For our fourth end-of-season review, we turn to Malcolm Dawson, who has written some cracking articles for Salut! Sunderland and is warmly welcomed here whenever he chooses to write. Looking back, he salutes the quality play he has seen from SAFC and deplores the more dire performances, often against modest opposition; looking forward, he hopes we are not about to settle for mid-table obscurity …
It is hard to be dispassionate when talking about football and in particular about the the club you support. Witness the ire displayed by several Villa fans on this site when it was suggested that maybe Sunderland are a bigger club or the responses of some Arsenal supporters, when it was intimated that they are the sinners, as much as the sinned against. Witness too the back and forth “banter” between some of our regular contributors at the suggestion that Steve Bruce is or isn’t the answer to our prayers.
When trying to assess things objectively I often apply what I call the “Tardis Principle”. By that I mean I shift the time frame and see how I would have reacted had things happened in a different order.
For example, imagine we are 3-0 up at half time but after a poor second period, the opposition grab the equalising goal in time added on. How do I feel? Sick as the proverbial. But what if we are 0-3 down at half time and grab a point with the last attack of the game? Completely the opposite emotion, celebrating a great comeback instead of throwing away what should have been an invincible position. In both circumstances the result is the same but one is frustration and the other celebration. I’d rather have been a Baggie than a Maggie on Sunday.
And so the same applies when looking at the season as a whole. I’m trying to remember back to the August. I seem to recall feeling that we should be aiming for a top half finish, with a hope of getting as high as eighth. I was fairly sure that Man Ure, Chelski, The A*se, Citeh and the Red half of Liverpool would finish above us. I also felt that we should be competing with Spurs, Everton, Villa and Fulham in the next group, with the rest fighting out the bottom half of the league.
And that’s where we’ve ended up. A combination of almost perfect results on the last day (as seen from a Sunderland perspective) ensured the top 10 finish. Had the Scousers beaten that big club Villa, we would have been ninth. So I suppose I should be happy with that.
Trouble is, in true Sunderland fashion, it has been another roller coaster. Hopes were raised before Christmas and dashed in the New Year. The end of season feeling is “what might have been” and not “what came to pass” although tempered with the “could have been worse”.
Had we consistently been yo-yoing between 6th and 10th, never looking like a bottom half side but ultimately finishing in 10th spot, I expect I would have been more satisfied than I am. But the fact that for so long, so early in the season, we looked to be top of the second tier, the subsequent slump which led to our ultimate position drove out the positive feelings for a considerable period.
Other contributors will no doubt reflect on individual games. We saw some great performances and some dire.
Consistently inconsistent is a phrase I have used more than once. There were many games where despite the lovely passing movements, we rarely looked like creating scoring opportunities. I only recall a few where it seemed we could score at will. We saw some quality play against quality sides and had too many mediocre results against mediocre opposition. I lost count of the number of times I felt we started well, defending high up the pitch, pressurising opponents to gain and retain possession in their half, only to tire and drop deeper and deeper as the game wore on. Still, I felt we had it in us to finish seventh, until injuries, Bruce’s tactics, the loss of a proven goal scorer or whatever reason you choose to explain the slump, conspired against the team.
The realist in me says 10th is not too bad. It’s a platform but a platform to where? Next season will we be settling for tenth again? Let’s face it a top five spot seems a long way off. There is much rebuilding to be done and a lot of players to be replaced or re-signed. I had hoped we would finish the season with the nucleus of a solid and settled squad that only needed fine tuning. Now it seems it needs a major overhaul with a raft of replacements required. Ultimately, I think we have to see where the club takes us, but with the current state of the Premier League we shall have to accept that mid-table obscurity means success for clubs like ours and that I feel is where the real disappointment lies.
If all this sounds a tad pessimistic then apologies, but I was asked for a personal review of the season. My hope next year will be to witness more positive football. If we play an entertaining game, where whatever the result, we always seem to be in with a shout then I’ll settle for that – as long as we don’t end up doing a Blackpool.
Ha’way the Lads.
*Also in this series:
* If you want to have your say, at similar length, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org