Post-Bolton thoughts: as Brian Clough said…

By now you’ll have read Pete Sixsmith’s report from Bolton. I can’t find fault with it and there’s no point in my writing something similar, not that I could. It has been almost six months since I saw Sunderland play live, during which time they have changed manager and a host of players. Instant recognition of most is lacking and the contrast is so poor on our away shirts that I couldn’t read numbers and names from my seat …

Nor can I instantly identify a playing formation, assuming we have one.

So I’m trying to give you something different…

Let’s start by looking at the two games I’ve seen this season. Here are the players, listed in the order given in the SAFC match reports then adjusted to clarify player changes:

v Preston, 9/17 v Bolton 2/18
Steele Camp
Jones Jones (subbed, McGeady 63)
( subbed, Oviedo 70) Oviedo
Browning Clarke-Salter (subbed, Maja 72)
O’Shea O’Shea
Matthews Kone
Cattermole Cattermole
Honeyman (Williams 84) Honeyman
McGeady  McGeady (27 mins, see above)
Gooch (subbed, Watmore 64) Asoro (subbed, McManaman 83)
Ndong McNair
 Vaughan.  Fletcher.
Ruiter Steele
McManaman Williams
Kone Love
Gibson. Robson.

Have all of the changes been improvements? Clarke-Salter seems a good’n, Oviedo’s worth his place and a fit and motivated Kone – as he was yesterday – is a must for inclusion. On the face of it the new mix didn’t do badly yesterday. Billy Jones was busy, Clarke-Salter worked well with O’Shea and Kone roamed the back line at will; Bolton had half as many shots as we did, and far fewer corners. But, as Brian Clough said…  

…Their job is to protect their own goal with skill and intelligence. They should have the ability to recover and retain the ball and deliver it to the creative players in their side…(p95)

… and I suppose they did the latter part of this (although they weren’t too skillful or intelligent when defending a free kick after 15 minutes) which might prompt you to wonder about our allegedly creative players, in respect of which I’m not lamenting Ndong’s departure, not one bit. Midfield, too, weren’t too bad – or maybe they were allowed to play by poor opposition. Honeyman and  Catts tried to play in the front men and often succeeded, Oviedo came forward niftily and Asoro held the ball up and tried to set up chances. Some of the  stats you’ll find on the Bolton Wanderers website tell us we had 62 per cent of the possession (which tells you how bad Bolton were) and made far more passes, more accurately than Bolton.

Despite this we conceded through poor defending and for all our possession, passes, going forward and creating we failed to score. And this against a team as bad as any I’ve seen in a long time.

Which brings me to Fletcher and  Camp :

James Vaughan wasn’t that good. But he put himself about, making chances for others, and he wasn’t scared to get stuck in anywhere on the pitch. He’d have had Bolton panicking all over the shop yesterday. What’s more, I don’t think we appreciated just how much he helped our defence. You could argue that one of Preston’s goals came off Vaughan’s head. I’d argue that Fletcher would have got nowhere near that ball. Yesterday Fletcher was largely anonymous and fluffed the only chance he created.

Fletcher strikes me as not good enough for this squad. His weaknesses are reflected in some more of those stats from Bolton’s website:

no slide rule needed

We had seven corners to Bolton’s three. We also put in twice as many crosses  as Bolton but with only half the accuracy. We had 15 shots to Bolton’s eight.  Only three of our shots were on target, same as Bolton. Our shooting accuracy was 20 per cent, Bolton’s 38 per cent.

My interpretation is that we don’t have a forward line – especially an out and out striker – capable of hitting the target or getting on the end of crosses.

So how are we going to score the goals that will get us out of this mess?

And if we can’t score, can we at least keep clean sheets?

When we bought Steele I asked my Blackburn-supporting son-in-law about him. The response – he’s OK, but while he’ll make some good saves he’ll then let in a poor goal.  It seems to me that Camp is the opposite. Yesterday, and not for the first time, he let in a poor goal then made some good saves. With that going on we’re always liable to be playing catch up. As Brian Clough said, this time quoting Peter Taylor

…no point in you scoring three if our bloke’s letting three in…  (p151) 

It’s only four games in but Camp’s conceding on average two goals per game. However, as we scored three goals only three times with our previous manager and have only done it once since (when there were two own goals) we aren’t going to win many games if this continues.

Overall, my  conclusion is that we have strengthened the outfield defence and the midfield, and may continue to do so as players return from injury, but we have weakened goalkeeping and striking.  I can see us conceding more than we score as long as we continue with the current setup, which we can’t change much.  That spells relegation in big fat capital letters, with massive financial consequences.

We aren’t the first ones to be in this position. As Brian Clough said of Forest in 2001

How could they have been daft enough to spend so many millions on players who weren’t worth a fraction of the cost. (p305)

Quotations from “Cloughie”,  Brian Clough with John Sadler, Headline books 2002


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