Malcolm Dawson writes…..Sunderland have won fewer games than any other team in the Premier League. Even QPR who haven’t mustered a single point away from home have won two more games than SAFC and no prizes for guessing who their first victim was. Even Burton Albion beat them before they tasted victory against us. The view of many at the start of the season was that with a whole host of winnable home games after Hogmany, if we weren’t in the bottom three at Christmas then a mid table position would be well within our grasp. Well those regular attenders at the Stadium of Light are revising their opinions. One home league win so far this season and only three in the whole of 2014 doesn’t auger well when all the relegation candidates are still to visit us. Most of us thought we would get three points against a poor Hull City side and look how that turned out. As usual Peter Sixsmith turned up yesterday and once again he left feeling more than a little disgruntled.
NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT – LIVERPOOL – SSOL – JANUARY 10th 2015
This is twenty one hours after the latest awful performance so I have kept my promise not to write straight after the game and to reflect on the positives and the negatives before enlightening the readership of my views on the current state of Sunderland AFC. The use of the word “awful” in the first sentence may give you some idea of how I felt about this game. I could have used abject, appalling or abysmal – and that is just the As. The rest of the alphabet would have thrown up many, many more.
In the seven, I questioned the Head Coach’s selection and tactics. Basically, he got them wrong.
Here was a Liverpool team which, in the last ten days had been embarrassed by the pace of Leicester City and the physical strength and crossing power of AFC Wimbledon. They appear to have no decent forwards, play with three at the back and attack down the wings. They do, if given space, have some pace. What do we do? Defend deep. Allow them to come at us. Hope to stop them getting past us on the edge of the box with resolute defending as we had at Anfield. Catch them on the break and pick them off.
These are not tactics to warm up a large crowd on a cold day. Many of those sat around me are beginning to realise that we are slow, ponderous and prone to make mistakes. The Head Coach is rapidly running out of goodwill, something which Sunderland fans will show to those who are at least prepared to have a go. The team selection and the use of substitutes did nothing to endear Poyet to the increasing number of doubters in the East Stand seats and Gents. Why continue to play a centre half at right back when there is a fit right back on the bench? Why persist with a clearly out of form Jordi Gomez and then play him for the whole ninety minutes? Why play with one up front against three defenders? Why allow Liverpool to dictate the way that the game should be played?
On Monday Akinfenwa and Tubbs put pressure on Skrtl and company and thus made it difficult for Mignolet. Neil Ardley, the AFC Head Coach had identified the weaknesses that are still there in Brendan Rogers’s side and he nearly got a draw out of the game.
Unlike the fourth level side, we completely failed to take the game to Liverpool. They could have been one up in the first five minutes when the referee gave Brown the benefit of the doubt when he appeared to trip Markovic. There was no doubt a few minutes later when the same player picked his way through a succession of feeble tackles to score what turned out to be the winning goal. It could and should have been more as we continued to pass the ball sideways and backwards and then whack it up to Connor Wickham, who was totally dominated by Skrtl. The ball was given away so easily and so often that Liverpool probably found it difficult to believe that this was the self-styled “difficult to beat” team.
Not so much difficult to beat as difficult to watch. This was a truly painful experience which made many realise that here comes yet another relegation struggle. We avoided the drop last year because we had nothing to lose and because the three who went down were clubs in chaos. I don’t see much of that this season as West Brom and Crystal Palace have made their coaching changes, while Burnley and Leicester appear to be coming to terms with the division and have pace in their teams.
That leaves Villa, where the fans are turning on Paul Lambert, QPR who are useless away from home (they come to us next month; put your mortgage on a 0-0 draw) and Hull, whose manager is now preparing for a second career as a High Court Judge if his asinine comments on the Ched Evans case are anything to go by.
But what about Sunderland? Are we going to rely on others or are we going to do something about it? And if so, what?
First of all, we could try playing two forwards up front instead of sticking one of them out wide. I had some sympathy for Wickham yesterday, who had to feed off the proverbial scraps – although he gave up far too easily and being replaced by Danny Graham shows how much off the pace he was in the second half.
Secondly, we could try to start a game with some tempo and not allow the opposition to dictate the way that the game should be played. How do we do that? Moving the ball forward would help. Liverpool are vulnerable to players who run at them – look at Schlupp’s goal for Leicester and the performance that Rigg turned in for AFC – but we consistently fail to do this.
Some of Poyet’s after match quotes are worrying; “I’d have thought that by now I would have had a better impact on how the team plays. Some players are taking a long time to learn the basics of how I want to play.” What to make of this? We have a decent sized squad, many of who have arrived at the club in Poyet’s 15 months here. Are there players here that have been imposed on him? Is he still looking at those that O’Neill and Di Canio brought in and who do not fit his style? What is his style?
The last question is the key one. He clearly likes to play on the counter and two of the paltry three wins that we have had this season have come when the opposition have been chasing the game. Palace ran around making errors allowing us to catch them on the break, while Newcastle did the same, allowing us to pick them off. Giaccherini, Alvarez and others thrive on this kind of play. How many good games has the Italian had at the Stadium? He has looked a far better player away from home as has Alvarez and, believe it or not, Gomez.
But at home we can be awful. We have not had a crowd of less than 40,000 this season, a testimony to loyalty, hope and the club’s marketing policies, but that loyalty cannot be relied on as the winter of discontent descends on us.
The next home game is against a quick, lively and uninhibited Burnley side who really must fancy their chances against a plodding, out of touch Sunderland. And there is Spurs away before that. It could be a long, hard winter and a not very bright spring.
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