John McCormick writes: for me, this piece by Pete Sixsmith brings back many memories. I was at Goodison when we lost, and at Spurs when Kirchhoff came on and a young keeper who would go on to play for England couldn’t hold back the tide. I saw us come back to snatch that point at Anfield as well. But the game that sticks out, of all the ones below, is one I never got to. The 1-0 win against the Mags. I was intending to go but stayed in Liverpool. My daughter gave birth that day, two weeks late. I have a print of Defoe’s goal ready to give to my granddaughter when she’s old enough to appreciate what she made me miss…
Malcolm Dawson writes…..last year Marcus Procopio, as Aussie as pie floater, vegemite and snags and tomato sauce joined our happy band of contributors with an early season summation of all that was wrong at SAFC. It’s well worth a revisit by clicking this link. In it he suggests that as long as a combination of a badly run organisation and a poisonous culture in the dressing room and on the training ground prevailed, Sunderland AFC would find it hard to progress. Consider the changes in personnel both on and off the field since January and correlate that with the most positive and optimistic feelings for years that currently surround our club (despite let’s not forget finishing 17th) and it’s hard to disagree. Although he lives about as distant from the Stadium of Light as is possible he continues to watch from afar and still doesn’t like what he sees. However, as always, he remains hopeful…
“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker” – Mike McDermott in Rounders.
This take on an old poker proverb has become increasingly apt in describing Sunderland in the Premier League. Half way into each of the last few seasons, it’s been incredibly difficult to find three obviously worse teams than ours. The remarkable thing is that, somehow, we haven’t been cleaned out and sent packing.
Having completed yet another fortunate escape, the question now is whether we can become a real player at the Premier League table – or whether we’re destined to be the league’s perennial fish.
Whenever I write my end of season reviews, I like to look back at some of the things I wrote at the start of the season. This time around, a couple of gems stick out:
My early season article on Salut! which included the following:
An insipid pre-season has now been followed up by two losses to start the season – to teams unlikely to feature in the top half of the table at its end. There are plenty of questions and there is genuine concern that we do not have the answers.
(For the record, Leicester won the league…(!) and Norwich were relegated. One out of two isn’t so bad is it?).
My opening match day comments on the Not606 Sunderland forum:
As we all know, the league’s schedulers have finally decided to stop sodomising our club and we actually have a chance to get off to a good start this season.
Here are the possible outcomes for us after 4 games. What would you accept as a bare minimum?
WWWW (12 points)
WWWD (10 points)
WWWL (9 points)
I put these in the ‘not impossible, but quite unrealistic’ category. If we achieved any of these starts we’d be completely buzzing to say the least.
WWDD (8 points)
WWDL (7 points)
Either of these would be very solid for me and what we should be aiming/hoping for.
WWLL (6 points)
WDDD (6 points)
I would happy with either of these. Although, the 3 draws would be frustrating.
WDDL (5 points)
This is the minimum point of acceptability for me. Not a flyer, but still not a disaster either. Definitely hoping for better than this.
WDLL (4 points)
This would be below par, even by our modest standards. At least we’d have a win.
DDDD (4 points, and lots of stuff being thrown at the telly by me)
WLLL (3 points, with a call for some counselling)
DDDL (3 points and broken lounge room furniture)
DDLL (2 lousy points, a claim on my home insurance and me saying ‘the EPL is overrated crap anyway’)
DLLL (1 effing point followed by Di Canio coming out and saying ‘see, I wasn’t so bad and I never had that kind of budget’)
LLLL (zippo and work being started on Advocaat and Short effigies)
For the record, our first four games netted two losses and two draws – the third worst possible outcome out of 15.
Lowering the bar
It’s well documented that we’ve had some very poor starts in recent seasons. However, you really need to see the numbers from the opening 9 games our last 5 seasons to get a full appreciation of this:
2011-12: 2-3-4 (9 points) – Bruce
2012-13: 1-6-2 (9 points) – O’Neill
2013-14: 1-1-7 (4 points) – Di Canio
2014-15: 1-5-3 (8 points) – Poyet
2015-16: 0-3-6 (3 points) – Advocaat
That’s a total of 33 points from 45 games which pro-rates to 28 in 38 games.
If you take only the last three seasons, then it’s 15 points from 27 games – which prorates to 21 points over 38 games… delicious!
Aside from our disgraceful opening points tally, this season stood out from the four before it for one other major reason: we were winless, hopeless and gormless after 9 games – which included games against Norwich (H), Swansea (H), Villa (A), Bournemouth (A) and West Brom (A).
Not to disrespect any of these teams – but if you can’t beat any of them at all, then you’re not making a great case for staying in the Premier League and you’re going to have a bad time.
Yet another Messiah
We can now add Allardyce to the list of O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat, as managers that have come in mid-season and miraculously and emotionally kept us up against the odds.
I want to believe that things are different this time around. I really do. Some encouraging things in this respect are:
* Adam Johnson is gone.
* Margaret Byrne is gone.
* Danny Graham is gone. (Bit harsh on the hard working Graham I think. I suspect Fletcher may have had a more negative influence on those around him – MD.)
* Allardyce is a highly distinguished, experienced, proven and savvy manager who Alex Ferguson thinks is ‘massively underrated’.
* Allardyce has made some positive cultural changes – most notably getting the youngsters involved with the first team.
* The Kone, Khazri and Kirchhoff combo acquired in the January transfer window were inspired purchases which completely changed our season and the whole nature of our first team.
As good as those things are, the most encouraging thing for me comes in the form of raw numbers. Here are the latter halves (i.e. last 19 games) of our last 5 seasons:
Malcolm Dawson writes……it’s a proven fact that we all feel better when our chosen football team is doing well and that poor on field results can bring disappointment and depression.
It may only be a game but football fans are stuck with their team. Some glory hunters might chop and change but the true supporter has no options. I was a fresher at college when Sunderland last won anything meaningful and now I’m only a couple of years away from a state pension.
Our first FA Cup win happened 17 years before I was born and the last League Championship Sunderland claimed was the year before that. Eighty years ago in fact. So success is not something we are used to.
Should we be doing better? Surely we should at least be doing as well as Stoke City, West Ham or Spurs. Surely we should be better than Watford, Southampton and Leicester City and no disrespect is intended towards those clubs. 1973 apart Sunderland AFC have been perennial underachievers, at least in our own eyes for eight decades now. Little windows of optimism have promptly been slammed shut again.
We all have views on the causes of our current malais but if he hasn’t already done so, maybe the owner of the club should take a long, hard look at his tenure in charge.
Pete Sixsmith‘s report of the 2-2 draw with West Ham, and the dramatic aftermath, drew comments from both his brothers, Bishop-dwelling Michael (that doesn’t mean he lives inside a senior cleric) and exiled-in-Greece Phil. Will his farewell to Dick Advocaat produce another Sixer hat-trick?
Continuing our classical theme, we move from the Greek swansong (so ably deconstructed by Sixsmith Minor) to the Latin word “valediction”, which my trusty Chambers says is “a bidding farewell” (and which Sixer neatly offered as “valedicktion” when sending his article – Ed). There have been quite a few of those since Salut! Sunderland started up in the dim and distant past of the Roy Keane era.
Julius Caesar famously said (or probably didn’t) “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”).
Alas that does not apply to Dick Advocaat, who may say “I came, I saw, I quite liked it here, but why on earth did we bring in the likes of Kaboul, Borini and Matthews? Oh, well back to the tulip beds.”
There are very few Sunderland supporters who will have a bad word to say about the genial Dutchman.
One friend, someone a little bit ITK, texted yesterday morning to say that he was leaving with dignity and with the full respect of everyone, words which I think sum up the feelings of many of us.
This has been a very poor start to the season but it is clear that Advocaat knew that there needed to be a more positive style of play, which is why Lens, M’Vila and Toivonen were brought in and why Cattermole, Fletcher and O’Shea were left out.
We saw the benefits of the first three on Saturday. They were fleet of foot and quick of mind, exactly like the players you can see in the Bundesliga or La Liga on television. They play with skill and with energy which is exactly what the head coach wanted from them.
Now look at the British players he inherited. I thought he was wrong to prefer Kaboul to O’Shea and so did he as he re-instated the Irishman three games in.
But Cattermole and Fletcher epitomise all that is wrong with English football. Both are moderately talented players who seem to take little notice of managers and coaches and who continue to play the way that they want to.
Put Cattermole with a quality player like M’Vila and tell him what is expected of him, however, and you see an improvement. Cattermole would have seen M’Vila as a rival; Advocaat saw the two of them working together once the Teessider had stopped giving away needless penalties.
Fletcher turned in a very good performance on Saturday after being given a proper foil in Toivonen, allowing the Scot to play further up the field and not have to come back to search for the ball. It was probably his most effective display as a Sunderland player.
Now that Advocaat and Zeljko Petrovic have left, will these two slip back into their bad old ways, ways which have frustrated experienced managers like O’Neill and Advocaat, younger ones like Poyet and madmen like Di Canio?
Advocaat gave us a picture of what football was all about – movement, skill and the ability to do what you do properly. His ideas were well received by the crowd who had grown disillusioned with the keep ball played by Poyet , the stultifying boredom of the O’Neill era and the incompetence of Di Canio and de Fanti.
Advocaat’s departure leaves this writer feeling sad, angry and wondering where on earth we go to from here.
Sad that we did not have the full interim period to find the next manager/head coach; angry that, yet again, a club that Monsieur Salut, me and many thousands of others have devoted much of their lives to, is once again seen as a club that is going nowhere and is rapidly becoming a basket case.
And what of the future? It looks like we are going from a man who has won trophies, managed at international level and been at the top of the tree to a manager who has a reputation as one who “ensures you don’t get relegated” – and who may bring in Kevin Nolan.
Or it could be one who likens journalists to large flightless birds from Southern Africa or one who has done well at a properly run club and who may fancy a pitch at a bigger club but who may eventually baulk at the politics that seemingly go on under the surface at Sunderland.
If none of those, I am sure Jeremy Corbyn might inspire a few of the players to greater heights for the common good. Failing that, let’s bring in Boris.
Goodbye Dick. It was a pleasure to have a Head Coach with some vision. We may not see your like again.
A long way ahead of Nigel Pearson in the bookies’ calculations, though behind Allardyce and Dyche, is Patrick Vieira, the most intriguing of the names being floated.
Vieira was a tremendous midfielder, especially in his 279 games for Arsenal and 107 for France, and has attracted praise for his work at Manchester City, where he is currently youth team coach.
Great players do not always make good managers, though. It cannot be guaranteed that Vieira’s impeccable experience with Europe’s elite has equipped him for a grim struggle with a club that has known little success in recent times.
Patrick Vieira could be an intriguing appointment at the Stadium of Light.
Certainly, Vieira’s limited experience of management would make such an appointment a gamble unless Short felt willing to give him time to carry out a serious reconstruction operation even in the event of relegation this season. But he would be an exciting choice.
** In case anyone wonders, the 21 votes cast for “others” comprised shortly before noon on Monday nine for Brendan Rodgers, three for David Moyes, two for Nigel Clough and one each for Jurgen Klopp, Harry a Redknapp/Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink partnership, Gary Neville, Paul Hartley, Kevin Phillips and “any miracle worker will do”. Oh, that;s only 20; the other, mysteriously, was for our occasional contributor Bill Taylor.
The announcement everyone expected came today, as Gary Bennett had said it would. Dick Advocaat has resigned – see the club statement at http://www.safc.com/news/club-news/2015/october/advocaat-departs – amid kind words from all. Ellis Short, the chairman, said: ‘I am truly saddened by Dick’s decision, but I respect him for his honesty and for doing what he feels is right for the club. He is a man of integrity and a true football person. He was hugely respectful of the club in taking this decision and he acted 100 per cent in our best interests. It is also testament to his character that he has forgone any kind of a financial settlement, something which is very unusual in football.’ Dick’s own words appear in the footnote*.
Pete Sixmsith wrote his report of the 2-2 draw at home to West Ham before the news broke, though he knew as did just everyone what was coming. He sums up the match, and his thoughts on Dick’s departure, with customary eloquence …
As usual, the Greeks have a word for it and that word is swansong.
It means a final gesture, effort or performance given just before retirement or death and dates back to the Greek belief that the swan, a notoriously silent bird that rarely appears on BBC Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day, is silent until death is imminent, whereupon it bursts out into beautiful song just before it expires.
Did Dick give us his swansong yesterday (yes – Ed)? The first half was as good as anything I have seen from my current seat in the Stadium of Light and I have been there for 12 years. The defending was solid for 44 minutes, the midfield totally dominated a good West Ham side and the pace and hunger of the forwards took the breath away after years of tepidness and drudgery.
That it fell apart in the second half (plus one minute at the end of the first) cannot be avoided, but, for the moment, let us dwell on the positives – not something we have done much of recently.
The full backs looked secure, with Billy Jones, a player that Dick clearly likes, having his best game in a Sunderland shirt. He read the game well and got forward as and when he could. His colleague, DeAndre Yedlin, looks raw but has genuine pace and ability and was a safer defensive bet than Van Aanholt.
In the centre of the defence, O’Shea and Coates looked equally secure and this partnership works. What possessed us to bring in Kaboul when we have Brown as a third defender and a couple of decent youngsters? I suspect that Advocaat was as keen on Kaboul as I am on Rugby Union and I wonder if it were that that might have tipped him over the edge.
The three/five man midfield worked. Cattermole was comfortable and sensible in front of the back four, while M’Vila simply oozes quality in front of him. Now that the Stockton Strongman has realised that all he has to do is to give the ball to the French Fortifier (that’s enough strained alliteration – Ed), we move forward with purpose.
In front of these two, Toivonen tolled manfully and looks one of those very good players who will never be quite top notch but will be an asset for clubs like Sunderland, Rennes or Norwich City.
He has a sure touch and, compared with the likes of Gardner, Bridcutt and Colback, looks a very good player indeed. Will he stay with Dick going? Will M’Vila? For the first time since Eric Roy and Stefan Schwartz we have two quality European midfield players. Please tell me that they will not be sacrificed for Kevin Nolan.
Borini and Lens were mostly excellent. Borini caused the Irons defence all kinds of problems in the first half and should have scored when a rejuvenated Fletcher played him in. That would have made it 3-0, would have opened Borini’s account and might have led to a Manchester City style avalanche. But he missed and he also had two other good chances where he needed an extra touch and was pushed to the right.
Lens scored a sublime goal, one which he started himself with a legal challenge on Reid. The ball broke to M’Vila who immediately threaded it through to the Dutchman, who then chipped Adrian to considerable clamour from the 42,000 crowd. Brilliant and just what we wanted.
Two up and cruising.
But it got to Lens’s head and 10 minutes later he was needlessly booked for his challenge on Cresswell when, had he stayed on his feet, he would have been fine. Ten minutes into the second half, another unnecessary challenge on Reid. Neil Swarbrick got few things right on the afternoon but he had little choice here.
Finally, Steven Fletcher, who probably epitomises our squandering of funds over the years, had a game that showed how good he can be when he concentrates on football rather than Ferraris. He took his goal well, led the line like a proper centre forward and gave us some hope for the rest of the season. Will it last, or is it like this week’s weather, no more than an Indian summer for the Scot. I don’t see him being offered a new contract next year whatever division we are in.
So, for a change we have positives sprouting from every orifice. But there are negatives and they will ultimately prove to be our undoing as we slide towards Saturday nights on Channel 5 with George Reilly, Kelly Cates and a tongue tied Michael Gray.
Both of our goals were excellent – both of West Ham’s were totally avoidable. Once again, we failed to keep a clean sheet in the first half as, with seconds remaining, Moses slithered down the left and pulled it back for the onrushing Jenkinson who was not picked up. That was a game changer and set the crowd on edge from the start of the second half. It made Slaven Bilic’s half time talk easier and Dick’s harder.
The second goal was a blunder by the Giant Pantilimon who should have done better with Lanzini’s shot, perhaps catching it rather than patting it down. Payet was quicker to the rebound than our defenders and the lead had gone, never to return.
Even the news from Eastlands was no real consolation.
Then there is the case of Neil Swarbrick. He likes his red cards does our Neil. There were seven last season, eight the year before and Lens was his first this season. I have no problems with that one but, like 40,000 others, failed to see how he could not issue a second yellow to Mark Noble.
He booked the Hammers skipper in the second minute for a foul and continued to book players regularly in a game where there was not one dirty challenge. A block by Noble on Borini was, by the past record of the Preston-born whistler, a yellow and it would have evened the teams up at 10 each. He didn’t and the influential Noble played for another 15 minutes before he was withdrawn by Bilic.
So, another wasted opportunity to claim that first win and it is beginning to look a difficult task.
In the last two relegation seasons we have had eight and five points by the time of the October international break. Two years ago we had one and escaped after changing the manager. It looks like another managerial change and a new philosophy that may not suit the players that Advocaat specifically brought in to do a job – Lens, Toivonen and M’Vila may not be as central to Big Sam, say, as they were to Uncle Dick.
And (as we now know – Ed) this was his final game, then I wish Dick all the best. As the great EJ Thribb may have written:
So, goodbye then Dick Advocaat
You came from Holland to save Sunderland from relegation
And went back home when you heard that swan singing
Back to your roll mops and Edam (or Gouda) cheese
And Mrs Advocaat’s tulips
* And this is what Dick Advocaat had to say about his resignation: ‘I have made the decision to go after only eight games as I felt it was important to give everyone time turn things around – like we did last year. I am thankful to the chairman for understanding my feelings and I remain on good terms with everyone at the club.
‘I wish Ellis, Lee (Congerton), all of the staff, players and of course the supporters, who made me feel so welcome here, the very best of luck for the rest of the season. I have some wonderful memories to take.’
Malcolm Dawson writes…..on the way back from today’s game Pete Sixsmith got a text suggesting that Big Dick had checked out of the Ramside and sent flowers to the staff. Of course with the international break coming up maybe he’s just off to see the missus to tell her that today the boys in red and white played their hearts out. The first forty five minutes produced some great attacking football and we didn’t look like a team in crisis. We could and should have had more. Borini had two great chances and I thought we might have had a penalty but the added time curse struck and the second half was a different story. This was one of those games where both sets of supporters might have left feeling disappointed but surely no-one at today’s game could question the players’ attitude. Big Dick was happy. This may be his last e-mail to M. Salut. I hope he stays. I fear he won’t.
SUNDERLAND 2 WEST HAM UNITED 2
It’s the best game I’ve seen from our players; the way we played and got forward is what the fans like to see. We scored two beautiful goals; there was great movement and great action. The way we played the first half was of a really high standard.
At the end of the first half it was 2-1, had we gone in 2-0 of course it would have been better. We even had the chances to score 2 or 3 more goals, but it wasn’t to be.
After the red card it made it more difficult so I am happy with a point after that. The players gave everything and the crowd got right behind them, it was a joy to watch.
[Jeremain] Lens’ goal was particularly nice; [Steven] Fletcher’s was just as good and then the action we saw from Fabio [Borini] was great, he was finding space and if he had scored from the chances he had that would have been game over.
We just didn’t have any luck, that will change and I think we were the better side today. The players did very well, I’m very happy with their performance.
Malcolm Dawson writes….my choice of match today was Consett v Bradford Park Avenue in the FA Cup second qualifying round. And entertaining it was too with the the Yorkshire side fortunate to win with the last kick of the game after the referee, with whistle to his lips, failed to blow for a foul on a home side player. Consett had the better chances and could, probably should, have been 4-0 ahead before the introduction of a Tony Yeboah lookalike, against a side who normally play three levels lower in the football pyramid, changed the game. I didn’t know the score from Old Trafford as I got back in the car but there was no surprise forthcoming as the languid tones of Charlotte Green read out the results. Sometime tomorrow I’ll get Peter Sixsmith’s definitive report of events from Manchester which will surely give me a more accurate summation of the game than Big Dick’s post match e-mail does. It’s in his job description to point out the positives but today’s offering to M Salut and the world in general, really does seem to be scraping the barrel.
Manchester United are a very good side and we were really well organised in the first half. We hurt them a little bit on the break and they didn’t get a lot of chances. In that way we were doing well, but then in the last minute of the first half and the first minute of the second we found ourselves down 2-0.
We gave the game away in two minutes.
Last week it was the first few minutes, now the last minute [of the first half] and it’s totally different in the dressing room at half time than if you go in at 0-0.
Now we have several games up until towards the end of November where we need to get a few points.
Malcolm Dawson writes……….I thought we started well enough. I thought we might have grabbed the lead. But soon normal service (or lack of it) was resumed. A penalty down the other end of the ground looked soft from where I was sitting but I’ll wait for the highlights to see why it was awarded. We nearly scored at one end but were left exposed down the other as City, in their glow in dark kit, disguised themselves as stewards and so were ignored by our defence. One off the post that hit Don Vito and went in and another one that I’ll have to dig deep into the memory cells to recall at this time of night. Outclassed? Well I suppose so but I thought we looked OK in patches. Some potentially excellent passes were millimetres away from being perfect though others were miles away from their intended targets. Considering Lens and van Aanholt are both presumably bi-lingual their communication was non existent. Double Dutch perhaps? The bright spot of the evening was the new full back who looks like he might cut the mustard. I refuse to be downhearted. I still think we have the makings of a decent squad. Keeping the faith isn’t always easy and there’s almost certainly more disappointments ahead in the coming weeks. But hey this is Sunderland we are on about. What more can we expect? Anyway here’s what Dick has to say.
It’s strange because we were 4-0 down but I thought for the first 20-35 minutes we did very well against an extremely good side. We did well, we created chances and played good football. We gifted [Manchester City] three goals and then after that of course it was always going to be difficult to come back.
At half time I told the players we couldn’t go on the way we were; they had to go out and show their commitment to each other and to work for each other and make sure City didn’t score any more. That’s what we saw in the second half and we scored a goal.
We had some good opportunities in the game and I thought we played very positively. There will come a moment where that will pay off for us. We got forward and attacked.
Another disallowed goal in the game; it would seem luck is just not on our side at the moment, but this will change.
Overall, Manchester City were the better side. If Ola [Toivonen] had scored that early chance to make it 1-1 it could have been different, but it was not to be.