Sixer’s Soapbox: Stoke 0 Sunderland 0 – purgatory in the Potteries

Martin O’Neill and plenty of Sunderland fans came away from the Britannia Stadium happy with another point in the bag. After all Stoke can be a difficult team to play and apart from last season’s snowy encounter, the Potteries hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for The Black Cats in recent times. Pete Sixsmith’s growing disillusionment with the Premier League has been well documented in his earlier match reports and there is little here to suggest that the feeling has been diluted. What follows is his cathartic therapy in an effort to forget…..

Never let it be said that this column does not do its homework. I pointed out to the Proprietor at half time, that I considered that the game was little better than a Wear Valley Sunday League Division 2.

So, in the interests of professional journalism (unlike the execrable Lee Ryder who published all kinds of allegations against Sunderland fans in his laughable column in a certain Newcastle based “newspaper”), I did my research and, after a visit to the shops, I wandered down to Shildon Rec to see what was going on.

I came across a Wear Valley First Division game between two sides at opposite ends of the table and I have to say that I should retract my statement to M. Salut. It wasn’t very good, as the visitors added three times in the ten minutes I stood and watched, to the seven goals they had already notched up. As I left, they looked as if they were going to score again. I averted my eyes from the shambolic defending, but I had seen the visitors string a few passes together and inject some pace into their attack – not something I have seen a lot of from a Sunderland side this year.

So, the game on Saturday wasn’t quite as bad as I tried to make out, but it was a stinker – played between two teams who are struggling to find their identity at the moment.

From our point of view, we came away with a point, defended resolutely, worked hard and had a couple of half chances, which we failed to take. There were some signs of recovery, but they are as fragile as those currently being lauded by Messrs. Cameron and Osborne, although they are more likely to materialise.

We now know that we have a very good goalkeeper who is not frightened by the nasty boys of Stoke who pepper his goal with deep centres and long throws, roared on by a fanatical and hostile crowd.
This is mainly because he has grown into his job and makes very good choices as to when to come and when to leave it to the usually excellent O’Shea and Cuellar. Plus, Stoke don’t really do that any more. Delap has disappeared and they have gone for a tricky winger in Kightley rather than fullbacks who sling the ball in to hard men like Fuller and big men like Jones.

The crowd has lost its edge, or maybe they reserve it for the annual visit of Le Profeseur, Arsene Wenger, because that is the quietest I have ever heard a Britannia Stadium assembly. Maybe they are getting bored with the poor stuff that middle of the table Premier League teams serve up.
In truth, there is little to write about. Cattermole did well on his return, moving around quickly, organising everyone and going an entire 90 minutes without clattering into anyone or incurring the wrath of a hesitant Mark Halsey.

The back four looked solid, once Gardner had tightened up on his flank and Rose did well, although he too often rushes his final ball and gives it away. Colback was tidy in midfield as was Larsson, but once again, the two wingers, who O’Neill has put a lot of faith in, failed to deliver.
Johnson looks as if he is ploughing through treacle at times as he attempts to beat a man and then comes back inside. Is he fit? Is there a problem with him moving back to the North East? He must be close to being left out of the starting line up as Saha and McFadden look for opportunities to start games.

McClean worked hard but consistently failed to take advantage of some decent ball from Colback, failing to take on and beat some diligent Stoke defending. It is harder for him this year as teams are wise to him, but we have seen so few of those great crashing runs and a little too much of him cutting inside and losing the ball.

Up front, Fletcher plugged away and he may well have had a good penalty claim. I couldn’t be bothered to wait up for it on MOTD so I am not in a position to say. We’d probably have missed it – and who is our penalty taker? We don’t seem to get very many as we are rarely in the opposition’s box.

So, a real stinker. This mornings Observer report concentrated on what both managers had to say and had little to say about the game. This may well be a combination of the paper employing someone to sit and watch it on some obscure foreign channel rather than go (cheaper and better for the journalist’s mental health) and the fact that it was such a bloody awful game that there was hardly a noteworthy incident to write about.

I sat through it and so did 27,000 other hardy souls who must have thought as they made their way home that there were better ways to spend an afternoon than this. It was as far removed from the beautiful game as Conrad Black was from reality on Have I Got News For You, but a sight less entertaining.

We now go into a series of games against middle ranking teams like ourselves and a cup tie against local rivals who have found a bit of form, albeit in a lower division. Lose the next two games and there may well be grumbling of an Olympian nature as we have two tricky away games. We need to win the home games and with some conviction.

Let’s hope that we can shake off this lethargy and start to play football again.

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23 thoughts on “Sixer’s Soapbox: Stoke 0 Sunderland 0 – purgatory in the Potteries”

  1. (In response to Phil’s point). TBH Hurley and McNab were a bit before my time Phil, but yes I understand what you are saying. Back in those days teams played with “wingers” although truth be told they were really right and left midfield players in many cases and not bone fide wide men. The left and right halves were really just midfield players like you say. The sort of team formation that I was referring to with Cloughie would have had the likes Burns and Needham in the back 4 in his time at Forest as the defensive spine.

  2. Very true, John. Maybe I am too critical, but I did expect something with a little more fizz this season.
    I agree about these two games. This could give us the impetus we need.

  3. At the start of the season we all would have accepted away draws with West Ham,Arsenal, Swansea,Stoke and home draws with Newcastle and Liverpool. We’d also have expected a home win with Wigan and an away defeat at Man City. So why do we find these results unacceptable after 8 games of season? Is it just because the entertainment value has been low? Would you rather lose 4-3 or draw 0-0? Let’s be honest here if SB was still in charge we would have probably lost the lot!
    I believe MON is a very intelligent manager who has decided to get it right at the back first to make us hard to beat. That is working so far. Now he has to work further up the park and get the attack functioning. I for one believe he will do it, it may not be this side of xmas though, although I sincerely hope it is. Some fans also seem to forget we’ve only played 3 home games out of the 8 we’ve played,winning those 2 home game to even things up will leave us in a fairly strong position.
    Most fans on the whole can see this but many are short sighted, the criticism of McLean and Johnson’s play on Saturday is an example. While both were poor in their forward play both worked hard for the team off the ball and in defensive positions, both were an integral part of not conceding a goal.
    This week is an opportunity for the team to show they are going in the right direction. With the pressure of the league off their shoulders they should have a close win a battle against good Boro side and then hopefully a decent show and good victory over what is the worst Villa side I’ve ever seen in nearly 60 years of watching football. If we play well this week and get those 2 wins all this gloom and doom will be forgotten. There’s no reason why we can’t do it, its far easier to win for draws than win from defeats.

  4. Geoff and Phil. What you say about MON learning the principles of his mentor, the late and very great Mr Clough is dead right.

    Cloughie used to stress the significance of getting the spine of the team right first of all. Goalkeeper, centre half (singular in those days) and centre forward.

    He had this right. The defence as a unit looks more solid than it has for years. Cuellar was his first signing. He has said that he rates Mignolet as highly as Joe Hart and he has just spent a club record fee on his striker in the summer. The rest will follow but I understand people’s frustration.

    • “Centre half (singular in those days)”.

      I know, exactly, where you are coming from BUT is that, really, true?

      I first watched SAFC in the ’62/’63 season (after Cloughie was injured) and the team, normally was:

      Montomery; Irwin Ashurst; Harvey, Hurley, McNab: Usher, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan, Mulhall.

      Now, in current day parlance, I would see that as a 4-2-4, with Hurley & McNab being joint centre halves and Harvey & Herd occupying the midfield.

      What do other, old timers think?

  5. I must concur with Phil on the no. 1 priority that was probably drilled into MON by BC. Building a team takes time (Moyes) and tons of money (Chelsea – how much have they spent in this decade??). We haven’t got tons of money so lets make sure he gets the time.
    However as a life long fan, albeit from a distance nowadays, it is often too easy to see the negatives. eg: Man City were a couple of leagues ahead of every one of our players bar Ming and we couldn’t even penetrate MK Dons.
    Against the Mags, we pressed but only between the halfway line and well short of their box.
    Thankfully, MON remains trusted where pretty much any other manager would be getting some grief by now.
    I know we have managed not to lose a game, but Ming has made at least one world class save in every single game. I guess that some top 4 money spinners will be sniffing round him soon.
    Once again, what do we want from our team – win more than they lose, score and bring some excitement into our lives. Top 4 – no thanks, but top 10? I am fed up of waiting until midnight to see us for 2 mins on MoTD.

  6. I don’t think that the way we are, currently, playing should come as a great surprise to anyone who knows their football history.

    The first thing that BC addressed, at both Derby & Forest, was the defence, in order to make his sides hard to beat.

    MO’N, as a Cloughie disciple, has repeatedly done the same thing (apart from, maybe, at Celtic) and I think that our current situation appears to be mirroring his first season at Villa.

    In 2006/2007 Villa finished 11th.

    Closer inspection reveals that, whilst drawing 17 games, only 5 teams conceded fewer goals and only the bottom 7 scored less.

    That changed, dramatically, in his second season, when Villa finished 6th.

    The number of draws was reduced to 12 and whilst 8 teams had better defensive records (Villa conceded 10 more than the previous season) the goals scored increased by a staggering 65% – from 43 to 71!

    The number of defeats, though, remained at exactly the same number – 10.

    I believe, that with the increasing number of players available for selection, we will not have to wait until next season to witness a major improvement in the final third..

    Even if we do though, after so many decades of watching dross, I think that it will be a perfectly acceptable wait!

      • Thank you!

        I suspect, though, that a number of “Skyboys” and others that SHOULD know better (meaning those with a FAR longer infection of the SAFC “disease”), will just/still ignore them!

      • The latter remark was, particularly, aimed at the author of the article – Pete Sixsmith,

        Other whingers can, also, consider themselves consigned to a Buxton/Butcher hell (there are too many for all to receive a “credit”)!

        Please,please M Salut – we NEED an edit button!

  7. Martin. Those are the truest words ever spoken. There are Potters supporters with season tickets since the days of John Ritchie and Terry Conroy who haven’t seen a decent game.

    • How are these two posts getting any thumbs up?

      My granddad used to say every game involving Sunderland ended up a close fought 2-1 away win and he died in 1987. Sunderland fans haven’t seen any other result since the days of Montgomery and Kerr.

      Is this the level you’re at?

      • I do not care who you support – your comment “Is this the level you’re at?” would suggest that it it is not SAFC.

        However, your sentiments ring true!.

        Why should we be prepared to accept crumbs from the table?

        We are far, far better than that!

        As, indeed, are NUFC.

        This last remark may infuriate some “Skyboys” but adults will, I believe, understand it.

  8. My granddad used to say “you never see a good game against Stoke”. He died in 1989 and he is still right..

  9. My sympathies Pete for having to endure that just to bring us a report,maybe we need do a whip round to buy your choice of refreshment and a pie by way of compensation…you deserve it.

    Ok we are hard to beat…but thats about as positive as it gets.All the art and craft one loves to see in a football match has been wrung out leaving a dried up husk of a team where once a firey spirit lived(well maybe it did a long time ago).

    Maybe you could count the varying the bird life you can see during the next away game (as Jonathon Wilson does) and give us an account of that…would be more interesting.

    • Stoke has only pigeons, and Fulham is the best ground I’ve found for birds, with the wetland centre just over the river

  10. I guess that there’s some comfort to be had in that we’ve only lost one of eight games. But it’s making for a dull season so far. I’d almost – though not quite! – settle for an exciting defeat rather than another painful Bruce-style draw. I know SOB’s no fan of the January sales but it really seems as if he should be drawing up a short shopping list.

    • I’m confused Bill (I know that does not take much).

      However, who is SOB?

      Are you referring to “sobs” or someone else.

      My, immediate thought (having failed to identify the initials) was that you were referring to MO’N as the “Son of Bruce”.

      Please explain what you meant.

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