Think of the London and Southern England branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association and it is impossible not to think of its co-founder, Ian Todd, an exile in the capital since the 1960s and a man who has invested frightening amounts of time, effort and money into supporting Sunderland and helping others do so. It was fitting that Salut! Sunderland should turn to such a home-and-away regular to contribute to this series of reviews of the season just ended …
Twelve months ago we were revelling in an expected “Great Escape” and singing “Things can only get better” Did they?
The crunching defeat at White Hart Lane had extinguished hope of survival from the minds of many fans and we were clinging to the memories of the season’s highlights, the win at St. James’ Park, the nerve-jangling League Cup Semi-Final at Old Trafford and the honourable defeat at Wembley as compensation for the anticipated relegation.
Few supporters knew exactly what they wanted for the season ahead. Should Poyet stay? Did he want to? How fractious was his relationship with sporting director Lee Congerton? How much money was available for squad enhancement? Our limited success had largely been reliant on loanees Alonso, Borini anf Ki. Should we try to sign any or all? Which out of contract players should we try to keep? Which players with extant contracts should we try to sell? Did Wickham’s crucial contribution to the “miracle” show he had finally come of age and would progress to show himself worthy of the £8m we’d invested in him three years ago.
In the end, Ellis Short decided to stick not twist and Gus was given the opportunity to progress our development and secure a safer league position.
Whilst there were mixed views about the loss of Bardsley, Colback and Gardner their replacements were hardly inspiring.
The big money buy, Rodwell, had failed to enhance at Manchester City his early promise at Everton whilst Jones and Gomez’s availability on free transfers possibly showed their true worth. The latter suspicion could not be levelled at Pantilimon who could surely be expected to be an improvement on the released Westwood.
Buckley would suffer the “Poyet old boy” tag already borne by Bridcutt whilst there was the suspicion that van Aanholt was a last-minute option because Alonso wasn’t available. The fact we flirted with trying to persuade Borini to return suggested the funds for that were available but in the end a net spend of £11.9m didn’t suggest a radical improvement in fortunes – or excitement!
There were some promising early season results (the away loss to QPR being an exception) and it was clear to see that Poyet was trying to progress his philosophy of possession football.
The downside was the slowness with which we moved the ball forward which, coupled with the lack of clinical finishing up front, meant it was October before a forward scored.
Rodwell was not displaying, at least sufficiently convincingly, the “box to box” energy and quality he’d been bought to provide.
There was the St Mary’s disaster but in general we were accumulating draws by being boring to watch and stuck around 14th in the table.
There was hope in January that our lack of strike power would be solved by Defoe’s arrival but it remained difficult to be confident our midfield could provide the level of service on which he would thrive.
Monsieur Salut’s verdict n the final match is at http://www.espnfc.com/club/sunderland/366/blog/post/2465006/advocaat-future-needs-sorting-quickly
Beyond doubt, Short’s next signing — the identity of the manager to be entrusted with the task of ending Sunderland’s annual flirtation with danger — may be the most important he has made.
For me the decline, which had increasingly seemed inevitable, began on Boxing Day. If we were to ensure safety we needed to win home games against those around us in the table. We couldn’t! Hull started it, QPR gained their first away win of the season against us and Aston Villa and Crystal Palace continued it and we gradually sank to 17th. Only Burnley capitulated. Gus went and Dick arrived. Was it too late? Suddenly we looked much harder to beat and with three forward players there was hope we might at least create more chances. Create we did, take we didn’t so there remained some very scary final 15 minutes of games, including the safety clincher at The Emirates.
So here we are, back in almost exactly the same position as last year.
Sadly had we capitulated to relegation there were few memories this time to appease us, bar the double over Newcastle.
It was no surprise that a Sunderland Echo poll showed 96 per cent of its readers want Advocaat to stay but is that the correct long-term solution to the thorough overhaul the club needs to spare us this repetitive struggle to achieve even mid-table mediocrity?
Most importantly the increased media revenue available from August 2016 makes next season absolutely not the one in which to get relegated.
The owner seems insistent on retaining the sporting director/coach hierarchy which might not suit Advocaat and many other possible candidates (eg Warburton). Perhaps Mrs Advocaat would allow Dick a season-long (or shorter) extension to oversee the blooding and development of a young coach who’d be offered the security of promotion to manager.
What is essential is some stability and a pathway for promising Under 21 players like Pickford, Beadling, Watmore to prove they can emulate Jordan Henderson success.
We can but hope, but that is very much the emotion which has sustained us for years.
* Think you can sum up the season as well or better? This is not a closed series but nor will it run forever. Pete Sixsmith launched it with his summary for The Observer and his fuller appraisal will end it. Contact Monsieur Salut at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved..