Pete Sixsmith digs himself out of the snow – and chucks snowballs at the underachievers who ruined his Saturday …
My Chambers Dictionary defines a yardstick as “n, any standard of measurement (fig)”. The fig means figuratively, but after Saturday it could also mean Figgin awful defending.
The yardstick by which we measure our progress is not by drawing with or beating the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. It is by how we do against the sides who are not (on paper at least) as gifted as we are.
On the surface, we are doing well this season. We have lost fewer games than Chelsea and, up until yesterday, Arsenal and have produced, arguably, the display of the season at Stamford Bridge. But scratch away at the surface and see who we have lost to: two sides who came up from the Championship and one who have rarely been out of the bottom six in the season and a half they have been in the Premier League.
On Saturday, after a first half so dismal that it would have been jeered on a Northern League ground, the game exploded into action and became an exciting match.
Excitement does not mean quality – I have been excited by games between the likes of Crook Town and Thornaby – and of the two sides on show, we showed the most quality in a 15-minute spell, during which we scored twice and had other chances.
While we may have had the quality, what we didn’t have was what Wolves had in abundance – spirit and determination.
These are qualities synonymous with Mick McCarthy Even in the dark days of 2005-06, the likes of Whitehead, Elliott and Kyle never gave up. Wolves have better players than the aforementioned and they have the attitude that the hard-headed Yorkshireman demands.
When we went 2-1 up, I was absolutely convinced that we would go on and win by 3 or 4–1.
The forward line was moving well, with all three of them causing Wolves problems and the midfield was on top. It was such a measure of our dominance, that even Kieran Richardson began to find his own players with his passes.
We took our goals in the manner of a team ready to move up a level: a crisp finish from Bent and a good, downward header from Welbeck after a superb cross from Wee Shuggie McBardsley.
A third goal would have wrapped it up. The home crowd were edgy and had we scored again, the resignation and misery associated with the West Midlands would have kicked in and the moans would have started.
But we didn’t build on it. Instead, after looking comfortable in defence, we imploded. We stopped doing the things we had done well. We no longer marked up in the box. We allowed Milijas to move the ball around. We stood and admired Sylvan Ebanks-Blake as he thrashed home the winner.
Why? Did we feel that we had it won? Was there a hint of arrogance from our players? Did the substitution of Mensah allow the impetus to slide towards Wolves?
For the second game in succession, we were unable to close a game at 2-1. Had it not been for Beckford’s shocking miss we would have lost both of them 3-2. In both games we had no Titus Bramble. For this one we lost Michael Turner. The indications are that their replacements cannot hack it.
Anton Ferdinand did really well for 80 minutes. So did John Mensah. Neither were ever really threatened by a one man Wolves forward line aka as Kevin Doyle. When Mensah went off, the onus was on Ferdinand to take control and help Onuoha through the last seven minutes and claim a point. Between them they allowed Ebanks-Blake the freedom of Molineux to score the winner.
I left the ground immediately after the goal, spluttering and fuming on the way back to the coach, knowing there was no chance of an equaliser. I spoke to the nice man at The Observer after gathering my thoughts and trying to be positive. As we travelled home (to the accompaniment of Carry On Loving) I thought I had been far too positive to The Observer. What I should have said was”
“This was a performance that sums up Sunderland AFC. Just when you think that things are going well, along comes a show like this that shows how bloody fragile we are. Why do I spend time and money on this? What have I learned over 47 years of being a Sunderland fan? The answers are; because I am mad and absolutely bugger all. Wolves are willing plodders and we are nowhere near as good as we think we are.”
I now face a week without football as The Big Freeze takes over. Good. It means I don’t have to talk to anyone about this bitterly disappointing and oh, so typical Sunderland performance. We had better beat West Ham next week or I may explode in apoplexy …