Another poor show at The SoL, as we stumble to a draw against opposition we should beat. We have now won 2 out of the last 15 home games. Pete Sixsmith had high hopes of a wonderful weekend but the first of the three events he attended was the only disappointment
You occasionally get weekends which are full of things to do, things that you are looking forward to, things that you really, really want to enjoy.
I knew that two out of the three things I had planned this weekend would be fine. The one I was worried about was the Fulham game. My worries were not unfounded.
Let’s deal briefly with the two successes. Après le match, Martin Simpson was his usual excellent self at the Davy Lamp Folk Club in Washington, while Sunday evening was enlivened by the wonderful Lumière Festival in Durham City.
But I suspect that those who are able to read this couldn’t give the proverbial monkey’s about either. The sole thing that interests them is the loss of two more points to a club who are in a similar position to us – viz. beginning to contemplate a serious relegation battle.
From the Sunderland point of view, this was a wasted opportunity to get the season started – in November, just as the Christmas lights are going up and those of a certain disposition come over all wobbly at the sight of the John Lewis Christmas ad.
We have played 12 games, which is 31.57% of our season. We have won twice, once against a side who have been sidetracked by Europa League fixtures and once against a side who had lost every home game played this season. Should we carry on at this rate, we will end up with 35 points – and we all know what 35 points means; we should, we have been there enough.
We played a side who, to use a hoary old cliché, “don’t travel well”. They are a predictable side. You know exactly what you are going to get with Fulham; neat passing, strong but immobile central defenders, diving from the wretched Andy Johnson, and Bobby Zamora claiming that he has never once committed a foul in his entire professional career.
Good sides will beat them as will most half decent sides. We drew.
So, why was this? Forget the rubbish about the Cottagers being Bruce’s jinx team, as there is no such thing. Instead, look at the team he picked and the way that he set it. He was frightened of losing so he made sure that we played a similar game to Fulham in passing the ball around aimlessly in midfield and then hoping that Sessegnon might just magic something up for us.
We went into a home game with Cattermole and Colback in the centre of midfield. Both played well, but they are limited. They scrap away, win the ball and lay it off tidily. Both can tackle but neither can open up a defence or get behind the forwards to score.
Where was the midfielder who could play that telling ball? Where was the midfielder who could get behind the forwards and bear down on goal? Sitting on the bench for the whole ninety minutes, that’s where they were, while our Egyptian winger ran around a lot and achieved nothing and our first choice left back started well but faded away around the hour mark.
Vaughan and Gardner are spotted as rarely as a funny quip by Ant and Dec or a telling comment by Alan Shearer. Both came with decent reputations. Vaughan was Blackpool’s Player of the Year last year, above Charlie Adam – the same Charlie Adam who starts regularly for Liverpool, that is.
Craig Gardener would, we were told as we stumped up our season ticket money, solve the chronic lack of goals from midfield, leading to the release of Malbranque and Riveros.
Both have had minimal impact, principally because they have not been playing. Vaughan has had a few bumps and bruises (he played 35 times for Blackpool last year!) while Gardner has rarely been played in the forward position that he clearly favours.
There is a feeling that we paid massively over the odds for him and that the manager is not impressed with him. £6m wasted perhaps as he becomes the new Shaun Cunnington – plays well against us, is rubbish for us. But let’s give him a game and play him behind Bendtner.
On the way to the game on Saturday I offered my team selection. Richardson to stay at left back, with Cattermole, Vaughan and Colback strung across the middle, Gardner in front of the 3 but behind Bendtner and Sessegnon looking to pick up whatever came back from the two forwards.
Instead we got a typical Steve Bruce midfield – unimaginative, uninspiring and unable to score. This cautious approach to a game that needed to be won will be the death of us.
The substitutions were even less impressive. Ji Dong-Won sent on after a long trip back from Korea and a less than ringing endorsement from his national coach, replaced Colback, allowing Sessegnon to drop back. That left us with a non-tackling midfield as Cattermole was one slip away from a second yellow and the other three couldn’t tackle Twiggy.
Why not Noble? He would have put himself on the shoulder of the last defender and might just have got into the box and had a pop at goal. Instead we had Ji who plays a long way away from goal and became an auxiliary midfielder.
Like 37,000 others, Vaughan and Gardner had to sit and watch this ill selected team try to put together a move that would give us a winning goal. They were probably as frustrated as we were, but at least they were being handsomely rewarded for shaking their heads at a struggling manager. We had to pay for that dubious privilege.
Wigan up next week and if we lose that one, then the time for the curtain to fall on Bruce’s Sunderland career will come before we are sick of Christmas lights and adverts.. As it is, he surely cannot expect a new contract in June. His pride should dictate that he keeps us up this year – but it’s a tall ask at the moment.