Pete Sixsmith cannot rewrite Saturday’s result. He cannot make it seem as if we were a little unlucky. There were no Sunderland performances of the sort that won The Artist five Oscars. In fact, Pete struggles to find anything remotely positive to say. Just sit back and try to enjoy what follows for what it is, as fine a piece of writing as you will find in any of today’s sports pages …
One of the pleasures of visiting the clutch of West Midlands clubs in the Premier League, (could be four next season – or could be one) is the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in Lichfield.
It’s a small city, about the size of Durham or Ripon, with a very impressive cathedral, a good market, some decent shops and cafes (although my favourite one has succumbed to the recession) and some mighty fine pubs.
It also has well known residents, both past and present in Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles and friend of James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton, David Garrick, the 18th century actor, not the 60s recording star who had a minor hit with Dear Mrs Applebee, and Tony Christie of Las Vegas and Amarillo fame.
The biggest star of all was Dr Samuel Johnson, the well known acerbic wit, lexicographer and critic and memorably played by Robbie Coltrane in Blackadder 3, in the episode where Baldrick used the proof copy of his dictionary to light the fire with.
The good doctor is remembered as much for his sayings as his writings. The best known one is probably “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” (not one that appeals to Stuart Pearce) and “When a man is tired of London (or Birmingham in Craig Gardner’s case) he is tired of life itself”. Not sure about that one; always pleased to get on the train home.
In his description of a second marriage as “a triumph of hope over experience” he touched on something that we Sunderland fans can relate to, particularly after the disappointment we felt as we were turned over at the Hawthorns on Saturday.
“To be happy at home”, said Big Sam (Johnson, not Allardyce), “is the ultimate end of all ambition”, and for Baggies fans that is a sentiment they have hardly experienced this season. They have won two home games this season and added a third, and very comprehensive one, when they demolished us.
They did this by playing us at our own game. One up front, a tight midfield and defenders who made sure that there was nowhere for their opponents to go, exactly the things we did against Arsenal last week.
Our performance was as below par as you can get without being turfed off the golf course for playing like Jacques Tati. The defenders were slack, the midfield struggled throughout and playing a small man up front against big central defenders did not work.
It doesn’t help when a goal is given away three minutes in. A good cross was poorly defended and Richardson lost Odemwingie, who guided a neat header past Mignolet.
The second goal came from the same area as we stood and waited for a free kick to be given after we had fouled Thomas. Chris Foy, who had an excellent game, waved play on, Mulumbu easily beat the disappointing Bardsley and Morrison was unmarked to head in.
Changes at half time as Colback and Richardson were replaced by Bendtner and Campbell and we opened quite brightly, only for more poor defending to allow Fortune (Albion’s best player by a street) to set up that man Odemwingie to score against us yet again.
The goal came from a quick throw out by the impressive Ben Foster, which left Phil Bardsley, who had been supporting the attack, struggling to get back and looking more like the rather corpulent Dr Johnson than a super fit Premier League player.
After that, we had a 20 minute spell where we might have got a consolation goal or even maintained our record of not having lost by more than a single goal, but the Baggies finished strongly and one of the Premier League’s unsung workhorses, Keith Andrew, rounded off the scoring, as Albion did a passable impersonation of Barcelona and we did one of Shildon Sunderland Supporters FC.
A bad day at the office then and maybe Martin O’Neill has gone as far as he can with this group of 11+. They have done wonderfully well but looked tired and jaded throughout on Saturday, none more that Sessegnon, who returned from his family time in Paris looking nothing like the player who was so impressive last week. Still, a midweek game in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, should do him a world of good before next week’s derby …
Can we take any positives from this? Well, Nicklas Bendtner looked sharp when he came on, and once Wayne Bridge arrived, after a bizarre 15 minute period where McClean played left back, we looked tighter down that side.
But not much else to take from it, I’m afraid. West Brom wanted the game more than we did after their crushing of Wolves last week. Roy Hodgson prepared them well, did his homework on us and got his team to play properly at home. We were nowhere near the standards that we have set over the last three months and this was a throwback to the previous management.
Once again, some of our fans make me wonder why we bother. The mythical “Bloke Behind Me” carped on for the entire first half and, according to him, 75% of the team were “useless”, “s****” or “rubbish”. There was no acceptance of the fact that the other team might just be playing well; it was clearly our players’ and manager’s fault that we were losing.
Fortunately, he didn’t return after half time, but it looks like he took note of another of Dr Johnson’s adage, “You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables”.
We have a little too much of that at the moment; maybe MON may hit the wall of expectation that Steve Bruce kept banging into.
Or maybe we will be as happy as a Gooner or an Owl next Sunday.