Even at half time, Pete Sixsmith felt Sunderland had been OK, no more … he had seen little to inspire him. Gus Poyet, Lee Congerton and Ellis Short should take heed of how Sixer, a loyal fan for half a century, felt at the end: ‘real rubbish in the second half and they could have won it. It is pushing me ever closer to the end of my tether. All they have to do is pass the ball to a red and white shirt – surely not beyond most of them. Fifty years of relegation struggles. We could well lose this one’ …
I wonder what the eight men of 1973 made of this? Monty, Bobby Kerr, Mick Horswill and Dick Malone are always at the match so it would be no great surprise to them, but what on earth did the likes of Vic Halom and Dennis Tueart make of a second half performance that was as poor as anything that Gus Poyet has supervised and was as bad as some of the worst excesses of O’Neill, Bruce and Keane.
If we want to look at positives, the first half was ok. There was some good stuff played, with Patrick van Aanholt outstanding down the left. Every time he got the ball, ne moved forward quickly and almost scored early on before he rattled in what turned out to be the winner in the 33rd minute. How sweet it would have been had it been two minutes earlier.
Fletcher had missed a good chance in the 20th and the Leeds keeper, who had a good game, despite an awful strip which looked like a bird had s*** all over it, had made a fine save from a busy and thoughtful Emanuele Giaccherini.
Alvarez hit the bar and Leeds defended, barely getting out of their own half. As the whistle went for half time, there was a murmur of satisfaction, but it was no more than a murmur. The crowd knew that a second goal was needed, and quickly, if the game was to be won comfortably.
Rodwell had departed with an ankle injury just before the end of the half and was replaced by Larsson. Alvarez departed at half time to be replaced by Wickham.
For Rodwell, it was a shame as he was having a decent game and had begun to assert himself in the centre of the park. Some would say that a £10m player who has hopes of getting back into the national squad should be bossing the game from the start and that he should not be dominated by a slightly rotund, 30 year old Jamaican called Rudi Austin.
Austin had an excellent game as he drove Leeds forward in the second half. He tackled effectively, used the ball well and conserved his energy by refusing to charge around. He would do a decent job in a good side. Here, in the first half at least, he held a poor side together.
As for Alvarez…… I have seen some decent touches from him. He set up the penalty at Eastlands on Thursday. He is tricky. He wants to score. After today, I would expect to see him do all of these things for Inter Milan. His performance was dreadful and it was no surprise when he was hooked at half time. Poyet needs to think very carefully about whether he should be kept.
Not that his replacement, Connor Wickham, did much better. He appeared sluggish throughout and consistently gave the ball away – he was in good company there. He stands comparison with Harry Kane at Spurs; same age, same build, same problems in getting into the first team, but whereas Kane scores goals, Wickham is struggling. I don’t see him as a winger either so why don’t we play him up front either with or instead of Fletcher?
But the really worrying thing is our complete inability to create any kind of tempo. My Chambers describes it as a noun meaning with speed and rhythm and neither of those applied to the way that we play the game at the moment.
The ball was moved sideways and backwards and when there was an opportunity for a quick, sharp pass to open up a willing but limited defence, we failed to play it.
Giaccherini is the only player to give us any tempo and that is why Van Aanholt did so well in the first half. When the Italian tired after an hour, any tempo disappeared. The rest seem to think that probing ever so slowly at the opposition will eventually give up an opportunity or two. It doesn’t.
I broke one of my resolutions and sat there shaking my head and biting my lip. I exploded a couple of times in the second half as we allowed Leeds back into the game. They may well have had a penalty and they hit the post late on. They probably deserved a replay – and this was nothing like their first team.
We are through and there is something to be said for that. What we want now is a draw away from home against a top Premier League club where there will be no shame in losing. All of our efforts have to go in to avoiding a serious relegation fight, one which I wonder if we are well equipped to face.
Liverpool are next up. We may go into that game with two proper full backs and with the Brown and O’Shea partnership restored. Cattermole may be fit as might Rodwell. But whoever plays, we simply must take the game to the opposition and make sure that chances are created and then finished off.
The rest of the season is going to be a difficult one unless we can add some pace to the team. Any suggestions? An Italian whose name begins with B perhaps?
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