Forgive Monsieur Salut for feeling down. How can a Sunderland supporter be otherwise?
We remain fans of the only club we’ve properly supported but we feel cheated at the same time. The club has let us down in a big way. We may well fear, as did our Boro interviewee, for life in the Championship. But here, for what it is worth, is my preview of the Tees-Wear derby for ESPNFC, cleverly headlined ‘Last Rites for Sunderland as relegation looms into view’ …
Sunderland travel to Middlesbrough on Wednesday night for a match that might have been a relegation decider but now has little more at stake than avoiding the added humiliation of finishing bottom.
With the clubs so far adrift of a place of safety — fourth-bottom Hull are 12 points ahead of Sunderland, nine in front of Middlesbrough — mathematical calculations have become a mere formality.
The next Wear-Tees derby will be in the Championship and neither side can feel confident about emulating the achievement of fellow north-easterners Newcastle United, needing only a point from three games to secure promotion, of an early return to the Premier League.
Sunderland manager David Moyes is six games from being the first since Steve Bruce to complete a full season in charge at the club. But he will be remembered as the least successful of all nine men who have held the position since promotion under Roy Keane in in 2007.
Moyes was dealt an unenviable hand when his appointment was delayed by the slow process of Sam Allardyce’s departure to manage England. He then appeared taken by surprise by the limitations on his spending power as owner Ellis Short set about looking for possible buyers for the club.
But he is an experienced Premier League manager and Sunderland supporters are entitled to question several of his decisions and his demeanour throughout a miserable season.
The reluctance to play Tunisian attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri has been astonishing. Whatever the reasons, this would be justified only if those replacing him had shone. But Adnan Januzaj’s loan from Manchester United cannot end soon enough, so poor have been his performances for Sunderland. And Fabio Borini’s struggle to make an impact has been so marked that his equaliser at home to West Ham was a rare high point of his season.
Khazri’s unpredictability is undoubtedly infuriating for any manager but as he showed with flair and determination when finally recalled against the Hammers, he is — with the exception of Jermain Defoe — alone among Sunderland players in being able to change a game.
Even allowing for constraints on his freedom to recruit players of real quality, Moyes’s reliance on injury-prone former Everton players has been another mystifying feature of his managership. Joleon Lescott has not kicked a ball in the Premier League since arriving in January, Steven Pienaar has been fit for only 10 starts and Darron Gibson has played well only sporadically. Bryan Oviedo has also been hampered by injury while Victor Anichebe, though a formidable danger man when fit, has missed a large chunk of the season.
Moyes inherited the services of another of his former stars, Jack Rodwell, so cannot be blamed for the unmitigated disappointment the former England man has proved since his £10 million move, full of promise, from Manchester City in 2014.
But he does bear responsibility for the dull and downbeat way he has conducted himself from as early as the second game of the season, a 2-1 home defeat to Wednesday’s opponents, Middlesbrough. He claimed he was simply being realistic when saying after that game that supporters should be prepared for another relegation battle — perhaps the last thing they wished to hear.
Football manages are not paid to be natural media stars and Moyes owes no apologies for deficiencies of charisma or humour. But his unshakably pessimistic, occasionally truculent approach to pre and postmatch interviews has not endeared him to the fans.
Doubts over Moyes’s team formations and substitutions — or lack of them — have also drawn criticism. Against that, he took over a weak squad that included at least two players — Lamine Kone and Januzaj — whose hearts seemed to lie elsewhere and Sunderland’s injury list would exasperate the best managers in football.
Moyes has said of his career that he believes the best is still to come and looks forwards to “winning trophies and being successful again”.
Whatever pride may yet be salvaged from the dying weeks of Sunderland’s 10-year stay in the top flight, starting at Middlesbrough, it remains to be seen whether his managerial rehabilitation will start with a Championship title-winning trophy just over a year from now.