The report cards are coming in thick and fast now. If Bill Taylor brought us down to earth with his pastiche of the post-match Steve Bruce e-mails, stand by for a few more home truths as Jeremy Robson casts a highly critical eye over goings-on at the Stadium of Light. Salut! Sunderland readers who think they know better should make contact and offer their own end-of-season reviews …
Few of us expected the wonderful start made to this last campaign.
Sadly, most of us could have expected from experience to suffer a second half collapse in form that occurred since Christmas and the departure of one Darren Bent.
Irrespective of whether we find the facts comfortable, Bent’s goals even in a lacklustre period for him, accounted for the difference between the first and second halves of the season.
Bent left at a very bad time for us, and I remain convinced that there was little Steve Bruce could do at that time, or prior to turn his head once he was motivated to leave.
We have had a catalogue of injuries this season which have hampered performances. The extent of these injuries is perhaps unprecedented. The absence of strikers was attributed to the injuries sustained by Campbell (missing nearly all season), and latterly Welbeck and Gyan. However, our dismal run and inability to score goals began well before the absence of both Welbeck and Gyan.
There’s a suggestion that Bruce’s training methods are archaic and part of the problem in recurrence of injuries. Quinn’s investigation may shed some light on the cause of this problem in the fullness of time. Bruce does appear to be cavalier in bringing players back too soon from injury only for the problem to flare up yet again, or for the player to break down for some associated second injury. But I can understand Bruce’s haste.
A great many of our problems in the second half of the season stem from broader management decisions taken before a ball was kicked. The domestic loan quota was used up before a ball was kicked in anger, with the international ledger already listing Elmohamady and Mensah. I take great issue with the loan system generally and the way that it has been used and in my view abused to the point that it has become regarded as an integral part of player recruitment.
These objections are on two grounds:
• You can’t build a team or form a cohesive unit where half the players have no long term commitment to the club. The players are like ships that pass in the night
• Over reliance on the loan system such as we’ve seen this season drastically limits the options when it comes to an unexpected departure (as with Bent), or when the club faces a lengthening and protracted series of injuries.
The first point needs no further elaboration within this article but the second point is key to the unravelling of this season.
Had there been an option to bring in a striker on loan then there would have been a range of options available to him. Players such as Harewood, Beattie, Carew, Keane would all have been available on a short term loan. Bruce would have avoided the shenanigans with Stoke regarding Fuller and the alleged moving of the goalposts, regarding the fee they wanted.
The dependence on the loan system is not something new at Sunderland. Keane did it with several players including Evans, Simpson and the lamentable Nyatanga. There may have been others, but that’s not important. Use up your loans and you are forced to buy a player that you may otherwise perceive to be a stop gap. Fuller is a decent player, but no Darren Bent. Bruce’s position in the transfer market was compromised by the club’s reliance on the loan system.
This seems to have become club policy, but it has become over used. Maybe this is perceived as a means by which we can spend more on priority targets such as Gyan for example, but it’s no way to build a team or squad.
There’s no way to know whether this is a directive from either Quinn or Short or both, or whether Steve Bruce likes to use loans. Regardless, it has backfired and needs to be reviewed.
It also goes some way towards explaining why players have been rushed back too soon. His option in January was to use the international loan system
to bring in Muntari who hadn’t played competitive football in the last six months. What was needed at this juncture was a domestic player who was match fit.
There’s little point in reviewing results and trends. We all know what happened. The issue is why did the season go so badly wrong. It would be foolish to be deceived by a 3-0 win at already relegated West Ham. I’ve even heard people say that Riveros should be kept for next season because he scored! He benefited from marking that would have been shameful in a game between Shotton Comrades and Peterlee Moorcock.
West Ham were awful and we were lucky to play them when we did. It’s been a strange season when a team with such a dreadful period as we’ve endured could finish 10th. But, 10th place we have got.
At season’s end it’s normally a time for review, but there is likely to be enormous changes in the summer with Zenden already committed to leaving. Mensah has probably also played his last game. We may not see Welbeck again, and the future of Onuoha on Wearside remains unresolved. The likes of Angeleri, Riveros, McCartney, Kilgallon etc are all likely to leave and we still haven’t really replaced Kenwyne Jones let alone Darren Bent. There are genuine concerns over the long term fitness of Campbell, Meyler and Gordon. We still don’t have a genuine left back at the club, and we don’t have a right back either given Phil Bardsley’s move to the other flank.
Rarely could the comparatively lofty position of 10th be characterised by such nervousness and uncertainty. How else could it be when the starting eleven come August will be so unrecognisable?
We finished 10th, but it still looks like a blooming mess to me!
*Also in this series:
* If you want to have your say, at similar length, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org