Pete Sixsmithreflects on yet another disappointing day on the road, yet another dismal comedown when encountering humbler opposition immediately after heroics against the Premier League’s finest …
What does Arsene Wenger do when the Gunners have a Saturday blank? If he was listening to James Alexander Gordon at 5pm, he would have risked a wry smile as he heard the dour Scotsman intone “Wigan Athletic 1 Sunderland 0”.
In his summing up last week, he said that Sunderland needed to do better against the lesser sides in the League. It was relatively easy to work on and carry out a game plan against the top sides, but that had to be modified when the opponents were not as exalted as his club, said the Sage of North London.
Snorts of derision from Sixsmith Towers as his points were dismissed as churlish by a man whose football management skills have never extended beyond a Sunday morning team and a Youth Club side. Those snorts of derision were a painful reminder of how optimism and loyalty often blind us to reality.
Last week’s sterling efforts were not replicated in the land of the Pie Eaters. It was a miserable performance collectively and for many individuals, against a side who are nowhere near as bad as some of their results may suggest. But they are a side who we should be taking points off if our season is not going to be over by mid February.
Collectively, the tactics were wrong. Here was a game that was crying out for two up front. I understand the reasoning behind leaving Bent up there on his own; the midfield will get forward, support him and score a fair share of goals between them. Well, we have played 14 games and the midfield contribution has been poor. Three of the regulars haven’t hit the net in a league game (Malbranque rarely gets one on target: Cana looks nervous in front of goal and Henderson needs to be sharper) while Reid and Richardson are hardly regulars on the Premier League score sheet.
I get the impression that The Brucester does not have an abundance of confidence in his back up strikers. That is entirely justified if Campbell’s second half showing was typical of what the management team see in training. He looked like a combination of Andy Kerr, Rod Belfitt, Tom Ritchie and Andy Gray as everything that could go wrong for a forward did. If you are going to wear bright green luminous boots, you need to be good and Fraizer wasn’t. He seemed a yard off the pace and short on the confidence that all strikers thrive on.
Having said that, it can be difficult to come into a game half way through. It puts a lot of pressure on a relatively inexperienced player; maybe a start on Saturday alongside Bent would have been more productive. He needs a couple of goals if he is not to be labelled the new Anthony Stokes.
There were plenty of other disappointing performances. After last weeks heroics Da Silva looked as effective as Cockermouth’s flood defences. His distribution was wayward and he was pushed off the ball far too easily by the eye catching Rodagella for the goal.
Cana worked hard, but was shaded by the always impressive, if ridiculously coiffeured, Paul Scharner while Fulop did well enough but would have done even better if he had stayed on his line for the goal.
The problems lie in our midfield when it goes forward. Henderson and Malbranque probably need a spell on the bench and next week at Fulham strikes me as an ideal time to bring Zenden into the team. He has looked busy when he has come on and he may be able to make something of dead ball situations , as Reid excepted, none of the others can. It might also be worth looking at Meyler and see what he can do; it needs to be pepped up in away games.
The way that we approach away games is disappointing. We have lost at Stoke, Burnley, Birmingham and now Wigan, where we have not attacked the opposition. When we take them on, as we did at Old Trafford and, to a lesser extent, Bolton, we look good. It’s no coincidence that Cattermole was outstanding in those two rewarding games. The quicker he is back the better.
As for Wigan, they looked a decent side. They play football as Martinez would want them to and in Rodagella have a good forward. At times they looked shaky in defence, but the midfield worked hard and N’Zogbia did what Richardson persistently failed to do in that he ran at defenders and produced something wortwhile at the end of it. The fact that Kirkland did not have a single shot to save tells it all.
A disappointing day all round. The coach that took us and brought us back appeared to be somewhat deficient in shock absorbers as it bumped and bounced along the non motorway roads of County Durham and Cumbria. It really summed up our season so far; up and down, up and down. We have been assured that the ride to West London next week will be much smoother. Here’s hoping the performance is the same.