Malcolm Dawson writes……it’s hard to put a positive spin on another defeat when we are at least seven points off safety. But I’ll have a go. To anyone who would have settled for two draws this week I’ll say we’ll be better off if we scrape a win on Saturday. But nothing is guaranteed against a Villa side who are in even more desperate straits than we are and if the rest of the relegation contenders carry on picking up the odd point here and there, a victory might still be too little. Another positive was the mood in the ground. I’ll concede that the Norwich game was a shocker and I accept people who’ve paid good money can walk out when they like, but last night the followers of Sunderland AFC showed why they really are a special set of supporters. I’ll always argue that with the fans behind them the team will be less likely to let their collective heads drop. Last night there was no negativity and the atmosphere was fantastic even after we went behind. Though we never looked like equalising the only time we looked like conceding a second was when Benteke was clean through allowing Don Vito to show that maybe he is back to his best. Probably just in time to see him offloaded somewhere. To any Liverpool fans who may drift onto this site can I just applaud your lot for turning up in your thousands in midweek and totally respecting the end of year silence. A credit to the club. With regard to our on the field exploits at least, most of us will be glad to see the back of 2015. Pete Sixsmith certainly is and he’s not really looking forward to the rest of the season. Here he brings us his spin on yesterday’s match.
Happy New Year.
And so the curtain came down on what has been a thoroughly miserable calendar year for the thousands who follow Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, in front of their laptops or in foreign climes. Three managers and only four wins more in the entire year, indicates what can best be described as a struggle and what is now looking like a serious attempt to renew friendships with Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The latest defeat was an improvement on the previous two. In this one we went an entire half + 38 seconds without conceding which is far better than being three and two down after 25 minutes. But once this team goes a goal behind, there appears to be as much chance of them levelling as there is of me being awarded an Oscar for my performances as Father Christmas.
The players, by and large, did their best. The problem is that their best just isn’t good enough. Not good enough to combat the pace of Watford, not good enough to combat the lifting of frustration at Chelsea, not good enough to combat the sheer quality of De Bruyne and Silva and not good enough to combat a limited but well organised Liverpool side.
The Reds were no world beaters and look like a side who might scrape into a Europa League spot next season. But they were far too well organised for us, having a strong back four, some muscle in midfield and a bit of extra quality in the two Brazilians, Coutinho and Firminho. Against those two, our willing but limited midfield found it hard going. Cattermole and M’Vila toiled manfully in the engine room but there was no quality when we went forward. Johnson did what he has done ever since he arrived at Sunderland in that he flattered to deceive. One sublime ball to Jones (who then lost it) was followed by numerous episodes of him chasing his tail like an over excited terrier – and then losing the ball.
We looked reasonably solid at the back but it is impossible for us to go through an entire game without at least one catastrophic error. It duly came while the Hospitality Boys were still taking their seats after a good feed. Wes Brown (who had a sound game, considering his age, his lack of first team action and the fact that he was playing in our back four) lost his concentration and the previously anonymous Benteke played himself in to score.
And that was it. Some huffing and puffing and the sight of Vito Mannone charging up for a corner a la Mart Poom was all we had to offer as another three points disappeared down the A19.
There were some good individual performances (Mannone, Brown, Cattermole M’Vila, Borini) but that is what they were. At no stage did we look like a consistently homogeneous team and that will be our downfall. We have too many players who have been signed piecemeal as successive managers have brought them in and have attempted to create a “style” with players who do not fit it. We are now left with men brought in by Bruce, O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat with the whole thing starting again tomorrow when Allardyce attempts to bolster this failing squad with a couple of players tempted to the Roker Riviera by the lure of money. Nobody comes to us in order to advance their careers – or if they do, they are soon shunted sideways.
I have little optimism with regard to the first half of 2016 as I am as sure that the burden of the last four seasons will prove to be too much for a group who have become convinced that they cannot win. I am ready for the barbs that will be flung at Sunderland supporters and can only hope that we can at least drag that lot from up the road down with us.
The latest defeat was compounded by the fact that we lost to a Liverpool side who are no great shakes and who failed to press home their advantage. Their manager is an ideal fit for them in that he preens himself and does not appear to see high self-regard as a drawback. His histrionics when Lens caught Sakho were worthy of Rodgers at his best. Fifty years ago, a Liverpool side containing real men like Billy Stephenson, Ron Yeats and Ian St John rather than softies like Sakho and Lallana won the league, while we bumbled along to finish fourth from bottom, with Blackburn and Northampton Town slipping out. The financial rewards of the First Division were insignificant compared to those that will be showered on the Premier League next season. Those that miss out may find it increasingly difficult to get back in.
And so we move on to the New Year. Lose to a wretched Villa side and that really is curtains for us. As always, we live in hope.