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Malcolm Dawson writes…..on this day 12 months ago we travelled to Walsall full of optimism. Since the stewardship of the club had been handed over to new owners things were starting to look up. A new manager and a good set of results saw us undefeated at the Stadium of Light, starting with a victory over the Championship Champions Wolves, whilst the trip to the Midlands was on the back of four successive away wins. The way the new regime had reconnected with the supporters, their handling of highly paid non players, as well as good performances on the field from a group of players who clearly wanted to be at the club and it seemed the whole of Wearside and Sunderland supporting enclaves further afield was in good spirits. Fast forward 12 months and the mood has changed dramatically.
That game was the one where Max Power was sent off. Though the red card was subsequently rescinded, supporting the views of many of us at the time that the ref had got it wrong, there were plenty of Twitterers and other social media users who immediately took to the ether, demanding the sacking of Power and allowing their inherent negativity to start to take effect. Now I know that fans don’t pick the team, decide on the tactics nor go out onto the greensward in search of three points but I still believe that the mood they bring to proceedings can have an influence on the state of mind of the players, the manager and everyone else involved with the club.
It wasn’t long before Twitter, Facebook and those websites like The Boot Room and Transfer Tavern who seek readership by delighting in negative headlines and reposting simplistic comments from social media started to eat into that positivity. Negativity is pernicious and a vocal minority will have a greater effect than a largely silent majority who are satisfied with or at least realistic about things. When the GB cycling team were beating all before them they spoke about “the maximisation of marginals” and players, management and owners are people with feelings and it is my belief that undermining their self belief, even by only a tiny amount will impact upon the team’s performance.
The fact Stewart Donald has closed his Twitter account, has only rarely been seen recently at the Stadium and seems to have given up on socialising with the fans is one clue. The comment Jack Ross made when he described how, whilst signing autographs for a group of youngsters, a middle aged man had walked past telling him to “eff off back to Scotland” is equally illuminating. Well that man got his wish and how well that is working out eh?
Starting with that Wolves game, if my maths is correct, we have played 31 league games at the SoL and only lost once, yet yesterday the mood was sombre around me. Some disappointing results away from home and in cup games, but more so the way the team has played in those games, has done nothing to lift the mood. There are some who get angry and others like me who just seem resigned to the fact we are looking at a lengthy spell in this division. But like Pete Sixsmith I sense little optimism on Wearside at the moment and the mood around me yesterday was as grey and miserable as the weather. Coventry are the only team to pick up all three points on our home ground since that win over Wolves and they almost did so again yesterday. The home crowd were mostly relieved, rather than elated, when we salvaged something late on.
Still somewhere between The Dance of the Knights and that rubbishy techno trash that the players walk out to, a peregrine falcon flew twice around the stadium in search of an ailing pigeon. It might have had more chance of finding a dead duck. Over to Pete.
THE END IS NIGH…….
When I made it clear to the powers that be that I was retiring from my teaching job, there was a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I told the head (decent bloke) that I would not be attending any more out of hours meetings, and became more relaxed in the classroom, allowing the students a little more leeway than in the past being less of the martinet and more of the benevolent old uncle who indulges his wayward nephews and nieces.
That is how it feels with regard to writing for Salut! Sunderland. It has been an experience which I have enjoyed immensely over the years even if what I have had to write about has in the main, been similar to being in a locked room with Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Prince Andrew without a pair of ear plugs.
I have ranted and raved over some of the performances, managers, players and owners, none of it to any effect. Some may say that it is the mellowing that comes when one realises that the years left are diminishing and that although one may rage against the passing of the light an association football match is not that important in the grand scheme of things.
A few years ago, a performance as insipid and stumbling as this one would have had me apoplectic with rage with steam coming out of my ears and my face turning purple a la crusty retired colonels/schoolteachers in The Dandy or Beano. The succession of misplaced passes, long balls hoofed up field for the lone forward to pointlessly chase and the complete lack of any creativity and oomph in midfield would have had me raging from my seat and cursing all the way back to Sixsmith Towers where the dogs would be kicked, the servants roundly abused and the brandy and soda quaffed all night.
It’s not that I don’t care anymore – as I write this, I have a heavy heart – it’s just that I feel that I have become immune to the events that unfold at the football club that I have followed since Monsieur Salut and I boarded the train at Shildon station in 1963.
I think most are agreed that automatic promotion is about as likely as Lord Buckethead forming the new government on December 13. In order to do that, we would have to win nearly all of our remaining games to catch those giants of football, Wycombe Wanderers, and join that group of long established “proper” football clubs – Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Stoke City – which currently languish in the Championship.
We could sneak into the playoffs should the manager be able to bring in the players he feels he needs in January. From what I have seen, that will be big men who get the ball forward quickly (a euphemism for lumping it forward) to a big, strong centre forward who will hold it up so that strong, mobile midfielders will support him. Throw in a couple of speedy wingers who will feed aforementioned centre forward with tempting crosses that can be headed in and all of a sudden, automatic promotion is back on the agenda.
However, we don’t have any speedy wingers who can plant a ball on a centre forward’s head. We have Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady, both of whom served us extremely well last year and both of whom are struggling to have any influence this year.
McGeady had one moment in the second half where he shuffled along the field and unleashed a venomous shot that Coventry keeper Marko Marosi did well to save. Other than that, the visitors kept him quiet. The McGeady of last season appears to have, er, disappeared…..
Maguire’s main contribution was to play a significant role in Coventry’s goal. An underhit back pass to Burge was intercepted by the impressive Amadou Bakayoko (a man who has spells at Southport and AFC Telford on his CV) and although his shot was put behind for a corner, poor marking and a spot of head tennis allowed Dom Hyam to open the scoring with a firm header. Other than that, the man who was so confident last season and who won us a number of games was anonymous and could easily have been replaced at half time.
It looked as if we were playing a 4-1-2-2-1 formation, with both full backs urged to focus on defensive duties rather than pushing forward. The fact that they were, in O’Nien and Hume, two of our sharpest players meant that the other, older, more ponderous midfielders were expected to inject pace and accuracy into the game. They didn’t.
Grant Leadbitter sat in front of the back four in order to tidy up. There was a lot of it to do in the opening 30 minutes as Joel Lynch had a shocker until he got his head right and put in a good 60 minutes – although we were a goal down by this stage. Without Jordan Willis we would have been down and out. He made at least four timely interceptions/blocks and looks to be by far the best of the summer incomings. Hopefully the injury that caused him to limp off is not serious.
Poor Grant struggled but at least we can point to his relative antiquity. Not so for Max Power or George Dobson who were collectively dreadful. They brought little energy to the team and consistently failed to support Will Grigg. The energy and general bustle of George Honeyman is sadly missed and I hope the keyboard warriors who played a part in forcing him out will be feeling suitably ashamed of themselves. Fat chance.
As for Grigg, I thought he did as well as he has all season. He is a player who thrives on the ball getting to him in the box which is where he scores the vast majority of his goals. Asking him to chase long balls is like asking Michael Gove to stop interrupting interviewers or (in the interests of political balance) pinning Jeremy Corbyn down on his Brexit intentions – it ain’t gonna happen.
There was one situation in the second half that summed it all up. A long clearance from Burge was won in the air by Grigg, who then got round the defender and chested the ball down with his back to goal. He looked up for midfield support only to see the three of them ambling forward. He must have had his Peter Glaze moment then and wondered why he bothered.
The changes made some impression. Duncan Watmore ran at tiring defenders and kept a well organised City on the back foot. Benjy Kimpioka notched the equaliser partly as a result of Coventry defending a cross as badly as we had an hour earlier. He’s an enigma. Whether he is also, to quote Churchill a riddle wrapped up in a mystery, remains to be seen. At the moment, he is a useful man to bring on rather than start with.
There are already calls for the owners, manager, players and tea ladies to go. Where to and who would replace them is never mentioned. We are where we are, a team that looks as if it is 10th in the league. There is only one relegation place available and we should avoid that as comfortably as we should avoid the automatic promotion places. Play offs it is then unless Phil Parkinson can conjure up a second half of the season akin to that of Roy Keane in 2007. Is Carlos Edwards available?
Coventry impressed me. They may be nomads at the moment but they have a manager who is clearly comfortable at this level. The worry for them is that they ran out of steam towards the end. I did feel that one goal was insufficient for them. I do get some things right.
Burton Albion come calling on Tuesday so we shall see if the management team have yet another rethink about the personnel and formation.
They must realise that Luke O’Nien is wasted at full back and that we need to inject some pace when we go forward. Mind, Luke needs to curb his temper. He had a couple of spats with Brandon Mason which a poorer referee than the excellent Scott Oldham might have looked upon in a less sensible light. Keep an eye out for this ref in the Premier League in the not too distant future. I saw him at Darlington v Walsall on Wednesday night and he impressed then with his cool and sensible approach.
We keep on going more out of habit than anything else. A third season at this level looks more likely now and should we lose to a Burton team who are undefeated at the Stadium, the mood will undoubtedly turn against manager, players and owners.
To quote Walter Gabriel, the great philosopher of Ambridge: “Oh dear, Oh Lord Oh Dear. What a roight mess we are in, eh, Tom Forrest?”
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As readers know, we have been unable to publish comments for some weeks and this seems likely to remain unresolved as we wind down the site (which will remain visible until the hosting period, already paid for, expires).
Each post we publish allows a solitary response, which does not appear but can be seen by Salut! Sunderland’s editors behind the scenes. Afterwards, anyone hoping to comment is prevented from doing so and sees an automatic message about a ‘critical error’ on the site. Phil Davison’s was that single response to this article. It read simply: ‘Malcolm and Pete. I will miss the voices of reason regarding SAFC’.
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