Not a great night: out pf the Carling Cup at an early stage in front of a measly crowd for an all-Premier clash, then Titus Bramble arrested on suspicion of rape (though remember he’s innocent until proved otherwise, a concept that should commend itself to bigwigs at a certain association football club). A jury can sort out that one and low gates are sadly par for the Carling course. As for our flat performance, here is Pete Sixsmith‘s analysis …
I had two possibilities for last night’s seven-word summary. The one that appeared was relevant to the disappointing performance we had turned in against a West Ham side who looked anything but relegation candidates. The other one will stay on my phone so I can recycle it if we are knocked out of the FA Cup by the likes of Bolton or Portsmouth.
It read “Typical Sunderland: programmed to let you down” and that just about sums up last night.
As soon as Steve Bruce made it clear that he thought we had a chance of winning the Carling Cup, there was a feeling in the pit of my not insubstantial stomach that it would all go wrong.
It did. The team were as far away from the level of performance achieved on Saturday as Ann Widdecombe is likely to be from that of Ginger Rogers.
On Saturday we were crisp and sharp; last night we were limp and flat. On Saturday we controlled the midfield for a lengthy period; last night we surrendered that area to the excellent Scott Parker and Radovan Kovac.
It was a strong team. Bardsley and Gyan came in for Bramble and Malbranque with Onuoha switching to centre half and Gyan linking with Bent. Bruce resisted the temptation to give starts to Zenden, Colback and Reid, believing that this was a winnable game in a winnable competition.
That it turned out to be anything but is a problem. Were we exhausted after Saturday’s exertions? Were minds fixed on Saturday’s visit to relegation strugglers Liverpool? Were West Ham seen as a push over? Whatever it was, we turned in the kind of performance guaranteed to have fans and managers howling at the moon in frustration.
Mignolet and Bardsley were the pick of our performers. The young Belgian looks very, very good and full marks to our scouting system for picking him up. Bardsley’s distribution is, and always will be, poor, but he never stops and he seemed to be the only player prepared to run at the Hammers in the closing stages.
Of the rest, Riveros faded badly after a decent start and needs time to adjust to the intensity of Premier League football. Welbeck was disappointing, continually falling over his own feet or standing still when the ball was played for him to run on to. He has spent all his career surrounded by success and needs to readjust to the perpetual disappointment that SAFC throws up.
Ferdinand, Gyan and Richardson all picked up knocks and had “hamstring tweaks”. Ferdinand and Bruce still don’t look to be the best of pals and ignored each other as the former Hammer limped off. Anton’s Indian Summer may be coming to an end.
As for West Ham, they looked a decent side. They controlled the midfield and the two men up front looked as if they will score goals. Both netted last night and both came when they were smart enough to get round the back of our rather flat and static back four.
Defensively they looked solid, with Ben Haim winning his own personal Yom Kippur War with Elmohamady and Da Costa and Collins (oops: see comments) subduing Bent and Gyan. They have a couple of important games coming up and if they can win at least one of them, they should start to climb the league. Decent turn out from their fans as well and I am sure that Sam the Hammer enjoyed himself.
So, Anfield next and another club giving a decent impression of being in a crisis. Cattermole is certain to be back, hopefully for 90 minutes and I can see a change in the middle of the back four. Maybe Mensah, just in case Torres decides to stir himself. We shall see.