John McCormick writes: it’s getting near to the point where I’ll be getting to a game or two. My Preston ticket’s already sorted and now we have Everton in that carathingy cup, whatever it’s called. You know, the one where draws take place on another part of the planet, and over a timespan that a geologist might recognise.
But do I want to go after yesterday’s shambles? Like you, I’ll have to read Pete Sixsmith’s match report to see if there’s anything to salvage.
A few years ago Will Alsop, a London based architect, likened Barnsley to a Tuscan hill town, a statement which caused the residents to choke on their Barnsley chops and Barnsley Bitter. But, on a lovely summer day, he would have been able to revel in the sight of a Barnsley team playing as if they were A.C. Fiorentina and the visitors giving a passable impersonation of a club that had just emerged from the depths of Serie B Group B – Pondernone Calcio perhaps or Albino Leffe, clubs who probably do well to survive at the level they play at and are quite content to do that.
However, Sunderland are different. They have a stadium with a capacity of 48,000 (not that that capacity will be tested in the foreseeable future), a fan base that stretches far and wide (their loyalty will be stretched in the foreseeable future) and players who regularly pick up in a week the same amount of money that I earned in a year after 40 years of “work” at the chalk/whiteboard marker face.
Nor are Barnsley A.C. Fiorentina. They bump along on a fan base of around 12,000 regulars. Their neat and tidy stadium is hardly the Stadio Artemio Franchi and their players are probably only household names in their own households. But, as the Norwegian commentator memorably said, “We gave your boys one hell of a beating.”
That they did is beyond doubt. Why they did is another matter altogether. Was it down to their organisation, method and willingness to chase everything, or was it down to our lack of organisation, inability to defend down the flanks and unwillingness to risk injury in the last week of the transfer window?
The answer, of course, is a bit of both.
For the opening twenty five minutes, we battered Barnsley, having huge amounts of possession, pulling their defenders all over the place and looking as if when the first goal came, the second would follow quickly and then we could have a Tuscan carnival in the South Yorkshire sun. Cattermole and Ndong controlled the midfield, Grabban had the home defenders on the back foot and our defenders could have spent that first period sitting in a deck chair with a Cinzano, admiring the view.
But the goal did not come. Shots were snatched or blazed wide and Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal did not have one serious save to make. As the minutes ticked away and Barnsley got themselves into the game, it was felt by this correspondent and his neighbours either side in the North Stand, that the chance had been missed.
An observation on the Championship; unlike the Premier League, the game flows more and in every game I have seen so far, one side does not dominate. Possession does not equal domination; we could have 60 per cent possession against Arsenal (in our dreams) but they would still pick us off with ease. In this league, it seems to go in phases; you get 10 minutes on top, they get 10 minutes on top. It’s what you do in those 10 minutes that counts.
We did nothing, they scored twice.
Both goals came down our right where, once again, Billy Jones was far too easily beaten. Last year, it was the likes of Raheem Sterling and Eden Hazard who skipped past him. Now it is Adam Hammill, a solid Championship player who numbers Dunfermline Athletic, Blackpool and a pre- Wagner Huddersfield Town amongst his clubs. He set up Harvey Barnes whose low cross was palmed out by Ruiter for 18 year old Chelsea loanee Ike Ugbo to score his first senior goal.
A few minutes later, Barnes lost his goal scoring cherry with a fine volley from a Hammill cross and we were struggling. Harvey is the son of Paul Barnes, who made 146 appearances for York City and had a couple of decent moves in the 90s. He is on loan from Leicester City and his all action, hard running performance epitomised a Barnsley side who ran themselves into the ground as they followed the instructions of manager Paul Heckingbottom – which presumably were, “show this lot what the Championship is really like.”
They did, and none more so than Brad Potts, recruited from Blackpool in the summer. He was the epitome of a mobile midfielder and made our much vaunted combination of Cattermole and Ndong look, at best pedestrian, at worse inept. Ndong looked like a man waiting for a move to West Ham or Lyon or anywhere away from Sunderland. Cattermole looked like a player whose deficiencies are all the more visible in the Championship where there is much more required than a man to man marking game. He was slow to the tackle, was frequently caught in possession and gave the ball away far too easily.
As for the rest, Ruiter had a disappointing league debut and did not justify his selection over Steele. Both seem to leave huge gaps at the near post and the one that Ruiter left for George Moncur (a former student of Geoff Mangan, oft of this parish) to wrap up the game in the 65th minute was huge. The former Colchester and Swindon man took it well, but neither Pickford nor Mannone would have been caught out like that.
Kone dozed his way through the game and looked nothing like the relatively calm, relatively authoritative figure we have seen this season. He looked like another one waiting for a get out move. His poor game had an impact on Browning who was left to fend for himself and didn’t. Oviedo looked rusty and clearly needs time to get up to speed while Jones fails to convince even at this level. Honeyman worked hard but achieved little, McGeady just the latter.
Both tried to do too much on the ball, which I think is partly a response to the woeful lack of creativity in the centre of our midfield. We do not have a player in the club who can set up a goal let alone score one in that position. That should be Simon Grayson’s first priority closely followed by a reliable centre half and a forward who can score. Neither Grabban nor Vaughan gave the remotest impression of rattling the Oakwell onion bag yesterday.
Oh, and one other thing; tell Wahbi Khazri that he is no longer welcome at the club. His performance when he came on was an insult to Sunderland AFC which rightly or wrongly, rewards him handsomely. His sole contribution was yet another nasty foul which got him a booking. Moyes may have got many things wrong but he was right to freeze this character out of the first team.
We now have five days to formulate our squad for the rest of the season. Up until this game, we had done quite well but it looked very much as if the speculation approaching the deadline had got to at least two of our better players.
By Friday, we will have a clearer idea of whether we can challenge for the top six, become becalmed in mid table (not that there ever is a mid-table in this highly competitive league) or are looking with fear at the trapdoor which leads to Portsmouth, Plymouth and Peterborough.
There are interesting times ahead.
*SOL photo courtesy of Ed, other graphics by Jake