Pete Sixsmith, whose post-match reports have brightened these pages since time began, shares his thoughts on the match that didn’t really matter -except that we all wanted the Lads to finish on a high, finish 12th and send the fans home not just relieved but happy. Swansea had other ideas and we couldn’t do a thing about it …
If we are to believe the papers –and let’s face it, who is more honest and truthful than a tabloid football journalist? – Gus Poyet is already looking at carpets and furniture for his new office at Upton Park/the Olympic Stadium/White Hart Lane (delete according to whichever rag you read last).
Should that be the case his spell at the Stadium of Light will have been bookended by two defeats to a Swansea City side who have had their worst ever Premier League season, finishing in 12th position. At some clubs that would lead to walk outs, boycouts (sic) and sheet scrawling.
When Poyet took over in October he inherited a club torn apart by the excesses of the Di Canio period. He must have wondered what kind of disaster zone he had walked into. He surely realised after a dismal second half in South Wales that he had been left with a group of players whose fragile confidence had all but been destroyed by the Il Duce wannabee.
Fast forward seven months and the team and its morale are unrecognisable. Relegation had been avoided, four games in a row had been won and the mood around the Stadium of (sweetness and) Light was akin to a victory celebration.
That it went flat was due to a Swansea side who clearly wanted to put their disappointing season behind them and were hell bent on gaining revenge for the defeat imposed on their good friends from alongside the River Taff who had, to all intents and purposes, been confined to the lower reaches of the Football Pyramid when they were crushed 4-0 here a couple of weeks ago. Some of the Swans fans were great admirers of Bluebirds owner Vincent Tan judging by the number of them wearing masks of the diminutive billionaire.
We went there hoping for a fifth win on the bounce but some of us feared a sense of inertia after safety was assured on Wednesday. That was exactly what we got.
To say that Lee Cattermole was missed was like saying that it is possible to eat fish and chips without salt and vinegar (I wouldn’t thank you for the vinegar – ed). He has been outstanding in recent weeks but it was clear as he limped off against West Brom that he would not be playing today. Liam Bridcutt was given his role as the crisp tackler, careful passer and all round good interceptor. He did ok but he is a long way off the high standards that Cattermole has set recently. Bridcutt may grow into his role as a Premier League enforcer but he needs to be given time.
Similarly, Phil Bardsley came in at left back for what may well be his last game as a Sunderland player. If that is the case, he will be disappointed with his performance. He allowed the quick Nathan Dyer to get inside him to open the scoring and never got to grips with the pace of the City wingers. To make things worse, he landed awkwardly and hurt his wrist, appearing for the second half with it bandaged.
Was he brave or was he foolish? His balance was clearly affected so a foolish in my book. By the time he left the pitch we were 3-1 down so a downbeat way for him to finish his season.
I don’t want to dwell too long on this one. The players were clearly mentally tired after their prodigious efforts over the last month and it showed. The crowd were mostly patient, any frustration being taken out on Alan Pardew look-a-like Chris Foy, while the South Stand went through a full repertoire of songs – old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones – to cheer themselves up. There was hope when Borini scored near post header and Johnson forced a save out of Tremmel straight after, but the two goal cushion was restored when Wilfried Bony scored the decisive third goal.
Bony was the star of the show and showed that if you want quality you have to pay for it. Both he and Jozy Altidore scored prolifically in the Netherlands last season. Bony notched 31 in the Eredivisie while Altidore got 23. The stats this year show a widening of the gap between the two; one for the American, 16 for the Ivorian; £6m for Jozy, £12m.for Wilfried.
He is a big unit and proved very difficult to push off the ball. Poor Jack Colback tried but was swatted away as if a minor irritant. He was a very impressive player, ably supported by his three fellow forwards, two of whom scored to give them a well-deserved win.
I skipped the “Lap of Appreciation” being irritated by the three 30-year-old children who thought it was clever to cavort around the pitch and hold up the thank you from players to supporters. It made for an easy get away and also gave Malcolm and me a chance to listen to Gary Bennett talk about Bony in awe-struck terms and make it clear that Poyet would want more control over the ins and outs at the club.
So, the season ended on a flat note, just as it did after the last two promotions and after Martin O’Neill guided us to safety a couple of years ago. Gus is saying nothing about the rumours that are sweeping Wearside (best cliché of the year) but there is genuine worry that he may not want to stay if he does not get the control that he wants.
It’s not Sunderland without that awful nagging worry that it is all going to implode.
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