John McCormick writes: I’m beginning this on December 29, the day after we’ve drawn against Villa in our 19th game of the season. With match reports from Villa (er, whatever happened to Bob Chapman’s?), then a game on New Year’s Day, then a cup match, the site will be busy with posts for the next few days, so my reflections will take their chances and appear when there’s a gap (just identified! – Ed).
I don’t think it’ll need much updating. My forecast is that Jozy won’t score against Man City. I seriously doubt whether Fletcher or Wickham will, although I don’t think the result’s a foregone conclusion. In fact, I’d keep Fletch at home and save him for the Leeds game rather than have him battered and risking injury against City … let us see
For a moment, before Christmas, I detected a sense of optimism about SAFC. I was detecting it second-hand, of course, as I haven’t been to the SOL since we self-destructed against Arsenal. Basically, I picked it up from the post-Mag reports and comments on the “A Love Supreme”, and Salut sites, and from post-match interviews on MOTD and Final Score. That’s not much of a base on which to make judgments so, really, I didn’t know how widespread or how deep the optimism was. I don’t think it matters now. The home defeat to Hull was a harsh dose of reality, a result which exposed the weakness of our squad and the failings of our forwards. It might also, and you have to remember I’ve hardly seen him live, illustrate just how important Connor Wickham is to us. Our subsequent point at Villa has done little to change my view.
This time last year we had 14 points after 19 games so I suppose we’re doing better. However, a longer view reveals that not only have we failed to sustain any improvement since promotion but also that the omens for the rest of the season aren’t good.
In 2010-11, after two reasonable years of consolidation and a managerial change (or two, depending on your viewpoint) we were hovering around seventh place at mid-season. We stayed at those heights for a while but then lost a string of games and dropped to 14th, only to stage an erratic recovery of sorts which saw us finish in the top ten with 47 points.
Then in 2011-12 we won five and drew six of our first 19 games and we reached the half-way stage with 21 points and a goal difference of plus 1. That put us in 13th place, which is where we finished, with 45 points and a GD of minus 1 after we failed to win any of our last eight games.
Those seasons, mediocre in themselves, have proved to be our post-promotion high point. In 2012-13 we finished one place above the bottom three, despite having 22 points and 13th place at mid-season, because we lost nine of the remaining games.
Then came last season. Three wins, five draws and eleven losses comprised the first 19 games and their 14 points. We were rock bottom at Christmas and we remained there until mid-April, apart from a short rally in January. In fact we remained dead and buried until four wins from our last five games, allied to losses elsewhere, saw us overtake Norwich and five other clubs to reach 14th place. You can see from the second of the graphs below just how unusual that performance was:
“Three wins by mid-point last season”, I hear you say. “We only have three wins now.”
And that’s a concern. We’re better off than last season purely because we’re not losing, not because we’re winning. Most of the clubs around us – Villa, WBA, even QPR are doing better in the winning stakes. No clubs are doing worse than us when it comes to winning and the others with three wins occupy the bottom four places.
As big a concern, however, is our history since promotion. The graphs show we have a track record of poor performances in the second half of the season, often leading to final places lower than those occupied at the half way stage. Last season’s four last-gasp wins were very much an exception. Do you think we can do that again?
It’s great that we are now usually hard to beat. I have written previously about one point per game normally being enough for safety, and it’s draws instead of losses which are making the difference for us this season.
That said, to be absolutely sure of staying up, not to mention some decent merit money, we need to get some wins in the bag and we need to do it soon. The next graphs show our average points per game for the last eight seasons, and how this average correlates with final league position. A small difference in points earned can make a big difference in final position:
We have some tough games coming, games which could see our competitors catching up. Then we play some of those competitors. It’s quite possible that by then draws won’t be enough, and that requires goals.
In the last twelve games of 2014 our strikers, i.e. Fletcher, Wickham and Altidore, scored three goals.
Do you still feel optimistic?
Happy New Year and roll on the transfer window.
* See also: Colin Randall, on tour at ESPN, answered a few stock questions about what we want in the transfer window (when asked who needed shipping out, I completely overlooked the possibility, now a reality, of Danny Graham being sent straight back from Wolves). See what I made of the rest of it at http://www.espnfc.com/sunderland/story/2205934/window-shopping-sunderland
Fancy leaving a comment? Not sure what you have to say fits this post? Go to the made-for-purpose feature – https://safc.blog/2013/07/salut-sunderland-the-way-it-is/ – and say it there