Pete Sixsmith longs for the day he can write something upbeat about a Sunderland first-team performance. The visit of QPR offered no such opportunity. That he can muster the enthusiasm to write at all is remarkable; that he does it so well, and with a nice line in gallows humour, too – must be a marvel of the modern age …
In the end, I probably made the right choice. I witnessed what, in the words of Simon Grayson, was a small step to success with a lot of positives and where we didn’t get the breaks, rather than watching Shildon crash out of the FA Cup 6-0 at Guiseley. To be honest, an afternoon in a laundrette watching the machines whirl round would have been preferable to either.
Were the club not in such a chaotic state, the managerial position would be open to change. Twelve games in, we are sitting comfortably in the bottom three and the hot breath of tail enders Bolton Wanderers is being felt on our necks. They are three points behind us while we are three points behind Birmingham City and what would, at the moment, represent a successful season.
Our ambitions appear to extend to no more than finishing above Bolton (who won their first game yesterday and who visit us in a couple of weeks), Burton Albion (who we visit next month) and Birmingham City (who roll up on Wearside just in time to spoil our Christmas). Such is the state we are in.
Our inability to win at home is going to cost us dear. So far, we have played six times at the Stadium and with 18 points at stake we have taken two! We have not led at home this season and have managed a total of four goals, two of which came from the penalty spot and one of which came in the last minute of a defeat. We have not kept a clean sheet anywhere, apart from a League Cup tie at Bury and a couple of preseason games. We have haemorrhaged support and those that continue to go do so out of habit rather than with any enthusiasm.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to write a positive piece after a home game where I left the ground whistling like a butcher’s boy on a bike and beaming like an old fashioned policeman. But I don’t. I usually leave with an angry look on my face and hope that I don’t bump into anyone I see on the trudge back to the car. The only positive is that I am back at Sixsmith Towers by 6.15 and the butler has poured me a brandy and soda by 6.20. And another one by 6.25. And a third by 6.30. Get the picture?
What positives can we take from this?
Watmore had a good game and looked sharp. The ball that he played through to McGeady in the first half was the sign of a good player and was probably the best pass any Sunderland player has made in the last eighteen months. Unfortunately, McGeady fluffed it and we failed to take the lead.
The mercurial Irishman/Scotsman made amends in the second half when he rattled in the equaliser for his third goal in as many games. This came after a quick move out from the back led to Ndong playing a good ball to the former Lokomotiv Moscow man who fired in a great shot which beat the quietly impressive Alex Smithies at his near post.
Lewis Grabban completed forty five minutes and will be the better for it while Johnny Williams, all hustle and bustle showed that he was more than worthy of a place in the starting line-up.
And that, dear readers, is about it.
Not many positives there then. Nothing positive to say about the back four other than they stuck at their task and only conceded once or a goalkeeper who inspires absolutely zero confidence as he remains rooted to his line whenever the ball is crossed.
Nothing much to say about a midfield who managed to pass the ball sideways and backwards and who rarely got forward to support the forwards. If anyone thinks that the pairing of Cattermole and Ndong in the middle is the way forward then they must have been disabused by this. It looks like Ndong will be moved on in January. We may accept a transfer fee for less than we paid for him. Knowing our luck, he will be injured just before he completes a move to Lille or Verona and will not recover until the window closes. That leaves us with Cattermole….
I have never been a great fan of his but I do accept that, in the past, he has anchored the team. He can’t do that in this division. In the Premier League (which we may see a Sunderland side in at about the same time as humans colonise Saturn), his inadequacies can be disguised by the pace of the game and by the fact that he can tackle and harry the opposition without ever having to properly use the ball.
In the Championship, his lack of passing ability shows up. He does not have to get close to a Sanchez or a Silva in this league, leaving him horribly exposed and showing all his deficiencies. If we are going to continue to use him, he probably needs to be used in front of the back four, leaving a space in midfield for someone who at least makes things happen. Neither Cattermole nor Ndong do that.
There were times in the second half where our defending reminded me of cold Sunday mornings stood on the side of a park pitch watching Shildon Sunderland Supporters. And then I thought that Trevor Bowden, Barry Bloomer, Stephen Minns and Stephen Wilson would have shown a lot more authority than Messrs Matthews, O’Shea, Jones and Oviedo did. Far too often, the ball was not cleared or was kicked straight out or was missed altogether.
There was one chaotic sequence late in the game where nobody wanted to go near it and, had Rangers been any good, they would have punished our indecision/inadequacies. Thank goodness they didn’t – had we gone 2-1 down, I would have been home by 5.45.
The news filtered through that Shildon’s FA Cup dream had collapsed at Nethermoor so at least I was spared that and as I listened to the phone in on BBC Newcastle I thought back to the previous Saturday where the team I supported went into a game with a plan and then executed it properly to win and where one of the players completed the eighty minutes having dislocated his shoulder eight days previously.
Roll on the rugby league season…..