Pete Sixsmith is there more often that not, saving the occasional delights and absorbing the much more common disappointments of being a Sunderland supporter. Not on Saturday, which found him on the Sixsmith Towers sofa …
The last view from the sofa reflected on a good win at Crystal Palace, a win that gave us some hope that the new 3-5-2 formation could drag us out of the bottom three. Since then, we have switched to a 4-4-2, back to a 3-5-2 and then on to a 4-2-3-1 which brought us that vital win at Swansea.
The more I look at that last paragraph, the more it reminds me of something from The Boys Book of Trains circa 1958 – and our mini-revival certainly came off the rails with a crash at White Hart Lane, home of the most self-regarding supporters in the Premier League.
It has to be said that the first half was not a great spectacle as Spurs huffed and puffed like Thomas the Tank Engine on a particularly steep incline and in a hurry to return to the Fat Controller. We defended well with the midfield sitting deep and breaking up the Tottenham attacks comfortably.
Those excellent pundits Robbie “Sav” Savage and Glenn “Hod” Hoddle were grudging with their comments and clearly assumed that we should go and slug it out with a Spurs side that were far more suited to that kind of thing.
Savage is particularly irritating. He is bad enough on the radio but on tv you can hear him preening himself as he makes what passes for “pithy” comments on the match and the state of the game in general. As for Hoddle, he is a Spurs supporter through and through and waffles on about imaginary penalties and how Sunderland seem to have no attacking ambition.
Pathetic: my BT Sport package will not be renewed for next season –although I will miss Hamilton Academicals v St Johnstone on a Friday night.
When we took the lead, after van Aanholt slotted home Johnson’s sublime through ball, you could hear the jaws hitting the commentary table. How dare these rough Northern types come down here and take the lead when all they have done is defended. Don’t they know that Spurs, so beloved by posh Durham University boys, have to win so that they can cement their place in next year’s Europa League.
Fortunately for the sanity of Hoddle and Redknapp (he loomed up pre game, at half time and at the end – not that I saw that), we decided to completely lose our concentration and allow them to equalise. First rule of football; after scoring away from home against good opponents, don’t get carried away (for a better example of contradicting this simple rule, look at Everton at Stamford Bridge).
And so, after Jordan Pickford showed exactly how good he is, we failed to clear a not too great shot from Erikson and Cattermole couldn’t decide whether to chest it, head it or tackle it, so he put it into the net.
The words that rhyme with “clucking bell” were bellowed at Sixsmith Towers as I knew that the game was up and that Spurs would come storming back and win the game. And I was right.
But we held on for almost an hour and even had a chance to go back in front when Defoe and Johnson broke quickly. But momentum was lost (a phrase we have heard before – many times, many, many times) and the chance was lost.
Our midfield, which was looking tired, then decided to back off Dembele, which is not the wisest thing to do and he put the North Londoners ahead with a firm shot which gave the impressive Pickford no chance. And then along came the almost traditional capitulation as we gave the game to Tottenham.
New signing Jan Kirchhoff decided to follow in the footsteps of other January central defensive signings (Kilgallon, Kyriagos, that huge Cote d’Ivoire lad who was on the bench at The Sports Direct) and had a debut that will haunt him for the rest of his time on Wearside.
He diverted another Eriksen shot into the goal to put the game out of reach, prompting me to hurl the TV out of the window and set off for a Northern League game at Darlington.
He then gave away a penalty when he brought down Danny Rose and elicited little sympathy from Gary Bennett who was distinctly unimpressed by his debut. Pickford made a couple of decent saves towards the end as the Spurs crowd woke up and gave endless renditions of When the Spurs Go Marching In. To what, I wondered.
Anyway, another awful away defeat; the last four defeats have seen us conceding 3 at Arsenal and Chelsea and 4 at Manchester City and now Tottenham, with the Gunners rattling in three in the Cup. Even Swansea scored twice. If we go down, this will be why. We can score, but we can’t defend – at least not for 90 minutes.
Blame will be apportioned to Kirchoff and to Allardyce for a) signing him and b) bringing him on. By taking off Graham and switching to three at the back, it seemed to upset the whole balance of the team and the former Bayern man looked desperately short of match fitness and match preparation.
Ironically, the man he replaced, Danny Graham, had done a decent job covering van Aanholt and we had looked fairly secure up to that point. But, hindsight is a great gift, and had Kirchhoff come on and headed a spectacular equaliser and/or winner, we would have been praising his name to the skies and toasting him in schnapps.
The other results were dismal for us and should Swansea beat Watford, we shall be deep in the great grimpen mire of relegation. It makes the Bournemouth game another must win for the team and it will be a test of the management teams coaching and motivational skills to get them up for that.
I ended up at the only Northern League game played, at Darlington Railway Athletic, where the Secretary had spent all morning forking the pitch. He was rewarded with a bumper gate of over 100 and had a good game on show for those addicts who were desperate for a footballing fix. They were beaten 3-1 by Billingham Synthonia, the last two goals coming in the 89th and 93rd minutes. Both sides were a credit to the League, with no diving, little swearing and an end to end game which cost me £30 less than a ticket art WHL would have done.
The Northern League becomes more attractive as the weeks roll by and the prospect of Burton Albion home and away looks more likely.