This will be my final dodgy numbers post of the season. (If you haven’t seen the previous ones you can follow the link above, and/or those below). There is still a game to go, and two questions remain unanswered, but we can now look at the league table and judge how well our start of season pundits did. Their choices for the top six spots, in order of popularity were: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Fulham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland.
Three out of six, and wrong about the top two. Is that a “not bad” verdict or something worse?
Yesterday you might have seen how I – or rather our readers – came to select a number of clubs to follow over the course of the season. They were originally Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Fulham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland; Wolves, Bristol City, Cardiff, Derby and Sheffield United joined them at the end of the January transfer window.
Let’s go back to the start of the season (and don’t we wish we could).
I polled our readers as to who would make the top six. These clubs came up favourite ( in the order given) and I began tracking them and reporting on their progress from time to time:
By Christmas, if not earlier, it was obvious some changes were needed.
Beyond shocking. That is Pete Sixsmith‘s withering verdict on the latest chapter in the nightmare that is Sunderland AFC. At least he saw a terrific film before submitting himself to the excruciating ordeal of an evening at the Stadium of Light. Not for the first time this season or last, Sixer’s musings are not for those of a nervous disposition …
Driving up to the game from Richmond, (I had been to the cinema to see Lady Bird – go and see it, it’s a great film) I listened into Total Sport on BBC Newcastle. The mood was not very positive and even Marco Gabbiadini, who has been accused of having a Pollyanna outlook on life, was decidedly downbeat.
As I passed the old Vaux site, he said “I wouldn’t be surprised if we failed to win another game this season.” After this shocker, I think any sane Sunderland supporter would agree with him.
The season has slid away alarmingly and the very fact that we are still in touch with the Holy Grail of fourth bottom is down entirely to the inadequacies of the teams around us rather than anything to do with the fighting spirit shown by our gallant band of seemingly perpetual losers. Once again, we reached new depths, out depthing the performances against Brentford, Ipswich, Barnsley, Reading, etc, etc. as we strive to take the club to the lowest position in its 139-year history.
We will continue to witness performances like this (although in ever decreasing numbers) as neither management nor players can do anything to arrest the inexorable slide towards obscurity and possibly oblivion.
Moyes, Grayson and now Coleman have all attempted to do so and all have failed dismally, one because he spent the small amount of cash he had badly, one because he could not deal with the horrendous situation he found himself in and one because he finds himself in charge of a club where the owner wants out, the support has given up and the players do not want to be at Sunderland.
Villa strolled through this game. Their keeper had a couple of smart saves to make. The full backs had nothing to do while John Terry and James Chester were as comfortable as Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle sharing a brandy and soda and a cigar in the Drones Club. The last time Terry was here he was sent off having been torn apart by Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe and Duncan Watmore. He would have had more trouble from Fabio’s wife, Jermain’s mam and Duncan’s knee surgeon than he got from the hapless Ashley Fletcher.
The goals we gave away were as predictable as they were awful. Two headers from Grabban and Chester, scored as a result of the kind of marking you would expect to see in an Under 9s game. Grabban must have said to Steve Bruce “They can’t defend anything slung into the box. The keeper doesn’t come for them because he is too nervous and the crowd don’t like him. The central defenders are either too old, too fat or too poor to get them so just put that ball in that box and we will score.”
And they did. As predicted, Steele was nowhere near the ball for either of the first half goals and the defenders lived up to the billing that Grabban must have given them. He is a good player; he makes runs, looks for space and scores goals. Nobody else on our “team” does any of that.
I use the inverted commas around team because we don’t have one. We have 14 players who play on the same pitch but they do not play as a team. Villa did. They had two banks of four and two forwards. We have players who are all over the place, including some who should not be on the pitch at all.
There is no future for or at Sunderland for Steele, Lamine Kone, Donald Love, Ashley Fletcher, Tyias Browning and Billy Jones. Liverpool loanee Ovie Ejaria might make a player but not in the snake pit atmosphere that is beginning to envelop the Stadium of Light. If I were Jurgen Klopp, I would have him back at Anfield now. Cattermole and O’Shea are finished.
That leaves McGeady and McManaman who are on contracts and Asoro and Maja who came on as replacements. Asoro looked good and caused Wooster and Fink-Nottle to put their glasses down a couple of times to attend to him. Villa have probably made a note of his name for next season as he certainly won’t be at Sunderland. Maja did ok but he has a way to go yet.
It was a wretched night. I left before the end and was home by 10.35. I listened to Gary Bennett while driving past the Vaux site and I heartily agreed with his analysis that we didn’t have a goalkeeper, the defending was poor, there was no creativity and we never looked like scoring. He was as sure as I am that relegation is an absolute certainty and I am tempted to seek the odds for Marco’s prediction that we will not win another game.
I’m afraid that, so far, Chris Coleman has not improved the situation one iota. He looks lost and is probably regretting taking the job, not having realised the desolation that exists around the club and the support. If he is to remain next season (and few would blame him if he baled out), he needs to start thinking seriously about who will play next season.
The whole situation is beyond shocking and much of the support fears for the future of the club as a whole. Division One may give us an opportunity to stabilise, but I fear a repeat of what Bristol City did in the 1980s when they “achieved” three successive relegations. It really is that dire.
Thank goodness for rugby league.
If there is any copyright claim, not answered by ‘fair use’ exemptions, on the images used to illustrate this report, please make us aware and we will add credits or remove as requested.
Pete Sixsmith was there and we’ll have his full report tomorrow. For now we have a choice of three seven-word texts, sent at various times during the game.
At 8.36 pm “Coffin lid on. Justwaiting for nails”
At 9.23pm “Undoubtedly the worst performance I have seen”
And at the final whistle:
Monsieur Salut welcomes anyone who has missed Salut! Sunderland‘s comprehensive buildup to tonight’s game and offers pointers to the best of that coverage…
Approaching the home game against Aston Villa, kicking off a few hours from now, the Sunderland Echo speculated that SAFC’s survival propsects may well depend on winning this match or the next one, at QPR on Saturday. If pushed, I’d say we probably need to win both or at least emerge with four points.
The crisis has reached those desperate proportions.
Confidence remains in short supply as another failure to win a game not only exposes our limited powers of resistance but confirms our desperate short-term outlook.
As Mick Goulding and others have pointed out, here and elsewhere, a draw at in-form Millwall, while creditable enough if viewed in isolation, simply isn’t good enough in our current parlous state.
Tom Jolliffe* cannot see beyond an away win at the Stadium of Light tomorrow. At least he applies a neat sense of humour, and traces of sympathy, to his asnwers about our plight and his club Aston Villa’s buoyant current state and longer-term prospects (which should not, in his view, include much room for Lewis Grabban beyond the Championship). And however controversial this will be, Monsieur Salut thinks he’s closer to being right than wrong in his assessment of Steve Bruce …
John McCormick writes: Like most others I have been to see League games that didn’t involve Sunderland. Like a few, I have written about it – my first piece of writing for this site was about Newcastle v Leyton Orient and a player called Dick Keith. If I had known then that I’d be posting pieces like this one from Pete Sixsmith I might not have bothered.
The man is a master. Read on and you’ll see what I mean:
Most weeks, readers of Salut! Sunderland drop by on Friday morning to catch the latest instalment in Pete Sixsmith’s twin series, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground (if the game in question is away), Team (if it’s at the Stadium of Light).
This week, the Millwall edition was posted earlier than usual – namely at this link.