There is a dark cloud over Sixsmith Towers this morning – both literally and metaphorically. The English language can be ambiguous and the e-mail which accompanied Pete Sixsmith‘s match report simply said “Well that wasn’t unexpected. Thank goodness it’s all over – possibly for good.” Now whether that last bit means things are set to improve or that things are terminal you can decide.
I believe that the phrase “gone for a Burton” originated in the RAF during the Second World War when aircrew, asked about the whereabouts of those they had seen shot down, said they had “gone for a Burton (ale)” as a gentler way of saying that they hadn’t made it home and whilst the events of yesterday, put into context, can’t compare with the events of 75 years ago, for many this will seem like the low point of their Sunderland supporting life.
The club it appears, is going for a Burton so it is perhaps ironic that it was the Brewers who sealed our fate. As the staff at Sixsmith Towers cower below stairs, the master seeks solace in Rugby League and the cathartic effect of sharing his thoughts with the wider world.
THE RELEGATION GAME; BURTON ALBION (HOME)
Thank goodness, it’s over.
Had we managed to hang on for a win, we may well have had another two weeks of desperately hoping that we could pull off wins against Fulham and Wolves (about as likely as a ministerial resignation at The Home Office) and then find ourselves relegated due to a last minute goal by Burton at Deepdale or by Barnsley at Pride Park. We are spared that. We have two weeks longer than anyone else to get used to life in Division One (Three).
For 50 minutes or so, we clung to a lifeline given to us by Patrick McNair. He drilled home his third goal in successive games to send us into the interval a goal to the good and with Barnsley and Bolton losing, there was a chance, just a chance, that we could avoid the drop that would lead to The Checkatrade Trophy, the First Round of the FA Cup and the end to any national exposure.
With the clock winding down and Burton’s time in the Championship ebbing away, their astute manager Nigel Clough, born in Sunderland, sent on Darren Bent once of Sunderland. The immutable law of the ex loomed over The Stadium of Light as Bent was roundly booed by the increasingly anxious crowd.
Albion pushed forward and the usual panic set in. Balls were hoofed in the air, tackles were missed and nerves became even more frayed. Bent was presented with a chance which he tucked away and the wheels came off the Sunderland wagon.
Panic increased. Burton took control. The game moved into time added on. O’Shea hit the bar with a header. The rebound was missed. And then…..
Burton moved down the field. They won a corner. Those who had stayed until the end joined the players in panicking as the ball was knocked in. Turner, unmarked, headed it back across and Liam Boyce wrote his name in Burton folklore by heading the ball in to give The Brewers the three points.
There was time for a final flourish and the inept referee eventually chalked off a possible equaliser for handball and when he blew the whistle there was a cascade of boos and also a sense of relief that the season had been put out of its misery and that a well-run, well coached and well thought of club might just survive while this absolute shambles of a club was deservedly relegated.
There have been two managers this season and neither has been able to get much out of a playing staff that looks disillusioned and desperate to get as far away from Wearside as is humanly possible. The only things that keeps them here is the good wage that they are paid but that will diminish as the decline continues – and continue it will.
The inquests will be long and detailed over the summer, but we all know that the situation has arisen because of a perfect storm of circumstances. The owner is not interested in throwing any more money at the club and desperately wants out. The Chief Executive (clearly His Masters Voice) is responsible for cutting costs as much as he can and when costs are cut, the atmosphere is not healthy.’ Basically, it boils down to the lack of investment this season, the amount of money wasted in the past, the absence, both physically and spiritually of the owner, the attempts by the Chief Executive to avoid administration, the inadequacies of the two managers we have had this season and the wretched form and appalling lack of skills that the players have exhibited throughout the season.
All of these things came to a head in this dreadful game that those of us who were there, will long remember but will wish we could forget. In a situation that called for cool heads and calm nerves we got neither. There were changes made due to injury, with the energetic but limited Gooch and World Cup bound Oviedo out for the rest of the season. Steele returned in goal and the (rightly) much maligned Camp, dropped to the bench. Other than that it was the regulars, those who have failed to get us out of the bottom three since January, who started.
Steele had his best game for us despite that awful all white kit that makes him look like something from a washing powder advert. Good that is, apart from his distribution. We have been spoiled by Jordan Pickford’s ability to drop the ball at the feet of a man 70 yards away and don’t take kindly to a series of punts upfield in the general direction of anyone in the current dreadful version of a red and white shirt.
Jones and Wilson, boasting years of experience between them, were the full backs and personified the reasons for our dramatic decline. The former was as bad as he has ever been and has surely run out of any credit with the diminishing band of supporters, while Wilson is a liability. Burton targeted him and ran the ball down the left flank for most of the game. He could (should) have been sent off for an appalling tackle on Brayford and was booked early in the second half before he picked up his second yellow. He will not be remembered fondly on Wearside.
Kone and O’Shea were competent for much of the game but Kone’s departure with ten minutes to go, heralded the now familiar disintegration and concession of goals. Neither of these two will be appearing at Highbury next season.
The wingers were ineffective as they have been all season. McGeady ran up blind alleys and gave the ball away while McManaman gave the ball away and ran up blind alleys. Both are contracted for next year so both can look forward to a cold mid-week night at Boundary Park or Roots Hall.
Cattermole ran around a lot, played the odd good ball and the odd shocker and due to a recently signed contract extension will be experiencing The Crown Ground and Kenilworth Road at some stage in 2018-19. McNair is the one genuine bit of quality that we have but will surely push for a move to a club on the up rather than remain with one in terminal decline. He took his goal well but was too often squeezed out in a cramped midfield as the energetic Burton lads crowded him out.
Honeyman did his best and could be the next Steve Doyle, Gordon Armstrong or Paul Lemon, all of whom did well in the last sojourn in the nether regions.
Fletcher was alone up front and showed some decent touches but, as the saying goes, “if he is the answer, it must be a bloody stupid question.” Three subs were used, all for injuries and made no difference – although Asoro won’t be playing at The Keepmoat next year. He has far too much potential not to be picked up by one of the big boys like Fulham or Bournemouth.
So, the worst season in my 55 years as a regular is over, all bar the booing. We have been spared being sent down courtesy of a Mitrovic hat trick on Friday night. The Cottagers must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of welcoming back Chris Coleman and his band of misfits, timeservers and general incompetents. It could be embarrassing as could the week after when Wolves bring down the curtain on our membership of the semi-elite. I may go for a long walk that day.
Every cloud has a silver lining though. In this case it appears that Jack Rodwell will have to take a pay cut next season. His wage will be slashed to £40,000 a week so he will just have to manage on this. I think M Salut should start a JustGiving page to help the poor mite out for the duration of his contract.