Malcolm Dawson writes…..last year Marcus Procopio, as Aussie as pie floater, vegemite and snags and tomato sauce joined our happy band of contributors with an early season summation of all that was wrong at SAFC. It’s well worth a revisit by clicking this link. In it he suggests that as long as a combination of a badly run organisation and a poisonous culture in the dressing room and on the training ground prevailed, Sunderland AFC would find it hard to progress. Consider the changes in personnel both on and off the field since January and correlate that with the most positive and optimistic feelings for years that currently surround our club (despite let’s not forget finishing 17th) and it’s hard to disagree. Although he lives about as distant from the Stadium of Light as is possible he continues to watch from afar and still doesn’t like what he sees. However, as always, he remains hopeful…
“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker” – Mike McDermott in Rounders.
This take on an old poker proverb has become increasingly apt in describing Sunderland in the Premier League. Half way into each of the last few seasons, it’s been incredibly difficult to find three obviously worse teams than ours. The remarkable thing is that, somehow, we haven’t been cleaned out and sent packing.
Having completed yet another fortunate escape, the question now is whether we can become a real player at the Premier League table – or whether we’re destined to be the league’s perennial fish.
Whenever I write my end of season reviews, I like to look back at some of the things I wrote at the start of the season. This time around, a couple of gems stick out:
My early season article on Salut! which included the following:
An insipid pre-season has now been followed up by two losses to start the season – to teams unlikely to feature in the top half of the table at its end. There are plenty of questions and there is genuine concern that we do not have the answers.
(For the record, Leicester won the league…(!) and Norwich were relegated. One out of two isn’t so bad is it?).
My opening match day comments on the Not606 Sunderland forum:
As we all know, the league’s schedulers have finally decided to stop sodomising our club and we actually have a chance to get off to a good start this season.
Here are the possible outcomes for us after 4 games. What would you accept as a bare minimum?
WWWW (12 points)
WWWD (10 points)
WWWL (9 points)
I put these in the ‘not impossible, but quite unrealistic’ category. If we achieved any of these starts we’d be completely buzzing to say the least.
WWDD (8 points)
WWDL (7 points)
Either of these would be very solid for me and what we should be aiming/hoping for.
WWLL (6 points)
WDDD (6 points)
I would happy with either of these. Although, the 3 draws would be frustrating.
WDDL (5 points)
This is the minimum point of acceptability for me. Not a flyer, but still not a disaster either. Definitely hoping for better than this.
WDLL (4 points)
This would be below par, even by our modest standards. At least we’d have a win.
DDDD (4 points, and lots of stuff being thrown at the telly by me)
WLLL (3 points, with a call for some counselling)
DDDL (3 points and broken lounge room furniture)
DDLL (2 lousy points, a claim on my home insurance and me saying ‘the EPL is overrated crap anyway’)
DLLL (1 effing point followed by Di Canio coming out and saying ‘see, I wasn’t so bad and I never had that kind of budget’)
LLLL (zippo and work being started on Advocaat and Short effigies)
For the record, our first four games netted two losses and two draws – the third worst possible outcome out of 15.
Lowering the bar
It’s well documented that we’ve had some very poor starts in recent seasons. However, you really need to see the numbers from the opening 9 games our last 5 seasons to get a full appreciation of this:
2011-12: 2-3-4 (9 points) – Bruce
2012-13: 1-6-2 (9 points) – O’Neill
2013-14: 1-1-7 (4 points) – Di Canio
2014-15: 1-5-3 (8 points) – Poyet
2015-16: 0-3-6 (3 points) – Advocaat
That’s a total of 33 points from 45 games which pro-rates to 28 in 38 games.
If you take only the last three seasons, then it’s 15 points from 27 games – which prorates to 21 points over 38 games… delicious!
Aside from our disgraceful opening points tally, this season stood out from the four before it for one other major reason: we were winless, hopeless and gormless after 9 games – which included games against Norwich (H), Swansea (H), Villa (A), Bournemouth (A) and West Brom (A).
Not to disrespect any of these teams – but if you can’t beat any of them at all, then you’re not making a great case for staying in the Premier League and you’re going to have a bad time.
Yet another Messiah
We can now add Allardyce to the list of O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat, as managers that have come in mid-season and miraculously and emotionally kept us up against the odds.
I want to believe that things are different this time around. I really do. Some encouraging things in this respect are:
* Adam Johnson is gone.
* Margaret Byrne is gone.
* Danny Graham is gone. (Bit harsh on the hard working Graham I think. I suspect Fletcher may have had a more negative influence on those around him – MD.)
* Allardyce is a highly distinguished, experienced, proven and savvy manager who Alex Ferguson thinks is ‘massively underrated’.
* Allardyce has made some positive cultural changes – most notably getting the youngsters involved with the first team.
* The Kone, Khazri and Kirchhoff combo acquired in the January transfer window were inspired purchases which completely changed our season and the whole nature of our first team.
As good as those things are, the most encouraging thing for me comes in the form of raw numbers. Here are the latter halves (i.e. last 19 games) of our last 5 seasons:
2011-12, 24 points: 6-6-7 (GF: 22, GA: 24, GD: -2) – O’Neill.
2012-13, 17 points: 4-5-10 (GF: 21, GA: 30, GD: -9) – O’Neill/DiCanio.
2013-14, 24 points: 7-3-9 (GF: 26, GA: 28, GD: -2) – Poyet
(NB: this included 4 wins in a row just before the final day of the season – and a stretch of 2 points in 9 games before that).
2014-15, 18 points: 4-6-9 (GF: 15, GA: 26, GD -11) – Poyet/Advocaat.
2015-16, 27 points: 6-9-4 (GF: 29, GA: 24, GD +5) – Allardyce.
It is this more than anything that gives me the best and most realistic hope yet that we won’t be next season’s fish.