Steve Jacques, a Sunderland supporter, is owed a Salut! Sunderland mug for being the 1,000th follower at Twitter: @salutsunderland. He does not want the Martin O’Neill design. Terry McLoughlin won, to his regret, the Guess the Score competition; he wonders whether the mug’s ‘Team of all Talents’ slogan could be changed to ‘Team of the Talentless’. Pete Sixsmith, meanwhile, finds unwanted vindication for a view of the manager he expressed earlier in the season …
There’ve been two or three days to mull over the weekend’s latest disappointment. Articles have been written, comments have been noted and opinions have been expressed. Unfortunately the league table makes no better reading and our cause is not helped by some rather worrying observations and stories coming out of the club.
The body language did not look good on Sunday. Craig Gardner was left to his own devices after he had rattled in the equaliser. The other players drifted back to take up their positions, leaving him to roar alone at the relieved crowd. He may not be the best player that we have, but there are few as committed.
Other players looked exasperated as almost every move broke down. Fingers were being pointed and arms held out as another pass went astray or no one moved for it. It was tetchy and argumentative and looked like a group of players who no longer enjoy each other’s company or professional respect.
Simon Mignolet shook his head as he left the field. As the only player we have who is a genuinely saleable asset and who has done more than anyone else to enable us to limp along to 31 points, we can only hope that it was frustration and not resignation.
I asked here a few months ago whether the manager could cope with a return to a high pressure job after two years out of the saddle. All the signs indicate that he can’t. He looks tired and drawn and as if he has run out of ideas. What worked at Leicester, Celtic and Villa does not work at Sunderland.
Is it easy to change ideas and habits? It is not. As you move through your 60s you are more inclined to fall back on what worked in the past even if it is not what people want now.
Martin O’Neill nurtured Emile Heskey at Leicester and then signed him for Villa. He succeeded with him because the whole team was geared towards getting the ball up to him. The age of ball retention and slow but incisive passing had not reached the Premier League. Getting it up front as quickly as possible was the rule then. But no longer
We still do that but it doesn’t work at all if the ball does not get into the danger area and with us it does not. Do we practise? Are specific problems being addressed? Are players’ weaknesses identified and are they sufficiently well motivated to work on them? All rhetorical questions, but we all have opinions.
Fifteen months ago, the entire support was galvanised by the arrival of an accomplished manager with a track record far superior to that of any other appointed in the club’s long and distinguished history.
Now we are drawing up wish lists for the next man. Poyet? Di Canio? Hughton? Appleton? Should we survive, there may be a gradual change. Should the unthinkable happen and we slide into the Championship, heaven alone knows what we may ”attract”.
As a manager with a big name and high media profile, Martin ticked the same boxes as Lawrie McMenemy. As a Sunderland supporter he ticked the same boxes as Mick Buxton. Not the greatest combination is it?
* Without wishing to depress Sunderland supporters even further, and allowing for its appearance in a Newcastle-based newspaper, this is how Neil Cameron summed up the malaise: http://www.journallive.co.uk/safc/safc-news/2013/03/19/61634-33016559/
** And Monsieur Salut has his say at ESPN: http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/1228?cc=5739
This was a season when Sunderland were supposed to be moving upwards. O’Neill’s first full season in charge, it was hoped, would allow him to improve on last May’s disappointing finish of 13th, three places lower than the much-criticised Steve Bruce had managed a year earlier.
He bought Steve Fletcher and Adam Johnson, brought in Danny Rose on loan and Carlos Cuellar for free and even managed to persuade Stephane Sessegnon to stay. In January, he added the purchase of Danny Graham. The excuse that this is not his team has thus worn thin. And what has happened? One dreary, ineffectual display after another leaves that team hoping at best to scramble clear by a wafer-thin margin.