Sixer’s Soapbox: Man City enjoy Sunderland’s generous Boxing Day gifts

Malcolm Dawson writes….traditionally Boxing Day was when wealthy folks distributed alms to the poor and needy of the parish, but yesterday the millionaires and billionaires who are Manchester City were not in a charitable mood. Indeed it was a case of role reversal and it was the players of a poor Sunderland side who were gifting presents left, right and centre to their hosts. Pete Sixsmith has also been handing out presents in the days up to and including Christmas but yesterday saw him swap the red and white costume of St Nicholas for the red and white scarf he has been wearing since before we won the cup and he wasn’t impressed with what he saw. Mind you neither was anyone else who calls themselves a Sunderland fan. He and I will be there on Wednesday (weather permitting) and I predict optimism will not be on the agenda.

SOAPBOXmancity

Manchester City (a) 26/12/15.

Manchester is a city I have got to know quite well over the last few years what with trips to the National Football Museum, The Peoples History Museum, Old Trafford for cricket, football and rugby league and Eastlands for rugby league and football. The shopping is excellent (so I am told), the transport infrastructure is probably the best outside of London and it has breweries – no city can truly describe itself as great if it no longer brews beer in significant amounts.

And so it was that I partook of Joseph Holt’s splendid Bitter in one of their city centre pubs, The Ape and Apple where I was joined my Madame Salut (for about thirty seconds) and M.Salut for considerably longer. Pints of bitter were quaffed in an almost empty pub where the bar staff seemed to outnumber the customers. No doubt the wine bars were heaving as Manchester’s finest sipped Prosecco and/or Gin; they should be back to Holt’s before the credit card bills land on the laptop.

Pete Sixsmith has as much chance of being in Manchester for the football next season as Louis van Gall
Pete Sixsmith has as much chance of being in Manchester for the football next season as Louis van Gall

A short tram ride to Eastlands followed and once in the stadium after the obligatory frisking, old acquaintances were renewed with friends and former students as we digested the team news. It looked like we could be in for an interesting afternoon. Interesting was not the word we were using at 3.23 p.m. when Bony headed in the third after a particularly pathetic challenge by the rapidly fading John O’Shea. This followed an equally pathetic “challenge” by Jones on Sterling for the first and then we had a defensive parting that was reminiscent of Charlton Heston leading his people across the Red Sea, allowing the massive, bear like Ya Ya Toure to fire past a flailing Vito Mannone. Throw in some more comedy capers at the back by Billy Jones leading to a fourth by the impressive Kevin De Bruyne, and another Southampton was on the cards until City felt sorry for us and switched off. Borini’s 59th minute goal was no more than a consolation – and not much of a one at that.

Why the changes? My suggestion is that Sam wanted to see if any of these fringe players could produce when the chips were down. They didn’t and I would imagine that Mannone, Gomez, Graham and possibly Coates will be talking to their agents now, trying to get a contract with a new club in either January or July.

Jake on Jordi
Jake on Jordi

In fact, he could throw in a few more as Jones, Van Aanholt, Fletcher and Johnson hardly cut the mustard and will almost certainly leave when (not if, when) we are relegated at the end of the season.

This was the game where I saw the paucity of the players that the manager has at his disposal. I have missed the last three games due to work commitments and the contrast between this performance and the one when we beat Stoke City was frightening. Since that win, the Potters have beaten both Manchester clubs and look nicely settled in the top half of the table. We have played tolerably well at Arsenal, poorly at home to Watford and cravenly at Chelsea.

This was the worst of the four though. There was a lack of organisation on the field which is down to more than the fact that City were simply better than us. When playing against the likes of Silva and De Bruyne the key word is concentration. Ours lasted all of seven minutes. Players seemed not to know what to do. Do we tackle or back off? Well, first of all, let’s be aware of what is going on around us. Take the first goal which came from a mishit cross by the always impressive Kolarov. Did anyone watch it go to De Bruyne? If they did, did anyone close him down? Did the defenders in the box think “Mmm there’s a cross coming in here; we need to be alert?” The subsequent goal from the weasely Sterling says not.

We appear to have gone as far as we can with these players. Four seasons of constant struggle and managerial changes have left them bereft of self believe and confidence. Both goalkeepers have struggled, we must have the poorest full backs in the league and John O’Shea looks like a First World War line officer who has led his men over the top so many times that he has lost all faith in the conduct of the war/club.

Sam Allardyce is a competent manager who has come in, looked at the rag bag of players that has been thrown together with no coherent plan (interesting that he has told the Director of Football to go and tend his petunias rather than involve himself in signing any more sub-standard players) and who must now spend time pouring over DVD’s of players in the lower regions of European leagues who may improve this team.

It is a difficult, if not impossible task. We have to ask ourselves if there are three worse teams in the league than Sunderland and the answer that most of us will come up with is a resounding “No.” Rabbits need to be conjured out of hats in the next 10 days as the last thing we want is to be scrambling around for players on the 28th January.

Pete is more likely to be drinking Burton Bridge Bitter than Holt's next season
Pete is more likely to be drinking Burton Bridge Bitter than Holt’s next season

What are his priorities for that window? Here are some suggestions:
1 Recall Jordan Pickford from Preston North End. Neither Pantilimon nor Mannone inspire much confidence at the moment. If Pickford is any good, now is the time to find out.
2 Find a central defender who is strong, has pace and can tackle. We seem to be lacking that at the moment. Alas, they do not grow on trees. He seems keen on Kone – who could be another Diakite.
3 Bring in a centre forward who can control the ball and who can work with Fabio Borini, who must start up front – our best player yesterday and he would not get in the City first team squad. Fletcher has had his good run and Danny Graham….. well.
4. Hope that Newcastle, Norwich and West Brom implode and that Villa remain as dismal as they have been all season. Fail to win that one next week and that will be the end of it all.
5. Find out why clubs like Stoke, Watford, Palace and Southampton can succeed on crowds that are far, far less than the 40,000 who regularly troop through the gates of the Stadium of Light – and who regularly go home disenchanted and unfulfilled. Solve that one, Sam and you will be the hero to end all heroes.

On current showings, I can’t see much of Joseph Holt’s splendid Bitter being supped next season.

Sixer’s Southampton Soapbox: top performances from Jordi and a Geordie

Jake says "Something to celebrate."
Jake says “Something to celebrate.”
Malcolm Dawson writes….Recent victories for Leicester and Hull Cities, West Brom and Aston Villa see Sunderland still in the bottom three. It is becoming increasingly likely that it could be the free falling Magpies who will be the target if we are to avoid demotion to the Football League. Yesterday’s game versus Southampton was the latest in a series of “must win” home games but the difference this time was that we actually won. A win against Leicester in the final game of the season at the Stadium of Light might be enough but if we need more than three points then the remaining away matches offer little in the way of optimism. But as last season showed, funny things happen at the back end of the season. With a game in hand you could say the players of SAFC can still determine which division the club plays in next season but we have by far the hardest run in of the clubs in danger of the drop. Pete Sixsmith still clings on to the belief we can stay up but that optimism is balanced with the realism that it will still be tough as his report of yesterday’s proceedings shows.

SBOXSOUTHAMPTON

SOUTHAMPTON HOME 2nd May 2015

Is it a case of too little, too late or is it the beginning of The Great Escape III? Will we pick up wins against Everton and Leicester to give us what should be a secure 39 points or will we fall at the last hurdle at Stamford Bridge in three weeks’ time? Will our Friends from the North continue to implode with the force of a dark star having a particularly bad day or will they scrape the points that they need to welcome their new Head Coach as a Premier League side?

Well, that’s a few rhetorical questions and here are some more. Has anyone seen a cooler pair of penalties than those taken by Jordi Gomez yesterday? Why has no previous manager/coach been able to coax a performance like that out of Danny Graham? And how did the man sat next to me manage to eat a pie while texting at the same time?

But let’s not carried away. Although it was an important win it wasn’t a scintillating display of classy football that tore the opposition to shreds. Nor did we ever look comfortable – competent yes, but comfortable, no. What we did do was play solidly, avoid a series of catastrophic errors and get into the opposition’s box a number of times. And that is what we need to do for the four final gut wrenching games that we have left.

Both penalties were correctly awarded by Mike Jones. I thought the first one a bit soft from my lofty perch, but television showed that Fonte had no need to lift his leg and he did bring down Graham, who was ahead of him. No red card was also a correct decision.
The second one was the result of a superb ball by Cattermole, a splendid chase and cross by Graham and a needless second touch by Defoe before Ward-Prowse clattered into him. Penalty yes, red card probably not – although it galvanised a torpid Saints side into actually stirring themselves and playing some football.

In between the penalties, we had played with some tempo and urgency and had shown that when we play to the strengths of the players that we have, rather than expecting players to fit into a rigid tactical plan, we aren’t quite as bad as the league position has indicated. The back four is still prone to drop the odd clanger and I don’t see that changing. To gift Southampton an equaliser within ninety seconds of going ahead was one example. The lack of communication between Pantilimon and Coates was on a par of that between Basil Fawlty and Mrs Richards as the Giant dropped the ball allowing the tetchy Mende to equalise.

Jake says "Buen hombre - Senor Cool!"
Jake says “Buen hombre – Senor Cool!”

There were other first half chances with Connor Wickham ending as good a move as we have put together all season by leaning back and putting it over the bar.

The changes that Advocaat made were simple and effective. Three forwards who were prepared to work and work, with Graham used as a battering ram to unsettle the Saints defenders. Wickham played wide left and Defoe tucked in, often appearing to be an extra midfield player. All three made a massive contribution to a vital win and I expect to see the same three lining up at Goodison next week.

In midfield, Larsson returned for the perpetually disappointing Rodwell and had a typical Larsson game with lots of running, prodigious energy and the odd really sharp and incisive pass. Alongside him Cattermole played effectively particularly in the second half, playing a sublime pass for Graham to run on to for what turned out to be the second and winning penner. The two full backs looked sound rather than solid, although that was a huge improvement on the previous home game. Jones gets forward well – although not as much as the BBC Football site suggests (they confused him with Graham for the first penalty) and Van Aanholt is a good outlet and his defending looked better.

O’Shea was concussed in the first half and went off allowing Vergini to make amends for his spectacular O.G. at St Mary’s. The disappointingly low turn-out of Saints fans demanded that he “shoot” every time he got the ball but he failed to oblige. I say disappointingly low, because if we were challenging for a Europa League place, our allocation would have been oversubscribed – theirs was considerably under subscribed.

Coates did well and showed that a good, solid stopper in the middle of the back four can make a difference. Take away the clattering into Pantilimon and the dreadful sideways pass to the newly arrived Djuricic and he looked decent. He stuck to his task and it will be interesting to see how he faces up to the likes of Lukaku, Vardy, Giroud and Costa in the remaining games.

Pantilimon held up his giant hands for the equaliser and then used them to tremendous effect to keep out a shot from Steven Davies in the 93rd minute and secure a vital win for us. He was feted as a hero by his colleagues and the crowd and he may well have other miracles to perform between now and May 23rd.


Should we start sounding more optimistic?

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And now for a quick expansion of the poll to find out who Salut! Sunderland readers (who, don’t forget, may well again include supporters of the other six clubs) think will go down.


It does not need a tactical genius to dig out wins in the Premier League – Mark Hughes, Tony Pulis and Gary Monk have shown that. All three of them have produced sides who know exactly what they are supposed to do and do it without fancy plans for playing like Real Madrid or Chelsea. They are pragmatists while we have employed dreamers in Di Canio and Poyet. Now, with a pragmatist at the helm, we have given ourselves a chance of swapping Chelsea for Charlton and Liverpool for Leeds (and possibly both Manchester’s for Middlesbrough) but it is only a chance. Two wins and a draw would give us the required 40 points and would probably see us safe but seeing as we have not managed back to back wins all season, the chances are not great. Four more draws would probably not be enough – although Newcastle are in desperate straits at the moment.

As usual, it’s the hope I can’t stand.

Read M Salut’s take on event on his ESPN blog here!

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Jake introduces the feature allowing you to have your say on topic or off
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Sixer’s Liverpool Soapbox: when sorrows come they come not single spies

Jake: 'when your secret weapon is Danny Graham you know you're in trouble'
Jake: ‘Pete promises to reflect on the positives and negatives. Spot the positives!’
Malcolm Dawson writes…..Sunderland have won fewer games than any other team in the Premier League. Even QPR who haven’t mustered a single point away from home have won two more games than SAFC and no prizes for guessing who their first victim was. Even Burton Albion beat them before they tasted victory against us. The view of many at the start of the season was that with a whole host of winnable home games after Hogmany, if we weren’t in the bottom three at Christmas then a mid table position would be well within our grasp. Well those regular attenders at the Stadium of Light are revising their opinions. One home league win so far this season and only three in the whole of 2014 doesn’t auger well when all the relegation candidates are still to visit us. Most of us thought we would get three points against a poor Hull City side and look how that turned out. As usual Peter Sixsmith turned up yesterday and once again he left feeling more than a little disgruntled.

Pete can  see the cracks as he gets up on the old soapbox.
Pete can see the cracks as he gets up on the old soapbox.

NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT – LIVERPOOL – SSOL – JANUARY 10th 2015

This is twenty one hours after the latest awful performance so I have kept my promise not to write straight after the game and to reflect on the positives and the negatives before enlightening the readership of my views on the current state of Sunderland AFC. The use of the word “awful” in the first sentence may give you some idea of how I felt about this game. I could have used abject, appalling or abysmal – and that is just the As. The rest of the alphabet would have thrown up many, many more.

In the seven, I questioned the Head Coach’s selection and tactics. Basically, he got them wrong.

Here was a Liverpool team which, in the last ten days had been embarrassed by the pace of Leicester City and the physical strength and crossing power of AFC Wimbledon. They appear to have no decent forwards, play with three at the back and attack down the wings. They do, if given space, have some pace. What do we do? Defend deep. Allow them to come at us. Hope to stop them getting past us on the edge of the box with resolute defending as we had at Anfield. Catch them on the break and pick them off.

These are not tactics to warm up a large crowd on a cold day. Many of those sat around me are beginning to realise that we are slow, ponderous and prone to make mistakes. The Head Coach is rapidly running out of goodwill, something which Sunderland fans will show to those who are at least prepared to have a go. The team selection and the use of substitutes did nothing to endear Poyet to the increasing number of doubters in the East Stand seats and Gents. Why continue to play a centre half at right back when there is a fit right back on the bench? Why persist with a clearly out of form Jordi Gomez and then play him for the whole ninety minutes? Why play with one up front against three defenders? Why allow Liverpool to dictate the way that the game should be played?

On Monday Akinfenwa and Tubbs put pressure on Skrtl and company and thus made it difficult for Mignolet. Neil Ardley, the AFC Head Coach had identified the weaknesses that are still there in Brendan Rogers’s side and he nearly got a draw out of the game.

Unlike the fourth level side, we completely failed to take the game to Liverpool. They could have been one up in the first five minutes when the referee gave Brown the benefit of the doubt when he appeared to trip Markovic. There was no doubt a few minutes later when the same player picked his way through a succession of feeble tackles to score what turned out to be the winning goal. It could and should have been more as we continued to pass the ball sideways and backwards and then whack it up to Connor Wickham, who was totally dominated by Skrtl. The ball was given away so easily and so often that Liverpool probably found it difficult to believe that this was the self-styled “difficult to beat” team.

Not so much difficult to beat as difficult to watch. This was a truly painful experience which made many realise that here comes yet another relegation struggle. We avoided the drop last year because we had nothing to lose and because the three who went down were clubs in chaos. I don’t see much of that this season as West Brom and Crystal Palace have made their coaching changes, while Burnley and Leicester appear to be coming to terms with the division and have pace in their teams.

That leaves Villa, where the fans are turning on Paul Lambert, QPR who are useless away from home (they come to us next month; put your mortgage on a 0-0 draw) and Hull, whose manager is now preparing for a second career as a High Court Judge if his asinine comments on the Ched Evans case are anything to go by.

But what about Sunderland? Are we going to rely on others or are we going to do something about it? And if so, what?

First of all, we could try playing two forwards up front instead of sticking one of them out wide. I had some sympathy for Wickham yesterday, who had to feed off the proverbial scraps – although he gave up far too easily and being replaced by Danny Graham shows how much off the pace he was in the second half.

Jake: 'takes up Sixer's Shakespearean theme.
Jake: ‘takes up Sixer’s Shakespearean theme.

Secondly, we could try to start a game with some tempo and not allow the opposition to dictate the way that the game should be played. How do we do that? Moving the ball forward would help. Liverpool are vulnerable to players who run at them – look at Schlupp’s goal for Leicester and the performance that Rigg turned in for AFC – but we consistently fail to do this.

Some of Poyet’s after match quotes are worrying; “I’d have thought that by now I would have had a better impact on how the team plays. Some players are taking a long time to learn the basics of how I want to play.” What to make of this? We have a decent sized squad, many of who have arrived at the club in Poyet’s 15 months here. Are there players here that have been imposed on him? Is he still looking at those that O’Neill and Di Canio brought in and who do not fit his style? What is his style?

The last question is the key one. He clearly likes to play on the counter and two of the paltry three wins that we have had this season have come when the opposition have been chasing the game. Palace ran around making errors allowing us to catch them on the break, while Newcastle did the same, allowing us to pick them off. Giaccherini, Alvarez and others thrive on this kind of play. How many good games has the Italian had at the Stadium? He has looked a far better player away from home as has Alvarez and, believe it or not, Gomez.

But at home we can be awful. We have not had a crowd of less than 40,000 this season, a testimony to loyalty, hope and the club’s marketing policies, but that loyalty cannot be relied on as the winter of discontent descends on us.

The next home game is against a quick, lively and uninhibited Burnley side who really must fancy their chances against a plodding, out of touch Sunderland. And there is Spurs away before that. It could be a long, hard winter and a not very bright spring.

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Salut! Sunderland welcomes Jones, Gomez and – with youthful Manchester City endorsement – Pantilimon

Pantimilon with young
Pantimilon with a young admirer

With all the, um, excitement of Brazil 2014, we have perhaps overlooked the pleasant duty of welcoming the three players already recruited to the cause of Sunderland AFC.

The incoming trio are Billy Jones, a defender signed from West Bromwich, midfielder Jordi Gomez from Wigan and goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon, arriving as a free agent – as were the others – after his spell at Manchester City that included last season’s Premier League championship campaign.

We’ll get to Pantimilon – he’s the big one, all 6′ 8” of him, pictured with young Robert March – soon enough.

But this is what Pete Sixsmith had to say here about Jones:

A man with a throwback name and haircut to match. Unlike some of last season’s signings, he should not experience a huge culture shock in moving from the West Midlands to the North East. What must it have been like for some of the European players from this time last year swopping Switzerland for Seaburn and Madeira for Monkwearmouth? West Brom for West Boldon seems quite straightforward.

He was also upbeat about the Gomez singing. And Stuart Weir, at Salut! Sunderland’s Facebook group, had this to say, answering the question “is he the calibre of players we should be looking at to take us forward?”:

Absolutely. Smart player, greater passer, eye for goal and costs nothing. Great addition to the squad.

And now Pantimilon.

The photo arrived in the electronic post from Nick March, with whom Monsieur Salut worked when in Abu Dhabi. Nick, as you may have guessed supports Man City. Before one of our customary 1-0 home wins, he did a grand job of “Who are You?”: https://safc.blog/2010/08/the-view-from-abu-dhabi-manchester-city-champions-elect/

Let Nick explains the photo: “Robert’s our seven-year-old younger son. He trains at the Man City School of Football (Abu Dhabi branch) three times a week.

“The pic was taken during the trip City made to the UAE days after they’d won the championship last month (the trip when Yaya got a little bit upset about birthday cakes). The players were over here to play a friendly in Al Ain, but also did several public appearances too. The pic was taken at a signing session also attended by Javi Garcia, Martin Demichelis and Dedryck Boyata. As you can see from the picture Robert was really pleased to meet one of his heroes. We always thought Pantilimon was a bit hard done by at City and wish him all the best at the Stadium of Light.

“My little boy was quite a fan of the Romanian fella. I haven’t broken the news to him yet.”

SAFC’s sporting director Lee Congerton said of the three signings:

* Billy is an established Barclays Premier League player … offensively-minded but can defend as well. [Let’s hope he] Billy can keep himself injury-free, get a good run in the team and be a part of the reason why we’re successful next season.

* Jordi was a player we admired – he is our “number 10” signing if you like. He can see a pass, score a goal and handles the ball well.

* On Costel: “Goalkeeper is such an important position. Vito Mannone had an excellent season last year and we’re very happy with him, but we needed another goalkeeper. Costel is a great age and is hungry to play. Goalkeepers come into their prime a bit later on as they get more experience and he’s probably not played as many games as he’d like.”

Now over to the new boys to show us why Congerton and Gus Poyet wanted to recruit them.

Matt's cartoon as adapted by Jake
Matt’s cartoon as adapted by Jake

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