Didier Ngone – Bye bye Didi, Didi bye bye

Malcolm Dawson writes… …this afternoon’s announcement that the club has served notice on Didier Ndong has surely come as no surprise. The club’s record signing who stated his intention not to play for the club again could surely not have expected to be taken back into the fold after a five month no show. His return to Wearside over the weekend was perhaps the last throw of the dice for a player who must have lost at least £600,000 in wages after the club had rightly refused to pay him and on seeing the closure of the Portugese transfer window realised that he would be losing up to a £1 million and maybe more.

From Sunderland’s perspective, although I am sure that there are legal implications still impacting on their recruitment policy, officially getting him, together with Papi Djilobodji off the payroll, will make meeting Financial Fair Play requirements that much easier.

One can feel no sympathy for either of these players, both of whom reportedly had opportunities to sign for new clubs over the summer, which failed to materialise for whatever reason.  How much the players’ own greed or that of their agents affected these decisions I have no idea, but I applaud the new regime in charge of SAFC for their stance and their refusal to cow tow (kowtow/ kau tau / khàu-thâu) to these two and their representatives.

Ndong, now gone

What now for the two? I don’t know and I don’t really care. It is suggested the club will be looking to recoup some of the lost income they might have got from the sale of these players, although the costs involved in pursuing such a case through legal channels may prove to be prohibitive and I have no doubt the players and their representatives are considering counter action against the club.

They can surely have no case and the club can point to the way they have honoured their contracts with Cattermole and Oviedo, who are still on Premiership wages and to Kone and Khazri, who were both allowed to move on favourable terms.

We await developments. Meantime here is the club statement in full (courtesy of www.safc.com)….

Sunderland AFC has given notice under its contract with Didier Ndong.  The player, who was under contract with the club until June 2021, failed to return to Sunderland for pre-season training in July as scheduled, nor in the subsequent months that followed. No reason was given for his failure to report and continued absence. 

 As a result, the club has accepted Didier Ndong’s repudiatory breaches of contract and notice of the same has been provided to the player. Sunderland AFC does so whilst retaining the right to pursue the player and any club he may subsequently join in relation to compensation for the value of the player.

Sixer’s West Ham Soapbox: too late for positives

Malcolm Dawson writes………..if you believe the official figures, there were over 40,000 world weary souls at the Stadium of Light yesterday but that statistic includes all season card holders and by the number of pink seats visible, a good number of those had opted for another way of spending their Saturday.

Pete Sixsmith wasn’t one of them and was there as usual to witness a game highlighted by slack marking and missed opportunities from the home side. What made this different to so many others was that the boys in red and white actually found the net twice and it wasn’t Jermain Defoe who did so.

Pete’s report came in early this week as he is off to witness the delights of Ashton in Makerfield and other grounds on the North West Counties “Easter Ground Hop” itinerary, relaxed in the knowledge that next weekend he won’t have to file his copy to M Salut, what with Arsenal playing at Wembley and that.

WEST HAM UNITED (HOME)

I wonder what David Moyes is thinking now? Is there some satisfaction about breaking the run of defeats and ending the goal drought or is there the disappointment of failing to win and putting pressure on Cities Hull and Swansea, both of whom were well beaten away from home?

Is he satisfied with an improved performance from his players or is he seething about basic errors which cost us two goals as well as us missing at least one good chance to win the game?

Is he sanguine about the fair number of supporters who gave him the bird whenever he emerged from the relative security of the dug out or has he taken it to heart and is perhaps contemplating whether he has a future on Wearside?

One thing is for sure, the metaphorical nails are being banged into the metaphorical coffin and to mix metaphors, we are sliding through that trapdoor which will see us locking horns with The Bees from Brentford, The Robins from Bristol City and The Wolves from Wolverhampton. The Championship is awash with animal teams – alas, almost certainly no Magpies.

This was better in parts. There was a bit more verve about our play. From the kick off the recalled Wahbi Khazri ran with the ball and attacked the opposition – and we almost fashioned a chance. Up went the ball to the other end and your friend and mine (and I mean that most sincerely, folks) Mr Andre Marriner, booked Lee Cattermole for a collision with Andre Ayew. That meant our midfield maestro had to negotiate a possible 89 minutes without incurring the further wrath of a man who has sent him off twice in the past.

Not surprisingly it stilted Cattermole’s game, although it did allow Gibson and Ndong to play a more prominent role. Gibson had his best game for Sunderland, playing just in front of the back four and one missed shot apart, making a generally positive contribution. It was nice to see a midfielder making the odd telling pass and being able to control the ball. Ndong was busy and effective and is beginning to look a decent acquisition. Whether he can produce the goods on a wet and windy night at Barnsley is still to be discovered but I was impressed with his athleticism and his ability to pop up in unexpected places. Unfortunately, one of those was on the end of a lovely pass from Khazri which the Gabon international managed to blast into the North Stand.

a golden opportunity spurned

It was one of a trio of errors which cost us the win. The other two came in our box where Denayer failed to spot Ayew and he scored easily after Carroll had mis-kicked a cross from Byram. O’Shea pointed out to his central defensive colleague that he could have done better than he did. Denayer seemed to accept it. The other howler came a minute into the second half when a cross from Snodgrass was headed in by James Collins as our defence stood and watched him. Cue every one looking at each other and walking back to the centre circle sheepishly. Bah!!

To balance that, our two goals were also down to poor defending. The first equaliser came directly from a Khazri corner as Anichebe stopped the keeper from getting there first. Could have been an obstruction but really, Randolph should have done a lot better. For Borini’s goal, Randolph came a long way for a hopeful punt into the box and dropped the ball allowing Don Fabio to strike it cleanly into the net to salvage a deserved point.

It is too late to look for positives. Failure to win this game makes the task of staying up much harder but the team did show some fighting spirit and the team selection was better than it has been recently. Out went Kone who looks about as interested in being at Sunderland as George Osborne does at being a backbench MP. Out went Borini, a huge disappointment this season and in came Khazri. Out went Rodwell to be replaced by Gibson. Both of those changes were positive and made one wonder why both players had not been involved earlier.

So, David, why’s he had so little playing time?

Khazri looked the player he was 12 months ago and added pace and an ability to do something unexpected. It didn’t always come off but it was better than watching Januzaj ducking tackles (he came on and ducked one straight away) or Borini giving the ball away. But why was Anichebe played wide? We needed a win yet we still only played one man up front. In the past, Defoe has tortured Jose Fonte yet here, the far more robust Collins picked up our major threat. Had Anichebe been in the middle, Collins would have had to take him and that would have allowed Defoe to pile on the misery for the former Southampton man. But what do I know?

As for the manager, he is not popular. The boos that greeted him when he popped out of the dugout were extensive enough to worry him. The crowd have not yet turned but they may. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets at Middlesbrough a week on Wednesday from the travelling support. He strikes me as a man who will only change when he has to. I wonder how he felt when Khazri equalised and then went on to be our best player. Was Moyes genuinely pleased or did he grit his teeth and adopt a fixed smile? I hope Vikki Sparks wasn’t there to interrogate him post-match.

As for West Ham, they flattered to deceive as they usually do. I thought Snodgrass was particularly disappointing and looked poor value for money. I didn’t rate the keeper either and they may well be looking for a new coach in the summer. Bilic has probably done all he can with them. At least we will be spared a visit to their awful stadium – and probably for a few years.

We have another weekend off because of Arsenal’s involvement in the FA Cup semi-finals. Their fans will be sharpening the knives ready to plunge them into Arsene should Manchester City beat them. The pampered denizens of Highbury and Islington should try being Sunderland supporters; now that would test them.

Jake shows the way to go home

Moyes on the boys v Spurs: It’s a good point

Jake’s take on this season’s manager

John McCormick writes: I had a slow-to-stop feed and couldn’t get the audio from the SAFC website so I have very little to go on. I did think this was a hard fought point and that we made, and needed, our luck.

What of Mr. Moyes, who had a ringside seat with no stuttering, pauses or (thankfully) crashes. Here’s what he said after the game:

Read moreMoyes on the boys v Spurs: It’s a good point

From our own correspondent at AFCON: out of Africa with Ndong and Khazri

Jim Minton, with new friends

Jim Minton makes a welcome return to the pages of Salut! Sunderland with a Sunderland fan’s eye witness appraisal of the Africa Cup of Nations. He has been there with a Chelsea-supporting friend, watched two SAFC players (but not, sadly, Kone) in action and offers these impressions before he heads with heavy heart to the Hawthorns on Saturday …

The African Cup of Nations gets a bit of an unfair press back in the UK. Managers and fans tend only to bemoan the loss of key players to what they perceive as a Mickey Mouse competition involving countries that most of us couldn’t readily locate on a map.

That’s a pity, however, as AFCON is, behind the World Cup and UEFA European Championships the third biggest international competition, with many top quality players spread throughout the 16 teams.

And while pretty much the only stories you read about African countries in the news are that they are dangerous, war torn or poverty stricken, being present at the tournament is a welcome reminder that for the most part the continent is peaceful, friendly and an amazing place to spend time.

Gabon is the host country for AFCON 2017, and me and my mate Mark decided, to the slight puzzlement of some friends, that we fancied a bit of an adventure. So we have spent a week here in Libreville enjoying the sights and sounds of the first week of the tournament.

For the uninitiated, Gabon is on the coast of West Africa and straddles the equator. “Just below the armpit,” one local told us. Which is appropriate, given the amount of sweat the tropical climate has wrung out of me.

Gabon is also, by coincidence, the birthplace of Sunderland’s record signing, Didier Ibrahim Ndong. Like the tournament, Didier himself divides opinion, with some believing we’ve overspent on an average player while others, like me, see a lad with potential, but struggling for consistency in an awful side.

Ndong

 

So as well as offering the chance to experience a new culture, see different cities and sample exotic foods, the tournament presented an opportunity to see Ndong in a different context, alongside his Gabonese colleagues, as they played out their opening matches at the Stade Amitie in Libreville.

The stadium was built for the 2012 tournament – which Gabon co-hosted with Equatorial Guinea – and is in very good condition. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for transport access.

As in much of Africa, infrastructure is a big challenge in Gabon: simply, the population and the number of cars have grown far faster in recent years than the government’s ability to build roads. Hence, gridlock. If you think the new West Ham ground is a pain to get to, try sitting in 30 degree heat for 90 minutes in non-moving traffic, being serenaded by lorry loads of horn blasting, dancing, exuberant young men. Like an Eddie Murphy film, it’s fun for a while, and has memorable moments, but in the end you can’t wait to get out of your seat.

The tournament scheduling gave us the chance to see two days of double-headers within Group A, featuring the hosts Gabon, unfancied Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso – who’d reached the final in 2013 – and one of the big guns, Cameroon.

Our friendly Gabonese host purchased our tickets locally for 2000 Central African Francs (or about 3 euros) for the first pair of games. We met a lad from Ireland who’d bought his through a travel agent, shelling out an eye watering 80 euros for the pleasure.

On both days, the atmosphere in and around the ground was fantastic – just as exciting as being part of a big crowd at a game in England, but different: although supporters here passionately back their team – through costume, song and dance – it feels celebratory rather than confrontational.

This may partly be explained by the fact that as a relatively rich country, Gabon hosts a large number of workers from other west African nations= So the guy we sat next to was a Cameroon supporter, who like many others in the stadium had built his life in Gabon. But without being starry eyed about it, there did seem to be a camaraderie and spirit of supporting “the game” as well as the team.

This makes it easy as a neutral to enjoy matches, and it is certainly colourful and noisy. Also despite the heavy corporate sponsorship – which may grate on some – the advertising hoardings at every game do carry a message on behalf of the AFCON Foundation which expresses hope for a healthy, educated, empowered youth to make a better future for Africa, which feels a positive and welcome statement.

All photos taken or supplied by Jim Minton

The four matches we saw were overall pretty good – and the consensus among the fans was that this tournament has already created more on-pitch quality than previous editions managed.

The hosts, Gabon, look the weakest of all the Group A sides. Their talisman and main striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has so far kept them in it with a goal in each of their games (one from a penalty he won) but on both occasions they’ve ended up drawing – first to Guinea Bissau, then Burkina Faso – and could have easily lost.

Sunderland’s Ndong has played in both games. Being the only Gabonese in the premier league, he is something of a celebrity here, but chatting to the fans in the bars around the ground their view was that while Gabon generally were “not good enough”, Didier was, “just about better than most”.

In the first game he was tidy, heavily involved and composed throughout; in the second, however, he turned in an error-strewn display – no worse than most of his team mates, but not really much better. Let’s hope he will do himself justice in the last group game versus Cameroon on Sunday.

Cameroon look the strongest side in the group. They drew versus Burkina Faso, shipping a late equaliser after missing some good chances but turned round a one nil deficit to beat Guinea Bissau 2-1 in a tremendous game featuring one of the best goals I’ve seen for some time: Bissau’s Brito Silva “Piqueti” ran virtually the length of the pitch before lashing the ball home to wild applause all around the stadium.

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Guinea Bissau look a team that is much better than the sum of its parts – largely Portuguese second division players – but, like Iceland last year, a lot can be achieved with good organisation and team spirit. And Burkina, who have two creditable draws, look good while lacking cutting edge.

Our days between games gave us the chance to watch the rest of the tournament in the comfort of Libreville’s beach bars. The highlight so far has been Zimbabwe surprising – and almost beating – Riyad Mahrez’s Algeria.

The Zimbabweans recovered from going an early goal down to lead 2-1 and had chances to extend their lead before Mahrez struck his second with less than 10 minutes to go.

As a measure of the interest here in the tournament – and perhaps a reality check to the cheerleaders for the Premier League’s global dominance – in a busy bar in Gabon, the locals voted overwhelmingly to keep watching the Afcon game, even though Man United and Liverpool were grunting out a 1-1 draw on the other channel. We voted with them, and we were rewarded with a classic.

The other games haven’t hit those heights, but Wahbi Khazri put in an excellent performance as a second half sub for Tunisia against a strong Senegal; he had a number of efforts on goal, including a trade mark in-swinging corner which looked like it crossed the line (but there is no hawk-eye in Gabon) and made himself busy and productive over a very good 45 minutes. Tunisia failed to take their chances, though, and ended up losing 2-0.

Our trip ended after a week. It had been a great adventure, and the few days had given us a great flavour of what – despite snootiness of the Premier League and its acolytes in the British media – is actually an exciting and good quality tournament, worthy of support and respect from anyone who enjoys football.

For anyone interested, the next African Nations’ will be in Cameroon in Jan-Feb 2019. If you like football, good company, a bit of an adventure and can stand the tropical heat, then why not give it a try. At least you’ll see a tournament where you won’t have to worry about England disappointing; and you never know, a Sunderland player might make himself a global hero. Although he’d probably still have his critics back at home.


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Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: Watford come unstuck as PvA scores for Sunderland

Jake: ‘one nowt’ – that’ll dae

Malcolm Dawson writes……..Pete Sixsmith was at the match yesterday but today he’s tied up with festive duties spreading peace and merriment in the heart of Magland so it falls on me to leave the subs’ bench and step up onto the soapbox to bring you my take on yesterday’s proceedings.

Malcolm Dawson borrows Sixer’s soapbox

Sunderland 1 – Watford 0

It’s weird being a Sunderland fan. At least I find it so. The news coming out of the club this week should have had me feeling depressed – or at least a little pessimistic but strangely I wasn’t. The fact that Moyes suggests he was made promises that aren’t going to be kept came as no surprise. The revelation that there was to be no repeat of a January spending spree come the New Year wasn’t a revelation at all and the latest long term injury to Jan Kirchhoff just another setback in a long line of setbacks. Kirchhoff is in my view a quality player but the number of games he has missed means he is a luxury that the club can’t afford. I don’t expect him to be a Sunderland player next season.

The home defeat to Chelsea midweek wasn’t a surprise but I thought there were enough positives in that game to make me feel that we might just have enough to stay up again. If we do however, it will be because there are at least a dozen teams who are sufficiently lacking in quality to make the relegation struggle a contest. Watford, despite their relatively secure league position are one of those teams and this was a winnable game. For us not just winnable but one that we needed to win, Burnley being the next with anything gleaned from the Manchester United and Liverpool games a welcome bonus. I’m trying not to think about the effect that the African Cup of Nations and the fact we could lose players in the next window will have on the club with the visit of Stoke and a trip to the Hawthorns, early in 2017 other games we should be targetting. For now I’ll stay positive.

David Moyes didn’t have a lot to think about ahead of this game in terms of team selection with only thirteen fit, first team outfield players and Donald Love to choose from. Watford play a 3-4-3 formation similar to Chelsea but unlike in midweek Moyes decided not to go with the three centre back system and with John O’Shea rested, the personnel available meant that the team he put out yesterday was overloaded with predominantly attacking players. The good news was that Anichebe was back to add a bit of muscle to an otherwise lightweight midfield and forward line.

Watford on the other hand, physically resembled a pub team with a whole batch of top heavy, stocky, muscle bound players. Either that or they were wearing four shirts to fight the North East cold. Kone and Anichebe are pretty solid players but compared to Deeney, Zuniga and Ighalo they appeared svelte like.

Our record signing

With a flat back four, Denayer and Ndong were likely to be expected to do the bulk of the midfield defensive work, though Borini is tireless in his commitment and he and Big Vic covered the full backs whenever they could. Januzaj drifted behind Defoe, sometimes playing wide left and linking up with PvA, sometimes right with Love and Borini and looking more interested than he has in the past. He has undoubted ability and the way he can turn a man and hang onto the ball under pressure could be real assets as the season goes on.

So to the game. Unlike a fortnight ago I was in my seat with time to spare and ready for another immaculately observed silence to remember the players and supporters of the club who had passed away this year.

I can probably count on my fingers how many times we have attacked the North Stand end in the first half since the Stadium opened but we did so yesterday and forced a corner in the first minute when Kaboul tried to shepherd the ball out of play and instead nudged it over the line when under pressure from JD. He got a good reception from the home support and wasn’t jeered as some TV pundits would have us believe. I suppose “Kaboooooooul” might sound like “Booooooo” to the untrained ear. The corner was played short to Defoe and eventually he set up Djilobodji who could get no power on his header and the corner came to nothing.

Within a minute The Hornets had one of their own. It was cleverly worked with the ball sent straight to Amrabat, unmarked on the edge of the area. He crashed a volley straight towards the top right corner of Pickford’s goal and forcing the type of save which shows why he is being tipped as a future international.

The worrying thing for me, and I hope the coaching staff is the movement of our players at set pieces. We didn’t concede yesterday but watch the replays and see all the red and white shirts move away from the centre of the goal towards the ball, leaving one or two Watford players unmarked behind them. It would have only taken a slight flick at the near post to leave an opponent with a clear shot on goal.

Donald Love who did well when he replaced the injured Billy Jones on Wednesday was having another decent game and it was his touch which diverted a Deeney cross just enough to take it away from the foot of Ighalo who would surely have scored.

Just before the half hour mark, Denayer committed a foul a yard from the goal line and just outside the box. The ball found its way to the far post and with three Watford players queuing up it found the head of Britos, who found the head of Kaboul who showed why he was such a useful defender in red and white as his deflection sent it harmlessly wide of the post.

That said we had a few chances ourselves, the best falling to Anichebe whose powerful run down the left wing took him into the box, towards the near post where his side-footed shot was blocked by a covering defender as he attempted to curl it around Gomez into the far corner.

We had another when PvA received the ball in an offside position but the flag stayed down and he forced Gomez into a save at the near post just as the half time whistle was raised to Bobby Madeley’s lips.

Some lovely touches

We did what we had to do in the 2nd half. Denayer had been industrious all game and won the ball inside his own half and gave a short simple pass to Januzaj. The Kosovan/Albanian/Belgian turned his man beautifully and released a peach of a through ball to JD who looked up and found PvA on the edge of the six yard box. Van Aanholt was in the right place at the right time to swivel on a sixpence (look it up younger readers) and slot home what would prove to be the winner.

Despite my concern at our defensive co-ordination from set pieces the Djilibodji/Kone partnership is starting to repay the faith that Moyes has had in both players. It is rare that clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea ever sign duff players and both Jason Denayer and Papy Djilibodji are beginning to show the potential that made them attractive signings, even though both were loaned out and saw little first team action. Ndong on the other hand, did some excellent covering work and was winning the ball well in midfield only to let himself down by being caught in possession or by making a misplaced pass and giving the opposition the ball back. Fortunately Watford had players who could emulate him and we had more possession in the second half. Defoe had a decent long range effort that went wide then in a carbon copy of the move that had brought the goal Januzaj won the ball deep in our half, slipped his man and pushed forward before setting up Defoe. This time with no supporting player JD drove into the box but lost possession before he could trouble the keeper.

Sixer off the soapbox and on the sleigh today

Watford entered into the festive spirit as their subs warmed up looking a lot like Santa’s elves – that post match analogy care of Mr Sixsmith which he delivered complete with a Government elf warning as we trooped back to the car. Even at a game he is obsessing about his festive duties.

Despite my arthritic knees, I was on my feet to celebrate Victor Anichebe’s 62nd minute goal until I realised that it had flashed just wide. Januzaj on the right wing back heeled the ball to Love whose cross found the big man on the edge of the penalty area and from my seat in the East Stand it looked for all the world as if it was on target. Not to be but we were having the better of the second half and the crowd who had been a little subdued in the first period were in fine voice. Keep it up lads and lasses – it can only help the team.

There were a few more heart in mouth moments, I am never happy when two goals up never mind one and Pickford made a great save from an effort that was flagged offside before making two in quick succession as the clock ticked down.

Watford will probably feel they deserved a point but we just about edged it in my view. We have come away with nothing on plenty of occasions when we should have had something so it’s nice to get a battling three points.

For once we are not on the bottom at Christmas. Can we hope that we are out of the bottom three by F.A. Cup weekend? Well the Swansea result should teach us not to count our Christmas turkeys but we can hope.

Merry Christmas and Ha’way the Lads.

Devil’s Advocate: Ndong in Gabon and a few home truths

Malcolm Dawson writes…….Rob Hutchison is a man of few words when sending us his post match ratings but every now and then he expands his thinking and tackles the issues that we might bounce about in the pub over a few bevvies. Today in the latest of his offerings where he plays devil’s advocate, he asks can we build a fortress out of plastic and card and has our record buy got what it takes? 

Rob as seen by Jake
Rob as seen by Jake

It’s just so Sunderland isn’t it?

Win a game memorably, get a bounce and then the predictable one step backwards lurches into view.

Didier Ndong arrived with a reputation and plethora of red and yellow cards. This week Gabon notified he’d been sent home for failing to show up for International duty. Reportedly in the capital Libreville since the Monday but failed to show up for training on Tuesday. Granted the rest of the players, by all accounts, were treating it like party week just days after Gabon appointed a new manager but for a player who’s hardly setting his club alight, it potentially gives us a taste of things to come from DND when the going gets tough. And therein lies the problem.
Whilst the fee we paid for him is not his fault, we’re seeing just about zilch from him at the moment. The odd shot (Bournemouth) the odd assist (QPR) and that been about it apart from a lot of anonymity and dreadful misplaced passes. I was excited when we signed him, but he’s showing precious little at present, and it will be interesting to see if Seb pips him for a starting berth against Hull or as will be more likely, comes off the bench to help us retrieve a point.

Onto Hull, yes, yum yum. One of our bogey teams? Probably. But 40,000 clap banners should whisk up an atmosphere eh? WTF? How we laughed when Norwich and Leicester called to arms with the fearsome clap banners of justice. “Never happen at our club would it?” Wrong. They’re here for Hull, and maybe with a drum for the long term.

You’d think an intern had been tasked with invigorating the SoL atmosphere – you know a lad dropped in somewhere and given a project to play with and keep him quiet for few days. But no! Even money says our new chief executive who wants to sort things out top to bottom think this is the answer. If this is the case, and of course I may be completely wrong, it show how little he really knows about the fabric of our club, our roots, heritage, why we do it week in week out, traipse up and down the country like lemmings to a cliff. The moment you try and manufacture something artificial and cosmetic to give a desired perception and result, you’ve lost the plot, sold the soul, gone down the river. Building a fortress I bet we’d be told. Aye, might as well use cardboard and sticky backed plastic.
Hey Martin, you want to sort it out, here’s the plan . . . . took me hours to come up with this one mind . . .  win some home games.
All the best . . . .  Rob

Sixer’s West Ham Soapbox: late pressing by Irons brings another defeat

Malcolm Dawson writes……….Pete Sixsmith is used to getting up early, what with next door but one’s dog to walk and the papers to deliver to the great and good of Shildon, so catching the coach to West Ham was no hardship. Watching the match might have been but for 94 minutes it looked like he could have been celebrating a 50 per cent improvement in our points total on the long journey home. That he wasn’t isn’t a novelty, but still he goes along most weeks to bring you his insightful views of how the Lads performed. Here’s what he rattled off before journeying forth to take in the Under 23s’ match this lunchtime.

westhamsoapbox

Read moreSixer’s West Ham Soapbox: late pressing by Irons brings another defeat

Sixer’s West Brom Soapbox: disappointing draw leaves victory ale unopened

Malcolm Dawson writes……For some reason I found it hard to get fully involved in this game yesterday and my attention was wandering for significant periods of play. Had my school report been based on the way I viewed this match, it would have read “must learn to concentrate and pay more attention.” I don’t know why I was so easily distracted, but there were times yesterday when I was considering when it is better to lead an Ace against a No Trump contract, trying to remember the lyrics to John Shuttleworth’s “Can’t Go Back to Savoury Now” or whether or not I really should do a round on 1980s aftershaves the next time I do the questions for The Red Lion Quiz night.

I’m sure I’ve seen worse games, in fact I know I have. Maybe it’s just the resignation that comes from seeing too many disappointing performances. This was a run of the mill game that didn’t get me excited at all. I didn’t think we were outplayed but I’m going through a phase (who isn’t?) where I am more geared up to see the team fail than succeed. Perhaps my diffidence is a natural self defence strategy to save me from yet more heartache. Peter Sixsmith, ace Salut! Sunderland match reporter, is made of sterner stuff and fully focused on what went on to bring us his views on the game at the Stadium of Light yesterday.

wbasoapboxAt home, I have a bottle of Bateman’s Victory Ale. It came in a four pack of that Lincolnshire brewers good, honest ales and instead of quaffing it at the same time as the Dark Lord, the XXXB and the Combined Harvester, I kept it in order to toast our opening win in the Premier League. It looks like it is going to remain unopened for quite a while.
Here was another opportunity to open the account for the season that went begging. The Baggies are a decent side, not quite as effective as Crystal Palace, but they controlled this game for a large section of the ninety minutes and had they had a little more push about them, they could well have won it. The introduction of someone with pace eg Berahino might well have caught our tiring defenders out at the end. Let’s be grateful for the Pulis philosophy of “a point away from home is a good point”.

Had Jermain Defoe taken that chance in the fourth minute (and it was of the type that he often puts away), the complexion of the game might have changed. Had he taken the other one in the second half when we were on a bit of a charge, it might well have done the same.

Having said that, Defoe looked the only Sunderland player likely to score until the team’s second top league scorer, Patrick Van Aanholt arrived on the scene as a midfielder. This was probably the most interesting substitution that the manager has made all season. As Jan Kirchhoff was carried off, we expected to see Jack Rodwell come on and fill the space in midfield. As it was the serially disappointing Rodwell replaced McNair a little later and offered very little.

Instead, we saw Moyes switch to three central defenders with Denayer joining John O’Shea and Kone across the middle with Manquillo and Van Aanholt pushing up. It looked better and the hitherto comfortable Baggies found themselves under pressure. It ended with Watmore linking well with Van Aanholt and the Dutchman shanked home an equaliser to the relief of an increasingly tetchy crowd, who had spent most of the time jeering James McClean.

Jake says "PvA better off in midfield?"
Jake says “PvA better off in midfield?”

Pulis took McClean off which allowed Manquillo to push forward and the Atletico Madrid loanee looks far better going forward than he does defending. He learnt from last week’s aberration and kept his hands to himself this time. He can leave gaps at the back when he attacks, but if we had any kind of pattern in our play those gaps would be filled by someone else.

I said in the Seven that we were “papering over the cracks.” For all that O’Shea had an excellent game, how long can we rely on a 35 year old at the heart of the defence? For this game, he was dragging Lamine Kone along with him. Kone looked disinterested at times and it was his carelessness that left the impressive Nacer Chadli with a clear run on goal, which he rounded off with the kind of finish we have come to associate with Defoe. When Kone arrived, we saw a dominant central defender who attacked the ball and used it well. He had the ability to become the next Charlie Hurley or Dave Watson. But he has looked ordinary this season and although not quite the next Steve Hetzke, his name may be mentioned alongside Anton Ferdinand and Stan Varga as central defenders who start well and then slide into mediocrity. It looks like he misses Younes Kaboul, who has spent time warming the bench at Vicarage Road. What was it that Allardyce did to inspire these two at the back end of last season?

The main problem we have is the pedestrian nature of our midfield. Khazri buzzed around and contributed an awful lot more than Januzaj, dubbed the new Le Tallec by one reader, has done recently. He received a warm hand shake from the manager when he was eventually replaced by Lyndon Gooch at the end. He now has to show that he is an “away” player in the cauldron that is the Municipal Incinerator Stadium in two weeks’ time.

Could be money well spent but can he shoot?
Could be money well spent but can he shoot?

Other than that there was plenty of hard graft in the centre of the park but no quality and the final ball was poor. Ndong looks like he could be a good player but doesn’t shoot. Kirchhoff looks as if he is having a serious dose of second season syndrome and does not shoot. McNair looked hopelessly out of his depth, like the little kid who has been invited to play with the big boys on the rec and can’t handle the switch from a Frido ball to a casey. He doesn’t shoot either. Oh for a Tony Towers…..

The crowd stuck with the team (although large numbers went for an early visit to the loo and a pint when we went a goal down – Ed) although we know that this will be a long and difficult season and that relegation is a probability rather than a possibility. The manager is honest about the issues that face us and he knows that, unless he can bring in another two forwards and a creative midfielder who can score, trips to Nottingham and Newcastle will be on the agenda for next season. Where he finds these players is anybody’s guess. Would any self-respecting agent really want to place his player with a club like ours who struggle every season?
And if they do, what is the guarantee that anyone would stay? The Daily Telegraph might want to look at the series of terminally poor signings that Sunderland have made over the last five years. Graham, N’Diaye, Altidore, Diakite, Cabral, Lens, Bridcutt, Buckley, Pantilimon to name but a few and I am sure that the readers could add more.

We have a break from the misery of the Premier League for a couple of weeks which may give the manager time to think about what he is going to do for the period up until we can bring in reinforcements. It will probably be another wallpaper job and the deep seated problems that exist in the club will continue long after David Moyes has left unless something is done sooner rather than later. But don’t ask me how.

Finally, for the second week running, the away support has been desperately poor. I thought that Albion would have brought more than Palace but there were 200 or so fewer. Is the Premier League losing its magic for the fans of clubs who know that mid table respectability/obscurity is the sum total of their ambitions? If so, can someone please offer an explanation as to why we have sold our entire allocation for a visit to Stoke-on-Trent? You never know, I might just uncork the Bateman’s after that.

Hutch’s one-word ratings: Ndong stands out in win at QPR

Rob: the road to another final?
Rob: the road to another final?

Rob Hutchison enjoys a winning Sunderland game and a hugely encouraging star role for Didier (or Ibrahim – take your pick) Ndong. ‘Songs I never thought I’d hear,’ says Rob. ‘Paddy McNair, he scores when he wants.’ Up and running. Made to work for it mind. Moyes does have a plan after all…

Read moreHutch’s one-word ratings: Ndong stands out in win at QPR

Chirpy Chirpy – no. Cheap Cheap – no. But what about Middle of the Road?

John McCormick: bored
John McCormick.

There are times when contributors to this site hark back to the music of yesterday, and today is no exception. The transfer window’s  shut (you can insert any other vowel of your choice if you wish) leaving me feeling underwhelmed, and a song from 1971 or thereabouts is in my mind. Not because I like it (I didn’t then and still don’t now). Not because it got to number 1 (it did, but then so did Benny Hill with a song about a milkman). It’s because of the refrain which starts the song and echoes throughout it.

Only, not quite. The song, “Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep” begins, “Where’s your momma gone?”, but my mind is playing it as “where’s the money gone?”

It has gone, and it’s a lot of money, which explains a great deal.

Read moreChirpy Chirpy – no. Cheap Cheap – no. But what about Middle of the Road?