Malcolm Dawson writes….traditionally Boxing Day was when wealthy folks distributed alms to the poor and needy of the parish, but yesterday the millionaires and billionaires who are Manchester City were not in a charitable mood. Indeed it was a case of role reversal and it was the players of a poor Sunderland side who were gifting presents left, right and centre to their hosts. Pete Sixsmith has also been handing out presents in the days up to and including Christmas but yesterday saw him swap the red and white costume of St Nicholas for the red and white scarf he has been wearing since before we won the cup and he wasn’t impressed with what he saw. Mind you neither was anyone else who calls themselves a Sunderland fan. He and I will be there on Wednesday (weather permitting) and I predict optimism will not be on the agenda.
Manchester City (a) 26/12/15.
Manchester is a city I have got to know quite well over the last few years what with trips to the National Football Museum, The Peoples History Museum, Old Trafford for cricket, football and rugby league and Eastlands for rugby league and football. The shopping is excellent (so I am told), the transport infrastructure is probably the best outside of London and it has breweries – no city can truly describe itself as great if it no longer brews beer in significant amounts.
And so it was that I partook of Joseph Holt’s splendid Bitter in one of their city centre pubs, The Ape and Apple where I was joined my Madame Salut (for about thirty seconds) and M.Salut for considerably longer. Pints of bitter were quaffed in an almost empty pub where the bar staff seemed to outnumber the customers. No doubt the wine bars were heaving as Manchester’s finest sipped Prosecco and/or Gin; they should be back to Holt’s before the credit card bills land on the laptop.
A short tram ride to Eastlands followed and once in the stadium after the obligatory frisking, old acquaintances were renewed with friends and former students as we digested the team news. It looked like we could be in for an interesting afternoon. Interesting was not the word we were using at 3.23 p.m. when Bony headed in the third after a particularly pathetic challenge by the rapidly fading John O’Shea. This followed an equally pathetic “challenge” by Jones on Sterling for the first and then we had a defensive parting that was reminiscent of Charlton Heston leading his people across the Red Sea, allowing the massive, bear like Ya Ya Toure to fire past a flailing Vito Mannone. Throw in some more comedy capers at the back by Billy Jones leading to a fourth by the impressive Kevin De Bruyne, and another Southampton was on the cards until City felt sorry for us and switched off. Borini’s 59th minute goal was no more than a consolation – and not much of a one at that.
Why the changes? My suggestion is that Sam wanted to see if any of these fringe players could produce when the chips were down. They didn’t and I would imagine that Mannone, Gomez, Graham and possibly Coates will be talking to their agents now, trying to get a contract with a new club in either January or July.
In fact, he could throw in a few more as Jones, Van Aanholt, Fletcher and Johnson hardly cut the mustard and will almost certainly leave when (not if, when) we are relegated at the end of the season.
This was the game where I saw the paucity of the players that the manager has at his disposal. I have missed the last three games due to work commitments and the contrast between this performance and the one when we beat Stoke City was frightening. Since that win, the Potters have beaten both Manchester clubs and look nicely settled in the top half of the table. We have played tolerably well at Arsenal, poorly at home to Watford and cravenly at Chelsea.
This was the worst of the four though. There was a lack of organisation on the field which is down to more than the fact that City were simply better than us. When playing against the likes of Silva and De Bruyne the key word is concentration. Ours lasted all of seven minutes. Players seemed not to know what to do. Do we tackle or back off? Well, first of all, let’s be aware of what is going on around us. Take the first goal which came from a mishit cross by the always impressive Kolarov. Did anyone watch it go to De Bruyne? If they did, did anyone close him down? Did the defenders in the box think “Mmm there’s a cross coming in here; we need to be alert?” The subsequent goal from the weasely Sterling says not.
We appear to have gone as far as we can with these players. Four seasons of constant struggle and managerial changes have left them bereft of self believe and confidence. Both goalkeepers have struggled, we must have the poorest full backs in the league and John O’Shea looks like a First World War line officer who has led his men over the top so many times that he has lost all faith in the conduct of the war/club.
Sam Allardyce is a competent manager who has come in, looked at the rag bag of players that has been thrown together with no coherent plan (interesting that he has told the Director of Football to go and tend his petunias rather than involve himself in signing any more sub-standard players) and who must now spend time pouring over DVD’s of players in the lower regions of European leagues who may improve this team.
It is a difficult, if not impossible task. We have to ask ourselves if there are three worse teams in the league than Sunderland and the answer that most of us will come up with is a resounding “No.” Rabbits need to be conjured out of hats in the next 10 days as the last thing we want is to be scrambling around for players on the 28th January.
What are his priorities for that window? Here are some suggestions:
1 Recall Jordan Pickford from Preston North End. Neither Pantilimon nor Mannone inspire much confidence at the moment. If Pickford is any good, now is the time to find out.
2 Find a central defender who is strong, has pace and can tackle. We seem to be lacking that at the moment. Alas, they do not grow on trees. He seems keen on Kone – who could be another Diakite.
3 Bring in a centre forward who can control the ball and who can work with Fabio Borini, who must start up front – our best player yesterday and he would not get in the City first team squad. Fletcher has had his good run and Danny Graham….. well.
4. Hope that Newcastle, Norwich and West Brom implode and that Villa remain as dismal as they have been all season. Fail to win that one next week and that will be the end of it all.
5. Find out why clubs like Stoke, Watford, Palace and Southampton can succeed on crowds that are far, far less than the 40,000 who regularly troop through the gates of the Stadium of Light – and who regularly go home disenchanted and unfulfilled. Solve that one, Sam and you will be the hero to end all heroes.
On current showings, I can’t see much of Joseph Holt’s splendid Bitter being supped next season.