Wrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

Peter Lynn: What does he think of N'Doye?
Peter Lynn: players must take responsibility?

Amid a barrage of criticism levelled at SAFC ownership and management, Peter Lynn offers an alternative view of on and off-the-field problems that include, in his view, the spectacle of supporters leaving the Stadium of Light early …

Read moreWrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

Sixer’s Crystal Palace Soapbox: something lost or something gained?

Malcolm Dawson writes….I have this view, which I trot out from time to time, that it’s far better to see your team concede in the opening minutes, be completely outplayed for the rest of the game then equalise just before the final whistle, than be a supporter of the other side. While one set of fans walk away from the game, relieved and overjoyed that they have gleaned something undeserved, their opposite numbers are left totally frustrated and disappointed – yet both teams have earned a point.

It is the way in which that point was gained, rather than the outcome of the game that determines one’s feelings. Last night was a combination package. At half time I was satisfied with how things were going. One vital Vito save apart we seemed to be comfortable. We played “alright” I thought.

The goal was a bit fortuitous. From my seat it looked as if it would have missed had it not been deflected but 1-0 up is a better position to be in than 1-0 down. Then we know what happened and we know who it had to be who put Palace into the lead. And the outcome looked bleak again. Pity the two lads who sit next to me and the lady and her granddaughter who sit just in front. Fabio Borini’ll teach them to leave with five minutes to play. His powerful strike and the subsequent efforts to get the winner provided the most exciting phase of the match for a home fan.

So did I leave feeling relief or disappointment? A bit of both I suppose but more the latter than the former. Chelski did us a favour but I’m sick of relying on other teams to get us out of trouble. It’s time we were doing it ourselves.

The January signings are a definite improvement on those who left. Watching the game in the stadium gives a different sense of perspective from what TV producers decide to show you and I thought Khazri had a good game. He was industrious and worked hard closing players down but as with the rest of the team too often his efforts took him into blind alleys. Kirchhoff looks quality, when he can maintain his work rate and N’Doye scored when Graham probably wouldn’t. But for all this improvement in quality we aren’t really getting enough return. We got out of jail against Liverpool and again last night. What did Pete Sixsmith think? Read on…..

SOAPBOXpalace

CRYSTAL PALACE (H) MARCH 2016

One point gained or two points lost? Brilliant centre forward play from Connor Wickham or poor defending by Sunderland? Inspired substitution by Sam Allardyce or a last, lucky throw of the dice? As always you pays yer money and yer takes yer choice.

In the context of the defeat for Norwich, it’s a point gained. We have risen to the dizzy heights of 17th, (albeit on goal difference) and have kept an edgy Palace team on the fringe of the relegation struggle. Had we failed to take any points, we would have been stuck in the bottom three, with Newcastle and Swansea due to play tonight and with the possibility of seeing a gap open between the trapdoor and the relative safety of the scaffold on which we have sat for most of the season. Had we won, we would have been laughing toffee apples at those below us; a full three points above the Canaries and with the Magpies needing a win to go above and Swans needing not to lose by more than eleven goals. But it wasn’t to be.

The first half was a tight, tidy and essentially competent performance of the type that we are going to need if we are to avoid Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium come August. Not spectacular, but enough to send us in at half time a goal to the good. That the goal had a tinge of good fortune about it is neither here nor there; N’Doye chanced his arm and the hapless Scott Dann tried to kick it clear thus diverting the shot past the wrong footed Hennessey.

Cue warm applause at half time from the support in recognition of a job well done. Bolassie, who had destroyed us in April, was well contained and Zaha was as ineffective as he usually is – the ultimate show pony. Kone and O’Shea had rattled Wickham a couple of times rendering him a peripheral figure and our midfield looked good.

There was a nice balance there in the first half. Kirchhoff continued to do the simple things and to do them very well indeed. He set up some excellent triangles with Khazri and van Aanholt and never once looked hurried. Those seeing him for the first time were suitably impressed. Rodwell looked equally effective, supporting Defoe when required and tracking back when needed. Apart from a poor tackle on Cabaye, for which he was rightly booked, he hardly put a foot wrong and there was plenty to suggest that he will be in that role for the next few games.

So, plenty of positives as the half time oranges were shared out and the second half started well enough with us on the front foot and with Defoe trying to wriggle through the Palace back line. The old cliché of the next goal being the important one was never so true. Had we scored it, we would be looking down on our rivals and looking up at safety. But we didn’t and that was because of a fundamental change in the defences of both sides. Ours slackened off, theirs tightened up.

Lacked service
Lacked service

We didn’t help ourselves by pumping high balls up to Defoe, allowing Dann and Delaney (sounds like a 70s disco act) to head it clear with ease. We began to run out of ideas and Kirchhoff was once again feeling the effects of two games in quick succession.

After barely playing in Germany, he is getting plenty of time on the pitch in England. Having already lost O’Shea, his withdrawal meant that our two most composed players were sitting on the bench. Kaboul is no O’Shea, more of a Hetzke or a McPhail as he clears the ball without a great deal of thought and Cattermole is no Kirchhoff. The loss of these two allowed Palace and Wickham back into it.

"It had to be" says Jake
“It had to be” says Jake

He took his goals well, the first one being a good cross shot when he had wandered into space. But the second one was a poor one to concede. There were doubts that it was a corner, but when the ball landed in the middle, neither Kone or Kaboul picked him up and he clipped it in.

It looked desperate, and it was, as the confidence visibly drained from the players and the crowd got tetchy. Misplaced passes, some hairy balls across the back four and a lack of communication did nothing to help. Most were resigned to a crushing defeat and the Trek to the Exits started as Borini came on.

He has not had a great season. One good half against West Ham in September is a poor return from a player who has not been particularly fancied by either Advocaat or Allardyce. He came on for a concussed Cattermole and started to buzz on the right flank, linking up well with Yedlin but not looking like scoring. With the game going into added time, those on either side of me left for a warm car and a quick getaway. They know not what they missed. They can watch it on Look North, You Tube or Match of the Day, but they will not have that sense of experiencing 35,000 people thinking “Where the f*** did that come from” in unison. It was as spectacular a strike as the one that saw off Pardew’s team in October 2013 and it could be even more important at the end of the season.

Now we wait. We wait for results that will help us from Ashburton Grove and particularly from that cold, open stadium next to the Stoke-on-Trent municipal incinerator. Saturday/Sunday fell for us even though we did lose but we have to seize the initiative now and make sure that we can pick up wins in difficult situations.

We head for Southampton this weekend. Pete Horan and I are making our now annual sojourn to Salisbury, heading off on Thursday. We have a game at Hamble based Folland Sports on Thursday night in the Wessex League Premier Division, a day in Bath on Friday and then a short train ride to Southampton on Saturday. We should be in The Platform Tavern on Town Quay pre match. It would be nice to see friends old and new.

We hope to be celebrating in The Duke of York in Salisbury long into the night……………

Life after Wickham, for better or worse

Jake's take
Jake’s take


For Monsieur Salut’s latest piece for ESPN FC
, the victory in Hannover took second place to the more immediate news of Connor Wickham’s move to Crystal Palace being confirmed.

I am in two minds about his departure. There is clearly a good player struggling to break out of the not-so-good one Sunderland fans have too often seen. Wickham worked hard out wide last season, a role he would not have chosen for himself, and he also suffered when used as a frontman from the same lack of viable service that had bedevilled Sunderland’s play for seasons.

Read moreLife after Wickham, for better or worse

Sixer’s Leicester City Soapbox: Arsenal and Chelsea no place for chokers

Malcolm Dawson writes….we have had several “must win” games at the Stadium of Light this season and generally (Burnley and Southampton apart) have failed to come up with the goods. A win against QPR, Villa, Hull or Palace and we would have been safe weeks ago. No I haven’t forgotten the Defoe wonder goal but it’s been the failure to beat the bottom clubs at home that has left us still needing a point (or a favour from the Uniteds of West Ham and Manchester) with only a week of the season left. The Mags are themselves in dire straits and the six points we took off them is part of the reason why they are currently below us. Results at White Hart Lane and Loftus Road mean that despite yesterday’s fixture being another crucial one, it was less of a “must win” and more of a “mustn’t lose”. The draw might just be enough. It certainly was for the Foxes whose great escape rivals that of our own last season. Pants and O’Shea did their best to mess things up at the end but really that was the only heart in mouth moment in what was hardly an advert for quality football but a good example of honest endeavour from two hard working sides. It might have lacked quality but not effort. My sister thought it one of the better home performances of the season but Pete Sixsmith’s verdict was that it was a dreadful game. Let him explain why……

SBOXLEICESTER

LEICESTER CITY (H) 2015

As I stood doing the ironing on Saturday night, I tuned into a programme on Radio 4 about “Chokers”. There was Eddie Waring commentating on Don Fox missing a last second conversion at Wembley in 1968, BBC Golf correspondent Ian Carter talking about Colin Montgomerie throwing away the U.S. Open in 2006 and Jimmy White nearly thumping one time Quizball host David Vine after he lost the 1994 World Snooker Championship by missing a relatively simple shot. All chokers suggested the host Matthew Syeed, who had done the same as a table tennis player at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He went on to talk about the concept of “fight, flight and freeze”, which is how a part of our brain reacts when faced with a difficult situation.

In 1997 we froze at Selhurst Park and went down because the teams below us won and we didn’t, while we succumbed to flight in 2005-06 when it was perfectly obvious, after a handful of games, that we were not good enough. Last year we showed fight to survive after looking dead and buried when West Ham beat us at the Stadium of Light one cold Monday night in April, but we fought back and won four of the last six games to stay up.

This year we are within sight of the finishing line and one more burst of energy will see us over it. But can we summon up that strength or will we choke at Ashburton Grove and Stamford Bridge while our rivals fight at the KC Stadium and The Sports Direct? We had a chance to put it to bed against Leicester City. They came to us with 6 wins out of 7, bursting with confidence and with a healthy following (minus the appalling clicky/clacky type things they had last week – that alone is reason enough for relegation).

Both sides had rigid formations; 4-3-3- for us, 3-5-2 for City. Both sides had managers who do not appear to suffer fools gladly. If Dick Advocaat is enigmatic, Nigel Pearson is at times completely off the wall, likening journalists to ostriches and getting involved in brawls with opposition players.

So, this game was a cast iron, bang on draw with few goals in prospect – and that is exactly what we got. Nervy, edgy and short of quality, it was similar to the game at whatever City call their stadium now. We were better organised than we were then and we had a couple of chances to win the game, which was more than we had in November. Graham missed a good one, Wickham put one over the bar and both Larsson and Johnson stung Schmeichel’s fingers but that was as close as we came to grabbing the three points that we needed to finish our season and extend Leicester’s.

The ninety minutes showed the progress that has been made since Dick Advocaat took over. Organised, committed and playing with some confidence, it showed that our players can, when given clear instructions, do what is expected of them. The back four did well with Coates being the pick of them. Although lacking in pace (Vardy tested him a couple of times in the last ten minutes), he tackled well, read the game even better and may well have earned himself a contract for next season. O’Shea made a couple of errors, but was solid while the two full backs did well. If we could transfer a bit of the defensive solidity from Jones to Van Aanholt and some pace from the Dutchman to the Englishman, we could have a good pair for the future.

Unfortunately, City were even more solid in defence, with their back three, all big lads as Mr Waring would say, making sure that our deadly strike force of Wickham, Defoe and Graham were effectively snubbed out. Wickham was a major disappointment, being pushed about by whichever centre half challenged him. He continues to disappoint and has made no consistent progress in the four years he has been at Sunderland. Midfield was busy and tackled ferociously (all three were booked by Martin Atkinson) but there was not a great deal of creativity – not the first time I have said that this season. Cattermole started well, had a mad spell in the middle and finished strongly while Larsson did all that we expect of him – constant energy and the promise of a match winning free kick which never actually arrived.

Jake: 'when he keeps his head, he's a class act'
Jake: ‘when he keeps his head, he’s a class act’

Poor Bridcutt continues to struggle although I thought that he had one of his better games. But the crowd do not rate him and he is not given the leeway that Cattermole and Larsson are. When he limped off and Johnson came on, there was a welcoming burst of pace and creativity that may well be utilised in North London on Wednesday.

Like us, Leicester were well organised and committed. Their midfield five worked hard and they had the best player on the field in Esteban Cambiasso, at 35, a class act who can run, pass, tackle and organise, doing the job that we had hoped that Jack Rodwell would do for us. Hmm.

So, do we choke or do we get over that line? Wednesday night is the big one – lose that and the tension on Sunday will be great. Memories of Selhurst Park and Wimbledon will come flooding back. But there are positive omens. The last time we played Chelsea on the final day of the season, Hull played Manchester United. Both lost and both survived. The team that went down were……… Newcastle United, beaten by a team in claret and blue. Could it happen again?

And so the season closes on the Soapbox for 2014-15. I shall not be at either of the last two games so Sixsmith Minimus will be reporting from Ashburton Grove. A one-time Roker Park regular, he is combining business with “pleasure” in London and has my ticket. Bob Chapman will be at Stamford Bridge while I hide under the covers (if we lose on Wednesday) or stand outside the Sports Direct (if we are safe). Fight or freeze? I have a feeling that Advocaat is a fighter and not a choker. Let’s hope the players are.

You can read M Salut’s version of the day’s events on his ESPN blog here.

Dick’s Stoke City Advochaat: on taking a point and talking positive

Malcolm Dawson writes: It all so much clearer now for SAFC – Shildon that is. A come from behind 3-1 win means that if they take all three points against the Terriers of Bedlington on Wednesday they win the Northern League title. Anything less and the trophy goes to Marske. Not so clear cut for the other SAFC. We might have settled for a point had Hull lost and Leicester shared the spoils with Burnley but those results send us into the bottom three so a point is little comfort. But we have a game in hand on Villa and Hull as well as the two sides below us and the Mags are in free fall so there is still some hope. Certainly Dick Advocaat is putting a positive spin on things in his post match e-mail but then he’s hardly likely to do anything else. Here are his immediate post match comments, laundered by some club minion or other before being sent out to M Salut and the rest.

Jake modestly presents his new word: it is the generic title for however many post-match emails we see from Dick*
Jake modestly presents his new word: it is the generic title for however many post-match emails we see from Dick*
Dear Colin,

We took our chance early with the goal and made it 1-0; but Stoke came back into the game very well and created lots of chances.

We had a few more opportunities to score with [Jermain] Defoe going close in the first half and then a couple of chances for [Connor] Wickham in the second.

Costel [Pantilimon] showed today why he is a keeper of international pedigree, he did very well for us and [Will] Buckley returned and I thought he did well.

You’ll always take a point away from home before the game starts and it’s good to take a point but other results around the league have not gone in our favour.

Jake: 'a proper nerve-jangler'
Jake: ‘a proper nerve-jangler’

I was much happier with the second half than I was the first; we worked a lot harder and looked a lot better. To come somewhere like Stoke and create as many chances as we did is a positive to take from the game.

It is important that we build on those positives and take them into the game next weekend.

Thanks for your support,

Dick Advocaat

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Sixer’s Burnley Soapbox: can’t go back to safety now

SBOXBURNLEYMalcolm Dawson writes….Pete Sixsmith has had a busy time since Lee Mason blew the full time whistle yesterday. First thing this morning he stepped in for M Salut and did a blog for ESPN. Read it here. Then he caught Carver, the below stairs boot boy, temporarily standing in for recently departed faithful manservant Pardew, staring wistfully at the family silver as he applied the Brasso. Peter gently reminded him that although it had been at Sixsmith Towers for 42 years there is still a chance it could be replaced this May if things go well on Tuesday but there was no way that Carver himself would get his hands on any. Following that it was time to get the old soapbox out and reflect on a job done to a not so hot Burnley side. Versatile Sheffield singer/songwriter John Shuttleworth, not quite knowing what day it was, was on stage at the Gala theatre in Durham last night. One of his numbers reflects on the realisation of a man half way through his treacle sponge, that there is in fact some unconsumed Shepherd’s Pie still to be had. Hear it here after you have read Pete’s bit. A more positive, forward thinking style of play paid dividends yesterday so surely Gus will see that the ultra cautious approach should not be the blueprint for the rest of the season. As John Shuttleworth nearly said “we can’t go back to safety now”.

NEWsoapbox(Without Score)

BURNLEY STADIUM OF LIGHT 2015

To paraphrase the poet Burns in the week of the anniversary of his birth, “A win’s a win for all that.” It wasn’t overwhelming, it doesn’t make us safe and it wasn’t a mind blowing performance. But it was a win and on a weekend where every side around us lost bar Everton (and they will not be down amongst the dead men for long) there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

The two goals from Wickham and Defoe were well taken. The crosses put in by the full backs for them were excellent. The defence looked sound and solid. But the opposition was weak and, on this performance, they looked relegation fodder – unfortunately. A day at Turf Moor is infinitely preferable to a day at Selhurst Park or Loftus Road.

The latest formation adopted by Gus looked a lot better than the shambles we witnessed last week. Vergini and O’Shea combined well in the middle and the presence of the excellent Reveillere gave us some stability at the back. The former French international is a fine player and goes down in the pantheon of good French players at Sunderland alongside Eric Roy and er… that’s it! He is certainly better than Christian Basilla and Lilian Laslandes but that’s not saying much, is it? The cross that he put on to Connor Wickham’s head for the opening goal was brilliant – perfectly delivered with perfect pace and it produced a perfect header from a rejuvenated Wickham to give us the lead – a lead which we never once looked like losing. When our other full back, Patrick Van Aanholt, took delivery of a killer pass from Jordi Gomez and sent in a low cross into the six yard box, there was our new striker Jermaine Defoe, a player who has scored almost as many goals as his predecessor Jozy Altidore has missed, to guide it over the line to make it 2-0. Game over.

Jake: the first of many we hope
Jake: the first of many we hope

From then on, we were in a kind of comfort zone, probably for the first time this season. The back four was solid and easily negated any real threat from Barnes and the disappointing Ings.

John O’Shea is a very solid player who has done well for us and in games like this he cruises through it. Santiago Vergini also looks far more solid in the middle rather than being stuck out on the flank – he reads a game well and looks to move the ball forward. Could it be that he stays in that position for the rest of the season? He certainly looks more assured than Coates and as the venerable Wes Brown is unlikely to be offered a new contract for next year, the Argentinian can create a genuine niche for himself.

The midfield three did exactly what they were supposed to do. Larsson maintained his phenomenal work rate and used the ball effectively. Bridcutt seemed far more at ease in midfield rather than sitting in front of a back three and Gomez deserved his place purely for the wonderful ball that he played through to Van Aanholt for the second goal. He is a frustrating player. He moves at one pace and is probably caught in possession too easily, but he has the Eric Roy (two mentions in one piece for the man from Nice) knack of being in the right place at the right time. When he plays a ball, it often opens up a defence, particularly when the opposition is about the same standard as we are.

Jake - calm at the back
Jake – John O’Shea calm at the back

With Defoe being used as a spearhead, it allowed Johnson and Wickham to play wide. The former City and ‘Boro player had an excellent game, pulling the Burnley defence and midfield around almost at will. He played a major part in the second goal and the ball he played to Van Aanholt early in the second half to allow the Dutchman to set up Defoe, was an absolute gem. Had we scored a third goal at that stage, I suspect that Burnley might well have folded.

The second half was a tad anti-climactic as the Clarets struggled to get into the game. Neither Ings nor Barnes worried Vergini or O’Shea and although Marney and Jones worked hard, they achieved very little. The game petered out and the crowd began to leave early, knowing that it was highly unlikely that Burnley would take a point from us.

So is this the beginning of a renaissance, similar to that we went through twelve months ago? We can but hope. That there is much to do is not up for debate. There is still a lack of quality in the team – Borini and Ki have not been replaced and there is a more prosaic feel to the side. The introduction of Defoe and the quality of Johnson and (hopefully) Fletcher and Wickham gives us something to cling on to.

There is a long road ahead of us but this is an important first step and needs to be maintained at the old fashioned delights of Craven Cottage on Tuesday and the more up to date concrete of the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

Duncan Sutcliffe, who contributed that excellent WAY on Burnley, joined me for a pint in The Isis pre game. He was optimistic at 2.00 p.m. but that optimism had dissipated by 5.00 p.m. and he was genuinely worried about Burnley’s remaining games. I thought they looked well organised but there was no real creative spark and I fear for them.

The other results were too good to be true and Villa’s thrashing at Ashburton Grove adds to the glow of satisfaction. Hopefully Poyet has a team that may excite him and the 40,000 others who turn up week in and week out to give this perennially unsuccessful club, the sixth highest average crowd in the Premier League. Like many others, I wonder what would happen if we could actually go through a season playing attractive, attacking football, finish in the top half and genuinely excite the fans with a solid midfield and a genuine goalscorer, similar to what we did when we hoofed it up to Quinn and Phillips.

Over to you, Gus.


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Sixer’s Liverpool Soapbox: when sorrows come they come not single spies

Jake: 'when your secret weapon is Danny Graham you know you're in trouble'
Jake: ‘Pete promises to reflect on the positives and negatives. Spot the positives!’
Malcolm Dawson writes…..Sunderland have won fewer games than any other team in the Premier League. Even QPR who haven’t mustered a single point away from home have won two more games than SAFC and no prizes for guessing who their first victim was. Even Burton Albion beat them before they tasted victory against us. The view of many at the start of the season was that with a whole host of winnable home games after Hogmany, if we weren’t in the bottom three at Christmas then a mid table position would be well within our grasp. Well those regular attenders at the Stadium of Light are revising their opinions. One home league win so far this season and only three in the whole of 2014 doesn’t auger well when all the relegation candidates are still to visit us. Most of us thought we would get three points against a poor Hull City side and look how that turned out. As usual Peter Sixsmith turned up yesterday and once again he left feeling more than a little disgruntled.

Pete can  see the cracks as he gets up on the old soapbox.
Pete can see the cracks as he gets up on the old soapbox.

NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT – LIVERPOOL – SSOL – JANUARY 10th 2015

This is twenty one hours after the latest awful performance so I have kept my promise not to write straight after the game and to reflect on the positives and the negatives before enlightening the readership of my views on the current state of Sunderland AFC. The use of the word “awful” in the first sentence may give you some idea of how I felt about this game. I could have used abject, appalling or abysmal – and that is just the As. The rest of the alphabet would have thrown up many, many more.

In the seven, I questioned the Head Coach’s selection and tactics. Basically, he got them wrong.

Here was a Liverpool team which, in the last ten days had been embarrassed by the pace of Leicester City and the physical strength and crossing power of AFC Wimbledon. They appear to have no decent forwards, play with three at the back and attack down the wings. They do, if given space, have some pace. What do we do? Defend deep. Allow them to come at us. Hope to stop them getting past us on the edge of the box with resolute defending as we had at Anfield. Catch them on the break and pick them off.

These are not tactics to warm up a large crowd on a cold day. Many of those sat around me are beginning to realise that we are slow, ponderous and prone to make mistakes. The Head Coach is rapidly running out of goodwill, something which Sunderland fans will show to those who are at least prepared to have a go. The team selection and the use of substitutes did nothing to endear Poyet to the increasing number of doubters in the East Stand seats and Gents. Why continue to play a centre half at right back when there is a fit right back on the bench? Why persist with a clearly out of form Jordi Gomez and then play him for the whole ninety minutes? Why play with one up front against three defenders? Why allow Liverpool to dictate the way that the game should be played?

On Monday Akinfenwa and Tubbs put pressure on Skrtl and company and thus made it difficult for Mignolet. Neil Ardley, the AFC Head Coach had identified the weaknesses that are still there in Brendan Rogers’s side and he nearly got a draw out of the game.

Unlike the fourth level side, we completely failed to take the game to Liverpool. They could have been one up in the first five minutes when the referee gave Brown the benefit of the doubt when he appeared to trip Markovic. There was no doubt a few minutes later when the same player picked his way through a succession of feeble tackles to score what turned out to be the winning goal. It could and should have been more as we continued to pass the ball sideways and backwards and then whack it up to Connor Wickham, who was totally dominated by Skrtl. The ball was given away so easily and so often that Liverpool probably found it difficult to believe that this was the self-styled “difficult to beat” team.

Not so much difficult to beat as difficult to watch. This was a truly painful experience which made many realise that here comes yet another relegation struggle. We avoided the drop last year because we had nothing to lose and because the three who went down were clubs in chaos. I don’t see much of that this season as West Brom and Crystal Palace have made their coaching changes, while Burnley and Leicester appear to be coming to terms with the division and have pace in their teams.

That leaves Villa, where the fans are turning on Paul Lambert, QPR who are useless away from home (they come to us next month; put your mortgage on a 0-0 draw) and Hull, whose manager is now preparing for a second career as a High Court Judge if his asinine comments on the Ched Evans case are anything to go by.

But what about Sunderland? Are we going to rely on others or are we going to do something about it? And if so, what?

First of all, we could try playing two forwards up front instead of sticking one of them out wide. I had some sympathy for Wickham yesterday, who had to feed off the proverbial scraps – although he gave up far too easily and being replaced by Danny Graham shows how much off the pace he was in the second half.

Jake: 'takes up Sixer's Shakespearean theme.
Jake: ‘takes up Sixer’s Shakespearean theme.

Secondly, we could try to start a game with some tempo and not allow the opposition to dictate the way that the game should be played. How do we do that? Moving the ball forward would help. Liverpool are vulnerable to players who run at them – look at Schlupp’s goal for Leicester and the performance that Rigg turned in for AFC – but we consistently fail to do this.

Some of Poyet’s after match quotes are worrying; “I’d have thought that by now I would have had a better impact on how the team plays. Some players are taking a long time to learn the basics of how I want to play.” What to make of this? We have a decent sized squad, many of who have arrived at the club in Poyet’s 15 months here. Are there players here that have been imposed on him? Is he still looking at those that O’Neill and Di Canio brought in and who do not fit his style? What is his style?

The last question is the key one. He clearly likes to play on the counter and two of the paltry three wins that we have had this season have come when the opposition have been chasing the game. Palace ran around making errors allowing us to catch them on the break, while Newcastle did the same, allowing us to pick them off. Giaccherini, Alvarez and others thrive on this kind of play. How many good games has the Italian had at the Stadium? He has looked a far better player away from home as has Alvarez and, believe it or not, Gomez.

But at home we can be awful. We have not had a crowd of less than 40,000 this season, a testimony to loyalty, hope and the club’s marketing policies, but that loyalty cannot be relied on as the winter of discontent descends on us.

The next home game is against a quick, lively and uninhibited Burnley side who really must fancy their chances against a plodding, out of touch Sunderland. And there is Spurs away before that. It could be a long, hard winter and a not very bright spring.

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Sixer’s Man City Soapbox: City quality too much as Sunderland outplayed

Malcolm Dawson writes….. Since the advent of advent, Peter Sixsmith has been distributing gifts to the not so poor and needy up and down the Durham Dales, except to those wearing anything with a “Wonga” advert, explaining just why Saint Nicholas always wears red and white. But last night he got his manservant Pardew to layout the thermals, prepare a vaccuum flask of warming beef tea and dig out the insulated beard protector to save him from frostbite, as he braved sub-zero temperatures to bring us his take on events at the Stadium of Light. On Saturday afternoon we had agreed that no points and a goal difference worsened by only minus three would represent some kind of positive return from the three games in week ahead. The team exceeded expectations against Chelsea but were brought back to earth with a bump that could be heard as far away as Seaham and Shields. Let Pete explain.

SBOXMANC

MANCHESTER CITY (HOME) 2014

And so it came to pass that at the fifth time of asking, the team known as Manchester City came to Wearside and managed to win a game.

And the multitude assembled inside the Stadium of Light accepted that City had indeed played well and deserved their first win there for many a year. And few left that splendid palace of football without acknowledging that the Argentine known as Sergio Aguero is one of the finest players that has ever walked upon England’s pastures green. And although the names of Dennis Law, Gary Lineker, Luis Suarez and Dominic Sharkey were mentioned by some, the general acclamation in the temple of sense known as the East Stand Gents toilets was that Aguero was a decent turn.

And although the heroics of the past were not to be repeated, those warriors assembled in red and white stripes now have to pick themselves up and smite the men of Anfield on Saturday, followed by the tribe from East London and then take on the representatives of the Great Satan and all of his acolytes at the Gates of Hades.

After spending 90 minutes closing Chelsea down on Saturday, our game plan was based on the same premise. For the opening twenty minutes it worked. City looked rattled, the two central defenders were shaky and we should have been two up. Jack Rodwell should have opened the scoring when Will Buckley played him in. Some would argue that Buckley failed to take the responsibility thrust upon him and that he should have finished the move. Others (of which I am one) would say that he saw a colleague in a better position and passed it to him. Rodwell should have put his foot through it instead of trying to place it. The chance was gone.

Fourteen minutes later Connor Wickham started off and finished a good move with a little help from Zabaleta and the traditional Wearside score was up there on the scoreboard. It lasted for two minutes.

Jake celebrates ...... but not for long.
Jake celebrates …… but not for long.

City had already shown that they had sufficient pace and power to worry our back four and when Coates stood too far off Aguero, the Argentine made a mockery of the Uruguayan and smashed home the equaliser. From then on, City were in control and try as we might, we were unable to get sufficient grip on the game to worry them. When Toure came forward, the game opened up and City struck me as a much more fluid side than Chelsea. The Pensioners clearly follow to the letter the instructions they are given by Mourinho. If they don’t they are toast.
Pellegrini’s philosophy is to create a framework and then encourage his players to use their natural talent and flair to work within that. When you have the likes of Toure, Navas, and Nasri, plus Aguero, you can do that.

We, on the other hand, have a team made up of players who are decent but limited. All worked hard but the physical and mental tiredness from Saturday was clear. Cattermole and Larsson both led by example, but were unable to win tackles and retrieve the ball with anything like the success that they had against Chelsea. Wherever they looked they saw a huge obelisk aka Yaya Toure standing in front of them. If they got too close, he swatted them away as if they were flies tormenting him.

At the back, Reveillere was given a torrid time by Navas and his 35 year old legs were struggling to keep up with the slinky Spaniard. In the middle, Coates was never close enough to Aguero and lost him at crucial moments. Not an auspicious league debut for Gus’s fellow Uruguayan although I doubt that many could have lived with Aguero last night.

And so, the assembled multitude went home, many leaving before the game was finished. A noisy minority would have experienced a pleasant and fulfilling journey home across the frozen wastes of Yorkshire before returning to their home city. The majority sat in their cars and buses and marvelled at the leviathan known as Toure and the assassin known as Aguero and posed some questions viz;

How on earth can any normal club compete on a regular basis with the huge amounts of money washing around the top two?
How can we ensure that two performances in a row are of similar quality?
How can we strengthen the squad and the team before the annual relegation battle starts in earnest?

Here endeth the lesson dealt out to us by a team that cost north of £200m.

Read M Salut’s account at ESPN here http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739

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Graham gone. Jozy going, maybe. But are Wickham & Fletch fixtures?

Jake: 'top man at his best'
Jake: ‘top man at his best’


I have been worrying
for a while about our strike force.

Until this week, if we leave aside development squad players, Gus Poyet had four options up front: Steven Fletcher, Connor Wickham. Jozy Altidore and Danny Graham. Don’t laugh at the last name; he’s been on the bench.

Read moreGraham gone. Jozy going, maybe. But are Wickham & Fletch fixtures?

Pure Poyetry: making the calls against Mark Hughes’ s Stoke City

Malcolm Dawson writes….in the games I’ve seen this season Sunderland have been consistent and on a par with the opposition. Spurs looked the better side but didn’t dominate. Swansea were dominated but never really looked like losing. Stoke in the League Cup beat us but we could have just as easily been the winners. The analysis could go on. Today we played much the same BUT we found the back of the net. Suddenly six games without a win becomes only one defeat in seven matches. There were frailties. Giving the ball away too easily. Gomez looking to pass back when a breakaway was on and O’Shea and Cattermole yelling at him to look up the field rather than at Vito. But we played well. Fletch looked sharp in front of goal and worked hard in wide areas and in the deeper positions. The league table is congested but we are 11th as I write. Now we just need to kick on. Gus I think is here for the long term and he was overjoyed today as we can read in his post match e-mail.

Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox

Dear Colin,

It was tough because we started well and got a goal which meant everything was perfect, but then they scored the equaliser and perhaps people started getting a little nervous.

We didn’t get nervous. We were calm, playing the game and believing in what we do with good movement, which are the things we work on – when you do things in training and it works in games the players buy into it and believe.

Overall we can now look at the table in a different way because now we have lost one in seven which is not a bad start.

I am the type of person who likes to accept responsibility when it doesn’t go well because I am in charge and I pick the team. Of course when you make hard decisions like today – leaving Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson out. It is nice when it works because it shows that Fletch was doing something in training in the past two weeks that we needed.

Last year that partnership was largely made by Fabio Borini and Connor Wickham at the end of the season with Johnson standing out, but today it was Connor and Fletch, which is fantastic for us because it creates a situation where you know the role of every player.

Look at the last goal with Connor because you do not see many players with the power and ability to go past so many people and pull it back. Maybe two years ago Connor would try and shoot from there but today he had the strength and the quality to pull it back, which is something everybody can see is improving.

It is a very good start. Every single game has been very competitive and we have had chances to win in every single one. We needed to score two or three and have a very good weekend so we will keep believing in what we do and if we take our chances it will be a great season for us.

Thanks for your support,

Gus Poyet

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