No one can accuse Salut! Sunderland of descending into mindless tribalism, though they probably will. We lauded, however grudgingly, Chris Hughton’s impressive achievement of last season, rising above the awfulness of the Ashton Factor to turn Newcastle United into runaway lower league champions. This, however, is taking the mick: Andy Carroll and Joey Barton transformed from gruesome thugs into cuddly heroes on a par with Jackie Milburn. Well, maybe not. But Pete Sixsmith‘s text read “Misery complete: Mags win 6-0. Villa resign from Premier in shame.” His original West Brom headline – New tricks desperately needed – stood no chance, no matter how clever. But that’s what Pete’s typically engaging dispatch from the West Midlands is all about …
The Hawthorns is as neat and tidy a ground as you will come across. It’s a perfect fit for a club who find difficulty in establishing themselves in either the Premier League or the Championship and the atmosphere on a good day is vibrant. They were bouncing around at 4.50 after this one.
We are located in the Halford Lane Stand. Aficionados of the enjoyable BBC series New Tricks will recognise this as the surnames of the three superannuated detectives opening up old cases and solving them with a mixture of “old fashioned coppering” and new technology.
One of the writers on the show is a hard case Baggies fan and he thought of the sign he saw outside the ground when he created his characters – Halford Lane Standing. It’s sitting now, although some of our fans appeared to have forgotten that and stood throughout, annoying the vast majority of Red and Whites.
Well, we could do with a few new tricks at the moment. This was a continuation of Wigan, Fulham, Everton etc. from last season. There was little creativity in midfield, no punch up front and a dreadful lack of concentration at the back to allow Albion to score and take a deserved three points.
The first half performance was poor to say the least. Here was a game where an established (?) Premier League side should have taken the game to a team walloped 6-0 the week before. We had two World Cup quarter finalists in our team, a striker who is one of the top English born goal scorers over the last two seasons and a bevy of supposedly reliable top level performers.
What we got was a team that gave the ball away with regular monotony, mostly due to a series of misplaced passes in midfield and hopeful punts from the back. Give the ball away, you give the opposition time to work with it rather than chase it. Albion had spent 90 minutes the previous week chasing it. Here they were given it.
They missed a straightforward chance after five minutes (oh how we laughed at Odemwingie as he put it wide. Hubris was to arrive seven minutes from the end). Other than that, the first half was poor and neither side did anything to get the old adrenaline levels pumping.
The second half was better, which is a bit like saying that Simon Cowell is better than Piers Morgan – still pretty bloody awful. We did press but the final ball was never incisive, never accurate and never threatening. The inability of Richardson and Henderson to get the ball past the first man from a corner was so frustrating.
Just when it looked like we were about to take a point, we gave away a silly free kick and before Da Silva and Bramble could organise themselves, Uzbek born Nigerian international, Odemwingie scampered into the gap and slotted home the winner. Brunt could have added insult to injury a few moments later with a shot that hit the bar. We responded weakly.
It is worrying. Our midfield only improved when Zenden replaced a puffing and wheezing Malbranque. Riveros looked bemused at the pace of the game and was never in it, while Henderson showed that he is far better as the forward one of the two central midfielders. Presumably he will take that role next week when Cattermole returns – or at least for an hour before the inevitable clash between Catts and de Jong which will see both heading for the tunnel.
The back four had looked ok, but both Bramble and Da Silva are second centre halves. By that I mean that they are not dominant figures as Mensah and to a lesser degree Turner are. Both prefer to play alongside as Pitt did to Watson, Craddock did to Thome and Bennett did to Hetzke – well maybe not that one. Mignolet looked much more assured, made two very good saves and came off his line.
Up front, we were looking for scraps. Bent doesn’t appear 100 per cent fit, and Campbell was ineffective. Bent failed to take the one chance that he had – last season he would have stuck it away comfortably, although he worked tirelessly and won a good number of headers away from the box. The Sunday papers are suggesting that Bruce will go back to Rennes with an improved offer for Gyan. Here’s hoping.
The trip was not great. Sad news from Lichfield, where the couple who run The Queens are retiring and the pub is up for new tenants. It’s a great traditional pub and I hope that Marstons recognise that there is still a need for proper drinking establishments that cater for people who don’t want plasma screens, portion controlled food and kids running round the place
Thanks to the West Midlands Police we didn’t get home until 10pm. They held the coaches for an hour after the game and then sent us on the now traditional tour of Handsworth, Perry Barr and Witton instead of allowing us to join the M5 800 yards from The Hawthorns. Too much “old fashioned coppering” there …
We need a comfortable win against Colchester and a big performance against City to stop the subdued grumbling becoming louder. I had targeted six points from the first two games; we have one and could be in a poor position by Bank Holiday Monday. Not what we hoped for. Time for some new tricks, Steve.
* Several of the readers who have come here from the Newcastle page of newsnow.co.uk have clearly spotted the link (somewhere down the lefthand sidebar) to a piece about the death of a lovely man, Kevin McElderry, who for some reason supported the Mags despite being an Ulsterman. I am pleased to have shared those thoughts – Tribute to a great lad who happened to be a Mag – with a few more people, and I think his widow, Ailsa, would be a little chuffed, too … Colin Randall
NB: thanks to internet slugs and spammers, comments from people who have not posted before – while always welcome – are subject to a short delay (like when I’m asleep or out) for moderation. Sorry.