters get the same stick that we got last week – the booing and jeering as they were demolished by Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic sounded pretty loud to me on Match of the Day. But then, they are not in the North East are they?
Exeter on Tuesday and a chance for the likes of Watmore, Beadling, and maybe Josh Robson to show what they can do. No upsets please!
Peter Sixsmith has been supporting Sunderland AFC since moving to the North East as a bairn in the 1960s. He is also a passionate supporter of Shildon AFC, who are currently top of the Northern League having won their first three fixtures 5-0, 8-0 and 2-0 and Leeds Rhinos Rugby League team. Pete blogs regularly for Salut! Sunderland and is much in demand by the local and national press despite not being a professional journalist. He appears regularly on Radio Newcastle’s “Total Sport – Fan’s Forum”. There is no truth in the rumour that he harbours ambitions to be the author of best selling New York based crime thrillers.