Ed was away; he left me his season ticket and thanks to his generosity I watched the lads for free if I don’t count the 8 gallons of petrol, the couple of bottles of wine for Susan (my sister, who put me up) and a couple of pre-match pints for designated driver Paul.
Malcolm Dawson writes……..there was a bloke in a Chelsea shirt cleaning the headlights of his van, parked in front of us as I got back to the car last night and as I usually do when I see an opposition fan after the game, I asked him what his thoughts were. My past experiences of Chelsea fans have not been great. On the whole I have found them arrogant and unpleasant but on first impressions this bloke seemed like a decent, genuine football fan who just happens to support Chelsea. We had a short conversation about the match and the state of the roadworks on the motorways at night and he said that in his opinion, this had been the hardest game they had had for a while.
Personally I thought that a stranger to English football would never have guessed this was top v bottom. They were better but we weren’t outclassed to that extent. They had more chances but not many clear cut ones and we had a few of our own. Pre-match I was pleased to see Borini and Kirchhoff fit enough to start but three of the regular Under 23s on the bench (including as the scoreboard would have us believe George Hooneyman) and Donald Love a possible fourth, shows that Moyes’s injury ravaged squad is still threadbare.
On the whole and unlike Moyes, I thought we were playing OK until the mix up that led to their goal. Djilobodji is no longer looking the liability he was at the start of the season and to concede the goal was disappointing. I wasn’t expecting anything from this game but we had chances to snatch a point. It’s performances such as this that makes the Swansea result so frustrating. Pete Sixsmith had given the reindeer the night off and was there to bring you his view of last night’s proceedings. Over to him….
This was the game that we feared.
After a dispiriting performance in the depths of South Wales on Saturday, the last thing we wanted was a visit from a side that are on a real roll, having won nine games on the trot. We get excited if we can manage two wins in a row, so excitement levels would be in the stratosphere should we ever be able to emulate the Pensioners. As it happened, we put up a decent performance, albeit not decent enough to stop Chelsea from making it ten in a row. It was good enough to keep people in their seats until the end and had Thibalt Courtois not produced the kind of save that we are beginning to take for granted from Jordan Pickford, we might have dented the Blues title hopes and put ourselves in the dizzy heights of 18th.
A neutral observer might have been of the opinion that Chelsea spurned several chances in the second half, but might also have thought that Sunderland did well to hold them in the first half. Indeed, Fabregas (a player I have never liked – he’s sneaky) scored with their first shot on target. That it came after we had given the ball away in midfield allowing them to stroke the ball around as if it were made of velvet was all the more galling.
The team that Moyes set up mirrored that of the one that the excellent Antonio Conte has used recently. There were three central defenders, two wing backs who were told to push forward, a holding midfield player, two wingers, a central midfielder and a forward. Chelsea could boast Azpilicueta, Fabregas and Willian. We had Jones, Denayer and Januzaj. Not that those three played badly.
Jones is a redoubtable plodder and can be caught out. Fortunately, neither Pedro nor Moses were really able to hurt him and he improved as the game went on. His replacement, Donald Love, also did well and put a couple of excellent balls into the box. Like another Donald, he may grow into the job.
Denayer spent the first twenty minutes chasing around like a dog let loose on moorland. He rarely touched the ball or made a tackle but he was there, filling in space and proving a nuisance. He is another young player who could improve given a decent run in the team.
Januzaj is the subject of some scepticism from certain fans. One acquaintance said pre game that we were playing with ten men and that Moyes should be sacked if he persists in playing the Belgian. Others sarcastically applauded when he made a tackle. Most of us thrilled when he used his pace and trickery to get into the box which he did on at least three occasions. Two of his attempts whizzed across the face of the goal, the other forced a fine save from Courtois. If we use Januzaj wisely, he could prove to be a genuine asset. His strengths are his pace and his ability to keep the ball at his feet. It doesn’t always come off and Chelsea realised how important he was by making sure that they doubled up on him in the second half. He is a gamble worth taking at the moment.
The sums of the parts don’t quite add up at the moment. Kirchhoff looked tired before half time and his replacement by Larsson added little to the midfield other than the endeavour we have come to expect from the Swede. There is still not a midfield player on the club’s books who can pick out a pass like Kante or (and it grieves me to say this) Fabregas. There seems little possibility of anyone coming in during January although I gather that Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert are both available.
Watford are up on Saturday and we have to win that one. The Guardian described them as “timid” at Eastlands last night. We can but hope that they arrive at on Wearside in a similar frame of mind.
Ho, ho, ho.
Another week, another injury, this time Lynden Gooch who will be out for up to three months after damaging an ankle ligament playing for the Under 23s last Monday. Before that, it was Paddy McNair, whose season ended with the injury picked up in the win against Hull City. Rachel Johnson* returns to our pages to report on mental challenge McNair faces as he battles to regain fitness …
With two tweets as the transfer window slammed shut, the sensible and always engaging BBC Radio Newcastle commentator on Sunderland games, Nick Barnes, summed up the frustrations of all those who support the club.
We can and should applaud the late acquisitions of Didier Ndong (he seems to prefer Ibrahim as his given name and Wikipedia awards him an apostrophe but we will go with the SAFC version for now) and, if regrettably another as on-loan signing, Jason Denayer.
But the £5.5m spent earlier on a pair of Manchester United reserves, who may yet prove worth their weight in gold, seems rash compared with the club’s steadfast refusal to reach a deal with Rubin Kuzan to bring Yann M’Vila back permanently to Wearside.