How does anyone get the impression they have been banned from a football stadium when they haven’t? Monsieur Salut remembers being told he was banned from a folk club in Newton Aycliffe, after comments in his folk column for the now-defunct Evening Despatch, and having to attend a hearing by the club’s committee to get the ban lifted.
With Micky Gray and Sunderland AFC, it’s a little more mystifying.
The bare bones of it, courtesy of safc.com, are that Sunderland beat Toronto with a Jermain Defoe double after his former club took the lead: ‘two well-taken efforts … the first, in the 65th minute, reward for Defoe’s persistence in a scramble on the edge of the area, the second four minutes later after of a flowing counter-attack led by Adam Johnson’. And no battle royal with Jozy Altidore, who did not play. Dick Advocaat was happy for the fans and for Defoe, as his post-match email shows. Much coverage and photos to come – and yes, the players acknowledged the support …
Martin Bates is our latest Out West reporter to keep an eye on all things Sunderland in North America. Martin, a Canadian with Sunderland family origins, has the advantage of following our next opponents, Toronto, in all games in which they are not playing us, if that makes sense. So he knows all about both clubs and all about the possible battle royal between ex-Toronto man Jermain Defoe and ex-Sunderland man Jozy Altidore. Let Martin set the scene …
The whole Salut! Sunderland team owes our old mate Jeremy Robson a huge apology. He was one of the first out of the blocks to submit an end of season review (you can read the rest by following the link below Jake’s image) but somehow it got lost in the ether. Putting things right, here is his slightly amended contribution edited to reflect events at Stamford Bridge and Dick Advocaat’s subsequent decision not to stay – both of which occurred after Jeremy’s review was written. MD
End of season review time again. There’s no point in recanting the events of the season per se. We were all there and saw what happened, so I won’t. Most of it is best forgotten anyway.
Comparing this season to the previous one might simply read as follows. “Couldn’t manage a point for weeks on end” and “couldn’t do much other than draw for weeks on end.” There’s a line from Boy and Bear’s “Old Town Blues, which is “Shadow of the carving knife, is not the danger but the warning sign”, which sums up this season’s tedious and faltering start and the incredible number of draws. Optimists consoled themselves with the satisfaction of not losing. Realists recognised that a defeat followed by a win would be a more accurate sign of progress. The truth is that there wasn’t any progress. Failure was simply wearing different clothes.
The previous season had seen us lose regularly but not heavily. This was also to change. A capitulation of mammoth proportions away at Southampton knocked ten bells out of the goal difference, and we witnessed one of the finest strikes on goal this season from a SAFC boot. Vergini’s finish was sublime. Unfortunately, it was past Mannone and not Forster. If only Messrs Wickham, Fletcher, and Graham (you can only dream Jozy), could muster such a thing at the right end.
As memories of a League Cup Final appearance faded to distant memory, goals were becoming a rarity. It looked as if the goal drought might be over for Fletcher as he netted twice in November away at Crystal Palace. Apart from his hat trick for Scotland against the Isle of Lundy (sorry Gibraltar – which isn’t even an island), the goal well remained dry until the fat lady was giving her rendition of “Oh Sole Meo”.
Freshly back to the UK having become fed up watching Raptors games and hitting the town with Drake, hopes of ending the goal scoring embargo saw Mr Defoe arrive in a swap deal for the lumbering and hopeless Altidore. Remarkably, many Canadians think they got the sweet end of the deal. Laugh? I thought my pants would never dry. Defoe’s return has not been high but his contribution has been significant, even when playing out of position.
By the time Defoe had arrived, many of our fans were sensing déjà vu, with Gus Poyet sounding increasingly like Steve Bruce in his later period as manager. Eager to criticise everyone other than himself and unable to see the glaring limitation in his tactics, style and team selections. Remarkably and against all odds, we saw the return of Danny Graham from a loan spell at Wolves which was cut short. They weren’t terribly impressed by Danny at Molineux, yet here he was. Not only back in the fold but even more remarkably back in the team, where he more or less stayed. Disastrous home performances and results of which the lowest ebb was the first half collapse against Aston Villa, ultimately saw Poyet leave with only 8 games left.
Enter the Little General. Contracted to the end of the season. We can only assume that Lee Congerton was responsible for this coup (so thanks a bunch Lee!). The most accomplished manager to ever arrive at Sunderland AFC in my life time had come to try and save us. Most fans had more or less given up the ghost. We were as good as relegated. Except of course we weren’t. All of a sudden there was some cohesion, organisation and a much more attacking formation which might actually pose a threat to the opposition. Dick Advocaat knows that to be successful, you have to score at least occasionally. Having said that we were also stronger defensively and that was down to the manager having the courage of his own convictions, dropping the likes of Vergini, Revelliere, and Alvarez on the final run in. A more positive outlook from the team saw our luck change as we got the two penalties at home to Southampton and the two fluke goals away at Goodison. What was it that Napoleon said about his Generals?
When our own Little General arrived he was probably not looking beyond the end of the season. Would he want to stay if we went down? Would we want him to stay? How would he feel if he saved us from relegation? Putting aside Dick’s comments about Mrs Advocaat not wanting him to carry on working, it would seem from his comments and behaviour that he did reconsider. When he burst into tears at the end of the match at the Emirates, it raised the possibility that this was the end of the road for him and his assistant, Bert Van Lingen. The two men have worked side by side for almost three decades. We asked the question, was Sunderland to be the final staging post on their joint careers which had taken them to league titles and World Cups? Avoiding relegation would have been a strange way for Dick Advocaat’s career to end. Was it, we wondered simply the end of the closing chapter to a longer story yet to be written? Some of his comments suggested that he realised what needs to be done at Sunderland, and how to make those changes. In a very short time he established a bond with the players, many of whom he knows are nowhere near good enough, and with the tens of thousands of Sunderland supporters with whom he has found a special place in their hearts. Personally I never warmed to Gus Poyet, but took to Dick Advocaat very quickly. But he’s made his decision and again we find ourselves looking for someone new.
The most significant difference between this season and either of the two previous seasons is that Ellis Short seems to better understand not only what is needed to put this club where it should be, but what mechanisms need to be put in place for that to happen. I’m delighted for Ellis Short, as I’ve been very critical of some of his dealings in the past, and particularly his transfer policy etc. When he took ownership of the club, he must have thought that owning SAFC was a great idea, but not being a football man at all, he really wasn’t sure what that idea was about. There’s a sense that he now comprehends the issues and has made some strides towards finding solutions. The first part of this new jigsaw has to be finding a replacement for Dick Advocaat. Someone with a similar philosophy and feel for the game. Someone who will fall in love with the club and get the team onside. Someone who will be here for the longer term and produce the longed for stability we all crave. If he’s successful in doing that difficult task, then we will have good reason to look forward to the coming seasons with much more optimism than for many a good year.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..I wonder what the atmosphere was like on the supporters’ coaches which were delayed by the incident on the M62. Frustration at the knowledge they were going to miss a decent amount of the first half or a resigned sense of relief that they wouldn’t have to sit (or stand) through another disappointing performance as an expansive Everton team took us apart. At least that was the pre-match script. Dick wanted a point and most of us expected that even that might be beyond the lads. Of course there was some optimism from last week’s performance and result but Everton are thought of as our bogey team – or one of them at least. I watched on telly enduring the inane comments of Michael Owen as the BT coverage was a few seconds behind the Radio Newcastle commentary. I couldn’t believe our luck going one nil up but with the amount of possession, attacking flair and time left on the clock it’s a good job I don’t indulge in game betting, because I would have had us down for a 2-1 defeat. As the clock ticked I hoped we’d hang on for a point but surely it was only a matter of time. Then Defoe somehow got a hip onto Johnson’s shot and for the second time in the game the football gods smiled on us and relief washed over me. I expect Dick had similar emotions. Here in his very brief post match e-mail he acknowledges our good fortune, credits the wonderful support and shows a fine grasp of maths and an understanding of percentages. Thanks to John McCormick for the pictures.
EVERTON 0 SUNDERLAND 2
The players gave 100 per cent and the support of our fans was brilliant from beginning to end. We had a bit of luck on our side but that sometimes happens.
We worked hard and it was very effective. The back five, including the goalkeeper, were very positive and the other players had to work very hard too. Last week’s shape was good, today a little bit less, but the players keep on working and that’s important.
It was a special goal for Danny; he works so hard. He deserved that – a reward for the attitude he has shown. Jermain has a God’s gift – he knows where the ball will go and it was a good goal for him too.
The fans were fantastic again. They stood right behind the team – it was great.
Malcolm Dawson writes: It all so much clearer now for SAFC – Shildon that is. A come from behind 3-1 win means that if they take all three points against the Terriers of Bedlington on Wednesday they win the Northern League title. Anything less and the trophy goes to Marske. Not so clear cut for the other SAFC. We might have settled for a point had Hull lost and Leicester shared the spoils with Burnley but those results send us into the bottom three so a point is little comfort. But we have a game in hand on Villa and Hull as well as the two sides below us and the Mags are in free fall so there is still some hope. Certainly Dick Advocaat is putting a positive spin on things in his post match e-mail but then he’s hardly likely to do anything else. Here are his immediate post match comments, laundered by some club minion or other before being sent out to M Salut and the rest.
We took our chance early with the goal and made it 1-0; but Stoke came back into the game very well and created lots of chances.
We had a few more opportunities to score with [Jermain] Defoe going close in the first half and then a couple of chances for [Connor] Wickham in the second.
Costel [Pantilimon] showed today why he is a keeper of international pedigree, he did very well for us and [Will] Buckley returned and I thought he did well.
You’ll always take a point away from home before the game starts and it’s good to take a point but other results around the league have not gone in our favour.
I was much happier with the second half than I was the first; we worked a lot harder and looked a lot better. To come somewhere like Stoke and create as many chances as we did is a positive to take from the game.
It is important that we build on those positives and take them into the game next weekend.
Thanks for your support,
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Pete Sixsmith witnesses a good, solid performance with more than a hint of Dick Advocaat’s ‘win ugly’ strategy but also a goal of the utmost quality. This was the sort of display that will, if maintained, keep the crowd on the players’ side and secure the necessary points before those dreaded final trips to the Emirates and Stamford Brdige …
Monsieur Salut writes: Pete Sixsmith is not often purring these days. After the stupendous strike by Jermain Defoe in the last moment of the first half, an unstoppable volley from 25 yards to make Charlie Adam look frankly commonplace, he was a happy lad. Well, happyish. ‘Lovely goal? Wasn’t it just? But now we need to finish them off’. We didn’t do that but we did win – five against NUFC in succession – and we won by making Newcastle look poor, something other teams have done to us all season …’
Malcolm Dawson writes….Sixer and I saw SAFC concede twice today and have a man sent off but they not only maintained but in fact strengthened their title challenge. No I haven’t gone mad – we were at Dean Street where Shildon scored two cracking goals after twice going behind against Northern League leaders West Auckland. With games in hand Shildon now have control of the Championship’s destination. I was kept up to date with the goings on at Old Trafford thanks to the modern day wonder that is the i-phone – events relayed to me by a couple of lads sitting behind. So I can’t say much about the game. Gary Bennett’s comments on Radio Newcastle indicated a decent first half performance but a worrying observation that Jermain Defoe seems to have lost the spark he brought with him to the club. He’s only been there five minutes. Another refereeing howler provided the post match talking points. The other teams around us lost so things could have been worse and in his post match e-mail Gus remains positive but then that’s part of his job.
It was a very decent start from us, everything was going to plan and we did well, creating a number of chances through Connor [Wickham] and Jermain [Defoe] and we held United.
After that we dropped off a little too much; we defended too much and stopped creating chances and trying to pass and control the ball. There were too many actions to defend and when that is the case you concede a goal, and of course for us the penalty was the turning point of the game. We needed to readjust after going down to ten men and change how we could play.
[On the red card and penalty] When I saw Falcao get past the defenders and hit the ball wide I was delighted, but then I saw the referee give a penalty and then everyone was gathered around and talking, on the bench we weren’t sure who had made the foul. After that we needed to stay in the game, but we couldn’t cope after losing a player and United took their chance.
For long spells we defended really well today and we need to take that into the next two games and build on it. Now is our time to do that.