Malcolm Dawson writes….Recent victories for Leicester and Hull Cities, West Brom and Aston Villa see Sunderland still in the bottom three. It is becoming increasingly likely that it could be the free falling Magpies who will be the target if we are to avoid demotion to the Football League. Yesterday’s game versus Southampton was the latest in a series of “must win” home games but the difference this time was that we actually won. A win against Leicester in the final game of the season at the Stadium of Light might be enough but if we need more than three points then the remaining away matches offer little in the way of optimism. But as last season showed, funny things happen at the back end of the season. With a game in hand you could say the players of SAFC can still determine which division the club plays in next season but we have by far the hardest run in of the clubs in danger of the drop. Pete Sixsmith still clings on to the belief we can stay up but that optimism is balanced with the realism that it will still be tough as his report of yesterday’s proceedings shows.
SOUTHAMPTON HOME 2nd May 2015
Is it a case of too little, too late or is it the beginning of The Great Escape III? Will we pick up wins against Everton and Leicester to give us what should be a secure 39 points or will we fall at the last hurdle at Stamford Bridge in three weeks’ time? Will our Friends from the North continue to implode with the force of a dark star having a particularly bad day or will they scrape the points that they need to welcome their new Head Coach as a Premier League side?
Well, that’s a few rhetorical questions and here are some more. Has anyone seen a cooler pair of penalties than those taken by Jordi Gomez yesterday? Why has no previous manager/coach been able to coax a performance like that out of Danny Graham? And how did the man sat next to me manage to eat a pie while texting at the same time?
But let’s not carried away. Although it was an important win it wasn’t a scintillating display of classy football that tore the opposition to shreds. Nor did we ever look comfortable – competent yes, but comfortable, no. What we did do was play solidly, avoid a series of catastrophic errors and get into the opposition’s box a number of times. And that is what we need to do for the four final gut wrenching games that we have left.
Both penalties were correctly awarded by Mike Jones. I thought the first one a bit soft from my lofty perch, but television showed that Fonte had no need to lift his leg and he did bring down Graham, who was ahead of him. No red card was also a correct decision.
The second one was the result of a superb ball by Cattermole, a splendid chase and cross by Graham and a needless second touch by Defoe before Ward-Prowse clattered into him. Penalty yes, red card probably not – although it galvanised a torpid Saints side into actually stirring themselves and playing some football.
In between the penalties, we had played with some tempo and urgency and had shown that when we play to the strengths of the players that we have, rather than expecting players to fit into a rigid tactical plan, we aren’t quite as bad as the league position has indicated. The back four is still prone to drop the odd clanger and I don’t see that changing. To gift Southampton an equaliser within ninety seconds of going ahead was one example. The lack of communication between Pantilimon and Coates was on a par of that between Basil Fawlty and Mrs Richards as the Giant dropped the ball allowing the tetchy Mende to equalise.
There were other first half chances with Connor Wickham ending as good a move as we have put together all season by leaning back and putting it over the bar.
The changes that Advocaat made were simple and effective. Three forwards who were prepared to work and work, with Graham used as a battering ram to unsettle the Saints defenders. Wickham played wide left and Defoe tucked in, often appearing to be an extra midfield player. All three made a massive contribution to a vital win and I expect to see the same three lining up at Goodison next week.
In midfield, Larsson returned for the perpetually disappointing Rodwell and had a typical Larsson game with lots of running, prodigious energy and the odd really sharp and incisive pass. Alongside him Cattermole played effectively particularly in the second half, playing a sublime pass for Graham to run on to for what turned out to be the second and winning penner. The two full backs looked sound rather than solid, although that was a huge improvement on the previous home game. Jones gets forward well – although not as much as the BBC Football site suggests (they confused him with Graham for the first penalty) and Van Aanholt is a good outlet and his defending looked better.
O’Shea was concussed in the first half and went off allowing Vergini to make amends for his spectacular O.G. at St Mary’s. The disappointingly low turn-out of Saints fans demanded that he “shoot” every time he got the ball but he failed to oblige. I say disappointingly low, because if we were challenging for a Europa League place, our allocation would have been oversubscribed – theirs was considerably under subscribed.
Coates did well and showed that a good, solid stopper in the middle of the back four can make a difference. Take away the clattering into Pantilimon and the dreadful sideways pass to the newly arrived Djuricic and he looked decent. He stuck to his task and it will be interesting to see how he faces up to the likes of Lukaku, Vardy, Giroud and Costa in the remaining games.
Pantilimon held up his giant hands for the equaliser and then used them to tremendous effect to keep out a shot from Steven Davies in the 93rd minute and secure a vital win for us. He was feted as a hero by his colleagues and the crowd and he may well have other miracles to perform between now and May 23rd.
Should we start sounding more optimistic?
And now for a quick expansion of the poll to find out who Salut! Sunderland readers (who, don’t forget, may well again include supporters of the other six clubs) think will go down.
It does not need a tactical genius to dig out wins in the Premier League – Mark Hughes, Tony Pulis and Gary Monk have shown that. All three of them have produced sides who know exactly what they are supposed to do and do it without fancy plans for playing like Real Madrid or Chelsea. They are pragmatists while we have employed dreamers in Di Canio and Poyet. Now, with a pragmatist at the helm, we have given ourselves a chance of swapping Chelsea for Charlton and Liverpool for Leeds (and possibly both Manchester’s for Middlesbrough) but it is only a chance. Two wins and a draw would give us the required 40 points and would probably see us safe but seeing as we have not managed back to back wins all season, the chances are not great. Four more draws would probably not be enough – although Newcastle are in desperate straits at the moment.
As usual, it’s the hope I can’t stand.
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