Malcolm Dawson writes…..
Every cliché in the book was utilised in the run up to this game.
A must win, six pointer, real Cup Final of a game that we were promised would see the players give of their all. Well, unlike some callers to Radio Newcastle’s post match phone in, I’ve no doubt that they did give their all. The trouble as I see it is that their all just isn’t enough. Had this been a game where we weren’t trying to avoid the drop I might have enjoyed it. We played some decent stuff, showed we were better technically than the South London side but never really looked like getting more than a point from the game. As time wore on the familiar trepidation that we would concede late and finish with nothing returned. I have seen that happen too many times watching Sunderland for anything less than a 4-0 lead with 30 seconds remaining to instil me with the expectation of a victory. Peter Sixsmith has seen even more games than me and on a day when Radio 5’s preference for Rugby Union commentaries sent his blood pressure on an upward trend, the performance of Gus’s boys did little to alleviate the hypertension and on the day that Vladimir Putin ignored the wishes of the rest of the United Nations, he is looking back to pre-revolutionary Russia for a comparison with the club’s present plight.
ONE STEP FORWARDS, TWO STEPS BACK
As I am sure you all know, this was the title of a pamphlet written by V.I. Lenin for the Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party, held in London in 1904. In it, he looked at the split between the Mensheviks (the majority) who wanted a democratic path to Socialism and the Bolsheviks (the minority and Lenin’s mates) who favoured a more revolutionary approach to establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The great man said that it was often necessary to go through this process to arrive at the desired outcome. Whether he would have felt the same had he been a Sunderland supporter 110 years on is debatable.
Two weeks ago, we looked to have made an important step towards fending off relegation with a spirited and impressive performance against Manchester City. We had the richest club in the world, booting the ball out and feigning injury as they held on to their narrow lead. Pride swelled from the terraces as it was said that the club and players had reconnected with the support.
Two weeks on, that optimism lies in tatters like the hopes and dreams of those Bolsheviks all those years ago. A supine performance against a Hull City side whose limitations were shown up by 10 man City, was followed up by a display against a wretched Crystal Palace side that showed all the weaknesses that we have accumulated over the last three seasons. Gus Poyet has inherited a squad of players who are looking down the barrel of the relegation gun yet again. They got away with it last year because Wigan Athletic were distracted by their first FA Cup Final and the appointment of a new manager jolted them out of the torpor into which they had slid under Martin O’Neill.
This time round, we can only hope that Hull City are distracted by the lure of that Wembley glory that we bathed in on March 2nd and that they are dragged kicking and screaming into the heart of the relegation scrap. Because that is the only way that I can see us getting out of the not inconsiderable mess that we are in now.
The Palace game was more of a mustn’t lose than a must win and we did achieve that, although they did come perilously close to nicking an undeserved winner at the end. On the other hand, did we ever come close to winning the game? The answer to that is an emphatic NO.
Granted, Borini hit the bar when he really should have scored and Speroni made a good save from Altidore. But other than that we barely created one clear cut chance and we completely failed to carve open a Palace defence that creaked at the start before they realised that if they stood their ground, the lack of creativity and imagination in a desperately poor Sunderland midfield would soon come to the fore and they could spend the rest of the afternoon happily defending long punts forward by our players. This lack of creativity and drive has been a serious problem for a while now. We do not have one player who can get hold of a game and direct it our way. Bruce, O’Neill, Di Canio and now Poyet have tried to get by with the strength of Gardener, Cattermole and Larsson and for those three, the Sunderland tank is now running on empty.
What else do we have? Bridcutt played deep and did reasonably well against the kind of side he should do reasonably well against. Colback missed this one, but he is, in the words of Doug Forrest, “yet another water carrier”. Ki opens well but fades too easily. Larsson and Gardener must both realise that their days at Sunderland are over. Their contribution to this game was, to put it mildly, poor. The Swede engineered a series of misplaced passes before he was hauled off to be replaced by Gardener whose first action was to be booked for an unnecessary foul. Both were signed from Birmingham City after their relegation and both have every chance of another one on their CVs.
The other major, major problem is where on earth do the goals come from? Borini and Johnson have been our most regular scorers but they are not prolific. In games against our relegation rivals, we have scored but a single goal at the Stadium of Light and, with the exception of Fulham, not many more away. Fletcher cuts a forlorn figure up front and looks as if he cannot wait to tell his agent to find him another club who want to go down. Words fail me when it comes to discussing Altidore. Quite the worst forward I have seen in a Sunderland shirt in the top flight – and I have sat and stood through Ian Wallace, Andy Gray and Paul Stewart.
I understand Poyet’s apparent sanguinity in his post-match interviews. There is little point in him criticising players for not being good enough, that is not their fault. They put plenty of effort in and never stopped looking for a breakthrough, even to the extent of Bardsley giving us one of his wonder dives towards the end. I would ask some questions of his tactics though. Both Palace full backs were booked early on for crude fouls on Borini and Johnson. Surely we should have continued to attack them. Borini running at Mariappa would have caused chaos but we allowed him to tuck in and pass his fouling duties on to the next player.
But he must be really worried about the fact that we cannot win games against sides that are down there scrapping with us. We go to Norwich next week to play a club whose fans are unhappy with their manager and who, in Ellander and van Wolfswinkel, have strikers who are as ineffective as ours. It could be a classic.
Palace were as poor a side as we were and their wretched goals for tally shows what they are – a team hanging on by fair means or foul. In Pulis they have a manager who may well keep them up but who seems to regard football as a branch of rugby union in that it is a game of attrition where skills with the ball are purely secondary.
Lenin realised that there was a long game to be played in 1904. By 1917, the Bolsheviks were in the ascendancy and had taken power in Russia. He always adhered to that philosophy of one step forward two steps back because he knew that the spurt would come sooner or later and that the socialist paradise that he envisaged would eventually be achieved.
Gus Poyet doesn’t have that time.
Two wins from the next three would put a different complexion on things but resurgence in South West London and the Black Country do little to help us. Time for us to stand on our own two feet and seize the commanding heights of the economy!!!
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