Sunderland cannot save themselves with one game, as we did when West Bromwich Albion visited the Stadium of Light on May 7 2014. But that was the last-but-one mat ch of the season. We’d done the hard work under Gus Poyet, beating Man United and Chelsea at their own places and walloping Cardiff at home. We sent Norwich down by beating Albion 2-0.
This, ahead of another home game to WBA that is nevertheless of immense importance and could well influence our fate, is how Pete Sixsmith recorded that fabulous night. His Soapboxes are always great reads; they are not always happy ones. This, for those who do not stray here often enough to know, is how Sixer does happiness. Let it inspire Vito, DeAndre, PvA, Younes, JoS, Lamine, Jan, Wahbi, Jeremain,Jack, Seb, Fabio, Dame, Jermain – already too many, so whoever turns out – to do what is necessary on Saturday. Now, over to Pete, version 2014 …
It was clear the moment Monsieur Salut nominated Lee Cattermole as Sunderland’s player of the season so far (at ESPN: see http://www.espnfc.com/barclays-premier-league/23/blog/post/2129545/the-best-20-premier-league-players-so-far-this-season) that the North East’s football writers would feel obliged to follow suit. In fact, they’ve gone one step beyond and made him their player of 2014. Pete Sixsmith discusses a top three selection with a distinctly Sunderland flavour …
What do Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Adam Lallana, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Lee Cattermole have in common? Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Jack Colback, also in the list.
Each has been chosen as his club’s star performer of the season so far by the team of bloggers who write about Premier League football at ESPN. That team includes Monsieur Salut.
There are no EBAC Northern League friendlies to tempt him out of the house this month and Durham’s attempts to retain the County Championship seemed destined to be thwarted by the weather, so with only Rugby League and reruns of Midsummer Murders to occupy him, Peter Sixsmith takes a break from determining the futures of some of the nation’s finest to share his thoughts on the forthcoming World Cup, the loss of a dependable member of the SAFC playing staff and the break up of the Eastern bloc.
RIMET – COLBACK – KRENZ
Not a bad half back line for those of us old enough to remember half back lines. They appear together because the three of them have taken up a fair proportion of my thoughts over the last few weeks and I feel a screaming need to write about them.
Let’s start with Jules Rimet. He is the man to thank for the extravaganza about to get under way in Brazil. He was the President of the French Football Federation who came up with the idea of the World Cup 84 years ago. He went on to become President of FIFA and was probably a tad more respected than Sepp Blatter is now. Being called racist by the likes of Blatter is akin to being called ugly by a frog. (Good job there’s no capital letter or that would have been racist! – Ed :-))
It all kicks off on Thursday and I am struggling to work up any enthusiasm about it. There are no wall charts pinned up around Sixsmith Towers. The Union Flag does not fly from the South Turret. Bunting does not drape the trees in the deer park. Pardew the butler has hinted at replacing the trusty Ecko 17” black and white with a more up to date set (he rather fancies a 20” Ferguson) but it will have to come out of his wages.
I will watch most of the games but I no longer seem to know any of the players who are playing. Time was I could reel off the Costa Rican midfield as easily as Michael Gove can dash off an article for The Times, but age and cynicism has meant that I no longer know which clubs the entire Dutch squad play for or who is Iran’s dead ball specialist.
I will be looking out for Greece as Sixsmith Minor lives there, Bosnia because I think that they have done remarkably well to get there and the USA just to see if Jozy can hit the back of the net.
As for England, I hope they do well because I genuinely like Roy Hodgson. Of the players in the squad the only one I dislike intensely is Lampard and they have Jordan Henderson. But I fear they will struggle to get out of the group.
As for Jack Colback, there has been much discussion about him in the North East over the last few days. Most Sunderland supporters are saying that he is an average player, most Newcastle fans are suggesting that this is an emotional homecoming on a par with Stanley Matthews returning to Stoke City. The truth, as always, probably lies in the middle.
The statement that the club put out is quite scathing with regard to our former mid field player. In a game where truth and honesty are usually locked in the cellar along with the mad aunt and her crazy son, it was refreshing to read a good, old fashioned piece of bile on the club web site. It was clear that they thought that he had pulled a fast one and that he and his agent have been economical with the truth with regards to him signing or even being interested in a new contract. Words like “leaves a bitter taste”, to “leave in such a manner” and “extremely disappointed” are polite ways of calling him an ungrateful and dishonest wretch. But, he had the right to leave and if he chooses to work for Newcastle United that is his prerogative. I never liked him anyway.
And the third one? Well done if you knew that he was the man who pulled down the curtain on the German Democratic Republic. Of 302 GCSE candidates whose answer papers have been marked by the servants, only two of the candidates mentioned him. Pardew even attempted to sign him for the Estate team but decided against it when he realised that Egon’s goal scoring record was on a par with that of Luuk de Jong.
Ah well – back to the grindstone.
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Yesterday we had the sanitised version: Jack Colback realises his boyhood dream, joins the club he supported as a North Tyneside lad and leaves the Stadium of Light in the knowledge that his efforts on behalf of Sunderland are warmly appreciated.
Today comes the sting in the tail.
At the time of writing, no one has yet confirmed that Jack Colback’s free transfer to Newcastle United has finally gone through. But it’s all over the internet, with the Sunderland Echo and Sky among many reporting the deal.
ESPN was sufficiently sure of the transfer happening to ask for a quick piece on players who have made the Wear-Tyne or Tyne-Wear switch, or just played for both clubs. As I said there, supporters on each side of the divide have little need of record books to rattle off a parade of names.
They say good things come in threes. Like all Sunderland fans, especially those who are inevitably there, home or away, Pete Sixsmith has suffered for his loyalty. There have been times when this loyalty has been tested to the limit, when even he wonders why he puts himself through the agonies of following the team. And then along comes a day like yesterday and suddenly all the pain and frustration, all the hours of weeping and wailing make it all worthwhile. Make no mistake, there is no room for complacency but in the performance of the boys in yellow and blue, at a ground where interest rates are plummeting, Pete can revel in another victory which maintained the upwards mobility of recent weeks by putting on a display of dominating football.
THERE’S GOING TO BE HELL.
Very soon after Adam Johnson slipped in the second goal in front of 2,900 delirious Sunderland fans, the song reverberating around the Wongadome as we rejoiced referred to the shenanigans of last year;
“There’s gonna be hell, There’s gonna be hell,
Lock up your horses, There’s gonna be hell!”
And didn’t we just enjoy it, every minute of the ninety and even the three that were added on at the end, because what we did was to totally outplay and demolish the poorest Newcastle side I have seen in many years.
Player for player, on this performance a North Eastern select side would be Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Johnson, Ki, Bridcutt, Colback, Borini; Altidore. Not one of their players would get anywhere near the team; they were truly dreadful and were beaten by a far superior Sunderland side. And didn’t we love it. The frustrating thing is that we are places away from the bottom three, but only two points. However, continue to play with the poise and the balance that we showed here and we have every chance of being well away from the brown stuff before Easter.
This was a far better performance than last season as we exerted complete control over the first half and stopped Newcastle from getting back into the game in the second. Last year they may have had a case for having a goal disallowed. The only case they have this year is the one that Pontius Pardew may well need when he clears his desk after his sacking. The team was wonderfully set up with every player knowing what his role was and every player looking comfortable on the ball. To pick out an outstanding performer is unfair; this was a team performance from start to finish and there was not a weakness to be seen. From Mannone to Borini, from goalkeeper to striker, from front to back, Sunderland were totally dominant. Three goals, all well taken and all the result of superb play.
The first one came after a brilliant ball from Johnson caught out Santon which allowed Bardsley into the box where a clumsy and needless challenge by Anita brought him down. Newcastle fans must have been hoping for an Old Trafford penalty, but Fabio Borini slotted it home with consummate ease.
Five minutes later we doubled the lead when Altidore played Colback in and his shot was parried by Krul after it ricocheted off the much loved Steven Taylor. The ball bounced free and Johnson put it into the net. Cue celebrations upstairs and a lusty rendition of the horse song.
The third goal came with ten minutes left when they were pushing forward looking for scraps. Colback won the ball in midfield, played it to Borini and took an excellent return pass before scoring with a powerful shot.
The cheering from the Sunderland fans was almost drowned by the clatter of upturned seats as thousands of Mags left the stadium – apart from the two who ran on to the pitch and confronted Pardew and Colback; fine examples of the Geordie Nation.
The whole ninety minutes was an absolute blast and it would be unfair to single individuals out. The team spirit and the way that the players play for each other and the club is all important. Compare that with our opponents today, most of who appeared not to give a rats about their employers or their fans. But I will single out a few who I think are deserving of extra praise.
First of all, Wes Brown who made the tackle of the season on Ameobi Major. It looked a simple block, but it was much more than that. It showed how effectively Brown read the game and also showed how hard he is. Ameobi Major, a big man, went down as if he was a jockey being tackled by a rhino and at that moment I knew that Newcastle were beaten. They seemed to lose the will to go anywhere near Brown.
Secondly, Ki Sung-Yeung, who was quite imperious in midfield, picking the ball up, using it brilliantly, hardly ever losing it or giving it away. He was aided by Colback and Bridcutt, who made an assured debut and on this showing he will prove to be a real asset to the club. He looks a leader on the pitch and after thirty minutes or so, he was telling established Premier League players where to go and what to do. A great midfield trio and stellar compared with the plodding Tiote, the ineffectual Anita and the near invisible Ameobi Minor.
Thirdly, Jozy Altidore, who reached his nemesis against Kidderminster, turned in a decent performance against Stoke and then produced by far his best performance of the season against Williamson and Taylor, who he dominated for the whole game. He controlled the ball, laid it off well (the flick to Colback for the second and the pass to the same player for the third were brilliant) and should have been rewarded with the clincher when he was set free by Colback. He showed too much of it to Krul and the chance went, but it took little away from a performance that would have had Vic Halom purring with delight.
Every man was a hero and was prepared to do whatever they could to win the ball and take the game to Newcastle. Gus Poyet will be very, very proud of them and they should be very, very proud to play for a Coach who knows how to play football. Even Pontius Pardew had the grace (not a word usually associated with him) to accept that we were the better side and that we deserved to win. That his “team” were so poor, so bereft of ideas and so one dimensional should take nothing away from a win that allowed us to leave SJP with smiles as broad as the Tyne and hearts singing as loudly as Jimmy Nail. It was a tremendous effort and a glorious afternoon and gives us real hope that we can avoid the drop.
It seemed quiet after the game, with the usual crowd outside The Black Bull subdued and mostly of Primary School age. As we passed along Denton Road, one local even smiled at the bus. Even the most one eyed Black and White would accept that Sunderland were the better side and by a considerable distance.
Five derbies unbeaten now and three wins in a row mean that bragging rights are firmly ours. No longer can Newcastle fans fall back on the disaster in October 2010 or convince themselves that Manchester United are their natural rivals.
Ha’way the Lads!!!!!!!!
No horses were injured in the writing of this piece.
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John McCormick writes: Until recently I’d been on the same wavelength as Gus when it came to picking teams but I have to admit Gardner’s inclusion against Chelsea confused me. Then for Spurs Gus reverted to the kind of team I’d have picked, with me hoping AJ would realise he had to turn in a performance or two to remain a chosen starter. And did AJ perform? Well, sort of. But if he and the rest of the team that turned out against Spurs wanted to think about a proper shift they could do worse than reflect on the likes of Sobs from ALS and our own Pete Sixsmith, who labour on, week in, week out, to try to bring us some optimism when the overpaid bunch they support turn in yet another pathetic performance. And with that rant over I turn to Pete for his take on the weekend’s events:
Not a good weekend football wise, was it? Stoke, Fulham, Palace, Norwich all won and put a little more daylight between us and safety. Cardiff and West Ham were the big losers but are still six and five points respectively ahead of us. It doesn’t look good.
For the first time this season, I came out of the ground seriously contemplating relegation. Up until yesterday, it had been a relegation battle, but this performance almost convinced me that Doncaster, Bournemouth and Millwall are likely to be be paying their first visit to the Stadium of Light next season.
This was a disappointing showing from a group of players who have experienced the bounce of a new manager coming in after the previous much disliked one had departed and who had mentally and physically committed themselves to the SAFC cause. But against Spurs, they looked physically and mentally tired. The crisp passing that we saw against Manchester City and at Stoke (before KF changed it all) looked far more laboured and too many players found it hard to raise their game for the second time in three days. A buoyant Spurs side were well set to take advantage of it.
For some players like Bardsley, Larsson, Fletcher and Colback, this is yet another relegation scrap, the fourth or fifth that they have faced in succession. For O’Shea, Brown and Giaccherini, it is in direct contrast to years spent racking up Championship titles with their clubs. Instead, they are playing with colleagues who are nowhere near as good as the ones they have left behind.
Poyet sounded as down as the occupants of the male toilets in the East Stand, but far more animated. It was quiet in the toilet, there was little conversation, just a collection of resigned sighs as we looked at our feet and realised that the game was not far from being up.
The manager didn’t sound too happy either in his post-match comments. Apparently, the press had to wait for an hour before he appeared to talk to them, and he was distinctly low key and pessimistic, making it clear that the honeymoon period was over. He now knew what he had to work with and I suspect he didn’t like it much.
Some will say that we were unlucky in that Lee Mason missed a blatant handball by Sandro and that the Spurs winner was an own goal by John O’Shea. That Defoe might easily have had a second half hat trick should bring that line of reasoning to an end. Throughout the team we lacked pace and guile, none more so than Jack Colback. The more I see of him, the more he falls into that category of “useful player”, a step up from the likes of Colin Symm, Steve Doyle and Carl Robinson, but only a small, Jimmy Clitheroe type step. He missed an excellent chance in the first half when he went too wide instead of cutting in and thrashed the ball into the side netting after Altidore put him through. Would that the positions had been reversed!
Then, he was outfought and outpaced by Dembele, whose cross was bundled over the line by John O’Shea to give Spurs the lead and to rack up our fifth own goal in nine matches. Unlucky? Absolutely not. Poor defenders concede own goals. O’Shea looked tired and under pressure throughout the game. The midfield lacks any genuine creativity and the opposition will easily work out how we play and will push Ki further and further back. Because of the lack of genuinely good players to take us forward, we will forever be on the back foot and putting pressure on our creaking defence. Brown and O’Shea are hardly in the first flush of youth.
Poyet will at least try things. He opened with Johnson and was rewarded with a well taken goal. Despite his lack of pace, he is one of the few players we have who can strike a ball and who can turn up unannounced and, as such, he needs to be a regular. There is little else with any genuine quality in the club.
The week has been a very poor one for us. There is a heightened feeling that relegation is a matter of when and not if. Poyet is blameless at the moment; he is picking up the pieces left by the previous three managers. Bruce signed a lot of very average players in his final transfer window and we are stuck with them; O’Neill tried to buy quality but both Fletcher and Johnson look weary of playing in a team where things they cannot do are expected of them. The players brought into the club in the summer by whoever it was are just not good enough. Celustka, Mannone and Altidore are probably the pick of them; Giaccherini would be excellent in a good side, but not in one where he has to do so much leg work, while the rest strike me as distinctly average.
Whether Poyet decides to use the likes of Diakite, Roberge, Cabral and Mavrias in the next two absolutely crucial games is a huge decision. They may freshen things up, which is positive, or they may be as poor as we suspect they are, which will leave us bottom of the league and in single figures points wise at Christmas. In 2002 we had 18 points,(would that we had now) while the disastrous Mick McCarthy team had five. This present lot look more like Mick’s team than Wilkinson’s.
West Ham look as bad as we do and they have a crowd that regard Sam Allardyce with the same feelings that the Tory Party of Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit had towards Nelson Mandela. Norwich are a strange side who can fluctuate between the appalling and the mildly effective. We need a minimum of four points and ideally six from these two. Should we continue to miss chances, hoof the ball into our own net or come across referees who can’t recognise a legitimate tackle or a handball in the area, we will be out of this league before the Christmas decorations come down.
It gets harder and harder to keep the faith – but we must try.
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There has been a lot of transfer activity to reflect on already this summer, writes Stephen Goldsmith. We all expected a total overhaul, to be fair, and the appointments of Roberto De Fanti and Valentino Angeloni certainly suggested that we’d be generally looking abroad for our new a acquisitions. One potential signing in particular stands out in terms of quality, according to those in the know, while one potential outgoing transfer has me especially curious…
Stephen Goldsmith writes: I refuse to get too carried away with all the doom and gloom just yet – as tempting as that may be! You certainly won’t be hearing me shout for a change in management amid all this poor show of form. The national media are particularly mystified as to why the Sunderland fans are keeping their patience with O’Neill, in an almost identical manner in which they were mystified as to why we wanted their pal Bruce out last season. Double standards springs to mind. The crux of it all is that last season’s mini-revival highlights the amazing impact that O’Neill had when he came here. Who can argue that the Ulsterman’s arrival resulted in a below average squad performing above themselves? They have now plateaued and it isn’t pretty. Had Bruce still been here we would be playing Championship football, a fact which nobody should doubt.