Malcolm Dawson writes…..I was in the ground early yesterday and got chatting to one of the stewards. When he asked me if I expected anything from the game my look must have said it all, even before my shake of the head and verbal response of “No not really.” When the first goal went in I turned to the bloke sitting next to me and said “two more and I might be able to relax.” After the second went in I turned again and said “one more and I’ll be able to………two more again!” That’s what following Sunderland does for you. Serves me right for getting all optimistic at the back end of last season. During my conversation with the steward and comments from those around me during the match, it would appear that criticism of the owner is growing.
I hate to hear the team booed and I wish people wouldn’t leave early, no matter how dire the performance as I feel that just adds to the enormity of the task and does nothing for player morale. Tremendous positivity amongst the fans helped keep us up last season. More on field performances like yesterday’s will not be tolerated by much of the home support and will make what is already an uphill task, that much harder.
Like me, Pete Sixsmith stays to the bitter end and keeps his feelings bottled up until the players are out of earshot. Here is where he says what he really feels.
CRYSTAL PALACE (H).
We have had books about Sunderland’s Top Ten Games and Sunderland’s Great Matches and I believe there is one coming out about the Six In A Row over our Friends From The North And Currently In The Championship which will probably find its way into the stockings of those who are still of a Red and White persuasion.
I would like to propose a follow up to that one and call it “Totally Inept Performances by Sunderland AFC 1962- 2015” and would suggest that Saturday’s howler would vie with the 5-1 defeat at the Sports Direct and a 6-1 thrashing by Blackburn Rovers in the mid 80’s, as the worst performances I have seen by teams representing the club M Salut and I have followed for the last 50+ years.
In many ways, this was worse than the others on account of how, by some fluke, we had established a two goal lead and looked as if we might be on our way to winning a game before the central heating and the winter duvet go on.
That those goals in no way reflected the general course of play was of little bother to the diminishing number of Sunderland supporters inside the Stadium of Light. A win was a win was a win and in Jermain Defoe we had a man who had given us a lead that we could hopefully build on as the leaves left the trees and the Premier League starts to sort itself out.
When he put in the second goal on the hour after another bout of poor defending by the visitors, we prepared to sit back and watch the midfield and back four tighten up and thwart Pontius Pardew and his team and then we could go home with big smiles on our faces to enjoy a Saturday evening doing whatever it is we do on a Saturday evening.
That feeling lasted for all of 30 second. Straight from the kick off, Palace went down the field, took advantage of the rabble who purport to be defenders and pulled a goal back. Instead of relaxing back in our red and white and pink seats, we were sat on the edge of them hoping that perhaps we could get a third goal to finish these pesky Croydoners off.
Not so. Pontius played his substitute cards well and took off Cabaye and sent on a pacy youngster in Zachy Fryers. With his first involvement, he galloped down the wing, leaving Manquillo for dead and put in a cross that James McArthur, rising above a static Van Aanholt, headed in to level the scores.
From edge of seat, we went to hiding under them. The longer the game went on it was clear that if anyone was going to win it, it would not be a team in red and white stripes. But, we held on thanks to some desperate defending and some wayward finishing, particularly by Andros Townsend. A point was just about acceptable – or so we thought.
What possessed Manquillo to push Wickham over in the corner may never be known. The game was almost over. Had the push not taken place we would have had to defend at worst, a throw in. But hands were placed on him, down he went, right in front of Anthony Taylor and the free kick was given.
We had time to organise our defending – except there was nobody there to do the organising. But even so, surely it was easy to spot that Benteke was stood unmarked, in the box, looking to make a run. I saw it, just as I had seen Lukaku peel off the defenders in the last home game.
Alas, neither of the centre halves picked him up and the Belgian came through like a coal train rattling down a railroad track and powered in a header past Pickford and into the net. And that was that. From 2 up to 3-2 down and we looked like a team that was seeking to emulate Derby County’s 11 point season.
This is yet another ragbag of a team, hastily thrown together with no planning or foresight. There is no discernible pattern to it and without Defoe, there is not one player who can score goals. Two of Palace’s goals came from midfielders. Our midfield is more likely to appear on Strictly Come Dancing than it is to weigh in with a goal or two. Kirchhoff has never scored, Cattermole twice in his seven years at Sunderland and Ndong twice last season for Lorient.
That is but one of the problems that faces David Moyes and whichever other manager comes to Sunderland. Another is the frighteningly inept levels of defending. Hearts are in mouths whenever Djilobodji goes anywhere near the ball and Kone looks a considerably lesser player than he did in the spring. There are plenty of handshakes and fist bumps but not much sign of any cohesion between them. Neither full back appears to be a competent defender.
Going forward there are three options.
Option One is hoof it forward to Defoe who is prepared to scrap with centre halves but who, because of his size, rarely wins.
Option Two is to pass it square until we can get the full backs in, by which time any competent team has got back in numbers and any attack peters out.
Option Three is to give it to Janusaz in the hope that he might just dribble his way through the defenders and score a wonder goal.
The problem with the third option is that the player involved looks as likely to score as Cattermole does. When he goes on a run, there is nothing genuinely productive at the end of it and down goes his head. He does not appear to be enjoying his time at Sunderland and I can’t see Mourinho welcoming him back the Old Trafford with open arms, so he really is at a crossroads in his career. I would be amazed if he retained his place for next week.
As I would if John O’Shea were not to be brought back to face the Baggies next Saturday (kick off 3.00p.m. – seats available in all parts). He may not be the most mobile of players, but he can organise and he is not a mistake waiting to happen as Djilobodji appears to be.
David Moyes must be wondering what he has walked into. Any good will that he brought with him has just about gone and he has clearly inherited and signed players who are not good enough. Manquillo represents a trade down on Yedlin, Kaboul is desperately missed at the back, Kirchhoff does not look the imperious player he was last season and his gamble on Janusaz appears to have backfired.
My well of optimism is running dry and another defeat next week against a well organised West Brom may empty it completely. Saturday was a dismal experience and it is beginning to look like four years of constant struggle have caught up with us. Psychologically, the players look shot.
Finally, what of Palace? I am not a great lover of the club or the manager, but he has put together a solid team that will do well – at least up until Christmas. They gave us two goals but were strong enough to come back at us and they have a pattern and a plan. We are lacking in both.
A long autumn and winter beckons. It may be a long time before we can celebrate a win but we keep the faith – at least for a little bit longer.