Anyone who recalls John McCormick‘s painstaking examination of the statistics last season, and the projections he then made on who would be going down, will be hoping he does not repeat the exercise too early this time and put the fear of God into us. For now, we can appreciate his thoughts on a long-awaited trip to the SoL after what sounds like a holiday from hell in Spain …
I haven’t seen much of Sunderland this season. I did manage to pick up the pre-season Spurs game and the Fulham match on dodgy feeds and saw a couple of minutes against Southampton on MOTD and the same against MK Dons on ITV’s League Cup review – I also tuned into that via SAFCSee but the link kept breaking and I missed some of the early stuff and most of the fightback.
Then I went to Spain, where none of the bars where I was staying showed the Palace game. It wasn’t until the Tuesday that I found we would be spending two weeks in 19th place, worse than last season’s low point of 18th, which only lasted a few hours while fixtures unravelled.
What was I to make of this? I thought we’d done OK against Spurs and Fulham, and a point at Southampton can’t be bad, but what about MK Dons and Palace? Were the wheels coming off so early in the season?
Maybe it was such thoughts that generated the dream I had that night. PDC called me up to play at the Stadium of Light because everyone else was so bad, but I was no better. Without instructions I didn’t know how or where to play. My passes went astray, my shots were on target but led to easy saves. The crowd got on my back, I became a laughing-stock and the harder I tried the worse it got. Was this a metaphor for PDC’s reign? Caused by a missing midfield general, perhaps? Or perhaps it was a subconscious sign of desperation? I hope not but I have to admit my thoughts of SAFC were a bit more grim than usual over the next few days, and that’s after some grim thoughts last season.
Spain did provide some diversions. My wife learned some new Spanish phrases, “I have lost the key” and “my husband is trapped in the lift” being two of them, and we did manage to get out for a couple of days when the sun shone. It didn’t shine every day but the rain wasn’t a problem, we didn’t feel like going out anyway because of the food poisoning.
Staying in, though, and watching Spanish TV fete Gareth Bale did nothing to divert my thoughts from the weak start we had made; from Sessegnon, whose antics had just come to light when I left, and from the transfer window, which had closed in my absence. Before I went to Spain all I’d been wanting was a quiet start. Nothing spectacular, just safe, solid football and a few points on the board. Now all I had was an even weirder dream than that and a bad feeling in my gut.
And so we returned to England with me not knowing what we were like or even who we had in our squad. I would only have to wait three days to find out, however, as I was destined to make another appearance at the Stadium of Light, this time in the flesh, behind the North Stand goal at the Arsenal game.
Arsenal are becoming permanent bridesmaids. It’s years since they won anything and we’ve had as much excitement as they have since we came back up, although of a different kind.
Are the following pack catching them up, or are they falling back into it, as the gulf widens between them and the Mancs and Chelsea? Will the selectively myopic man from Alscace remain there much longer? In truth, I wish we had their problems because Arsenal are still a class outfit and their manager is not only selectively myopic; he’s also highly competent. He has created a team which can build attacks from the back as well as from midfield, and which can build them quickly because everyone knows where everyone else is. And they showed it against us.
After an early goal they bossed the first half without exerting themselves and we went in 1-0 down at half-time. We had managed to hit the bar but, really, we didn’t look like we’d get back in the game.
There was one half-time change, Gardner replacing Vaughan. Vaughan had run around a bit and tried passes across the midfield but for all his huffing and puffing he wasn’t a magic dragon. Even so, I wondered about replacing him – would Gardner make a difference? Three minutes later it looked an inspired decision as AJ was felled in the box and Gardner imperiously swept the penalty home to begin a revival.
And, make no mistake, it was a revival. Yes, Arsenal did score another two well-crafted, well-executed goals but we had them on the rocks. One goal disallowed for offside, another more or less for being Sunderland (as opposed to being Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd), a close effort from a Gardner free kick, all could have gone differently.
So it was closer than the score suggests, but no cigar, and although I can’t blame the ref for all of it I can say he did not inspire me with confidence in his ability to handle pressure, or managers.
What can we take from the game? When I last saw Colback, at Wigan, he looked out of place and nervous, wrong footed and clumsy. On Saturday he was cool, calm, collected. He did his job well and seems to have grown into the full-back role. If O’Shea and Wes Brown ever do get back together we’ll have a good defence.
Our attack created some problems for a very good side. Altidore and Fletch look like they will work well together; not everything they tried came off and Fletch ran out of steam but they created space and found each other a good few times. With AJ backing them up, which he did, our attack could cause some problems this season. (Wickham wasn’t on long enough to make a mark, this jury’s still out).
I can’t say too much about our midfield as I don’t know who’s who and who’s where, and I’m not sure the players do themselves as there was plenty of erratic play and missed passes, but it’s clear it isn’t yet up to the job of containing the opposition. Coaching might be the answer but I’m not convinced. Nor am I convinced the answer’s Cattermole, although I do think he’s worth a try – his fire and determination could be just what we need to let the players around him flourish.
Our first-half display made me wonder about our ability to survive this season. The second half left me feeling a lot more optimistic. We’re clearly a work in progress. We do need a midfield presence, someone who can stamp his authority on the game, but we do have the makings of a good attack and a solid defence. I think we’ll get there.
Fancy leaving a comment? Not sure what you have to say fits this post? Go to the new feature – https://safc.blog/2013/07/salut-sunderland-the-way-it-is/ – and say it there.