My “how’s it going?” piece went up on Friday, as per usual over the last few international breaks, and elicited few responses, as per usual over the last few seasons. I had expected one or two Coventry ninjas (there can’t be many more than two) to pick up the series and comment but it appears to be beyond them.
Not that it matters. One appreciative reader, Edward, made a comment and that got me thinking, so I did a bit of fiddling with the spreadsheet and here we are.
In some ways this post is similar to Friday’s. However, there is not only an update there’s also a change of emphasis. Sunderland, of course, are the main focus but, for the first time this season, Walsall and Doncaster come into the discussion, which is something they’ve merited for a while, and I’ve also included Accrington, new entrants to the play-off spots
With a break this weekend it’s time to revisit our “Ones to watch”.
If you’ve been following this series you’ll remember that we’re tracking six clubs over the course of the season. The six were chosen by a people’s vote,that new tool of democracy, with the club which came top of the poll – Coventry City – also providing a baseline against which the other five will be compared.
If you’re wondering how Coventry came to be chosen click the hyperlinks at the bottom of the page. (And if you want to see how I’ve followed our selected teams in previous seasons you can follow this link ).
UPDATE: we saw the poll had grown, improbably, to 11,000+ votes with Coventry way out in front on 26 per cent. Couldn’t blame Jimmy Hill this time but something was clearly up. For the culprits, go to the Coventry site Sky Blues Talk … but don’t get too cross as our lot would gladly have done the same to them. The poll, unsurprisingly, is suspended …
After Colin reposted our “who’s going up?” poll (on the left, below) in one of the Question and Answer sessions with our owners there was brief flurry of voting, as you might have expected given the number of visitors we had. And then things slowed down until, by the weekend, things were at a trickle, although votes were and are still coming in. Again, this was to be expected as the eyes of the football world were on Russia, where eight or nine ex-Sunderland players were taking part in the World’s most prestigious competition outside the Third Division. We now have over 800 votes cast, which is enough to be going on with, although Colin in his gut feeling poll, had almost as many when only one vote was allowed per person.
“this is predominantly a Sunderland site and we aren’t claiming results are totally unbiased… …Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that SAFC fans have not been blindly optimistic.”
After only a week I would not able to add a lot to this statement, were it not for two things. The first is that the poll was tagged to promote it to all League One fans for over 24 hours before it was promoted on our facebook page and then on Colin’s subsequent posts on this site. This gave us a small (very small, as it happens) hint of what the whole of the League One fanbase might think. The second was that Colin’s own poll closed, with some findings we can bring to bear on this one.
Malcolm Dawson writes…he’s back. Our man of few words with his summation of last night’s players’ performances. Rob Hutchison was at the Keepmoat and as equally unimpressed as Pete Sixsmithwhose report you can read here. The plan is that Rob’s marks and one word ratings will appear after every Sunderland game he attends in the forthcoming season – which will be most if not all. I’m not sure whether he’s off to Germany or not but if he is I hope that he has more to look forward to than just the match.
Have I missed anyone? – Probably!
Lens . . . best player you’ve seen in a Sunderland shirt since . . . . .
Malcolm Dawson writes…I was tied up until 5.00pm but considered making the trip to South Yorkshire until first hand reports of hold ups on the A19 and A1(M) and the prospect of my Wednesday fix of real ale and pub trivia made my mind up for me. By the sound of it I made a good decision. Yesterday morning I was on the phone to a mate of mine who is a Leicester fan and providing me with free B&B for a few days either side of the game at the King Power stadium. It’s not much consolation but he was even more gloomy about the Foxes’ prospects for the up and coming season than I was about ours. But Pete Sixsmith is made of sterner stuff and he combined a trip to see the Development Squad on Tuesday with the delights of “Open All Hours” Doncaster. Like the weather in the North East this morning he is feeling decidedly gloomy.
DISAPPOINTMENT IN DONCASTER.
In George Orwell’s political fable “Animal Farm”, the easily led sheep constantly chant the mantra “four legs good, two legs bad” whenever things appeared to be going not quite as well as the beasts expected.
Our mantra is “a good pre-season equals a poor start to the real thing” while “a poor pre-season equals a good start to the real thing.” On the evidence of last night at The Keepmoat Stadium, we will be dominating the early minutes of Match of the Day and forcing large numbers of pundits to eat their words.
This did not make pleasant viewing as we played the only worthwhile friendly that most fans could actually get to. The club hierarchy are very sensible in fixing up games as far away from the North East as possible as performances like this will do little or nothing to assuage the concerns that many supporters have regarding season number nine in the Premier League.
Let’s deal with the positives first. Jermaine Lens looked a good player. He has pace, imagination and a desire to run at defenders, something which we have lacked ever since we arrived back in the promised land of milk, honey and huge TV fees. He could act as a catalyst for the rest of the team and, with a reasonably competent centre forward could enable us to make that good start that the mantra suggests. And apart from that, not a great deal to lighten a mood already low after days of continuous rain and a long journey back from South Yorkshire last night due to the Highways Agency closing the A1(M) at Wetherby.
Younes Kaboul moved quickly when he came on in the second half although he was turned very easily by a pacy Rovers side that played some good football. He showed enthusiasm and I imagine that he will be used extensively during the campaign – if he can remain fit.
But all the old weaknesses were there and on display. Fletcher was dominated by a good third level centre half and looked as if he couldn’t wait to get away. He was replaced by Danny Graham at half time and for all his efforts, he is very clearly not a top class player. His anticipation and movement are poor and his control patchy. He might chase balls down, but next door’s Border collie does that.
Johnson played just behind the forwards and showed some decent touches but it looked like a role was being created for him rather than him fitting into a role. Obviously there are serious matters on his mind and maybe he needs to play to take his mind off them.
On the evidence presented here, the idea of a midfield three is struggling. Cattermole did not look comfortable as the central player as one midfield player less meant that he had to use the ball far more creatively – and this is an area of his game which he has always struggled with. He can chase, harry and tackle but he cannot pick out a pass and he cannot push forward. Rodwell is the man who should push forward for us and this he did in the early stages. But he faded away and, by the time Bridcutt replaced him, he was a peripheral figure and had played a major part in giving away the second and decisive goal. It is a huge season for a man who was the heartbeat of David Moyes’ side at Goodison four years ago. Things improved when Larsson arrived in the second half and Lens moved to the left. The Swede gave us a lot more thrust in the central areas and we did begin to create chances – but they were not taken. Giaccherini (underwhelming I’m afraid) missed a couple of good ones and Johnson needed too many touches. The Rovers keeper, Stuckmann, made some good saves but we never convinced at the top end of the pitch.
Defensively, both goals were sloppy and worrying. For the first, the defence was pulled around and both full backs (Jones and Van Aanholt) were culpable, one for allowing the cross, the other for not picking up at the far post. For the second, a poor clearance by Rodwell was despatched past Pantilimon with some aplomb by Forrester, a busy centre forward for the South Yorkshire team. There was little possibility of us coming back from that.
The 2,500 supporters who had made the trip were sanguine but disappointed. There is a growing acceptance that this is going to another difficult season and if we start poorly, it could be even more difficult than is anticipated. It is stating the bleedin’ obvious, but we still need a creative midfield player and a one who can and will fight for the ball and when he gets it, puts it in the net. There did not appear to be anyone there last night who can do that. Defoe was a peripheral figure and Wickham was injured. We can write off Fletcher and Graham as not good enough.
One more game in Hannover and I will be relying on second hand reports for that one. The weekend is taken up by a ground hop in Rutland – The Rutland Weekend Groundhop, with Nasty, Stig, Dirk and Barry. It must be love.
Malcolm Dawson writes…what do we want from pre-season friendlies? Well I would like to see some indication that the team has an idea as to how it’s going to play, the manager has an idea who his starting XI is and that we supporters can derive at least some satisfaction from the performances and some confidence that we will be alright when the new season starts. Precious little of any of that so far. I can’t help but feel that the U.S.A. leg of the tour was a big mistake from a footballing perspective. I’m sure those in charge of finances and “brand promotion” had their reasons but travelling so far and training in the kind of heat that requires air conditioning inside cars and buildings can’t be the best way to prepare a team for a forthcoming English season. It is part of the brief that any post match communication has some positive message for the fans. This post Doncaster e-mail sent in Dick’s name to M Salut and anyone else who reads it contains little to comfort those of us concerned about the result – pre-season or not and focusses on something that we all knew already.
DONCASTER ROVERS 2 SUNDERLAND 0
The fitness has to be there but it was a poor result tonight, hopefully on Saturday we can show how far we are we are with our progress when we face Hannover.
Everybody could see how well Jeremain [Lens] played and [Younes] Kaboul also did very well when he came off the bench for the second half.
The fans were excellent today and they came down in their numbers, making the long journey to back their team for 90 minutes and we need to reward their loyal support over the course of the season.
Pete Sixsmith had already seen the first team pre-season when they came from behind to beat Evostik Premier League side Darlington at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland. Having decided to not to make the trip to the U.S.A. and Canada here was his second opportunity to see how the Lads were progressing in their build up to the forthcoming Premiership Campaign. Here in the first of his seven word summaries for 2015-2016 he appears completely underwhelmed by their performance in South Yorkshire.
Doncaster Rovers (1) 2 SAFC (0) 0 : A mixture of disappointment and apprehension – worrying!