Should’ve, Could’ve, Might’ve: Sunderland v Rotherham from sublime to ridiculous

Malcolm Dawson writes……..others I know will not share my opinions, but as I’ve got older I believe I have developed a healthy attitude to life and an ability to put into perspective things which seem to send others into paroxysms of rage. So whilst I walked away from the Stadium of Light frustrated at the overall performance of a team which dominated for the first third of the game and disappointed having dropped another two points, it didn’t take me long to get over it.

On the Park and Ride I had a chat with a young lad, not long out of college, who asked how long I had been following the Lads and on hearing that it was getting on for 60 years – 55 since my first visit to Roker Park, followed this up with “does it get any easier?” No prizes for my response.

I also had a bit of a chat with a Rotherham supporter and his son sitting behind me about a) the validity of McNulty’s goal and b) the first half penalty shouts that The Millers had. I had to admit that when I turned to look at McNulty he was already past his man so I immediately looked at the linesman who kept his flag down, whilst he didn’t think either of their shouts in the box were anything other than marginal.

Perspective! Watching football is something we do to fill in some time and hopefully keep us entertained. It is something we can get passionate about and we can experience a whole range of emotions following our team but at the end of the day it’s not, despite what Bill Shankley once said, more important than life and death and as I write safc.com tells me it’s only 3 days 5 hours and 29 minutes to the next instalment.

Climbing into the car I switched on Spotify, clicked on liked songs and set it off in shuffle mode. Driving towards the A19 the first three songs that came up were “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor, Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and Leon Russell with “Tightrope”. All appropriate in their own way.

The first a reminder that as we go through life, we all have personal issues to deal with and we will have had a pretty smooth ride if all we have to get worked up about is the failure of our football team to snatch a win. The second reminding me that I was 19 the last time Sunderland actually won a trophy of note and the only one in my 65 years on this planet, and the third with the lyrics “one side’s hate and one is hope” and “I’m up on the high wire, flanked by life and the funeral pyre” which if you were so inclined you might see as my attitude to watching football. But then you might just think I’m a bit of a tosser, who as an ex girlfriend once said is lacking in emotion. I get excited when we score and I enjoy it when we win but though I’m disappointed when we don’t, I’m not going to let it ruin the rest of my week. Oh and in case we forget we didn’t lose.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

COULD’VE, SHOULD’VE, MIGHT HAVE

And so to the match.

Here was a game we could have won and the way we started this was a game we should have won. By the end this was a game we might have lost but then we still might have won at the death – although over the course of the 90 minutes it would have been an undeserved victory had we managed to grab a winner.

In his pre-match press conference Jack Ross had mentioned that a couple of players had got through the Accrington Stanley game carrying knocks, so it came as no surprise that there were two changes. That one was Chris Maguire was disappointing. That the other was Grant Leadbitter was less surprising.

What is it with social media and radio phone ins? On Saturday Twitter and Radio Newcastle were awash with the views of those who thought we had put in a poor performance, despite the three points. Last night it was all “stick with the same team” and “never change a winning side” and “what’s Ross doing dropping Chris Maguire?”

Well for a half hour or so it looked like Jack Ross had got it spot on.

Marc McNulty thanks to bbc.co.uk

For those first thirty minutes, this was as convincing a Sunderland performance as I have seen for a long while. Within seconds of the kick off, which Rotherham took, Ozturk was awarded a free kick for an offence that no-one near me noticed. He took it quickly and by the time I had turned my head to follow the ball, McNulty had got behind the last defender, controlled the dropping ball beautifully and rounded the goalkeeper. It looked for a second as if he might have let the opportunity slip before calmly slotting home. It then took longer to get the game restarted than it had for us to take the lead.

We dominated that opening spell.

Luke O’Nien – busy

Luke O’Nien playing in the number ten role buzzed about, making himself available and was a constant threat. McNulty showed his customary energy and made a nuisance of himself. McGeady was showing his silky skills out on the left, combining well with Hume who was pushing forward whenever he could. This is not the same Denver Hume who looked nervy and unsure against Oxford. This is a young man learning all the time.

Conor McLaughlin was looking assured at the back, much happier on his stronger side and as as we grew into the game he pushed forward more too. Ozturk and Willis are developing a good understanding and Gooch was as industrious as ever. McGeouch initiated some nice passing moves and Dobson was physical. Our lack of height was noticeable but Dobson and O’Nien in particular win a surprising amount of headers.

Big Jon McLaughlin made a couple of routine saves from Freddy Ladapo but wasn’t really troubled during that opening spell. It looked as if JR had instructed the team to be more physical in this game and were well in control, competing for and winning second balls and carving out a number of decent chances.

Some smart movement down the left flank saw McNulty dummy to leave O’Nien with a decent opportunity to increase the lead but he was leaning back as he tried to side foot the ball home and it sailed over the bar. On 17 minutes, McGeady fired a powerful curling shot towards the top right hand corner, after good interplay from Gooch and McNulty. It looked in all the way until Iverson in the Rotherham goal pulled off a fantastic one handed save.

The Millers had a couple of half hearted penalty shouts waved away, but our defence was dealing with everything that was coming their way and then Conor Mclaughlin tried to get on the score sheet but his effort also went high and wide.

The general feeling around me was that another goal or two would settle matters and that opportunity arose just before the half hour mark, when some close passing between McNulty and Gooch, saw the American tripped by Clark Robertson and we all glanced at the ref to make sure he was pointing to the spot. It looked as if Gooch wanted to take the kick himself. The consensus was that he was the appointed penalty taker, but captain for the night Aiden McGeady took the ball from him and placed the ball on the spot. No bother we thought. We have one of the best conversion rates for penalty kicks in the league and McGeady knows what he is doing. There then followed one of the worst penalties I have ever seen. No power, no placement and never left the ground. Daniel Iverson made the simplest of saves and our best chance to put the game to bed had evaporated. Doubtless, had Iverson flung himself towards the post and the ball had trickled under his body McGeady would have been hailed as a genius but to be honest this was as feeble an effort as you are ever likely to see. I hope it was a mis-kick but if it wasn’t then the entire squad must be made to sit and watch this then spend twenty minutes at the next training session practising picking a spot and striking the ball firmly. Fair enough if the keeper makes a great save, but he could have put one of those sausage dog shaped draught excluders on his goal line and it would have prevented the ball going into the net.

Could’ve saved that pen

This seemed to deflate the home players and spur the visitors on as from that moment the tide turned and for the fans a whole hour of frustration was to follow. Somehow, if we had played badly for the whole 90 minutes and come away with a point it would have been more satisfactory than last night, after the perfect start then missing a golden opportunity to put the game to bed

McGeady might have made amends just before the interval, making space for himself with one his characteristic spins before curling a shot wide of the right hand post, but we went into the break with the Yorkshire side in the ascendency.

In the latter stages of the first half and immediately from the start of the second Rotherham looked by far the more fluent side. Our play became scrappy, we were losing out in situations which we would have won in the opening spell and it seemed like only a matter of time before the equaliser would come. We were also picking up stupid bookings with Dobson and McLaughlin (C) both going in the referee’s notebook for what looked like innocuous challenges.

At one point the visitors did beat Jon McLaughlin with a deflected shot but play had already been stopped with Jordan Willis on the ground with a potential head injury. There then followed an interchange between the referee and the players which ended in an uncontested dropped ball just outside the penalty area, which the Rotherham player, possibly under the referee’s instruction, passed out to the right wing before play continued normally. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like that before and presumably it is the result of the new laws as they are applied this season.

Wyke came on and introduced a more physical presence. It was McNulty he replaced so I can only assume the Scotsman had taken a knock as he had busied himself all game. O’Nien too had been in the wars and by now was wearing a numberless shirt. He had also been yellow carded for a foul.

Rotherham were piling on the pressure whilst we were on the back foot and it was almost inevitable that they would get one back.

It came from a quick break down the Rotherham right. With our defence flooding back the ball found itself at the feet of Freddy Ladapo who had the presence of mind to look up and spot the run of left winger Jake Hastie. With Conor McLaughlin way out of position and scrambling back hastily across the pitch, Hastie had acres of space and plenty of time to fire hard and low across the other McLaughlin to make it one all.

Maguire came on for McLaughlin as O’Nien slipped back into the number 2 slot and in the dying minutes Grigg came on for Gooch. As the minutes ticked by we were hanging on for a draw, but despite being second best for all but the first half hour, had two chances to grab a winner. First Wyke found himself in the clear after a slip by a Rotherham defender but his shot was blocked by Iverson. Then McGeady sent in another trademark curler across goal which grazed the post. In the six minutes of added time, O’Nien too found himself in a good position breaking into the box but ran it out for a goal kick, when with a little less desperation might have done better.

Must be as frustrated as we are.

A home win would have been hard on Rotherham and had we lost I don’t think anyone would have been surprised but we did dominate for thirty minutes and had we played like that during the last half hour rather than the first, we might have been happy with a point. But as the two blokes passing my open window as I am writing this were saying, it was frustrating!

Highlights via safc.com

Sunderland vs Doncaster Rovers: dare we even ask?

Jake: ‘we’ve had the comic capers. Can we now please be serious again and return to winning?’

Will it be a Good Friday or are we heading for purgatory? With some trepidation, Salut! Sunderland invites readers to do what none could hope to do before the Coventry game and correctly predict the outcome of SAFC vs Doncaster Rovers.

It is reasonable to suggest that the Easter weekend will bring a clearer idea of whether we can still go up to the Championship in an automatic top-two place or have to rely on the painful lottery of the playoffs.

Donny at home on Friday is followed by a tough trip to Peterborough on Monday – not that we currently show much sign of being able to treat any game as other than tough.

Read moreSunderland vs Doncaster Rovers: dare we even ask?

For Sunderland, the only way is up – starting with Charlton Athletic

Jake’s back – and so are Charlton

Monsieur Salut writes: in just over two weeks, only Sunderland’s second season as far down as the third tier kicks off with the televised home game against Charlton Athletic. The striker we wanted but they signed, Lyle Taylor, expects a hostile reception but says he’ll cope and simply concentrate on trying to inflict an opening-day defeat on us. Intriguingly, he volunteered a reason for his reluctance to join SAFC in an interview linked here:’Certain things happened. I’m not at liberty to go into the finer details, but certain things were done and said and at the end of the day, that told me enough’.

Here, Pete Lyons, a freelance writer with our club’s interests at heart, reflects on Sunderland’s decline and the prospects for fighting back… I have italicised song titles I recognise but others, and notably Wrinkly Pete, may spot more and I have added a French singer, Jain, as a new contender …

Okay, so Sunderland have surely fallen as low as it’s possible to go for a club of this stature and with the fan base it has.

But there is a mood of optimism and the feeling that things can only get better (how many song titles?). A new owner and a new manager will hopefully instil a new sense of spirit into the club.

Read moreFor Sunderland, the only way is up – starting with Charlton Athletic

What a difference: the hope we cannot stand rises again at Sunderland

[polldaddy poll=10001532]

Monsieur Salut keeps his promise (threat?) to repeat the obvious poll as developments present themselves. You can check the results for yourselves but as the number of votes cast reached 600, we were just above 82 per cent not just wanting but believing in promotion …

Salut! Sunderland’s associate editor John McCormick has already bagged naming rights should Jack Ross – could a Sunderland manager be blessed with a better moniker? – restore the tradition of post-match managerial e-mails.  They shall be called Ross on Why, and wye not?

Read moreWhat a difference: the hope we cannot stand rises again at Sunderland

SAFC vs Wolverhampton Wanderers Who are You?: should this have been us?

Up again: Andy James with son Jacob on the pitch celebrating promotion in 2009. Click the image to view the entire Who are You? archive for 2017-2018

Monsieur Salut writes: here endeth the 2017-2018 series of Who are You?, our detailed interviews with warm, witty and/or wise supporters of Sunderland opponent. Andy James can not make it the Stadium of Light on Sunday but will be with the festive travelling support in spirit. Thanks for the answers, Andy, and now enjoy your reacquaintance with the Premier League, a revival in Molineux fortunes he rather charitably predicts will be repeated sooner or later by Sunderland. So top versus bottom – how many of us actually believed that is how the season would end up? …

Read moreSAFC vs Wolverhampton Wanderers Who are You?: should this have been us?

Season End Reviews: (5) we have been through hell and high tide

Happier times: Malcolm Dawson – slimmer these days – with SuperKev

Malcolm Dawson, deputy editor, writes: last week I composed my contribution to Salut! Sunderland‘s end of season review series – see all items so far at this link – in response to Monsieur Salut’s urgings and thought back to my feelings at the end of term when Big Sam had engineered yet another Great Escape.

In 2016 I referenced Ian Dury’s hit Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 3 to follow on from the previous year when I had used the title of the Zoe record Sunshine on a Rainy Day which in turn had followed that of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies. I chose those songs because my articles all spoke with unjustifiable optimism, despite my constant disappointments following Sunderland AFC. There was always something to give me a little bit of hope.

But time spent recovering from surgery meant that I missed a couple of games in the Moyes reign and caused me to rethink whether or not I needed my fix of footballing disappointment. With Ellis Short in control of the club I could only see it going one way and made up my mind that I would not renew my season card as long as he was the owner. That in turn led to what follows – the bulk of which was written before last weekend’s announcements. For anyone who hasn’t spotted this year’s reference let me refer you to The Smiths and What Difference Does It Make?

Read moreSeason End Reviews: (5) we have been through hell and high tide

Season End Reviews: (3) wretched management, strip and team (and why I’ve renewed)

Mick Goulding and son Conor

After the humiliating if inevitable confirmation of another relegation, we all start to clutch at straws, says Monsieur Salut. My straws today have been Nick Donaldson’s fascinating mix of gloat, as a Mag, and sympathy, as a decent man with plenty of Mackem mates, and now Mick Goulding‘s superb contribution to our annual End of Season Reviews series. It requires no more build-up; just read on and see whether you’d quarrel with my assessment of this analysis from a man who’s put in a mighty shift as a Sunderland supporter …

Read moreSeason End Reviews: (3) wretched management, strip and team (and why I’ve renewed)

Down and down again. A sorry day to be a Sunderland supporter

A proud heritage trashed by gruesome mismanagement (listening, Ellis?)

Monsieur Salut writes: this is obviously the grimmest evening, in footballing terms, since Salut! Sunderland was created back at the beginning of 2007 (a promotion season under Keano). We’ll all have more to say and we’ll all, by and large, go on supporting our club. Here are some immediate thoughts …

It took me several looks at the bottom of the table, and at the remaining fixtures, before I finally accepted that there was no longer any permutation that could, however remote the thought, keep Sunderland up.

The stark reality is that there can have been few more deserved relegations in the history of English football. Most of the other contenders for that description involved us, too.

Read moreDown and down again. A sorry day to be a Sunderland supporter

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: Burton Albion

Sixer: soon to be reunited with cricket grounds and tasty cornets

Salut! Sunderland didn’t get round to entering this year’s football blogging awards. This was not a case of sour grapes after our also-ran status in previous years; the deadline simply came and went. Perhaps we should just have sent the organisers links to Pete Sixsmith‘s matchday reports and the twin series, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team/The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground. In a fair world, we’d then have walked it. Voting still seems to be open so you can keep it in the family and give Roker Report a helping hand.

Here, Sixer admits to being a little lost for words when describing a team Sunderland have played only once (he was there) having written this cracking piece before his visit. What more is there to say, beyond reflecting on a rare SAFC win that should have changed the course of our horrendous season but didn’t? …


Tricky one this:
the Brewers have only ever played us once and that was five months ago when George Honeyman and James Vaughan scored in our 2-0 win at the Pirelli Stadium. This was the game that many of us thought would see us turn the corner, move up the league and maybe get on the fringe of the playoffs.
Shows how much we know.

Read moreThe First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: Burton Albion

SAFC vs Burton Albion Who are You?: ‘let’s jump together into oblivion’

Dave Child: ‘sorry – we met professionally’

Monsieur Salut writes: the pain of relegation is not eased that much because everyone expected you to go down anyway. But Dave Child*, who combines being a fully-fledged Brewer with a spot of radio commentary (that’s how he met PDC), didn’t think the season would be as bad for Burton — or us for that matter – after their escape a year ago. I took the easy option for this edition of ‘Who are You?’, not because there are so few Burton fans to choose from but because Dave did a good job first time round and is a home-and-away regular who’ll be at our last-but-one home game this Saturday.

Dave is also a food critic, reviewing pies at the grounds he visits. Let’s see what he makes of the SoL fare …

Read moreSAFC vs Burton Albion Who are You?: ‘let’s jump together into oblivion’