We were unlikely to remain silent for long on the shambles that was yesterday’s game against Wigan. Did I read somewhere that Dean Whitehead was blaming the fans and the pitch (the pitch presumably being the same one Wigan had to play on)? Pete Sixsmith, in deeply troubled mood, finds other issues to address, but few answers…
So, it wasn’t just the team who messed up on Saturday, my counting skills were found to be deficient – but not as much as their alleged footballing skills.
I texted my seven-word verdict (or six as it turned out) as I watched the last five minutes of the game run down, feeling that the chances of an equaliser were about as remote as me laughing at a sketch on the BBC’s Comic Relief marathon.
As the whistle went to bring the proceedings to a close, I was fuming. As I walked back to the car I was fuming. As I drove away I was fuming. I have rarely fumed as much.
I would imagine that Niall Quinn felt the same. Here was the last home game before season ticket renewals are due. Lots of kids there, courtesy of the cheap tickets for schools programme. A good win and a lot of these kids would be using pester power to talk their parents into getting them a £19 season ticket. Good marketing – even chimps know the strength of pester power!
And what happens? We play like a bunch of clueless, brainless, pathetic amateurs. How is this possible? Was it the sight of wide eyed children, sitting in eager anticipation of skills and thrills that reduced our £120,000-a-week strike force to play with all the panache of an eternally divided pantomime horse?
Did the expectations of impoverished urchins reduce Collins and Ben Haim to speechlessness – because there was precious little communication between them for the duration of the game. Was the weight of the club’s ambitions so great that the manager forgot that one of the elements of football is surprise and that every so often we should start with the one winger we have and perhaps try a little bit of craft in the centre of midfield?
Whatever it was, this was a performance that left the bile rising in the throat and the cash staying in the wallet. Considerably fewer people than the club want will pay over £400 to sit through rubbish like this.
Wigan were well organised and Mrs Doubtfire had a clear tactical plan: let Sunderland have a lot of the ball, back off them and give them space, because with the team they have picked, they will c*** themselves if they are allowed time on the ball. We just sit back and wait for the mistakes to come.
I don’t know whether she was as specific to say things like “They won’t attack a bouncing ball” or “They will allow you to run unchallenged for 60 yards before leaving a huge gap for you to slide the ball in”, but that was how we gave the goals away.
She will have said: “Look, the crowd will get on their backs when they make mistakes. You don’t need to force them into it, they will just do it naturally.”
And we did. Many times. Many, many times. They would win the ball, pass it to a fluorescent yellow shirt and they would knock it up to Mido, who would, in Rugby League parlance, “stick the ball up his jumper” until help arrived. Oh how we laughed at the portly Egyptian until we realised that he could do amazing things with a ball, things that Kenwyne and Djibril could not – trap it, control it, pass it and actually move to where the ball might be.
As a club, we have a habit of messing up in March. I remember a defeat at home to Southampton in the last year of Roker Park that ultimately cost us our place in the top flight, and home defeats to Crystal Palace and Cardiff City in abortive promotion campaigns.
This one worries me because I cannot see this team winning another point, yet alone another game.
How do we stop the slide? Is Healy the answer? Do we play either Reid (a constant disappointment since Christmas) or Malbranque (ditto) in the centre of midfield when Richardson is absent? Do we change the goalkeeper? Is it worth sending Ferdinand out in a mobility scooter to inspire some confidence in the back four? Why can McCartney no longer put a decent cross in? Why should Whitehead criticise the crowd? Why are we the world’s worst corner takers? Why should my life dominated by a bunch of bloody footballers? Am I going mad? Tricky questions – anybody out there got any answers?