Malcolm Dawson writes…..the forecast wasn’t good for those who had delayed their Guy Fawkes night celebrations. In fact it had rained so heavily overnight that the Northern League fixture list was almost wiped out. What a shame that the surface at the SoL drains well enough to allow games such as this to go ahead. It wasn’t so much Bonfire Night as Groundhog Day and we witnessed another performance reminiscent of so many others that we have endured over the past years. What do you call it when you get deja vu over and over again? We set out simply to earn a point. Sam’s plan may be to start by keeping a clean sheet but when we never threaten to score ourselves and when we cannot retain possession, it only takes one lapse in concentration, one individual error or one bit of misfortune to concede and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen that happen. I’m more than a bit miffed that the manager sees this as a point lost. No! It’s three points lost in my view. Once again the crowd was magnificent and more than the club deserves under the current regime. A bit of confusion at the start of the Remembrance Day minute’s silence when for ten seconds or so there were those who thought it was a minute’s applause but then as the realisation set in, it was immaculately observed. After that they were behind the team the whole time. Pete Sixsmith has travelled down the M1 today to rural Northamptonshire to take in an FA Cup tie. Yesterday, as usual, he suffered with the rest of us. Here’s his response to yet another home defeat.
SOUTHAMPTON (H) 2015
The proprietor, God bless his cotton socks, has been wondering aloud why our readership is down in comparison with past years, particularly in light of our increased social media profile. A number of ideas have been tossed into the fire pit that is the editorial conference here at Salut House. Are we too wordy using 10 when a couple will do? Do we have sufficient pictures to look at when we get bored with the reading? How can we appeal to the younger audience that may come to us via the aforementioned social media? Should we lighten up a bit and have more “wee banter”?
We have slunk back to our studies with a message from Sir Colin that basically says “shape up or ship out” but I feel that he has missed one vital point that influences the number of people who read these pages: the football on display is complete and utter garbage.
For the last four seasons, a visit to the Stadium of Light has been the footballing equivalent of being lobotomised with a bread knife. Managers have brought in players who have been signed on hunches, inaccurate scouting reports and past reputations and when that manager is inevitably relieved of his duties, the next sucker comes in bemoans the quality of the squad and proceeds to repeat the process.
Does any other Premier League club have as many poor players as Sunderland? Is there any player in the Sunderland squad who would walk or even squeeze into any other Premier League team without showing a vast improvement in his form? Are some clubs using us as a repository for players they have signed and who will never be, or no longer are, good enough to play for them?
This scribe would probably answer Yes, No, Yes (Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, we know who you are. Great will be our vengeance upon you come the Day of Judgement). Not one of the team that played in the latest defeat would get into the Southampton 17 and I can’t imagine Ronald Koeman even looking at their stats on Pro Zone.
If last week was a “shake your head, that kind of result won’t happen again” scoreline, this week was a “shake your head, there’s going to be plenty more of this before the end of the season” kind of game. When you lose 6-2 with four first team players injured, it is relatively easy to see where changes need to be made. When you lose 1-0 with virtually a full squad available, it is so much more difficult.
We defended better than last week, which is like saying that Whitbread Tankard was better than Watney’s Red Barrel ie not much. Kaboul and Coates were diligent and controlled Pelle quite well. So, that’s almost a plus mark. Unfortunately, the full backs continued to prove to me that Cec and Len should be recalled from the retirement home, if only to tell the energetic Yedlin that, when faced with a dangerously impressive player like Mane, it is not sensible to tuck in next to the centre halves and hope that Johnson or someone else might just get back there in time. The young American clearly enjoys his football, but when under pressure he reminds me of an absolute beginner in the Premier League.
We conceded a penalty, something we managed to avoid at Goodison, and that it was given away by probably our best player in Yann M’Vila is particularly disappointing. He had tackled well, passed well and covered well for 69 minutes when, for some reason, he decided to hang a foot in the direction of Bertrand, who was going nowhere.
There were no arguments about this penalty award and Tadic stroked home the spot kick to win the game for a neat and tidy Southampton team who unlike us, change managers for the right reasons and thus continue to make progress. They have 14 points more than us. Any bets as to how many more that will be come May?
They make progress because they sign good players – Van Dijk, Pelle, Tadic Clasie and they have well established performers like the excellent Steven Davies and Jamie Ward-Prowse who know exactly what their roles are in the team and who know that there are players in reserve who can fit into their style.
We don’t have a style. What we do have is a new manager who is finding out about the ragbag squad he has been bequeathed. Unfortunately, he has to find out in actual games that the majority of the players he has at his disposal are either not good enough or have spent so much time battling away in the trenches that they have become immune to the new leader taking over.
Duncan Watmore started and appropriately enough for a couple of days after bonfire night, lit up the sky at first with a couple of searing runs (nothing at the end of them, mind) before crashing to earth and fading out. He deserved his chance and he will come again but he is a long way off being the new James McClean or Brian Usher.
Toivonen had a stinker and was unrecognisable from the man who was so good against West Ham a mere five weeks ago. What is his role? Was he there to work with Fletcher or play a few yards behind him? A harder quiz than Guess The Score I think.
He was replaced by Borini at half time but his impact was not great. He plays well through the middle but his best game came when he and Lens played on the flanks. The Dutchman, all £8m of him, remained on the bench.
As too often, there was no spark in the team. Gomez can pick a pass out but he is neither strong enough nor consistent enough. Rodwell came on and at least was consistent – consistently ineffectual. He is rapidly becoming a candidate for the worst big money signing I have ever seen in a red and white shirt; he is catching up Torre Andre Flo and Lillian Laslandes and has already overtaken Rod Belfitt.
We forced Steckelenburg into one save after they had taken the lead, but little else. It was yet another disappointing and dispiriting afternoon and for those not there – you made the right decision. There were 41,000 Sunderland fans in the ground. I would imagine the last thing they want to do is to read about another defeat that puts us very firmly in the relegation zone.
Lord Randall may wish to ponder this over his kedgeree sandwiches at breakfast tomorrow.