John McCormick writes: while we don’t know what the future will bring, although we know it won’t be orange, we do know what the past was like. It was like the season before, and the season before that. You know what I mean, a typical Sunderland season in which we beat the Mags, had a brush with relegation, changed managers, stayed up, hey hum…
That’s the bare bones of it.
And to put flesh on those bones, here is Pete Sixsmith with his conclusion to our “End of Season Reviews”
SEASON REVIEW 2014-15
This season completed my half century of (mostly) unwavering support for a club that I have no familial attraction to and one that I chose to watch in the early 60s because they were the highest placed club in the North East. Yes, I was a glory hunter – and look where it has got me.
My first season ticket was in 1964-65. It cost £6.6s.0d and was for the Main Stand Paddock at Roker Park. For that princely sum, I was able to watch my adolescent heroes take on the likes of Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Arsenal and almost reach out and touch Jimmy Greaves, Ian St John, Bobby Charlton and Alex Young. That season we flirted with relegation before rallying in the spring to finish 15th out of 22, above the likes of Birmingham City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackpool.
We thrashed Everton, who finished fourth, 4-0, a Harry Hood goal beat the Champions Manchester United 1-0 in front of 51,000 on a bitterly cold Wednesday night in February, while third placed Chelsea were seen off 3-0 at Roker a week before Christmas with goals from Nicky Sharkey, Martin Harvey and George Herd. (George Herd was inducted into Clyde FC’s hall of fame in 2011, Harry Hood in 2012)
Fast forward 50 years and we have managed to win four home games out of 19 and two of those came in the last quarter of the season. Had you said to the 40,000 regulars who filed into Roker Park every other week that a Sunderland home win would be as rare as a Labour MP in Scotland, they would have laughed at you on both counts.
That statistic of four home wins in the season sums up the poorest season I have witnessed as a Sunderland supporter. Not the worst (the 15 pointer will take some beating), not the most disappointing (relegation in 1977 and 1997 vie for that title) and not the most frustrating (failure to win promotion in 1998 wins that award – although I only saw a dozen games that year). Poor is the word and poor is what it was.
Football is supposed to bring pleasure and excitement in equal proportion. There are few things more satisfying than returning home from a game with three points in the bag, knowing that you have slugged it out with your opponents and have emerged victorious. That feeling applies at all levels, from the Premier League, through the Northern League down to the Wear Valley Sunday League. I got precious little excitement and satisfaction from Sunderland this season.
I can’t think of one game where the adrenaline levels rose dramatically in this whole, miserable campaign. There may have been a rush in the Newcastle home game, possibly a less intense one in the win at Everton but nowhere else in a season that was just downright dull and boring from August to May.
The principal reason for this was the desire of Gus Poyet to try to make a limited Sunderland team play like Chelsea or Real Zaragoza or any team that the mercurial Uruguayan had admired throughout his career. He liked teams that passed the ball around, looked for chinks in the opposition’s armour and then skilfully slipped the ball through to an electrifying striker who would slide it into the net. It would have been lovely to watch, impressive to report on and guaranteed to set the adrenal gland working overtime.
But you can’t do that with Billy Jones, Lee Cattermole and Jozy Altidore, or any of the other journeymen who turned out in red and white stripes in this deeply disappointing and almost catastrophic Golden Jubilee year.
The longer the campaign went on, the more frustrated Poyet became. He knew what he wanted but he wasn’t getting it. It was simple; pass the ball amongst you, tire the opposition mentally and physically and then go for the jugular. But the opposition managers and coaches realised that all they had to do was to put the slightest bit of pressure on the Sunderland team and the Pavlovian reaction would be to kick it up field. And we did – many times, many, many times.
I can’t think of one report that I read last season where the writer said that Sunderland contributed to a rip-roaring afternoon of footballing entertainment. It mostly went along the lines of “a well organised, efficient but oh so dull Sunderland side bored the pants off Liverpool/West Ham/Leicester and came away with a hard earned point. Those who had to sit through it regretted spending their hard earned cash watching them.”
The nadir of the season came, not against Aston Villa – that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it saw the end of Gus – but in a truly dreadful game at Leicester in November. Their early season promise had faded, Nigel Pearson was under pressure from the support and they were on their way to looking like relegation certainties.
We, on the other hand, had picked ourselves up after the Southampton debacle, had dusted ourselves down and had started all over again. We had won at Palace and had the better of a draw with Everton. The team was settled and looked ready to climb up the table.
What we got was a desperately poor 0-0 where all our failings were there to see. Defensively we were solid but in midfield and up front, we were incapable of killing off a side as poor as any we had faced. One good chance created for Fletcher was wasted by the Scot, and the game ambled to a tedious and turgid draw. That was the day when I realised that there was no way forward with this system and, in all probability, this head coach.
Sure, there were a couple of highlights – a last minute winner at the Sports Direct is as good as it gets
… and there was the arrival of Jermain Defoe who started off well, but the home defeats to QPR and Villa , both showing up the limitations of our playing staff and particularly the coaching staff almost finished me off. The season ticket was dangerously close to being ditched.
Like those sat around me and who have to put up with me bouncing around and showing my anguish I want a successful Sunderland side. I want to go home with a warm glow on my rosy cheeks, and listen to the 5Live reporter compliment us on playing a splendid game and congratulate us on winning another three important points.
None of this happened this season. The cheeks were continually being sucked in as basic errors were exhibited in front of us. The 5Live report was usually relegated to the end of their section (as were the filmed highlights on Match of the Day – we must have broken the record for being on last) and I found myself being drawn more and more to Northern League football. I really was very, very close to picking and choosing a dozen or so games for 2015-16.
The arrival of a top class coach in Advocaat made me hesitate. The stirring win over a truly awful Newcastle United side (the only consolation in this dreadful season) made me fill out the forms and drop them in prior to the Palace home game. Two hours later I was ruing the loss of three points, what remained of my sanity – and £535.00.
But it all worked out in the end. A sensible coach who got players to do what they could do and not what was beyond them, kept us up for another season in the self-styled “World’s Greatest League.” Again we were fortunate in that there were two sides who would always struggle to stay up and that Hull City were even less effective than we were. Dick Advocaat did a fine job and hopefully showed the owner that the new Head Coach needs to buy into what the club is all about.
Fifty years ago, I was watching Charlie Hurley, Jimmy Montgomery, and George Mulhall, who have remained heroes of mine for the duration. I somehow doubt that the 14 year olds who have sat through this turgid, desolate campaign will be regaling those listening in 2065 with tales of the exploits of Santiago Vergini, Jack Rodwell and Steven Fletcher.
Still, there’s always next season and hope springs eternal – until November at least.