Malcolm Dawson writes……For some reason I found it hard to get fully involved in this game yesterday and my attention was wandering for significant periods of play. Had my school report been based on the way I viewed this match, it would have read “must learn to concentrate and pay more attention.” I don’t know why I was so easily distracted, but there were times yesterday when I was considering when it is better to lead an Ace against a No Trump contract, trying to remember the lyrics to John Shuttleworth’s “Can’t Go Back to Savoury Now” or whether or not I really should do a round on 1980s aftershaves the next time I do the questions for The Red Lion Quiz night.
I’m sure I’ve seen worse games, in fact I know I have. Maybe it’s just the resignation that comes from seeing too many disappointing performances. This was a run of the mill game that didn’t get me excited at all. I didn’t think we were outplayed but I’m going through a phase (who isn’t?) where I am more geared up to see the team fail than succeed. Perhaps my diffidence is a natural self defence strategy to save me from yet more heartache. Peter Sixsmith, ace Salut! Sunderland match reporter, is made of sterner stuff and fully focused on what went on to bring us his views on the game at the Stadium of Light yesterday.
At home, I have a bottle of Bateman’s Victory Ale. It came in a four pack of that Lincolnshire brewers good, honest ales and instead of quaffing it at the same time as the Dark Lord, the XXXB and the Combined Harvester, I kept it in order to toast our opening win in the Premier League. It looks like it is going to remain unopened for quite a while.
Here was another opportunity to open the account for the season that went begging. The Baggies are a decent side, not quite as effective as Crystal Palace, but they controlled this game for a large section of the ninety minutes and had they had a little more push about them, they could well have won it. The introduction of someone with pace eg Berahino might well have caught our tiring defenders out at the end. Let’s be grateful for the Pulis philosophy of “a point away from home is a good point”.
Had Jermain Defoe taken that chance in the fourth minute (and it was of the type that he often puts away), the complexion of the game might have changed. Had he taken the other one in the second half when we were on a bit of a charge, it might well have done the same.
Having said that, Defoe looked the only Sunderland player likely to score until the team’s second top league scorer, Patrick Van Aanholt arrived on the scene as a midfielder. This was probably the most interesting substitution that the manager has made all season. As Jan Kirchhoff was carried off, we expected to see Jack Rodwell come on and fill the space in midfield. As it was the serially disappointing Rodwell replaced McNair a little later and offered very little.
Instead, we saw Moyes switch to three central defenders with Denayer joining John O’Shea and Kone across the middle with Manquillo and Van Aanholt pushing up. It looked better and the hitherto comfortable Baggies found themselves under pressure. It ended with Watmore linking well with Van Aanholt and the Dutchman shanked home an equaliser to the relief of an increasingly tetchy crowd, who had spent most of the time jeering James McClean.
Pulis took McClean off which allowed Manquillo to push forward and the Atletico Madrid loanee looks far better going forward than he does defending. He learnt from last week’s aberration and kept his hands to himself this time. He can leave gaps at the back when he attacks, but if we had any kind of pattern in our play those gaps would be filled by someone else.
I said in the Seven that we were “papering over the cracks.” For all that O’Shea had an excellent game, how long can we rely on a 35 year old at the heart of the defence? For this game, he was dragging Lamine Kone along with him. Kone looked disinterested at times and it was his carelessness that left the impressive Nacer Chadli with a clear run on goal, which he rounded off with the kind of finish we have come to associate with Defoe. When Kone arrived, we saw a dominant central defender who attacked the ball and used it well. He had the ability to become the next Charlie Hurley or Dave Watson. But he has looked ordinary this season and although not quite the next Steve Hetzke, his name may be mentioned alongside Anton Ferdinand and Stan Varga as central defenders who start well and then slide into mediocrity. It looks like he misses Younes Kaboul, who has spent time warming the bench at Vicarage Road. What was it that Allardyce did to inspire these two at the back end of last season?
The main problem we have is the pedestrian nature of our midfield. Khazri buzzed around and contributed an awful lot more than Januzaj, dubbed the new Le Tallec by one reader, has done recently. He received a warm hand shake from the manager when he was eventually replaced by Lyndon Gooch at the end. He now has to show that he is an “away” player in the cauldron that is the Municipal Incinerator Stadium in two weeks’ time.
Other than that there was plenty of hard graft in the centre of the park but no quality and the final ball was poor. Ndong looks like he could be a good player but doesn’t shoot. Kirchhoff looks as if he is having a serious dose of second season syndrome and does not shoot. McNair looked hopelessly out of his depth, like the little kid who has been invited to play with the big boys on the rec and can’t handle the switch from a Frido ball to a casey. He doesn’t shoot either. Oh for a Tony Towers…..
The crowd stuck with the team (although large numbers went for an early visit to the loo and a pint when we went a goal down – Ed) although we know that this will be a long and difficult season and that relegation is a probability rather than a possibility. The manager is honest about the issues that face us and he knows that, unless he can bring in another two forwards and a creative midfielder who can score, trips to Nottingham and Newcastle will be on the agenda for next season. Where he finds these players is anybody’s guess. Would any self-respecting agent really want to place his player with a club like ours who struggle every season?
And if they do, what is the guarantee that anyone would stay? The Daily Telegraph might want to look at the series of terminally poor signings that Sunderland have made over the last five years. Graham, N’Diaye, Altidore, Diakite, Cabral, Lens, Bridcutt, Buckley, Pantilimon to name but a few and I am sure that the readers could add more.
We have a break from the misery of the Premier League for a couple of weeks which may give the manager time to think about what he is going to do for the period up until we can bring in reinforcements. It will probably be another wallpaper job and the deep seated problems that exist in the club will continue long after David Moyes has left unless something is done sooner rather than later. But don’t ask me how.
Finally, for the second week running, the away support has been desperately poor. I thought that Albion would have brought more than Palace but there were 200 or so fewer. Is the Premier League losing its magic for the fans of clubs who know that mid table respectability/obscurity is the sum total of their ambitions? If so, can someone please offer an explanation as to why we have sold our entire allocation for a visit to Stoke-on-Trent? You never know, I might just uncork the Bateman’s after that.