One bright spot on a dark day for SAFC supporters was the introduction of the Sunderland Echo’s new chief football writer, Phil Smith, to listeners to Barnes and Benno in the buildup to the limp display at West Brom.
Phil is a Sunderland supporter, not the first to occupy this particular journalistic hot seat or cover the SAFC beat for other media outlets. Like Graeme Anderson and the late, hugely missed Ian Laws before him (not forgetting Chris Young and Nick Barnes’s predecessor as BBC Radio Newcastle commentator Martin Emmerson), he came across as man brimming with passion for the club and sharing the pain of the rest of us. (Not so sure about Chris’s prior allegiance but he writes about the club, even since departing for more glamorous pursuits in LA, in a way suggesting SAFC got under his skin Niall-style.)
He may also be wondering what he has let himself in for after returning to the North East from South Wales, where he wrote on Cardiff City for the South Wales Echo. Since City now look relatively comfortable eight points ahead of the Championship drop zone, he’s probably already planning to meet old friends next season.
As for Saturday at the Hawthorns, Phil and I came to the same conclusion on the significance of one dismal sequence in a thoroughly miserable afternoon.
“The game was already up, but it was a move of such ineptitude that it summed up another painful afternoon,” he wrote.
“A free-kick won right on the edge of the opponent’s box. Taken short, a pass of no more than five yards. Even then, it was straight to a West Brom shirt. They broke at speed, forcing young George Honeyman to foul Matt Phillips thirty yards from goal.”
The ease with which Sunderland’s team of incompetents switched from promising attack to desperate defence was indeed striking. And Honeyman was uncontroversially booked, marring an otherwise bright Premier League debut for Sunderland though a third goal would have been a distinct possibility had he not made the challenge.
I suspect Phil will have still gloomier things to say before the end of the season.
Just this week, he may find himself having to report on the departure of Patrick van Aanholt, if a Crystal Palace bid is accepted, and a four-match suspension for Papy Djilobodji, retrospectively charged with violent conduct after being caught on camera, unseen by the referee Craig Pawson, striking Darren Fletcher with a hand or hands.
PVA has blown hot and cold for Sunderland. He can be superb going forward – until Victor Anichebe’s goal at Bournemouth he was the only SAFC player other than Jermain Defoe to have scored this season – and he can be awful at the back. But it would be an act verging on criminal recklessness for Sunderland to let him go to a relegation rival without adequate replacement firmly lined up if not actually signed.
Papy’s loss will be bearable, given his patchy performances in our colours, provided Lamine Kone returns from AFCON, continues to be a Sunderland player and regains the form he showed last season. Only the first of those three conditions is more or less certain to be met.
We are in disarray, facing a rampant Spurs as our next opponents and it is becoming difficult to see where the points can come from to get us out of trouble.
The January transfer window is notoriously bad at producing miracles. But key signings can be made, as was seen when Defoe was lured to Wearside from Toronto, and Moyes must rise above budgetary constraints an ensure that the squad is stronger come February 1.
Supporters can accept the bitter disappointment of relegation but not if it is meekly accepted by a club with problems from owner down to the Academy.
Amid all these issues, it will be interesting to see how Phil Smith manages to keep a balance between the need for straight, objective reporting of often grim issues and the pragmatism required to handle the sensibilities of those at the club whose cooperation is essential to his work.