Malcolm Dawson writes….I spent the first weekend of the season staying at my mate’s house in Nottinghamshire. He is a lifelong Leicester fan and back then he enjoyed informing all the Forest and County supporters at the Sunday night quiz in his local, that the Foxes were top of the Premier League. He never expected to still be saying that almost 7 months later. Before that first game of the season the City supporters I chatted with over a pre match pint agreed with me that after the relegation battles we had both survived the previous season we’d be happy with a bit of consolidation. And now look at how this season has panned out. That first game was a portent of what was to follow. Perhaps the fact that both Villa and the Mags look like two teams who have been resigned to defeat for weeks now while ours appear to be giving 100% has resulted in an unfamiliar optimism on Wearside these past few weeks. No doubt we have played some decent football and picked up points but it’s all getting a bit tight. I wasn’t there today but Pete Sixsmith was. Here’s what he thinks about today’s match and our current plight.
SAFC v CHAMPIONS ELECT (H)
All the “quiet optimism”, “they are due to lose” and “I really feel that we can win this one” was seen for what it was – bluster and a refusal to face up to the reality of the situation that we and Leicester City now find ourselves in as the 2015-16 season reaches its final dénouement.
For Leicester this was one giant step towards their first ever top level title (still need another five to catch us) while for us, it was an equally giant step towards our ninth relegation from the top flight – eight of which have been witnessed by M. Salut et moi. For that is what we are heading for after this deserved defeat by a side who are in their own way, quite the most remarkable team I have seen in the 50+ years I have been watching Sunderland.
This time last year, they came to Wearside and saved themselves from relegation with a line-up that was very similar to the one that cavorted off the Stadium of Light pitch to generous and heart felt applause. Throw in the outstanding Kante, the busy Okazaki and the impressive Christian Fuchs and they have soared. Would that it were us!
We did not play badly. There were things to like as there have been since January. But, at both ends of the field, we were found wanting and it is that that will lead to us saying goodbye to the Premier League while Leicester City are saying hello to the Champions League.
We do not score enough goals. If Defoe does not score, the team doesn’t. We had chances against the Champions elect. Kaboul put a header over the bar from a very good position in the first half. Borini forced a good save from Schmeichel on the stroke of half time. And Rodwell blasted into the crowd when all he had to do was place his shot either side of the former Darlington goalkeeper. Had that gone in, it would have dragged us level, got the crowd going and may well have put City on the back foot. As it was the man, who must worship at the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Disappointment, got everything wrong and then disappeared from the game for the last ten minutes.
In the first half, there was little between the two sides. If a visitor from the football mad planet Zog had been teleported in the stadium and had been told that one of these sides were top and the other third from bottom, he (or it) would have been hard pushed to tell you which one was which.
We defended well and the back four had the measure of the City forwards. Van Aanholt, a much improved player since January, snuffed out Mahrez and both central defenders were well in control of Vardy. In midfield, Kirchhoff was in command with Cattermole and M’Vila countering the constant probing of Drinkwater and Kante and looking as if they could do that for the duration.
Only up front did we look light. Defoe worked hard but a small man like him against relative giants like Huth and Morgan was never going to come off. Borini makes too many runs into opponents rather than round them. He should have been off much earlier and replaced by Lens rather than N’Doye.
It changed in the second half when Leicester upped the pace and we found it too hard to cope with them. Vardy never let Kaboul and Kone settle and was far more involved and when Drinkwater played that trademark Leicester ball over the top, both Kaboul and Kone were found wanting. The former Stocksbridge Park Steels man was away in space but still had a lot to do. Unfortunately, Mannone gave him a helping hand by coming, then stopping and then retreating, leaving the one time FC Halifax Town player an opportunity that he could not, nay would not, turn down. A crisp shot into the far corner and our world crumbled around us.
The visitor from Zog would have heard the deflation all around the ground as we desperately searched for an equaliser and even a winner. By doing so, we played into Leicester’s hands and they were able to pick us off as our discipline and organisation collapsed. The second goal barely mattered – although the defending was, to put it mildly, poor.
We now find ourselves in a very precarious position with five games to go. Two years ago, we were rooted to the bottom with 26 points after our draw at Eastlands. Norwich were six points ahead and had played a game more. Last year with five games to go, we were in our traditional place in the bottom three and a point from safety. Hull, who were a point ahead of us, joined Burnley and QPR in the Championship at the end of the season. Leicester had just scrambled out of the bottom three after spending nearly all of the season in the relegation quagmire.
In both seasons, there were plenty of other clubs taking points from one another or sinking like stones. This year, it is perm any two from us, them and Norwich and they are still in with a shout. A win at Carrow Road will not guarantee survival; a defeat will almost certainly guarantee that much anticipated visit to the Pirelli Stadium, Burton on Trent.
There is a week to settle on a starting XI that will take the game by the scruff of the neck and shake the life out of Norwich. Should we bring in Lens for Borini? What about Rodwell for Cattermole and Larsson for M’Vila? Both are possibilities as we look for goals and a little bit of extra oomph in that central midfield area. We now have a whole week to ponder this and other questions, chief amongst which is what on earth am I doing getting up at 4.15 on Saturday morning in order to make what has every possibility of being a frustrating and fruitless journey to the home of Sale of the Century, Alan Partridge and The Singing Postman?
Finally, I have thought ever so hard to find something negative to say about Leicester City. I can’t. They are a bloody good team. May their season end in the ultimate success.