An 11-hour flight from Beijing gave
Colin Randallplenty of time to ponder gloomily on Sunderland’s present predicament …
Niall Quinn has reason to remember Nov 20 1997. It was, if my memory is correct, the last time Sunderland managed to win at Portsmouth and his was the first of four goals in a superb 4-1 victory.
Thirteen years on, Niall has asked fans to show patience and support despite – or perhaps because of – the present appalling run of defeats and draws. And he cannot be faulted for doing so: booing the team as they leave the field after a rotten display is one thing, getting on players’ back from the first misplaced pass is another (especially in our case, given how many misplaced passes we have come to expect).
Players are human and do thrive on the passionate encouragement of the supporters, but the other side of that coin is that they may be made even more prone to sloppy errors or rushed, ineffective use of the ball when conscious of seething hostility from the stands.
That is the only concession I am prepared to make. Steve Bruce has had a lot of money to spend, enough to ensure that the unlucky string of injuries, while inconvenient, should not have stopped us winning a single Premier game since Nov 21.
Someone was saying the other day that he loathes the phrase “must-win game”. I can live with that, since there are no remaining matches this season that need to be described as such. The blunt truth is that we need points from anywhere we can get them.
So each game is as important as the other; we no longer have the luxury of seeing any points at all from, say, Man Utd at home or Liverpool, Arsenal and Villa away, as welcome bonuses. Since we cannot be sure of beating lower league sides at home, and lose consistently to them away, defeatism in the face of encounters with the top six is tantamount to accepting the likelihood of relegation.
Away on holiday in China over the past fortnight, I approached each of the home games – Stoke and Wigan – in a gloomy state of mind. I was grateful in the end that no one was able to suggest a place to watch the Stoke game in Shanghai – a grim prospect at 4am – and the question did not even arise in Chengdu on Saturday, when I had more chance of seeing the returning and now quarantined US-born pandas than catching the Lads on the box.
I had to rely on text messages alerting me to any goals, and the Blackcats list for occasional e-mailed comments from fellow supporters able to follow the games in one way or the other. My phone wasn’t troubled much during either match.
It is not Salut! Sunderland‘s considered view that the time has yet come to question Bruce’s managership, though we suspect the thought may have crossed Ellis Short’s mind as he has watched the team assembled with his money perform so ineffectually in game after game. His top ten target for this season now looks, quite frankly, ludicrous; we are fighting for Premier survival.
And if Pompey tonight ends not with a greatly reassuring victory but more apology and rationalisation from Bruce of underachievement, expect the clamour for dramatic action to grow.