As the club adopts the familiar look of one in turmoil, Pete Sixsmith admits to deep concerns in his analysis of the many shortcomings all too visible in Saturday’s defeat by Chelsea. Rather a lot, he suggests, now depends on the team’s – and especially Steve Bruce’s – immediate response …
There have been a few dispiriting days for a Sunderland supporter over the past 48 years, and Saturday was up there with the big ones.
It may be wise to keep off the Gyan move for a couple of days and see what emerges from both sides (read this link to catch up), but it was a major disappointment so see a striker go after the deadline, leaving us bereft of even a semi-regular goalscorer.
As for the Chelsea game, there is not a great deal to say. A far superior side breezed through as easy an afternoon as they will have all season against a team whose shape was lopsided and who looked short of confidence.
However, my deal with M Salut requires more than such evident facts as those, so here we go.
The team selection was one that had me shaking my head in the Concourse as I conversed with fellow fans who had travelled from Bedford, Fife and Hawick to support the team and maybe, just maybe, see a repeat of the November Miracle at Stamford Bridge.
Once again, we went into a home game with three very similar players in Colback, Cattermole and Gardner, with Larsson supplying some width and Sessegnon playing off Bendtner. No place for Vaughan, who might just have been able to prise open the Chelsea defence and midfield with a telling pass.
The pedestrian nature of the midfield triptych was evident early on as they ran around a lot, made tackles, worked hard, but looked as likely to worry Lampard and Meireles as Russell Grant and Edwina Currie are to challenge Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as monarchs of the ballroom dancing scene.
Bendtner missed an early chance from a good cross by Bardsley, but there was a clear feeling that Chelsea, prompted by the very impressive Juan Mata, could score whenever they wanted.
What would the likes of us give for such a player who can control the ball straight away, look up and then deliver an accurate pass just in front of an unmarked team mate?
Instead we have Cattermole needing two touches in order to pass sideways or Colback turning away from the play and laying the ball to one of our defenders. Light years behind.
Terry and Ivanovic at the back were far more solid than our two. Brown did well, winning balls that he had to, but he is slow to turn and his pace has begun to desert him.
Bramble had a poor game. It was his casual clearance that allowed the ball to be played back into Terry for the first goal and his woeful positioning gave Sturridge a clear run on goal for the second. After an excellent first half of last season, injuries appear to have taken their toll and we saw the Bramble of Newcastle rather than the one who had done so well at Wigan.
But the problems are in midfield and this is where Bruce will either keep or lose his job in the next few weeks.
We set ourselves not to concede with a busy, hustling trio that will stop the opposition from playing. It leaves the wide men to produce the spark. Larsson did reasonably well yesterday but he gives the ball away a lot.
Gardner is the same and is not particularly quick. On a number of occasions, he was beaten to the ball by Chelsea players and was dispossessed far too easily. I am beginning to see another Shaun Cunnington here.
Cattermole is a real problem. For the third successive game, he was hauled off early in the second half, to be replaced by a striker. That meant we went to 4-4-2 with Sessegnon going wide and Wickham up front with Bendtner. But why not Vaughan? How are Gardner and Colback going to lay balls through to the forwards? So we reverted to lumping it up front. No progress there as Terry and Ivanovic gobbled up just about everything.
Has Bruce belatedly realised that Cattermole is not a very good player? His passing is just about acceptable when nothing special is required, but when something sharp and crisp is needed, he comes up short. Too many balls are behind the man who wants it, too many times he turns a full circle before moving it on.
He almost opened his account at the Stadium but the ball dipped over Mignolet’s crossbar. The only positive he can take from this is that he managed not to attempt to maim the opposition. No booking, but also no worthwhile contribution to the game.
We are struggling and, at the moment, we look like a team heading for a prolonged acquaintance with the trapdoor.
Of course, it may all change next week when our Pals from the Potteries pitch up on Wearside.
But for that to happen, we need to rethink our formation and include players who may give us some creativity. We also need to hope that Stoke have a dodgy time in Kiev so that they return exhausted from extensive Ukrainian vodka drinking.
If they don’t and they inflict what would be a fifth successive home defeat on us, Mark Hughes’s agent may well be getting a very important telephone call.
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