The Lars Word: six things Big Sam has brought to Sunderland

Lars Knutsen - Wearside through and through
Lars Knutsen – Wearside through and through

Malcolm Dawson writes…….Lars Knutsen might sound as if he was brought up on gravadlax and smorgasbord but with his East Boldon roots he is more of a corned beef and potato pie or stotty cake kind of guy. Having said that he now spends time working in the US but will soon be back in the UK to take in a few games and see extended family. Kudos to him for predicting Sam’s arrival at the club in his last column. Here is the latest of his occasional observations of what’s going on at the Stadium of Light in which he reflects on the impact that Big Sam Allardyce has brought to Wearside.

Lars Knutsen touching base
Lars Knutsen touching base

So where are we now as a football club?

Big Sam has been appointed to stabilise matters and has already given us a fighting chance of avoiding the drop. There is still a long way to go, and it has been tough for him in many ways; coming in, hitting the ground running and having to instantly assess the players at his disposal, make an impression with the media, and to settle into his new rôle.

I will say he already seems to have won the respect of everybody, aside from a couple of miserable, headline-seeking Daily Mail journalists. It is of course on the field where he will be judged, and winning two games in a row has changed the whole complexion of the season. Allardyce seems like a man who is now in the perfect job for him and his personality, in the right place at the right time.

I do feel a certain level of satisfaction having predicted Sam Allardyce being hired into the club. I quote from my last “The Lars Word” piece in June of this year:

“So we are now looking forward to 2015-16 in the hope that the “Advocaat effect” is extended into the new season and next year, with future transition to another experienced manager who can bring consistent success to the Stadium of Light. That choice will be absolutely crucial, and my vote would be for our former player Sam Allardyce, after his planned sabbatical. ”

The “Advocaat Effect” just did not materialise in the current season for a whole series of reasons, which I will not speculate about at this time. The Dutchman, who we will always be grateful to, stepped aside without requesting a payoff, and Ellis Short approached “the outstanding candidate”, who jumped at the chance of moving north.

Despite the intensity of performance seen in recent games, Allardyce’s first few weeks with the Black Cats has not been straightforward. The initial loss at West Brom. did not sit well, and although the win over Newcastle was a true high point, it was very necessary as our first win of the season.

At Everton, it became clear that Big Sam needed to work harder at cutting out individual errors. I would prefer not to dwell on that performance, and that dreadful spell of seven minutes when three goals were conceded. But oddly there were in some ways more signs of encouragement in that game than the tame and defensively naïve 4-2 defeat at Leicester on the opening day.

One positive from Everton was the impression made by Duncan Watmore. The team started well but Brown and Coates played like strangers, so the defence was not convincing, and to be honest, Everton were terrific.

Impact player or ready to start?
Impact player or ready to start?

However, it soon became clear that some lessons had been learnt. A robust performance at home to Southampton followed, which ended in a self-inflicted 1-0 home defeat through a penalty. Another individual error cost us against the classy south coast side.

It was in Allardyce’s fifth game in charge that we finally started looking like a true “Big Sam” side. We were fearless and actually quite dominant at Selhurst Park against what has become a resurgent Palace team. He emphasised after that game that clean sheets are the key to the club’s progress away from the relegation zone.

We cannot win games though without effective strikers, and looking at the Premiership scoring charts we have Fletcher and Defoe on four goals. That puts them both level with Raheem Sterling, Juan Mata and Christian Benteke. Then we have the wonderful emerging talent that is Duncan Watmore on three goals, despite his limited playing time this season. He is still on a par though with Martial, Costa and Berahino.

So what have we learned so far about Sam Allardyce?

Jake capture's Big Sam
Jake captures Big Sam

1. He is passionate about the club.
His body language and obvious pride at recent performances shows that his heart is in the club. As a former Sunderland player he knows about the fanatical support that can sell out the away end at Selhurst Park on a weeknight, even after a terrible run of one win in in 14 games. Sam understands how the passion of the fans can drive the team forward.

2. He coaches players individually and gives all of them a chance to impress.
A number of players who were under performing such as Van Arnholt, Kaboul, Yedlin, Coates and Jones have now stepped up a level. Sam has given them all confidence by good man management and working to a thought-out defensive system.

3. He plays with the cards he has been dealt.
Sam had studied the record of the team in the 2014-15 season and knew that we had a strong defence, which ultimately kept us in the division. So that has been his initial focus, using the current players to provide a system. Cattermole is the perfect Allardyce type of player and as usual, when Catts plays well the team plays well as in the last two games. It is no coincidence that the team fell apart once he came off at Goodison Park.

4. There is no hangover from his time at Newcastle.
Buoyed by his relative success at West Ham, it appears that any post-traumatic stress after a brief tenure at St. James’ Park has evaporated. He is safely south of the Tyne and only needs to go there once a year, for this season at least. Next season is open to question after the Magpies’ 1-5 collapse at Palace last weekend, and Shearer may again have to stray onto Wearside and come to the Stadium of Light to see Premiership football.

5. He shows great attention to detail.
Unlike in many other games this season, the players obviously knew their rôles and exactly what was expected of them. To enter each match with a game plan is absolutely crucial. We could see from his face that he was in despair from the loss of the shape of the team at Goodison Park. Fabio Borini has compared new Black Cats boss Sam Allardyce to former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian striker has been impressed by the former West Ham manager’s attention to detail. “It’s something that you notice because the details always make the difference,” said the 24-year old, in quotes published by the Shields Gazette. “I found out with Ancelotti and the big managers that they were caring about every single thing from set plays to throw-ins…that’s what the manager has been doing here since day one.”

6. He is the Manager of our football club, and not the Head Coach.
This fact is illustrated in an extract from the recent Football Focus interview at the Academy of Light, with Alan Shearer:
Allardyce: “I’m not a head coach, I’m a manager, and that’s a good start. You know me, I have to manage the club.”
Shearer: “So if any player comes in to this football club it’s because you want him?”
Allardyce: “Yes that’s right, absolutely…“I say to the player, we’ll support you, we will give you as much as we possibly can to help you go on the field and perform to your level, but make sure you perform to your level because otherwise you’re going to be left out of the team no matter who you are.”

So it is prediction time again. And readers may feel that I am too euphoric after the dizzy heights of the two back to back wins, but I predict that Sunderland will be clear of relegation by the evening of the birthday of Queen Margrethe of Denmark, which is after the away game at Norwich on April 16th, 2016. That will guarantee a less “exciting” end to the season, and will take a monumental effort from everyone at our beloved football club, but I do reckon on recent evidence that we have it in us to achieve that.

Who will start against Arsenal? Decisions to be made

John McCormick:
John McCormick’s starting 11: Montgomery. Irwin, Ashurst. Harvey, Hurley, McNab….

A few managers ago, perhaps even as far back as last year, I got quite good at guessing the team. Maybe, you might think, it was because there were few good players to pick then. However, that’s not necessarily the case.

Read moreWho will start against Arsenal? Decisions to be made

SA’s essay: Sam’s Happy, we’re happy. Out of the bottom three

Jake's take on Big Sam
Jake’s take on Big Sam

John McCormick writes: Ed posted on facebook that he was dressed for winter before he headed off for his normal berth in the North Stand. Why shouldn’t he feel the cold, given that there has been a chill wind blowing for so long that I can feel it as far south as Liverpool.

But after Monday, and then this weekend, perhaps he won’t feel so frozen out. The players certainly shouldn’t as they have exited the bottom three and are now in the land of the living.

Can they stay there? Let’s see what our manager thinks, in a post-match e-mail sent exclusively to M Salut and maybe one or two others.

Dear Colin,

I think that result is the perfect finish to a big week for us; a win on Monday night and then another win today is as a result of all of the hard work we’ve put in.

There’s belief in the players and that’s now showing on the pitch and hopefully that gives everyone the confidence to know that we’re all pulling together in the right direction.

For me, this week has left me feeling really satisfied with what I’ve seen from the players.

Bright start and his first cigar
A good hour capped by his first Premiership goal

Two back-to-back victories and then two pieces of outstanding quality to win the game today from Patrick van Aanholt and Duncan Watmore.

Our aim is to pick up more and more points and climb up the table as quickly as we can and hopefully we can continue to do that.

Thanks for your support,

Sam Allardyce

Sixer’s Sevens: Sunderland 2 Stoke City 0. Thrilling PVA and Watmore clinchers

Jake: catch Sixer's instant seven-word verdicts throughout the season
Jake: catch Sixer’s instant seven-word verdicts throughout the season

Monsieur Salut writes: we’ve been as critical as any others of Patrick van Aanholt this season. So let’s hear it for him after his second fine game in six days was capped by a matchwinning performance. His superb strike put us ahead and then, to Pete Sixmsith‘s delight, Duncan Watmore’s enthusiasm and appetite was rewarded with a brilliantly taken second to wrap up invaluable points.

Yes, the game changed with the dismissal early in the second half of Ryan Shawcross, lauded here in the Stoke City ‘Who are You?’ as the epitome of fair play, even the Premier’s “best defensive centre back”. But whose fault was that? He committed two clear yellow-card fouls on Watmore in the first half but was booked only once (mainly because Watmore sprinted away from the first illegal challenge instead of going down theatrically). The challenge that got him sent off was arguably not a foul, certainly – in my view – not worthy of a yellow card. But he’d ridden his luck and that luck ran out. Ultimately a terrific win and how important. Come back in due course for Sixer’s full assessment …

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: Sunderland 2 Stoke City 0. Thrilling PVA and Watmore clinchers

Sixer’s Southampton Soapbox: no fireworks, just another damp squib

Malcolm Dawson writes…..the forecast wasn’t good for those who had delayed their Guy Fawkes night celebrations. In fact it had rained so heavily overnight that the Northern League fixture list was almost wiped out. What a shame that the surface at the SoL drains well enough to allow games such as this to go ahead. It wasn’t so much Bonfire Night as Groundhog Day and we witnessed another performance reminiscent of so many others that we have endured over the past years. What do you call it when you get deja vu over and over again? We set out simply to earn a point. Sam’s plan may be to start by keeping a clean sheet but when we never threaten to score ourselves and when we cannot retain possession, it only takes one lapse in concentration, one individual error or one bit of misfortune to concede and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen that happen. I’m more than a bit miffed that the manager sees this as a point lost. No! It’s three points lost in my view. Once again the crowd was magnificent and more than the club deserves under the current regime. A bit of confusion at the start of the Remembrance Day minute’s silence when for ten seconds or so there were those who thought it was a minute’s applause but then as the realisation set in, it was immaculately observed. After that they were behind the team the whole time. Pete Sixsmith has travelled down the M1 today to rural Northamptonshire to take in an FA Cup tie. Yesterday, as usual, he suffered with the rest of us. Here’s his response to yet another home defeat.


SOAPBOXsouthamptonThe proprietor, God bless his cotton socks, has been wondering aloud why our readership is down in comparison with past years, particularly in light of our increased social media profile. A number of ideas have been tossed into the fire pit that is the editorial conference here at Salut House. Are we too wordy using 10 when a couple will do? Do we have sufficient pictures to look at when we get bored with the reading? How can we appeal to the younger audience that may come to us via the aforementioned social media? Should we lighten up a bit and have more “wee banter”?

We have slunk back to our studies with a message from Sir Colin that basically says “shape up or ship out” but I feel that he has missed one vital point that influences the number of people who read these pages: the football on display is complete and utter garbage.

For the last four seasons, a visit to the Stadium of Light has been the footballing equivalent of being lobotomised with a bread knife. Managers have brought in players who have been signed on hunches, inaccurate scouting reports and past reputations and when that manager is inevitably relieved of his duties, the next sucker comes in bemoans the quality of the squad and proceeds to repeat the process.

Does any other Premier League club have as many poor players as Sunderland? Is there any player in the Sunderland squad who would walk or even squeeze into any other Premier League team without showing a vast improvement in his form? Are some clubs using us as a repository for players they have signed and who will never be, or no longer are, good enough to play for them?

This scribe would probably answer Yes, No, Yes (Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, we know who you are. Great will be our vengeance upon you come the Day of Judgement). Not one of the team that played in the latest defeat would get into the Southampton 17 and I can’t imagine Ronald Koeman even looking at their stats on Pro Zone.

If last week was a “shake your head, that kind of result won’t happen again” scoreline, this week was a “shake your head, there’s going to be plenty more of this before the end of the season” kind of game. When you lose 6-2 with four first team players injured, it is relatively easy to see where changes need to be made. When you lose 1-0 with virtually a full squad available, it is so much more difficult.

We defended better than last week, which is like saying that Whitbread Tankard was better than Watney’s Red Barrel ie not much. Kaboul and Coates were diligent and controlled Pelle quite well. So, that’s almost a plus mark. Unfortunately, the full backs continued to prove to me that Cec and Len should be recalled from the retirement home, if only to tell the energetic Yedlin that, when faced with a dangerously impressive player like Mane, it is not sensible to tuck in next to the centre halves and hope that Johnson or someone else might just get back there in time. The young American clearly enjoys his football, but when under pressure he reminds me of an absolute beginner in the Premier League.

We conceded a penalty, something we managed to avoid at Goodison, and that it was given away by probably our best player in Yann M’Vila is particularly disappointing. He had tackled well, passed well and covered well for 69 minutes when, for some reason, he decided to hang a foot in the direction of Bertrand, who was going nowhere.

MoM again despite the penno
MoM again despite the penno

There were no arguments about this penalty award and Tadic stroked home the spot kick to win the game for a neat and tidy Southampton team who unlike us, change managers for the right reasons and thus continue to make progress. They have 14 points more than us. Any bets as to how many more that will be come May?

They make progress because they sign good players – Van Dijk, Pelle, Tadic Clasie and they have well established performers like the excellent Steven Davies and Jamie Ward-Prowse who know exactly what their roles are in the team and who know that there are players in reserve who can fit into their style.

We don’t have a style. What we do have is a new manager who is finding out about the ragbag squad he has been bequeathed. Unfortunately, he has to find out in actual games that the majority of the players he has at his disposal are either not good enough or have spent so much time battling away in the trenches that they have become immune to the new leader taking over.

Bright start but no cigar
Bright start but no cigar

Duncan Watmore started and appropriately enough for a couple of days after bonfire night, lit up the sky at first with a couple of searing runs (nothing at the end of them, mind) before crashing to earth and fading out. He deserved his chance and he will come again but he is a long way off being the new James McClean or Brian Usher.

Toivonen had a stinker and was unrecognisable from the man who was so good against West Ham a mere five weeks ago. What is his role? Was he there to work with Fletcher or play a few yards behind him? A harder quiz than Guess The Score I think.

He was replaced by Borini at half time but his impact was not great. He plays well through the middle but his best game came when he and Lens played on the flanks. The Dutchman, all £8m of him, remained on the bench.

As too often, there was no spark in the team. Gomez can pick a pass out but he is neither strong enough nor consistent enough. Rodwell came on and at least was consistent – consistently ineffectual. He is rapidly becoming a candidate for the worst big money signing I have ever seen in a red and white shirt; he is catching up Torre Andre Flo and Lillian Laslandes and has already overtaken Rod Belfitt.

We forced Steckelenburg into one save after they had taken the lead, but little else. It was yet another disappointing and dispiriting afternoon and for those not there – you made the right decision. There were 41,000 Sunderland fans in the ground. I would imagine the last thing they want to do is to read about another defeat that puts us very firmly in the relegation zone.

Lord Randall may wish to ponder this over his kedgeree sandwiches at breakfast tomorrow.

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SA’s Essay: Sam’s point – it’s only a point dropped v Southampton!

Malcolm Dawson writes….an old familiar feeling returned today as I took my seat and saw Sam’s team selection. When I saw a starting eleven with Gomez, Johnson, and Watmore in the middle and Fletcher on his own up front I knew what to expect. A team that would sit deep, trying to defend a nil nil from the kick off with not enough flair or pace to keep the ball when we got it and with precious little to threaten the Southampton defence. Perhaps addressing that was the thinking behind starting Watmore but in Lens and Borini we have two players who can counter attack but I settled down for an afternoon of attrition and so it proved. Whenever we saw a Southampton attack break down there was no one to make anything of the clearance and the Saints would be immediately on the attack again. This was a Poyet performance, an O’Neill display or a Bruce game plan. We have made precious little progress, let me rephrase that, no progress since I don’t know when. Big Sam can say what he likes but if I hadn’t got a season ticket I would be seriously considering going to watch Northern League every weekend. I have seen worse but watching the way the team played today was like wearing an old pair of carpet slippers….uncomfortable. Big Sam shares his post match thoughts with M Salut and a few others and perhaps his view that we lost one point and not three tells us all we need to know about what to expect in the coming months.


Jake's take on Big Sam
Jake’s take on Big Sam
Dear Colin,

We’ve lost a point on the basis that we’ve given a penalty to Southampton that we didn’t have to give. Unfortunately it was given by without a doubt our best player at the minute which is Yann M’Vila – his control, his passing and his work-rate is an example for all of us to try to get to as a team. Sadly he had a lack of concentration or a mad moment because he didn’t need to make that tackle. He’s covered brilliantly behind [DeAndre] Yedlin and he just needs to jockey the Southampton player out the box, but he decided to slide in and win it and I can’t blame the referee for giving a penalty.

It is a bitter blow for us on the basis of how we’ve defended against a very talented side, but I have to say I was bitterly disappointed in our possession.

We didn’t do enough with the ball to cause Southampton a few more problems and we’re playing at home, so the balance in and out of possession is something that I have to find. We just have to keep getting the lads to believe and show them the right way, because the more and more we do the basics right the more creative we will become. If they concentrate on that and keep as fit as they possibly can physically and mentally we can try and turn this around as quickly as we can.

Thanks for your support,

Sam Allardyce

Jake: 'can anybody see any light at the end of this tunnel?'
Jake: ‘can anybody see any light at the end of this tunnel?’

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SAFC 3 Man City 0: Under 21s show how it’s done.

Malcolm Dawson was about 6 when he went to his first ever live football match. He doesn’t remember much about it except that the home team was Eppleton Colliery Welfare and they played in light blue with two maroon bands – like the old West Ham change strip of the sixties. Following the disappointment of Saturday, he returned on Sunday to see if the Under 21s could show the big boys how it’s done.

Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev back in the days before he put the weight on!
Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev back in the days before he put the weight on. MD that is not SKP!

Sunderland 3 Manchester City 0

While Peter Sixsmith was wending his way back from sunny Dorset, Sunday saw myself under cloudy skies, heading for the place of my birth and the Eppleton Colliery Welfare ground in Hetton-le-Hole where the Under 21s were taking on their counterparts from Manchester City.

Hetton has changed since I was growing up – but not that much. Back in the day whenever I returned to the family home, either from college or in later years when I lived in the East Midlands, the village was dominated by the massive pit heap – an edifice to the years of toil at the colliery which opened at Eppleton in 1825, where my father worked for more than thirty years and which was the first thing I saw every morning when I drew back the curtains in my bedroom. Now there is no evidence at all of the industry that dominated the whole of that part of County Durham. Instead a row of wind turbines silhouettes the skyline on the drive in through Moorsley. Both Anglican churches and a couple of the Working Mens’ Clubs have gone, but I still get a feeling of belonging in a place I was happy enough to leave behind in my teenage years, though never really put behind me, returning several times a year for family visits.

The football ground, tucked away behind the swimming baths, the bus station and the Hetton Centre and backing onto the park, is a decent enough place to watch football. In the old days it shared its space with Eppleton CW Cricket Club, one of three in the village, but now it is a tidy little ground with a single stand and pop up sprinklers. It’s just a shame that Eppleton Colliery Welfare F.C. like the cricket club, is now defunct and it is only the involvement of SAFC and especially the Ladies’ team which keeps the ground viable.

Amazingly I managed to park up right outside the ground as there was a decent enough crowd there and found myself a seat just before kick off. The usual crowd of Hetton Irregulars were there, standing on the far side, but being a lazy sod with an arthritic knee I grabbed a chair from the outside dining/smoking area and settled in behind the goal. Sunderland legend Kevin Ball was also there and good man that he is always says “Hello” to me. I’m not sure if that’s because he actually remembers meeting me at various supporters’ functions or if he is just very good at his ambassadorial role. The latter I suspect.

Good job I wasn’t late because like the game at Dean Court the previous day the match was more or less settled in the first ten minutes. Duncan Watmore, had recovered from his bout of illness and was in the starting XI along with Charas Mavrias but there was no sign of Buckley, Bridcutt or Roberge which may be indicative of the club’s efforts to send them out on loan somewhere. (And Buckley is now off to Leeds I hear.) And it was to be Watmore’s day. Within three minutes he had his first of the afternoon. A sliced attempt at a clearance by the City number 3 saw the American Lynden Gooch burst into the box only to be tripped by the keeper who was fortunate not to get booked. A clear penalty, well dispatched by Watmore who hit it hard to the goalie’s left. The keeper guessed right and got a hand on the shot but it was hard enough and low enough to find the back of the net despite that. One Nil.

Not long afterwards it was two nil. Good work down the left and some crisp close quarter passing led to a peach of a cross from Lynden Gooch who turned his man as easily as Younis Kaboul had been turned twenty four hours earlier. The ball hung teasingly for Mavrias who did enough to stop the centre half from getting in a decent clearance and as his sliced effort ballooned upwards in came Watmore to barge the Greek out of the way and grab his second.

Will the hat trick Hero of Hetton get to step up tonight?
Will the hat trick Hero of Hetton get to step up tonight?

Spurred on by coach Patrick Viera, City then had more possession but never really threatened Sunderland’s assured young Polish keeper Max Stryjek and two nil it remained as the players went in to suck on their half time oranges and the sprinklers popped up much to the annoyance of the City subs.

More of the same in the second half. Only a few minutes in and another misplaced attempted back pass from City’s number three who seemed to stroll about issuing orders to his team mates without actually contributing much himself, left Watmore one on one with the goalie. He clipped the ball past him and though the ball looked like it was running away from our ginger headed hero the goalie’s lunge ended up in a clear trip, another penalty and a yellow card. It could, maybe should have been a second yellow but the ref had a decent game and at this level a sending off would have been harsh. Neither of the tackles were malicious, just clumsy. Big Duncan stepped up to complete his hat-trick with an almost identical penalty. This one was slightly higher and even closer to the post and evaded the diving keeper who once again had read Watmore’s intentions correctly.

That was more or less it. The Sunderland lads kept control of the match and Watmore nearly had a fourth when a delightful chip landed on the roof of the net and the crowd went home happy.

This performance will no doubt increase the clamour amongst certain sections of the SAFC faithful for Watmore’s increased involvement with the senior squad and whilst that can only do him good he is in my opinion, still a work in progress. He may not be just a very naughty boy but neither is he the Messiah. He will progress and learn but it will take time. I can’t see him doing for us what Harry Kane did for Spurs last season but handled properly should have a part to play as the season progresses. As I see it, it is the American Lynden Gooch who is closer to stepping up a level. He is small but strong. He holds off defenders well, keeps possession and with his low centre of gravity is able to turn them and create space for himself. He has good feet and can create chances for others as well as showing the ability for cool finishing himself. Will he get a chance tonight against what should be a much more experienced Manchester City side? I’ll see later but of several of the Under 21s who might make the grade, he’s my tip for the top.

Dick’s Exeter Advochaat: six goals good – three goals bad

Jake: 'gorging on goals'
Jake: ‘gorging on goals’
Malcolm Dawson writes…..we would all have been happier with 3-0. Dick too by the sound of it in his post match e-mail to M Salut and the rest. A three goal margin sounds comfortable and in the end it was – but not before the defensive collywobbles took hold. The rest of the Premier League must be looking at our back line and rubbing their hands in glee. O.K. so JD got to keep the match ball and JR might be finally going some way to showing what it was that got the big spenders of Man City excited and him into the England side, but 3-0 would have been a much more satisfactory result. Watmore and Gooch got a run out too and have maybe given the coach something to think about.The Exeter support was a much bigger proportion of the total attendance than that of Swansea and they will probably be enjoying their long trip back, thinking of what might have been. One crumb of comfort from this evening is that our next opponents needed extra time to finally overcome their lower league opposition 5-3. Saturday’s game looks like it could be 7-6 so what odds on a goalless draw?


 Jake - lost for words
Jake – lost for words

Dear Colin,

We scored six goals but gave some easy goals away.

With all respect I’m happy with 6-3 but I can’t be happy with the performance.

Jack [Rodwell] is getting better and I was also very pleased with the young guys who came on.

They did well and Duncan scored a good goal.

Jermain scored some excellent goals, as well. The goals we scored were good, but the ones we gave away can’t happen at this level. Jermain could have had five goals and when he is in front of goal you can see he is a goalscorer. I was very pleased with the six goals we scored.

I’m not sure on the injuries at the moment – maybe tomorrow we will have an update.

Thanks for your support,

Dick Advocaat

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Sixer’s Soapbox: on song Canaries leave pathetic Cats for dead

Malcolm Dawson writes…I have seen some dire Sunderland performances in my time but I can’t think of any previous season when I sat thinking I had wasted my money on a season ticket after half an hour of the first home game. Last week after thirty minutes we were three down. Yesterday we were only two behind. Does that constitute progress? What I have seen in the two games this year is a lack of running to close the opposition down, a lack of running to create space when we do have the ball and a lack of running to get back into position when caught out in the wrong area of the pitch. I know it’s not all down to running but there seems to be little desire amongst this lot to actually work off the ball. I thought Steven Fletcher did put himself about a bit second half harrying down opponents just before he went off but didn’t see much evidence from anyone else, other than Watmore who had a point or three to prove. It was as depressing as it was disappointing yesterday and as always Pete Sixsmith tells it as he sees it from his soapbox.


SOAPBOXnorwichI was strolling through Darlington on Thursday when my eye caught a poster in the window of a William Hill’s offering the odds on a five team accumulator. “Bet £10 to win £150” it said to the passing punters. I looked at the list of teams; Celtic (certs), Middlesbrough (ditto), Sheffield United (look good), Northampton Town (need to check up on that one) and….. Sunderland, the bookies saviour, because any mug tempted to part with his tenner would have had little idea of how terminally useless we appear to be.
Hill’s would have made a tidy profit on that bet. Five of the six won leaving us to let the poor punter down and bemoan the fact that it “woz the Mackems wot let me down.” I know how he/she feels.

Why were we there on Hill’s list? For that ultimately disappointed punter, here was an established Premier League team under the command of a Head Coach who has been a success all over Europe. The team is made up of allegedly top level players, some of who have played at international level and who would be eager to bounce back after the trouncing they had received at Leicester the week before.
The opposition were newly promoted, retained much of the team that had seen them slide out of the Premier League two years ago and who had been active at the bottom end of the market. Their Head Coach was young and inexperienced at this level and would surely be outthought by the wily old fox in in the home dugout.

But bookies know a thing or two and they would realise, far more than the casual punter in Doncaster or Dorchester, that Sunderland are in a mess and that this had all the potential of being the game that would ensure joy for the shareholders and misery for the punters, not to mention those whose allegiance is unfortunately with Sunderland.
And as they usually are, the bookies were right because we turned in a performance that was even worse than the one the previous week. Worse in that the errors in team selection had not been heeded, worse in that players continued to make the same individual and organisational errors that had been made at Leicester and far, far worse because this shambles was played out in front of a sceptical and ultimately cynical home crowd.

Over 41,000 turned up for this, a number that will be greatly reduced next Saturday and on subsequent home days unless something drastic is done. Mutterings were heard all over the East Stand section that I sit in – an area that contains some of the club’s most loyal fans, people who are not prone to vocal demonstrations but who are the heartbeat of the club. And that heartbeat is getting fainter as they look at the mess that that manifested itself on the pitch.

The performance was a catalogue of errors. The first goal came after Cattermole lost the ball in midfield and from a corner. Norwich worked a short one with no Sunderland player coming out of the box to challenge, allowing Brady to have a clear shot at goal. Pantilimon parried it (could he have caught it?) and it hit Martin and went in. Heads dropped on the fields and on the terraces.
The second one was an embarrassment for us and a tribute to Norwich’s crisp play as Hoolahan and Whittaker played a one – two inside the box (!!!) and the Scottish full back finished with aplomb. Van Aanholt failed to pick him up and Kaboul was not quick enough to tackle him. Game over.

The third goal was very similar to the second. Hoolahan, playing just behind Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond, set up another one-two with Redmond and the England Under 21 winger tucked it in, followed by the clattering of upturned seats as the bar staff in The Colliery Tavern braced themselves for hordes coming through the doors.

A shanked goal from Duncan Watmore made absolutely no difference, although it could keep us off the bottom if both Arsenal and Bournemouth lose heavily, though I am not sure what odds you would get off Hill’s for that.

Jake: 'hasn't everybody who watches the reserves been talking up this lad for ages? Why do we wait to be 3 nil down to give him a chance?'
Jake: ‘hasn’t everybody who watches the reserves been talking up this lad for ages? Why do we wait to be 3 nil down to give him a chance?’

So what do we do after that? Dick Advocaat struck a forlorn figure on the touch line as all he had hoped for disintegrated as comprehensively as Buckaroo did when you placed the sticks of dynamite on its back. Afterwards he said that the players did not follow instructions – we may ask why that was.

What about the players? How bad were they? The answer my friend, is that they were atrocious. The two full backs are clueless. Neither can defend properly with van Aanholt turning in a performance that Ian who sits next to me, rated as the worst he has seen from a fullback in a Sunderland shirt. I would find it hard, nay impossible, to disagree. The central defenders were better than they had been at Leicester but that is like saying that cholera isn’t quite as bad as bubonic plague. Kaboul, allegedly a thoughtful footballer, hoofed the ball up field at every available opportunity, making us understand exactly why Spurs were so keen to offload him. His first two appearances have us looking back to Titus Bramble with some fondness.

They were not helped by a total lack of cohesion in midfield. Cattermole gave up in the second half – a fine example from the team captain. M’Vila stared off well enough but his legs went in the second half and Larsson was as anaemic as I have ever seen him. He set the tone with a free kick in the third minute that surprise surprise, failed to clear the first defender. The groans from the crowd said it all.

Lens also gave up in a wretched second half, while Fletcher was beaten to the ball by Bassong with regular monotony. Defoe was anonymous and the arrival of Graham at the start of the second half to replace Larsson was greeted with incredulity by the crowd. I can only assume that there was a scout there from Sheffield Wednesday or Blackburn Rovers who were keen to see him. They won’t have been impressed.

They might have been by Duncan Watmore who showed an energy and enthusiasm that his elders, but by no means betters, would be advised to take heed of. He ran at defenders and created a couple of quarter chances before he pounced on a poor clearance and drove it home with his shin. May we see more of him please? But he is no saviour.

Do we have a saviour? Advocaat’s body language during the game and words afterwards suggest that he does not know what to do. He can demand new players until the cows come home, but how many players are going to be interested in signing for a club that stumbles from one crisis to another? How many agents will be looking to place good players at a club that changes its manager as frequently as we do? The answer, my friends, is very few.

Team selection was poor. John O’Shea must return for the Swansea game and I would not be against putting Wes Brown back in. Matthews must be better than either Jones or Van Aanholt. Where was Giaccherini yesterday? He could have played the role that Hoolahan played for Norwich, sitting behind the front two and playing them in. The Italian didn’t even make the bench for this one; Bridcutt and Graham did.
There are 36 games to come, 108 points to play for. On this performance we will be lucky to get into double figures and the ghosts of Christian Basilla, Anthony Le Tallac and Tommy Miller are gathering above the Stadium of Light no doubt saying “We know that we were rubbish, but we weren’t as rubbish as you.”

I may well pop down to Hill’s and wager a few quid on Derby County’s record being beaten but I suspect that the odds will be reducing by the minute.

Mandron, Watmore, Beadling sink West Ham Under 21s. Contenders for the Boleyn?

Jake: 'just like watching Real?'
Jake: ‘just like watching Real?’

When there’s proper football to be had in the flesh, Pete Sixsmith isn’t likely to stay in to watch Man Utd vs Arsenal on the box, with United fans incensed at Michael Oliver’s application of relatively simple laws of the game. He took himself off to Hetton to see Sunderland’s Under 21s in winning action. The opposition, West Ham, are also the first team’s opponents for the next away game. Could it be an occasion for trying out one or two of the brighter sparks among the young ‘uns, if only because the seniors have repeatedly let us down? Maybe not, but who knows what a hungry Mandron or Watmore might do …

Read moreMandron, Watmore, Beadling sink West Ham Under 21s. Contenders for the Boleyn?