- Malcolm Dawson writes….criticised for his negative comments after his side’s defeat in what was considered this season’s first local derby, David Moyes is full of optimism and praise for his team after the second. Well there are people who believe in the Yeti and Bigfoot and that the moon landings were all an elaborate hoax, that Elvis is alive and well and living in Stoke Poges and that David Icke was onto something. Pete Sixsmith doesn’t and he was at the Riverside last night too. Whose version of events is closer to reality do you think?
As I trudged around the streets of my childhood delivering Northern Echoes this morning, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the following as it took centre stage on the back page…..“If we had played like we have tonight in other games then we would have picked up more points and won more games. – David Moyes”
It is accompanied by a picture of David looking like a slightly younger, slightly more unhinged Victor Meldrew as he stands on the touchline at the Riverside wondering what on earth he, a man with the fourth best win ratio in the Premier League, is doing presiding over the rabble that are out there allegedly playing for him.
It got me thinking about an incident that took place in The Lincolnshire Poacher pub on Mansfield Road, Nottingham a quarter of a century ago when I popped in for a pint of Bateman’s XXX with Alec Savage, a man so gentle that he made mild mannered reporter Clark Kent look like Grant Mitchell after a steroids overdose. “Two pints of your ordinary bitter mate” said Alec. The landlord, a man renowned all over the East Midlands for his sharpness, nay rudeness replied, “You are making two mistakes there sir. First of all you are assuming that you are my mate when we have never met. And secondly, you are assuming that my beer is ordinary, which it most certainly isn’t.” We sipped our pints in a dark, secluded corner.
Like poor Alec, Moyes was making two wrong assumptions.
The first one was that we were better than Middlesbrough and that we should have won. I think not. They were just as awful as we were but they managed to fashion one genuine chance which they took courtesy of some downright rotten defending from Billy Jones and John O’Shea.
The second one was that there were at least three other teams who were so indecisive in defence, feeble in midfield and ineffective up front that they would allow us to score against them while failing to take advantage of our inability to keep a clean sheet.
Apart from that, Moyes probably got it right.
This was the nadir of his time at Sunderland and one from which he surely cannot recover. Middlesbrough had not won a game in 2017, had had no new manager bounce after the too late sacking of Aitor Karanka and had been humiliated by Bournemouth, a club that was nearly out of the Football League a few years ago.
We, on the other hand, were on an unbeaten run of er… 1 game after a 2-2 draw against a dismal West Ham United side which had given us a smidgeon of hope that we could escape the grind of the Championship. Khazri was restored to the team, Anichebe was fit and the garden, although hardly rosy, was looking a little bit less lack lustre than it had.
The performance we turned in was dismal. Against a side who looked more nervous than we did, we dominated for nine minutes until they launched a through ball from midfield which neatly bisected the ever ponderous Billy Jones and the increasingly creaking John O’Shea to allow Marten de Roon to get into the box and poke the ball past the perhaps too slowly advancing Jordan Pickford. There was a silence for a split second while the home support tried to remember what to do when they scored and that was that. Nine minutes in and game over. Eighty one minutes to fashion an equaliser or a winner and we failed dismally.
Guzan in the Boro goal made two regulation saves from Ndong (our best player) and Khazri (no worse than any of the others) and that was it. Defeated and demoralised, we trudged back to the free coaches knowing that the game was up and it was Griffin Park on a Tuesday night for the foreseeable future.
There were two things in this game that stood out for me, both of them negative and both involving players that David Moyes has brought into the club.
- The first was Darron Gibson playing that key role in front of the back four where he could win the ball and use it to open up the Boro defence. In the first half, there was a loose ball that was 60-40 his. He ducked it and allowed Forshaw to win it and set up an attack. No commitment, no interest from yet another player who has no reason to be at Sunderland. Ethan Robson or Elliott Embleton from the Under 23’s would at least have rattled Forshaw. And, if substituted, they wouldn’t have gone straight down the tunnel because they would have cared about their employer.
- The second point relates to Adnan Januzaj, a man who makes Anthony le Tallac look a world beater. Pressing (a relative term) for an equaliser in the last few minutes, we were awarded a free kick in a good position. The defenders lumbered up for it only to see the once highly rated Belgian deliver a free kick that went across the box and out for a throw in. This from a man that the manager keeps telling us will come good and will go on to become a great player.
Take the delusion glasses off David. The away support let it be known that, if they had a choice, David would be at home on Merseyside, waiting for Gordon Strachan to resign so that he can take over a job that he has always coveted. His time at Sunderland should be up but I fear it isn’t.
I also fear what will happen to us next season as the Championship is a fierce league and the jackals that inhabit it will be nipping at the legs of fallen Premier League clubs hoping to do them down even further. Villa have struggled at times and Fulham nearly slid into Division One a couple of years ago.
Middlesbrough will certainly be joining us but they have a squad that is equipped to do well – a bit like Burnley under Sean Dyche. We, on the other hand, have a mass cull to look forward to and a new influx of players which may or may not, be brought in by David Moyes. They have to be better than the ones he has brought in this season – don’t they?
In football, as in life, perception is everything. The perception of how well we played last night is fundamentally different between the manager and the 3,000 supporters who witnessed another performance that plumbed new depths in Sunderland AFC’s once proud but now increasingly tarnished history.
Only five more games to go. Thank goodness for small mercies.