Sixer’s Fulham Soapbox: Should’ve gone to Shields v Shildon

SAFCvFULHAM(FT)Malcolm Dawson writes……I couldn’t get to this game being otherwise occupied on the Fylde coast. Phew – got away with that one. Of course Pete Sixsmith gets to every home game and most away matches too but even his patience is being tested. The euphoria felt at Old Trafford and Sid James’ Park isn’t making up for the amount of dross and drivel he is being served up on a far too regular basis. Already he has taken the decision to cut down on the number of times he follows the Lads to away grounds and it sounds like he is not far from choosing to leave his seat at the Stadium of Light unoccupied. He’ll be back next week, as will I, but his commitment is being pushed to the limit. With many of the fancied teams now out of the competition the F.A. Cup offers us a realistic chance of silverware. Not, according to Pete, on yesterday’s performance. Here’s his somewhat downbeat assessment of the goings on on the banks of the River Wear yesterday.

Sunderland v Fulham FA Cup (H)

I could, and perhaps should, have driven off at 2.05 and headed for North Shields in order to watch Shildon put their Northern League challenge well and truly back on track with a 1-0 win against the then league leaders. Why 2.05? That was when Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett read the team out for this FA Cup Fourth Round game. First of all they said that McCormack and Rodellega were on the bench for Fulham, suggesting that the Cottagers were not over fussed about this game.

Jake so glad he couldn't get this game in Spain.
Jake so glad he couldn’t get this game in Spain.

Bennett suggested to Barnes that Giaccherini was almost certain to be part of a midfield three with Larsson and Rodwell and that hopefully the one time Italian international would be able to spark some creativity and create chances for new arrival Jermaine Defoe.
Then came the team news; no Giaccherini, no Alvarez but a three of Rodwell, Bridcutt and Larsson. There was a sharp intake of breath from Bennett – and from the driver’s seat of the trusty Mazda. “Where is the creativity going to come from,” said the pundit. “Should I head for North Shields,” said the fan.
Where's the creativity?
Where’s the creativity?

I made the wrong decision – which was several less than Gus Poyet made on a truly wretched afternoon, which did nothing to assuage the mood amongst the support that bothered to turn out -that we were sliding towards the bottom three and that the miracle of 2014 was unlikely to be repeated in 2015. The lack of tempo and pace at the start was frightening as we allowed a competent and well organised Fulham side to settle. The Dog and Duck could settle against us as we pass the ball sideways, backwards, anywhere but forwards, putting minimal pressure on whatever opponents we are facing.

To many of us it was patently clear that the ball was not going to reach Defoe or Fletcher quickly and that when it did eventually reach them, the Fulham defenders were ready and waiting. It also became apparent that a week on the training ground is not sufficient to bed the players into this new 3-5-2 formation. They argued with one other, asked what they were supposed to be doing and generally looked as if they had little idea of what was expected of them. Of course, it helps if you can actually pass the ball to one of your team mates and this basic requirement seemed to be beyond too many of them, particularly those charged with the responsibility of driving the team forward. Only Larsson of the midfield three looked comfortable in this set up, drawing on his huge reserves of energy to push Fulham back and win the ball. His two colleagues showed little inclination to match him.

Bridcutt was, to put it mildly, poor but one expects little from a player who is clearly suited to the Championship. It is Rodwell who seems to encapsulate the problems that Sunderland AFC have at the moment. Hailed as a good signing by many (including this scribe), his first six months at The Stadium of Light have been distinctly underwhelming, culminating in a performance where the team actually looked better once he had been sent off. He could have gone in the first half, because the challenge that earned him his first yellow was as close as you will see to being a red. It was made after he had lost the ball, leading to him losing his temper and going in with his foot off the ground on Staflyidis. He then committed two more fouls which drew a quiet word from referee Anthony Taylor, before he got himself a mandatory yellow for obstructing the goalkeeper. “Idiotic”, “stupid” and “does he ever actually think” are words that spring to mind.
He had every right to be frustrated as his performance had done nothing to justify the large fee that Manchester City took off us for his registration. He struggled to keep up with the pace of the game which, for a man who is supposed to be a “box to box” player, is just not good enough. He appears to be yet another player who has come to Sunderland to maintain his lifestyle and who, on what we have seen so far, will not be an asset to the club and will bail out should we be relegated at the end of the season – something which is looking likelier as the weeks pass by and we show no pace, tempo or the ability to fashion chances.

Support for Gus's methods is flagging
Support for Gus’s methods is flagging

The support is rapidly becoming disillusioned with the football being played. A single home win all season in the league does not inspire. Chelsea apart, the games have been dull and uninteresting and there seems to be an inexorable slide towards relegation. There is an old adage that players are more important than systems and that good players will fit to whatever the coaching staff wants them to do – as long as they buy into it. Look at our players – fractious, unsure of themselves and seemingly not convinced by what they are being asked to do. They know that we are going into a series of home games that will define our season and will either propel us to mid table safety and obscurity or dump us in the bottom three, possibly for the rest of the season.

Some flair and imagination are required for the Burnley game on Saturday. Johnson should return and hopefully Cattermole, whose drive and energy has been sorely missed. If Defoe is to flourish, he needs players who will get the ball to him quickly and take advantage of his ability to make his own space against defenders. Whether Fletcher, who mysteriously spent much of his hour on the field in a wide position, is the man to play alongside him, remains to be seen. As does the ability of Messrs Poyet, Tarrichio and Oatway to get our season moving. Burnley could well be their make or break game.


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Sixer’s Man City Soapbox: effort and commitment come to naught

Jake: 'at least we made them work for it'
Jake: ‘at least we made them work for it’

Malcolm Dawson writes …….I watched this on the telly. Usually I shy away from talking about individual players’ performances when I haven’t been to the match because the small screen doesn’t allow you to see what is happening off the ball. Someone like Seb Larsson for example can frustrate the opposition by his positional play, blocking the route of an incisive pass or tracking the run of a player from deep. No such inhibitions on the first half at the Etihad as for most of that 45 minutes there were 10 Sunderland players in the picture, usually in two ranks, 18 and 24 yards in front of the goal line. Gus had set his stall and parked the bus and it appeared to be working but the tight marking and compact formation meant that when we did win possession there was no room for the player with the ball. On the odd occasion we did get into the City half we looked assured in possession but our attacks were by and large dealt with comfortably and City soon had us back defending deep. Those first half possession stats are frightening. That Yaya Toure should produce a wonder strike in the second half was not totally unexpected and this one was as good, if not better, than his effort at Wembley. Once behind we were forced to attack and looked a better side for it – at least on TV. Pete Sixsmith was there to witness things first hand.

MANCHESTER CITY (away) 01/01/15

SBOXMANC (2)New Year’s Day dawned without a hangover, a far cry from those days in previous decades when the head would be thumping and the stomach would be churning after quaffing too much Strongarm and scoffing an excess of corned beef pie. Now, a respectable senior gentleman, it’s a night of Mapp and Lucia and a single whisky with the next door neighbours before I was tucked up in bed, disturbed only by fireworks being let off in the next street. Up at 6.00, a good breakfast and off to Thinford for the coach.

We arrived in Bury at 10.45 to find no buses, no trams and nothing open. The clientele in one of the Wetherspoons seemed more concerned with coffee and tea than ale, so I went for a walk and ended up outside Gigg Lane, a ground that provokes fond memories for Sunderland fans after we wrapped up promotion there fifteen years ago.

My first drink of 2015 on the station bar at The East Lancs Railway – a rather nice pint of Titanic Lifeboat – and then we sauntered down the M60 and the A57 to Eastlands, where I was frisked and asked to remove my cap in case I was smuggling something in. Like what? A bottle of vodka? Four cans of beer? A flare? Stewarding gone mad and there is always a large number of them at this stadium. I wonder if the home fans are treated in the same way.

Jack Rodwell made a rare appearance against his former club and Connor Wickham was given an equally rare opportunity up front as he returned to the scene of the game where his renaissance started last season. City looked a little short without Aguero but had Jovetic back as their lone striker.

For 45 minutes, the Beswick Billionaires huffed and puffed and barely threatened The Giant Pantilimon. The entire Sunderland team dropped deep when they had to and forced City to move the ball, sideways and backwards, but rarely forwards and when they did get into the box, Jovetic showed all the composure and quality of Danny Graham. O’Shea marshalled his back four, while Rodwell was quietly effective in front of them. Johnson and Larsson were busy and Wickham worked hard up front against two large central defenders.

The best save in the first half came from Willy Caballero (crazy name, crazy guy) who pushed an excellent free kick from Larsson around the post just before the break and we trooped off at half time looking comfortable as long as City remained so (relatively) ineffective.

They didn’t and showed their quality in the second half by coming at us and forcing us deeper and deeper. When the opening goal came, it was hardly a surprise. That it was scored by Yaya Toure was even less so. In the absence of Aguero and Dzeko, Yaya is the man they go to for a goal. He had lined up a couple of shots in the first half but had been thwarted by some excellent tackles, but this time, he was set up on the edge of the box and he produced a fantastic strike to give them the lead.

A decent performance against his old club
A decent performance against his old club

Poyet responded positively by sending on Giaccherini for Gomez but we went two down in the 66th minute when the ineffective Jovetic flicked the ball in from Clichy’s cross. Game over we thought as the City crowd woke from their New Year slumbers. On came Alvarez and back we came. Larsson’s excellent corner was headed in by Rodwell and then, when Billy Jones was fouled by Zabaleta in the box, up stepped Adam Johnson to convert the penalty. We were back in the game and thoughts of a spectacular win began to appear. Giaccherini and Alvarez had both played a part in the goals and their pace was causing City problems.

Enter Frank Lampard, a player I admire and a man I detest.  His header restored City’s lead before we could settle after the euphoria of the equaliser. It came from a good cross which Brown should have cut out and Lampard sent in a beautifully placed header to put them back in front. From that moment on, they never looked like losing. They stretched us and ran at us down the flanks. TGP made three excellent saves to stop them inflicting even more damage on our goal difference and they ran out deserved winners in the end.

The other results were not helpful and they left us a mere three points above the bottom three with Liverpool and Spurs to come before we meet Burnley in what could be a vital game for both teams.  Leicester are flickering back to life, Palace and West Brom have appointed new managers and Hull have managed to beat a team that is not Sunderland. Everton are a point better off than us and are on the edge of the battle while Villa can’t score.

And what about us? There were things to like on Thursday – a commitment to the cause and some good individual performances. I thought Rodwell looked good and that Johnson had a fine game. Hopefully theirs were not performances solely to show the City hierarchy how good they were and that both can maintain this level of performance throughout winter and spring. Giaccherini indicated that he might just give us that little bit extra behind a striker. He runs at defenders and gives us a different approach to the game which the likes of Buckley and Gomez do not. Both are increasingly looking like championship players – which is what they were up until August.

On Sunday, we have an opportunity to move forward in the FA Cup. Defeat to what looks like a relegation threatened Leeds United side is out of the question and I hope that as strong a team as possible is selected. Giaccherini, Alvarez and Rodwell all need to start and all need to show that they can play a major part in lifting us away from our seemingly never ending struggle with relegation.

The journey home was enlivened by excellent commentary by Connor McNamara and Steve Claridge on the goal fest at White Hart Lane amidst predictions as to how Mourinho would try to explain this one away. Maybe he should take a leaf out of Gus’s book and accept that he was beaten by a better side.

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Sixer’s Man City Soapbox: City quality too much as Sunderland outplayed

Malcolm Dawson writes….. Since the advent of advent, Peter Sixsmith has been distributing gifts to the not so poor and needy up and down the Durham Dales, except to those wearing anything with a “Wonga” advert, explaining just why Saint Nicholas always wears red and white. But last night he got his manservant Pardew to layout the thermals, prepare a vaccuum flask of warming beef tea and dig out the insulated beard protector to save him from frostbite, as he braved sub-zero temperatures to bring us his take on events at the Stadium of Light. On Saturday afternoon we had agreed that no points and a goal difference worsened by only minus three would represent some kind of positive return from the three games in week ahead. The team exceeded expectations against Chelsea but were brought back to earth with a bump that could be heard as far away as Seaham and Shields. Let Pete explain.

SBOXMANC

MANCHESTER CITY (HOME) 2014

And so it came to pass that at the fifth time of asking, the team known as Manchester City came to Wearside and managed to win a game.

And the multitude assembled inside the Stadium of Light accepted that City had indeed played well and deserved their first win there for many a year. And few left that splendid palace of football without acknowledging that the Argentine known as Sergio Aguero is one of the finest players that has ever walked upon England’s pastures green. And although the names of Dennis Law, Gary Lineker, Luis Suarez and Dominic Sharkey were mentioned by some, the general acclamation in the temple of sense known as the East Stand Gents toilets was that Aguero was a decent turn.

And although the heroics of the past were not to be repeated, those warriors assembled in red and white stripes now have to pick themselves up and smite the men of Anfield on Saturday, followed by the tribe from East London and then take on the representatives of the Great Satan and all of his acolytes at the Gates of Hades.

After spending 90 minutes closing Chelsea down on Saturday, our game plan was based on the same premise. For the opening twenty minutes it worked. City looked rattled, the two central defenders were shaky and we should have been two up. Jack Rodwell should have opened the scoring when Will Buckley played him in. Some would argue that Buckley failed to take the responsibility thrust upon him and that he should have finished the move. Others (of which I am one) would say that he saw a colleague in a better position and passed it to him. Rodwell should have put his foot through it instead of trying to place it. The chance was gone.

Fourteen minutes later Connor Wickham started off and finished a good move with a little help from Zabaleta and the traditional Wearside score was up there on the scoreboard. It lasted for two minutes.

Jake celebrates ...... but not for long.
Jake celebrates …… but not for long.

City had already shown that they had sufficient pace and power to worry our back four and when Coates stood too far off Aguero, the Argentine made a mockery of the Uruguayan and smashed home the equaliser. From then on, City were in control and try as we might, we were unable to get sufficient grip on the game to worry them. When Toure came forward, the game opened up and City struck me as a much more fluid side than Chelsea. The Pensioners clearly follow to the letter the instructions they are given by Mourinho. If they don’t they are toast.
Pellegrini’s philosophy is to create a framework and then encourage his players to use their natural talent and flair to work within that. When you have the likes of Toure, Navas, and Nasri, plus Aguero, you can do that.

We, on the other hand, have a team made up of players who are decent but limited. All worked hard but the physical and mental tiredness from Saturday was clear. Cattermole and Larsson both led by example, but were unable to win tackles and retrieve the ball with anything like the success that they had against Chelsea. Wherever they looked they saw a huge obelisk aka Yaya Toure standing in front of them. If they got too close, he swatted them away as if they were flies tormenting him.

At the back, Reveillere was given a torrid time by Navas and his 35 year old legs were struggling to keep up with the slinky Spaniard. In the middle, Coates was never close enough to Aguero and lost him at crucial moments. Not an auspicious league debut for Gus’s fellow Uruguayan although I doubt that many could have lived with Aguero last night.

And so, the assembled multitude went home, many leaving before the game was finished. A noisy minority would have experienced a pleasant and fulfilling journey home across the frozen wastes of Yorkshire before returning to their home city. The majority sat in their cars and buses and marvelled at the leviathan known as Toure and the assassin known as Aguero and posed some questions viz;

How on earth can any normal club compete on a regular basis with the huge amounts of money washing around the top two?
How can we ensure that two performances in a row are of similar quality?
How can we strengthen the squad and the team before the annual relegation battle starts in earnest?

Here endeth the lesson dealt out to us by a team that cost north of £200m.

Read M Salut’s account at ESPN here http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739

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Gus Poyet, Manchester City and the enigma of the lesser-spotted Rodwell

Jake: 'imagine your teammates really playing for Real, Jack''
Jake: ‘imagine your teammates really playing for Real, Jack”

It began as an understandable precaution, Jack Rodwell playing for 60 minutes or so before being subbed. This seemed unremarkable. At Manchester City, competition for places was so stiff and Rodwell’s injury record so troubling that he arrived at Sunderland short of match fitness.

But when he got that equaliser against Manchester United, it seemed a corner had been turned. Confidence would be high, fitness levels were presumably improving.

Read moreGus Poyet, Manchester City and the enigma of the lesser-spotted Rodwell

A warm Salut! Sunderland welcome to Jack Rodwell. Who’s next?

Introducing the first of Jake's new range
Introducing the first of Jake’s new range

The club’s statement made for an appropriate climax to a day or two of rich entertainment on Twitter as Jack Rodwell was spotted on Wearside, had rude jokes made about his surname and kept us waiting until this afternoon for final confirmation that he was not just on a tour of the Premier in search of the highest bidder.

The SAFC announcement said: “Sunderland have completed the signing of midfielder Jack Rodwell from Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City. The highly sought-after 23-year-old has penned a five-year deal on Wearside and joins for an undisclosed fee.”

Leave aside our quarrels with the absurdities of “undisclosed fees”, which encourage wild speculation and make it impossible for clubs to whinge if that speculation is a few million miles, or pounds, from the truth.

We heartily welcome Jack, whether or not the £10m figure is correct, as a Sunderland player whose signing says a lot about the club’s intent and ambition – and also about Gus Poyet’s powers of persuasion. Ellis Short has dug deep again, for which we must be grateful, and Lee Congerton has pulled the right strings as director of football.

Chris Young, at the Sunderland Echo, offered analysis of Rodwell’s potential value in an outstanding piece I noticed this morning. “The imminent £10m signing of Jack Rodwell is a HUGE statement of intent from Sunderland and owner Ellis Short,” he wrote.

And it won’t be the last. Borini rumours continue to circulate, as do Vergini – and other – rumours, and the next 48 hours could bring further good news. Chris Young again, describing the boss’s mood last weekend: “Poyet was like a kid at Christmas when asked about transfers. It’s easy to see why now.”

I have written at ESPN about the acquisition and will post a link here once my article has been published. I shall also need to revise the season’s preview I submitted to them last Thursday but is already out of date and likely to be more so by the time it is scheduled to appear.

For now, let us be reassured that a top English midfielder with international and Champions League experience has agreed to commit himself to the red and white cause.

This is the link: http://www.espnfc.com/club/sunderland/366/blog/post/1973786/jack-rodwell-signs-for-sunderland

Extract:

If Sunderland’s summer has to some extent been a tale of two Jacks, the arrival of this one, Rodwell, overwhelms lingering disappointment at the loss of another, Colback, to Newcastle United.

Colback’s commitment and reliability will be missed. But Rodwell, a year-and-a-half younger at 23, probably has a little more to his game. With apparently unlimited purchasing power at Manchester City’s disposal, it is no shame to be considered surplus to requirements at the Etihad.

And here is more from the SAFC statement – followed by a YouTube clip:

“Rodwell rose through the ranks at Everton, making his debut at the age of 16 in a European tie against AZ Alkmaar in December 2007.

“His league bow – as a substitute against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light – came three months later before the Southport-born midfielder went on to become a regular for the Toffees.

“Rodwell, who has been capped on three occasions at senior level by England, made 109 appearances for Everton before joining Manchester City in summer 2012.

“He spent two seasons at the Etihad Stadium, during which time he represented City in the UEFA Champions League as well as the Barclays Premier League and domestic cup competitions.”