Sixer’s Burnley Soapbox: can’t go back to safety now

SBOXBURNLEYMalcolm Dawson writes….Pete Sixsmith has had a busy time since Lee Mason blew the full time whistle yesterday. First thing this morning he stepped in for M Salut and did a blog for ESPN. Read it here. Then he caught Carver, the below stairs boot boy, temporarily standing in for recently departed faithful manservant Pardew, staring wistfully at the family silver as he applied the Brasso. Peter gently reminded him that although it had been at Sixsmith Towers for 42 years there is still a chance it could be replaced this May if things go well on Tuesday but there was no way that Carver himself would get his hands on any. Following that it was time to get the old soapbox out and reflect on a job done to a not so hot Burnley side. Versatile Sheffield singer/songwriter John Shuttleworth, not quite knowing what day it was, was on stage at the Gala theatre in Durham last night. One of his numbers reflects on the realisation of a man half way through his treacle sponge, that there is in fact some unconsumed Shepherd’s Pie still to be had. Hear it here after you have read Pete’s bit. A more positive, forward thinking style of play paid dividends yesterday so surely Gus will see that the ultra cautious approach should not be the blueprint for the rest of the season. As John Shuttleworth nearly said “we can’t go back to safety now”.

NEWsoapbox(Without Score)

BURNLEY STADIUM OF LIGHT 2015

To paraphrase the poet Burns in the week of the anniversary of his birth, “A win’s a win for all that.” It wasn’t overwhelming, it doesn’t make us safe and it wasn’t a mind blowing performance. But it was a win and on a weekend where every side around us lost bar Everton (and they will not be down amongst the dead men for long) there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

The two goals from Wickham and Defoe were well taken. The crosses put in by the full backs for them were excellent. The defence looked sound and solid. But the opposition was weak and, on this performance, they looked relegation fodder – unfortunately. A day at Turf Moor is infinitely preferable to a day at Selhurst Park or Loftus Road.

The latest formation adopted by Gus looked a lot better than the shambles we witnessed last week. Vergini and O’Shea combined well in the middle and the presence of the excellent Reveillere gave us some stability at the back. The former French international is a fine player and goes down in the pantheon of good French players at Sunderland alongside Eric Roy and er… that’s it! He is certainly better than Christian Basilla and Lilian Laslandes but that’s not saying much, is it? The cross that he put on to Connor Wickham’s head for the opening goal was brilliant – perfectly delivered with perfect pace and it produced a perfect header from a rejuvenated Wickham to give us the lead – a lead which we never once looked like losing. When our other full back, Patrick Van Aanholt, took delivery of a killer pass from Jordi Gomez and sent in a low cross into the six yard box, there was our new striker Jermaine Defoe, a player who has scored almost as many goals as his predecessor Jozy Altidore has missed, to guide it over the line to make it 2-0. Game over.

Jake: the first of many we hope
Jake: the first of many we hope

From then on, we were in a kind of comfort zone, probably for the first time this season. The back four was solid and easily negated any real threat from Barnes and the disappointing Ings.

John O’Shea is a very solid player who has done well for us and in games like this he cruises through it. Santiago Vergini also looks far more solid in the middle rather than being stuck out on the flank – he reads a game well and looks to move the ball forward. Could it be that he stays in that position for the rest of the season? He certainly looks more assured than Coates and as the venerable Wes Brown is unlikely to be offered a new contract for next year, the Argentinian can create a genuine niche for himself.

The midfield three did exactly what they were supposed to do. Larsson maintained his phenomenal work rate and used the ball effectively. Bridcutt seemed far more at ease in midfield rather than sitting in front of a back three and Gomez deserved his place purely for the wonderful ball that he played through to Van Aanholt for the second goal. He is a frustrating player. He moves at one pace and is probably caught in possession too easily, but he has the Eric Roy (two mentions in one piece for the man from Nice) knack of being in the right place at the right time. When he plays a ball, it often opens up a defence, particularly when the opposition is about the same standard as we are.

Jake - calm at the back
Jake – John O’Shea calm at the back

With Defoe being used as a spearhead, it allowed Johnson and Wickham to play wide. The former City and ‘Boro player had an excellent game, pulling the Burnley defence and midfield around almost at will. He played a major part in the second goal and the ball he played to Van Aanholt early in the second half to allow the Dutchman to set up Defoe, was an absolute gem. Had we scored a third goal at that stage, I suspect that Burnley might well have folded.

The second half was a tad anti-climactic as the Clarets struggled to get into the game. Neither Ings nor Barnes worried Vergini or O’Shea and although Marney and Jones worked hard, they achieved very little. The game petered out and the crowd began to leave early, knowing that it was highly unlikely that Burnley would take a point from us.

So is this the beginning of a renaissance, similar to that we went through twelve months ago? We can but hope. That there is much to do is not up for debate. There is still a lack of quality in the team – Borini and Ki have not been replaced and there is a more prosaic feel to the side. The introduction of Defoe and the quality of Johnson and (hopefully) Fletcher and Wickham gives us something to cling on to.

There is a long road ahead of us but this is an important first step and needs to be maintained at the old fashioned delights of Craven Cottage on Tuesday and the more up to date concrete of the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

Duncan Sutcliffe, who contributed that excellent WAY on Burnley, joined me for a pint in The Isis pre game. He was optimistic at 2.00 p.m. but that optimism had dissipated by 5.00 p.m. and he was genuinely worried about Burnley’s remaining games. I thought they looked well organised but there was no real creative spark and I fear for them.

The other results were too good to be true and Villa’s thrashing at Ashburton Grove adds to the glow of satisfaction. Hopefully Poyet has a team that may excite him and the 40,000 others who turn up week in and week out to give this perennially unsuccessful club, the sixth highest average crowd in the Premier League. Like many others, I wonder what would happen if we could actually go through a season playing attractive, attacking football, finish in the top half and genuinely excite the fans with a solid midfield and a genuine goalscorer, similar to what we did when we hoofed it up to Quinn and Phillips.

Over to you, Gus.


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Behind Enemy Lines: shaky Fulham sink shaky Forest

Jake: 'back to Wembley?'
Jake: ‘back to Wembley?’

Rob Hutchison, our man of single word player assessments took a trip to the north bank of the Thames last night to take in a not so sneak preview of our F.A. Cup opponents. Here’s what he saw – little to fear for a Premier League side he thinks but as we all know too well, Sunderland is no ordinary Premier League side.

When my mate said he had a spare season ticket at Craven Cottage for their league game against Nottingham Forest last night, it struck me as the perfect opportunity to check out the opposition for our forthcoming Cup game on Saturday. So here in a couple of hundred words is a quick resume of what we can expect . . . .

Fulham lined up 4-4-2, with a Mag loving centre back by the name of Hutchinson holding the back line together, Scotty Parker and Ryan Tunnecliffe taking charge of the midfield and Rodallega and £10m danger man Ross McCormack as a front two. Fulham were up to the pace of the game far quicker than Forest, winning all the second balls and carving out dangerous opportunities at will while Forest sat back, seemingly still on the team coach. By the 31st minute they were 3-0 down, courtesy of a stunning Ross MacCormack hat-trick – the first a clean left footed strike from 25 yards. The second was a similar but right footed strike into the left hand corner from 20 yards and his third another right footed effort from a similar distance albeit with a big deflection. The game was over – home and hosed. Bring on Sunderland.

Rob:
Rob:

But it’s never that easy, is it? Although Forest were abject and I mean abject (think Sunderland but double it) schoolboy errors at the back by the home side helped to carve out a couple of opportunities for Forest and they pulled one back on the stroke of half time with a smart Henri Lansbury free kick. Pearce (black suit, brown shoes never a good combination) gambled and moved to 3-5-2 for the second half. The extra man in midfield caught Fulham cold, and they appeared completely unable to keep possession and re-create the silky smooth passing game wich had epitomised the first 45 minutes. Yet more defensive frailties were exploited and Forest deservedly scored a second from another Lansbury effort, again from outside the box. Fulham brought on Bryan Ruiz for Parker, and Cauley Woodrow for the ineffective Rodallega but the red tide kept swarming forward and the home team continued to look very shaky under pressure at the back. Ultimately it wasn’t enough for Forest and Fulham held on to secure a generally deserved win on the night.

So what do we have to deal with on Saturday? Well in a nutshell stop McCormack and you stop Fulham. He can go left or right, shoot at will with either foot from distance and while he doesn’t possess pace, he occasionally drops deep into the hole and can be very difficult to pick up. A midfield enforcer like Cattermole would you’d hope deal with any threats from Parker and Tunnecliffe. We need to come out of the traps and deny Fulham any time on the ball. Under pressure there’s and air of panic in their defence on occasions. They pass the ball neatly and patiently and are happy to build from the back, but there’s also limited pace in their side, so you’d hope Brown and O’Shea (or any of our centre back pairings) could deal with everything in front of them, without the fear of runners exploiting any gaps. No real threat to speak of from the wingers or wing backs, should also give Johnno & Giaccherini (if playing) the chances to weave some magic. It’s made for Van Arnholt and Defoe for me. Play the ball to them in the right areas and hopefully we’ll be OK, but of course it’s never easy with Sunderland.

So I guess to sum up – if Fulham play like they did in the first 45 minutes last night they should be play off certainties. If Forest do the same, Stuart Pearce will be next in line down the job centre.

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Hutch’s Patch: Sixer’s stand-in sees Sunderland frailties exposed at Tottenham

Rob:
Rob:

No Pete Sixsmith at White Hart Lane. The early starts for the Durham branch bus, the cost of a pint in London and the limited prospects of seeing Sunderland raise their game have done for him and trips to most matches in the capital. Monsieur Salut – ticket for WHL burning a hole in his wallet after work intervened – has learned not to count on the excellent but lesser spotted Bob Chapman, which almost certainly means we’ll see a report from him, too, this time. A place awaits you, Bob! Step forward our one-word ratings man Rob Hutchison, who worried about the 3-5-2 system, feared the worst as Spurs gobbled up possession and peppered our goal with efforts and ended up disappointed we hadn’t taken gilt-edged chances that nevertheless came our way. But he’s happy with Jermain Defoe’s arrival…

Read moreHutch’s Patch: Sixer’s stand-in sees Sunderland frailties exposed at Tottenham

Pure Poyetry: new shape, new style but no points at Spurs

Jake: 'that's hard to take'
Jake: ‘that’s hard to take’
Malcolm Dawson writes……the overall feeling amongst the Sunderland fraternity is that Jermain Defoe will bring a new dimension to a side that lacks pace. He also brings a goal scoring pedigree but the question being asked was how would Gus fit him into his style of play. The manager has been coming in for some stick lately but has to work with the players that he has available. This afternoon, Cattermole and Bridcutt notwithstanding, he had a greater choice than for a long time. As if responding to public criticism he picked a more attacking side, playing in a more attacking formation. That we conceded so early was a blow. That we conceded so late was another. But in his post match e-mail to M Salut and the rest of the world Gus expresses his disappointment in optimistic terms.

Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Dear Colin,

It hurts to concede so late but I don’t want to be too critical because I thought the players did very well in the game. It was a new way of playing, a new shape and I thought we looked good and created chances.

We got in good positions with both [Jermain] Defoe and [Steven] Fletcher having early chances, but this is only the first time we’ve tried to play like this and I think it was a good start. It’s different having two strikers running on and I think we looked much brighter; we adjusted a few things and I think it could work well for us. We responded very well after going behind and kept pushing forward whenever we got the chance.

I think Jermain did very well; he looked very sharp to start with but then he got tired – of course he wanted to stay on the pitch, but we took him off. The only way he will get fitness is to play in matches and that’s why he started today.

Jake's own welcome to Jermain Defoe
Jake’s own welcome to Jermain Defoe

The cup game next week gives us a chance to keep improving and try this new system once again.

Overall, I’m pleased with the way we played today but disappointed with the result.

Thanks for your support,

Gus Poyet


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Sixer’s Sevens: Tottenham Hotspur 2 SAFC 1. No fairytale for Defoe

NEWsevens copy

Pete Sixsmith was for once missing from a Sunderland match, so missed a game that ought to have been saved but ended in cruel disappointment. So the seven-word verdict is supplied by a supersub, Monsieur Salut (the bonus word, making it eight, has been eliminated and a late offering from Sixer himself added). After all the excitement caused by Jermain Defoe’s signing, Sunderland made the worst possible start, a big John O’Shea deflection diverting Jan Vertonghen’s shot into the net with Pantilimon stranded after Sunderland failed to clear a free kick. Despite a great Seb Larsson equaliser, the ball was far too easily conceded late outside the Spurs penalty area to set up a lightning counter-attack that Eriksen converted in the 88th minuted And would you believe it: our two best chances of rescuing the the game and possibly even winning it fell to Danny Graham? He was twice denied by Hugo Lloris …

Jan 11 2015 Tottenham Hotspur (1) 2 SAFC (1)1 *Useful Defoe debut ruined by familiar failings or, from Sixer: Other results make this defeat less damaging

Jake: 'that's hard to take'
Jake: ‘that’s hard to take’

Jan 17 2015 Sunderland (0) 0 Liverpool (1) 1 Selection and tactics raise questions about Poyet

Jan 10 2015 FA Cup 3rd Round: SAFC (1) 1 Leeds United (0) 0 Scraped through after a shocking second half

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: Tottenham Hotspur 2 SAFC 1. No fairytale for Defoe

Defoe deal clinched: welcome to the greatest club on earth, Jermain

Jake's own welcome to Jermain Defoe
Jake’s own welcome to Jermain Defoe


Well, there are those who might argue
with that description of Sunderland AFC. But that what SAFC is to us.

And we are delighted to be able to pass on the official news that the deal bringing Jermain Defoe to the Stadium of Light has been sealed. He is now a Sunderland player, signed on a three-and-a-half year deal.

Read moreDefoe deal clinched: welcome to the greatest club on earth, Jermain