“The loyalty, well held to fools, does make Our faith mere folly”, said Shakespeare in Anthony and Cleopatra.
Could those words be applied to us? Has our loyalty made fools of us? And of those few players who have kept faith with the club?
It has been a while since Jeremy Robson appeared on these pages. It’s good to see him back and, as ever, he produces not only a good read but also a thought provoking article.
But does he answer those questions? You’ll have to read on and decide for yourselves…
ps: John McCormick prepared this article for publication and wrote his introduction before two of the players mentioned by Jeremy featured in England’s World Cup win on penalties against Colombia. Jordan Henderson was nearly the shoot-out villain, missing his penalty, but otherwise had a fine, all-action match. Jordan Pickford, of course, was the hero with that stunning save. Our friend Barry Emmerson, who knows JP well as his occasional chauffeur, reacts: ‘My pal Jordan the hero. Drove him down to St George’s before they left for Russia. He is a super confident lad and I am always saying to him, “stand still for penalties, don’t dive first”. Well for the save he did that, I’m taking all the credit. He is going to be a giant of the game, maybe Real Madrid one day.’
John McCormick writes: how could Pete Sixsmith have known that my car failed its MOT this morning? (Have you seen these new fail notifications? I got a big bold FAIL repair immediately comment, along with something advisory about my rear brake disks. That said, the Mrs went out in it this afternoon).
I presume that’s what his e-mail was about but it could have been about next season’s fixtures. I expect to be at the Charlton game but am a little less certain about a London trip to take in AFC Wimbledon at the end of the month. If you have a spare ticket let me know.
Or could something else(s) have been happening in the world of football? Let’s catch up with Pete’s catchup:
Update: and eventually, the statement came [see John McCormicks comment below], short enough to fit into a stop press bulletin – Sunderland Association Football Club and Jack Rodwell have agreed by mutual consent that Jack will leave the club at the end of June 2018. The club and Jack wish each other every success for the future.
Better late than never, SAFC.com will get round to confirming what seems common knowledge and also classifies as good news: Jack Rodwell and the club have reportedly reached agreement to cancel his contract.
Rodwell, arguably the worst of many wretched signings in recent times, is said by Sky and others to be hoping for a move to an MLS club in the USA. Good luck to them.
Malcolm Dawson writes…….there were several reasons why I decided not to renew my season card over the summer.
1) The number of home games I wouldn’t get to because of other commitments.
2) The painful walk to the ground and back to the car owing to my arthritic knees.
3) The fact that after my surgery in January when I couldn’t get to the Spurs game even if I’d wanted to, I realised that I didn’t really miss the disappointment and frustration of yet another inept display.
4) The negativity of a sizeable minority of the home crowd, booing the manager and the team then walking out early en masse. (I could never boo my team or leave early no matter what and I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable every time that happened.)
5) But most of all my firm belief that whilst Ellis Short controls the purse strings this club is only going one way and that I no longer wished to contribute any of my meagre pension to that part of the beautiful game that has become as corrupt and decadent as the dying days of the Roman Empire.
I wasn’t enjoying the Sunderland experience and decided that I needed a break from a relationship in which the love was becoming decidely one sided. So it was Esh Winning v Penrith for me yesterday.
Pete Sixsmith on the other hand is still suffering and as he almost always is, was there to witness another disappointing afternoon at the “fortress” that is the Sunderland Stadium of Light. A fortress that hasn’t witnessed a home win in the whole of 2017. His report of yesterday’s game arrived by pigeon post this morning with the return address of Sixsmith Towers, Slough of Despond, Shildon, County Durham. It’s content might not make for pleasant reading but as always Sixer’s prose style does.
On a day when Henry Bloefeld’s last “dear old thing” rattled around the Test Match Special commentary box, I was reminded of the late Fred Trueman’s stock phrase, used whenever he was confused by a bowling change or some odd field placings. He would incant into the microphone the words “I don’t know what’s going on out there” and the public school boys he shared the space with would giggle in the background. Fred’s phrase came to me when I heard the team news, when I saw the line-up, when United scored the first goal, when Kone failed to appear for the second half, when the Blades easily snuffed out our feeble second half attempts to get back into the game, when Donaldson waltzed through to settle the game and finally, mercifully, when the game ended.
The immediate cause of this defeat was the team selection and the tactics (or lack of) and for this the fickle finger of fate points clearly at Simon Grayson. A man who, on his appointment and after his first few games, was identified as “a man who knew this league,” he showed worrying signs of not having a clue what his best team was or having any idea of how to play with the admittedly poor hand of cards he has been dealt.
Only he knows why he decided to split up a reasonably competent central defensive partnership and bring in Marc Wilson, a player who has had zero first team minutes this season.
Only he knows why he opted to expose Brendan Galloway to yet another public humiliation.
Only he knows what he saw in the last two weeks that prompted him to recall Jack Rodwell.
Three new players were brought in before the deadline for the princely sum of nowt. Of those three, Wilson looked distinctly rusty and (hopefully) can only improve. He found Clayton Donaldson a handful all afternoon as the 33 year old Yorkshireman roasted the 30 year old Irishman on several occasions not least when scoring the opening goal.
Johnny Williams was busy in midfield and tried to push us forward but had no assistance from any of those around him. Didier Ndong had his poorest game of the season, lacking any kind of intensity or bite and looked like a player suffering from a bout of “What the hell am I doing still stuck at this bloody place, my agent is a tosser” syndrome.
Callum McManaman gave us a cameo when he came on for an increasingly ineffective James Vaughan and at least took on defenders. He may prove to be a useful acquisition – but we have no time for “may’s” we need “will’s”.
The rest of them were as uninspiring as they were at Barnsley. Grabban gave up and slouched around for much of the second half. Ruiter showed that, while he might do well in friendlies, he is struggling in league games and was beaten at his near post for the second game running.
Kone disappeared at half time, relinquishing the honour of following in the footsteps of Raich Carter, Stan Anderson, Charlie Hurley, Bobby Kerr and Kevin Ball as captain. He will not be remembered as fondly as that august list. Browning struggled in his third centre back role and his fellow Evertonian, Galloway was completely out of his depth and spent the first half looking around and wondering where he should be. A caller to BBC Newcastle’s summed him up perfectly – an athlete but not a footballer.
Vaughan’s lack of goals and worthwhile attempts at opening his account is becoming embarrassing and Honeyman ran around a lot without achieving anything. And as for Rodwell………
Here is a player who at one time had the world at his feet. A regular place at Goodison Park, in the England squad and playing for the team he had supported as a boy. Life must have looked great for the Southport born Rodwell. A big money move to Manchester City failed dismally as he made 16 appearances in two years partly due to injury. He pitched up here as Gus Poyet’s marquee signing as we sought to build on the League Cup/Great Escape season and he has failed dismally in his three years at Sunderland.
For many supporters, he is seen to personify all that is wrong with the club. Four managers have tried to get something out of him and all have failed. For people who may be “just about managing”, it is enormously frustrating to see a footballer being paid huge amounts of money and producing so little. I cannot remember coming away from any game thinking that Rodwell had made a difference to it other than in a negative way.
After Donaldson’s second goal, he became the target for terrace anger and was booed every time he touched the ball. He took his goal well but nobody cared by that stage and it would probably be in his best interests and that of the support if he tore up his contract and looked elsewhere. A fresh start at a club that is not as riven as Sunderland appears to be may well be what he needs.
A word about the Blades: they were very well organised and knew exactly what their roles were. Chris Wilder has built a good side here and he has 100% backing from the support. Clayton Donaldson, signed from Birmingham City for a ”nominal” fee, will get them through the autumn months and I was impressed with Chris Basham at the back but what impressed me the most was the collective spirit that they showed. We had none.
This was a thoroughly wretched afternoon which leaves me desperately worried about the next few weeks. No home win since December, a crowd who are close to giving up, a managerial team who must be wondering why they left the safety and security of Deepdale for the snake pit of the Stadium of Light and players who are struggling for form and confidence.
Simon Grayson likened this to Groundhog Day, a film where the leading character commits suicide several times. After sitting through ninety minutes of this rubbish, I know how Phil Connor (played by Bill Murray) feels as he tries to break the cycle of endless repetition which leaves him angry and frustrated and with no chance of getting what he wants. For Bill Murray it was the heart and body of Andie McDowell.
I’ll settle for a home win on Tuesday night and then I might have some idea of what on earth is going on out there.
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.
Malcolm Dawson writes……after another abject performance and the one result we didn’t want, it looks as if the writing is on the wall. Well let’s be honest, there were already a few daubings on the brickwork but now the whole thing is covered in graffiti and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading. Unlike Pete Sixsmith’s match report, which he manages to make a lot more entertaining than this match was for supporters of the team in pink and purple. Perhaps for Moyes and the boys it was fortunate that this game was at the ground formerly known as the Britannia, because I don’t think a home crowd would have produced the same reaction that Pete describes happening in this match.
STOKE CITY (a)
I am now of an age where I should be making better decisions. I should be spending Saturdays doing something positive – maybe leafleting for Greenpeace or Jeremy Corbyn, maybe putting together food parcels for those in need or maybe helping to organise a clean-up of the litter spattered roads around Shildon. I would be putting something back into the community, helping those less fortunate, trying to change the world for the better, just like any Guardian reader would.
Instead, I spent the neck end of six hours on a coach (admittedly in good company), two hours taking in the sights of Uttoxeter (where Dr Johnson made a public apology to his father for being a bad son) and finally, two and a half hours watching another benighted, bedraggled and plain bad performance from the current representatives of Sunderland AFC.
This was yet another stinker and one from which I may not recover. Should we continue to play like this, we will be cast adrift by Christmas and will do well to reach that magic 15 points that we “achieved” ten years ago as Mick McCarthy’s team slid away with a whimper.
We were beaten by a side that had one point more than we did prior to the start of the game, but who moved four points ahead of us by 3.07. Once Joe Allan, a man renowned the length and breadth of Wales for his heading prowess – a veritable John Charles is Joe , headed home from eight yards, the game was over. Any chance of a win had gone as we would need to score two and then not concede any more. There was more chance of Donald Trump being asked to present Woman’s Hour than either of those two things happening.
But we managed to stay in touch until the 45th minute when more awful defending allowed the Wee Welsh Wizard to seal the points for the Potters with a crisp shot from just inside the box. As our team and management left the field, there were boos and jeers aimed at both from the sold out visitors’ end.
And then, something miraculous happened. Not on the field – absolutely no chance of that, but off it. Sunderland supporters showed that, while the club may mean little to the players, it means everything to them. For the entire second half, there was non-stop noise in the hope that it may inspire the kind of fightback that we saw at Anfield at the beginning of the year. That it did not come was indicative of the weaknesses that are all too apparent in the present line up.
This is a very poor team indeed. Take Pickford and Defoe out of it and there is precious little to admire or even warm to. The defence always seems to be seconds away from a mistake and the midfield is the weakest and least creative in the division. Up front there is nobody to support Defoe.
There are players who clearly do not want to be at the club. Lamine Kone said in an interview how disappointed he was that his move to Everton had fallen through. He made it clear to this reader that he could not wait to get away from Sunderland, new contract or not. There was a suspicion that his hamstring injury, obtained while on World Cup duty, was convenient.
Both McNair and Manquillo look as if they would rather be anywhere but at Sunderland. For Manquillo, he can always go back to Atletico Madrid in January, but McNair is stuck with us and vice versa. The Irishman produced a couple of decent passes but appeared to have no idea of what he was supposed to do or what role he was supposed to have. He got in the way of Khazri and Ndong and was mercifully withdrawn just past the hour mark.
Not that the rest of the midfield was a great deal better. Khazri ran and ran but far too often either made a poor pass or gave the ball away. Ndong was busy and picked the ball up deep but there was no real end product and he ran out of puff long before the end. The transition from the far less intense game played in Ligue 1 to the hurly burley of the Premier League is difficult enough in a good team, so it must be well-nigh impossible when he is thrust in with this lot.
Rodwell continued his run – it is now 31 games that he has started for Sunderland and not a single win in the Premier League. There were some good touches, but he allowed Allan to get away from him for the opener. He is another player who has failed to offer anything in the two and a bit seasons he has spent at the club.
The body language from players and manager oozes negativity. At times Moyes looked as hapless as Steve McLaren did last year at Newcastle and he cut a disconsolate figure as he left the pitch at the end of the game. There is a growing swell of opinion against him and his tactics, which appear to be “kick the ball upfield in the general direction of Defoe.”
Stoke have not made a great start to the season but they have players like Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Allan who take responsibility and try to make things happen. None of those three have come cheaply but neither have Rodwell, Khazri and Ndong and I know which ones I would rather have in our red and white stripes.
We are a club with no discernible character about us other than a remarkable ability to avoid relegation. That will certainly come to an end this season. A triumvirate of Ferguson, Clough(B) and Wenger would not prevent us falling into the Championship – and staying there for more than one season.
There are many questions that need to be posed even at this early stage of the season, viz:
Is David Moyes the man for the job? Has he done anything so far that inspires confidence in the support? Should he be encouraged to take the Scotland job when Gordon Strachan leaves after the England game?
Is Ellis Short now coming to the end of his tenure as owner? If so, how on earth will he sell the club? Will the support heap the blame on him as they did on Bob Murray?
Why is it that successive managers cannot attract the players that they want to Wearside? Those on Tyneside and Teesside don’t appear to have those difficulties.
Next Saturday we have to go and do it all over again at the Olympic Stadium. Twelve hours on a coach, numerous renditions of the most boring song in football and a probable hiding on and off the pitch.
As Peter Glaze said to Leslie Crowther on numerous occasions “I don’t know why I bother.”
Malcolm Dawson writes…..Pete Sixsmith is slipping. His trip to the south coast last week meant he missed yesterday’s Under 23 game at Eppleton CW (a 3-0 win v Southampton) and this Bank Holiday Monday he will only make three games. The long journey back yesterday means that his much awaited match report from St Mary’s has taken a little longer than usual to reach us but here it is.
SOUTHAMPTON (a) August 2016
Three years and four managers ago, Pete Horan and I discovered Salisbury. We found a Bed and Breakfast that suited us perfectly fifteen minutes’ walk from the city centre, with a good beer pub just around the corner and the railway station within sight and sound.
This was our fourth visit to St Mary’s Stadium. The previous three had gone like this;
1) late equaliser after taking an early lead.
2) a hammering which we shrugged off as “Just one of those things” while quietly seething.
3) and a very late equaliser after taking a late lead which was far, far worse than the 0-8 as this one was towards the end of the annual relegation battle , provoking fears that this was one struggle too far.
This year, we hoped for a win, feared a defeat and would have been satisfied with a draw.
There were two taboos that nagged away at us as we discussed the game in The Platform Inn on Southampton’s waterfront. Could we shake off the stigma of failing to win a game in August since the days of Steve Bruce and could Jack Rodwell, quietly impressive this season, actually start a game in a winning team? Add to that the goalkeeping situation, the Kone situation and the Lens situation and we had more situations than the BBC Comedy Department.
The Sausage Festival at The Platform went down well. I eschewed the Llama, Alpaca, Zebra and Camel varieties, opting for Venison (a trifle de(a)er I thought) and Lamb and Mint while PH went for a Continental approach, opting for Toulouse and a Bratwurst – a mix of last season’s midfield of M’Vila and Kirchhoff.
The bus ride to the stadium was interesting. Tony the driver, a lookalike for Bernard Cribbins, he of the Spoons salesman in Fawlty Towers, novelty discs like Hole In The Ground and Right Said Fred, railway hi-jinks in The Railway Children and Wombling narrator, eventually got us there after a half hour wait outside the Isle of Wight ferry terminal.
It meant that we missed the kick off, something which some fans regard as sacrilege while others merrily amble in five or ten minutes late having finished off their pints. We were in time to collect our red envelopes containing a tenner courtesy of Virgin Media, the Saints new sponsors. Jeremy Corbyn supporters refused the Branson shilling and suggested it would be better spent by using it to buy bigger carriages on the East Coast Main Line.
We walked in just as Pickford was making the first of a handful of decent saves and we saw plenty of the action in the opening fifteen minutes as Southampton attacked our “new” defence. Manquillo was tested and came through, Kone and Djilobodji began to gel and with Rodwell, Gooch and Pienaar beavering away in midfield, we gained a foothold in the game. The longer it went on the better balanced we looked and the more ragged the Saints became. Opportunities began to present themselves as Kone headed wide when he should have scored as did Rodwell but as the half ended, the team in the spanking new all white with a bit of blue in it strip, looked the more comfortable.
The second half reiterated that fact as we began to take control. Januzaj slalomed his way through a number of tackles and was brought down on the edge of the box only for Borini to take a feeble free kick and injure himself into the bargain. Watmore, on for Borini, delayed his shot after Lens, on for Pienaar, had played him in and gave a poor ball to Defoe. We kept pressing and then the breakthrough came. Lens broke down the left and played a smart ball into Defoe. The former England man moved into the box and encouraged Southampton captain Fonte to foul him. The Portuguese Euro Winner, who was sent off for a foul on Defoe last season, promptly did and it was a clear penalty. Up stepped Jermain to nearly lift the net off its supports. Ten minutes to go.
Could we hold on? Would we win in August? Would Jack have that elusive victory?
Of course not – this is Sunderland we are talking about. Southampton pushed forward and we were pushed back. With four minutes on the clock, Jay Rodriguez lined up a shot, hit it well and beat Pickford, who allowed it to go under him and into the net. Frustration on the pitch, much wailing and renting of garments in the away end and the home team pressed for what would have been an entirely undeserved winner. That we prevented that is a positive to take.
At the end, some of the players came over and Defoe gave away his shirt, prompting thoughts amongst one of the party that he was on his way to Palace or some other such third rate club. There was sympathy for Pickford, a Sunderland supporter since childhood and there was hope that a solid performance from Kone indicated that he wanted to stay – although Moyes’ press conference afterwards made that look less likely. PH was impressed with Djilobodji and I was impressed with Manquillo. All of a sudden, things began to look better as we reached the dizzy heights of sixteenth in the first proper league table of the season.
It was a much more balanced team than the one selected for the Middlesbrough game. The back four looked solid, albeit against a Southampton side who like us, have hit the road stumbling. I think we can get better. I am not sure about them.
The transfer window will hopefully see a forward and a couple of midfielders in and Kone staying. If he stays and plays, we are a side who will be on the up. If he leaves and we have nobody to replace him, we may well see sixteenth as the optimum position.
The night continued in jolly style back in Sarum. The Turkish restaurant we ate in was interesting. The food was fine, the décor a tad faded and the front of house entertaining. The card machine didn’t work and the couple on the next table had to go to the Convenience Store next door to get cash. Mr Front of House had no change so they tipped him more than they might have done.
A brisk walk back to the Duke of York, a splendid pub if a bit quiet for a Saturday night, led to Matt the Landlord placing a whisky bottle on the bar and encouraging us to partake of it. Pete then fell into conversation with a surfing hippy who had been in France and I chatted to the drummer from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch. He was called John, the original drummer had been Stan and, although Dave Dee had died a few years ago, they still got together to play. He had fond memories of Sunderland Empire and liked “that thing opposite Newcastle that looks like a huge condom.” I assumed he meant The Sage and not Mike Ashley.
A good weekend ended with the sight of bleary eyed and gravel voiced Hull FC supporters making their way home from Wembley having won the Rugby League Challenge Cup. Horan and Sixsmith, the Old Firm, were not quite in that category but we were two tired pensioners when we got home. Listening to the stinker between The Baggies and The Smoggies didn’t help. May the transfer window bring us all we need in the form of arrivals and non-departures. I shall be consulting the various web sites with growing frenzy as Wednesday night approaches.
Finally, a happy birthday to M. Salut, who reaches the splendid age of 60+ a few today. Have a grand day down there on the Cote d’Azur.
Blame Rob, who suggested we needed an article on squad analysis when I did my last review of “relegation watch”. Or Malcolm, whose idle speculation led to the idea of specific comparisons. Some of them weren’t particularly enticing but they planted a seed so I trooped off to hosted.stats.com and did a bit of digging. Then I did a bit of moving things around and playing with the numbers on a spreadsheet and here we are.
This is the first of what I think will be two posts comparing our players. It concentrates on midfield and doesn’t include the Hoff as Sunderland have him listed as a defender rather than a midfielder. I’ve also excluded Rees Greenwood and George Honeyman, who made their debuts against Watford.
Malcolm Dawson writes….Pete Sixsmith doesn’t just deliver “The Observer” sometimes he gets asked to write for it too. As is their wont The Observer follows the lead of Salut! Sunderland by doing end of season reviews and ask the fans of all clubs to sum up their Premier League campaign. You can read the whole lot by following the links Arsenal to Manchester United and Newcastle to West Ham. Meanwhile, if you couldn’t care less about anyone else, here’s what Pete told them about us.
Our annual production of The Great Escape was even more special this season, after a start that was worse than Villa’s. The real improvement came when Sam Allardyce had his chance to revamp the squad. Out went those who were nowhere near good enough, in came three players who changed the season. Allardyce has impressed on and off the pitch: he’s a good fit for a gritty, working class club like ours.
The stars Koné, Kirchhoff and Khazri changed the dynamic. Younès Kaboul was poor in autumn and exceptional in spring. Vito Mannone was a fine keeper and Jermain Defoe’s goals and positivity kept us up.
The flops Jeremain Lens looked a good buy in summer but turned out to be a huge disappointment. I don’t expect to be seeing him in August. Jack Rodwell epitomised the way that our game wastes talent.
Summer targets Another forward, because Defoe will not go on for ever. Maybe Ayew from Swansea? There’s a need for a stronger squad and an end to signing players who are clearly unsuited to Premier League football. I’ll leave the detail to the scouts who unearthed Koné, Kirchhoff and Khazri.
Best and worst away fans Leicester’s away crowd was noisy and clapperless. West Ham’s was boisterous. Chelsea were charmless.
2016-17 title winners Why not us? We finished on a high and have a solid squad. Lightning can strike twice. Failing that, maybe Tottenham.
Highlights montage music The Long and Winding Road – The Beatles.