At some stage this week, we need to stop banging on about how to apportion blame for an atrocious run that has taken Sunderland from the fringes of European competition to the bleak familiarity of a relegation scrap.
We need to get behind the team, whatever some may think about its leadership, and provide encouragement for the home game (nearly said vital but they all are, potentially, now) against Wigan Athletic.
As seems to be our lot, we will face newly emboldened opponents. The 3-1 win at Blackpool has Latics fans simpering at the prospect of survival, not least when they see our state of disarray. It also shows, ominously, that they can score goals.
And it is the importance of dealing with that point – our lack of firepower – that forces us to put on hold the matter of suspending hostilities and giving SAFC our utmost support for Saturday’s match.
Most of us have pet theories about what has gone so spectacularly wrong. Everything has been blamed, from the defence being caught out after living a charmed life to football’s natural order (ie it’s Sunderland, after all, so we must always expect the worst while hoping for the best).
But can there be any serious doubt that the club made a gross error of judgement in allowing Darren Bent to leave without first having tied up adequate replacement or replacements?
Think back to January: as cover and/or foil for Asamoah Gyan, we had Welbeck, but only on loan and at the start of a long injury layoff, and Campbell, recovering from long-term injury. David Healy was on his way out, not that he’d figured in any case.
The money received for Bent was, in itself, good business. But only in the context of a proven goalscorer – and maybe even two – coming in the opposite direction.
Don’t take my word for it; this is what Steve Bruce told The Independent and presumably others after the 2-0 defeat at Brum:
“It has affected us. We took that calculated gamble in January. With hindsight, it looks very difficult.”
So should Bruce and Niall Quinn have dug in their heels and forced the striker to stay? “Hindsight about what was done in January is a wonderful thing,” came Bruce’s reply. “The one thing that was obvious was that Bent wanted to go. There’s no good looking back on it.”
Maybe not, but how can we not look back on it?
If Bruce, Quinn and the owner Ellis Short could be bothered to read Salut! Sunderland, they could fairly point out that there was general acceptance at the time that the club had done decent business. A first class striker had gone, but his heart hadn’t been in it for a while and he was not the player he had been (for us) a few months earlier.
BUT: a look back at our reports from January also shows that in acknowledging the commercial sense of selling Bent, we were working under the very clear assumption that cover had been arranged.
If we, as mere fans, could see the need, so surely could the club. It didn’t happen.
Now I am sure efforts were made. I was not in the least enthused by the prospect of bringing in Ricardo Fuller and, in truth, none of the names tossed about seemed adequate replacement for the man whose goals kept us up last season. But managers and chairmen, especially chairmen steeped in football as former players, know better so there was a readiness on our part to accept some stopgap arrangement, leaving it to the summer to sort out next season’s needs.
Maybe one day someone will tell us how close were, if we were close, to landing someone. Maybe we were sensationally let down having had every reason to believe a deal was there for the clinching. But if – against my rational assessment – the thought was that somehow we’d muddle through, that seems utterly negligent. And whatever the explanation, nothing shakes the belief that one way or the other, we failed dismally in our handling of Bent’s departure.
Gyan has moments of sheer class, and scores some excellent goals. But he is not at his best as a lone (but see comments) striker, can spend long periods looking ineffectual and is not really a target man in the way Kenwyne Jones and Quinn himself were. That is hardly new analysis; nor is the argument that even if Welbeck, fit and at his best, works with him well, it is foolish to rely on him – or Gyan – never being hurt or suspended.
But as we approach what once seemed a cushy run-in and now looks dotted with dangerous obstacles, we have to hope that from somewhere on the pitch – the midfield please take note, notwithstanding Kieran Richardson’s brace at Blackpool back when we last won a game – someone will accept the responsibility of banging the ball in the Wigan, Fulham, Bolton, Wolves and West Ham nets.
* as a bury-the-hatchet postscript, putting aside our quarrels with Stoke City following the 3-2 defeat just after the start of our winless run, congratulations to Tony Pulis and his team on a magnificent display against Bolton to reach the FA Cup Final – with four ex-Sunderland players involved and one of them, Kenwyne of course, among the scorers.
* Darren Bent image: Addick-tedKevin