Unlike three-quarters of the crowd, Pete Sixsmith manages to stay to the end of the match with Bolton Wanderers, even if he spends a large part of the game with his eyes shut. As gloom envelops Wearside, he reflects on what is going wrong and what the future may hold for Sunderland….
I had plenty of time to think about this weeks Sixer’s Sevens, as I spent the last half hour of the game with my head retreating further and further into my coat and my body sliding further and further down my seat in reaction to the car crash taking place in front of me.
Without a doubt, it was the most embarrassing and humiliating afternoon I have spent there since Portsmouth did us by the same score three years ago and we came out of that one knowing that relegation was a certainty.
Any repeat of this fiasco in the next home game will write the club off yet again and will lead (in no particular order), to the manager leaving, the fans deserting the club yet again and the Irish investors looking for a quick way out, as the value of the Sunderland brand slips beneath that of Woolworths and MFI.
So, what has gone wrong? Clearly individual mistakes were made on Saturday which a quietly impressive Bolton side took easy advantage of. We can howl at Collins and Whitehead until we are blue in the face, but we need to pose deeper questions in our conversations on the web and in our bars and workplaces.
Sacking the manager is not an option – yet. It may not come to that and Roy Keane may well have the strength of character and the know-how to get us out of this disastrous and potentially fatal slump. I hope he does because I still believe that he has the potential to be a very good manager. This is the first serious problem he has had to face and hopefully he will grow stronger as a result of it. But, it has to be said, the problems are largely of his own making.
His interviews after the game were revealing. He seemed quite sanguine about things. There was no anger, no criticism and not much passion. You can look at this two ways:
1. He accepts it was a shocking performance, that he picked the wrong team and that there is no point in getting mad. Let’s learn and move on.
2. He accepts that he has done all he can and it is time to walk away before the situation is beyond recall.
Writing on Sunday afternoon, I’m not sure how all this is going to pan out. If he is going to walk away let him, but not before the board have lined up a successor. We need to have a replacement who can get us out of the bottom three.
Of course, by quitting when things aren’t going his way, he may well render himself unemployable in the game. Quitting because you don’t like the training facilities, or because you can’t motivate players you have brought into the club are not the signs of a man who is as strong as he thinks he is.
If he stays (and it has to be until we are safe or finished), there needs to be a long, hard think about the people we have brought into the club and who plays. Some of his decisions are bizarre. Gordon re-called after the press being told he was not ready. Ferdinand dropped, Chimbonda re-called and Bardsley switched to left back to disrupt a defence that (Chelsea apart) had done ok. Edwards brought back from loan and then left out of the squad for this game. Miller and Tainio on the bench, when they both do the same job. Diouf not used at half time when it was clear that we needed width.
On top of that, you can add decisions like splitting up Collins and Fedinand, Chimbonda openly angling for a move to Lyon, two forwards who seem to be as compatible as John Sergeant and the Strictly Come Dancing judges and a lack of width that confines us to a narrow stretch of the midfield. Not good, is it?
Compare us with Bolton, who are a team where the players clearly know what to do. It’s not pretty, but they know their roles and fill them instead of trying to be all things to all men. If Reid played for them, he would be told to get the ball down and pass it and not chase around all over the place, while the Gavin McCanns of this world (wasn’t he impressive!) do the tackling and covering. We have no-one like this and are so lightweight that we are easily pushed around by the bigger boys from the rougher areas who don’t think that they are as special and as precious as we do.
Let’s see what this week brings. Saturday was totally unacceptable and the strength of the management team and the players is now being well and truly tested. If Roy Keane is to succeed as a manger at Sunderland AFC this is the most crucial period of his time here.