We have been this way before. Early activity in a transfer window seems positive and our hopes rise accordingly, only to be dashed by a combination of factors: the questionable SAFC managerial merry-go-round, an imbalance of expectation and delivery and the air of thick gloom hanging over the club.
But Chris Coleman’s first move really does look like a sound one. Jake Clarke-Salter, a ball-playing central defender brought on loan from Chelsea, “is supposed to be rather good”, says a Chelsea-supporting friend.
They do not come much easier than Leo Bonatini’s first goal of the season, a mighty Sunderland-style defensive blunder by the Boro defender Daniel Ayala setting up his chance, well as he then took it.
But the Wolves striker has been on fire since, his total of nine including five goals in October and that is what made him the PFA Bristol Street Motors Championship player of the month as voted by fans.
Sunderland’s Lewis Grabban was one of five other nominees but came last in the shortlist with just three per cent of the votes cast. In fact, Bonatini polled more than all five rivals combined.
But hang on a second. Bonatini plays for the club currently topping the table and we all know which position Sunderland occupy. If we think about it for, say, half a second, we can probably hazard a guess as to which of them enjoys the more creative, thoughtful and effective service. So Grabban’s eight goals can be seen as an achievement no less than creditable than Bonatini’s nine – and he, too, scored five of them in October.
It feels almost surreal. But when you check that sliding green link you see at the foot of each page of Salut! Sunderland, the PFA player-of-the-month awards really do have a Sunderland player among the nominees.
Maybe it is a step too far to contemplate an award for someone playing for a crisis club rooted at the foot of the Championship table.
John McCormick writes: Pete Sixsmith has finally made it home from seat U2 in the Carrow Road football stadium (hence the reference in the introduction to Saturday’s Sevens). He probably has just enough time to grab some rest before he heads off to Sheffield. But before he gets his head down here he is with the heads up on a game more than a few of us expected to be difficult.
As ever, it’s a fine piece of writing. The bonus is that this time it’s about an excellent Sunderland performance:
Pete Sixsmith took his time in getting to Norwich, so we can look forward to an account of his ground-hopping as well as a match report from U2 at Carrow Road, where the seats have no name. (and perhaps Pete will include an explanation of what this means with his report**).
For now, though, we’ll have to make do with the instant, seven word verdict that he sends to M Salut immediately after the final whistle, and doesn’t it make a nice change from what he was sending last season? …
Towards the end of the 2015-2016 season, Sunderland went to Norwich and won 3-0 as part of the Big Sam race for survival. We stayed up, they went down. Before the game, we were able to introduce readers to one of the best Who are You? interviewees of the season, Gary Gowers*. So good were his replies that he took second place in the HAWAY awards – he never received his prize, but we are trying to rectify this now.
As Sunderland’s second Championship game takes us back to Carrow Road, it seemed an ideal opportunity to catch up again with Gary, the editor of http://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com. Sit back for another terrific read in which he lays into the arrogance of City’s squad last season and expresses no surprise at our own predicament. He’d quite like Catts in Norwich colours but is distinctly cool on James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban. All the same, he predicts a top six place for Sunderland (and for his own side) …
Malcolm Dawson writes…..there were several compelling reasons which made me decide not to renew my season card for the upcoming campaign, but no such dilemma for Pete Sixsmith, who might not have been in his normal seat, but was there nevertheless to witness a reasonable display, which although didn’t break any records was a least a little better than many a first day performance. He’ll have been disappointed that he missed Durham’s one run win over Yorkshire but you can’t have everything. Here’s what he thought of his first view at the new look Sunderland in a truly competitive competition.
DERBY COUNTY (H).
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu writing over 2,500 years ago, said “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” which if you think about it, was best summed up by the great 20th Century philosopher Basil Fawlty as “stating the bleedin’ obvious.”
So for Simon Grayson, his new team and the 29,000 Sunderland supporters who pitched up at the Stadium of Light on Friday night, the journey has started. It may be a long trek back from the deep, dark valleys of the Championship to the sunlit peaks of the Premier League but that first step has been made and it was a positive one.
There was plenty of effort and an awful lot of running around. After a season of stultifying boredom where the ball was moved sideways and then backwards, it was refreshing to see it played out wide to Honeyman and McGeady and to see those two take on defenders and occasionally get past them.
It was by no means perfect. There were still weaknesses that need to be addressed either by a change of personnel or by some hard work from the coaching staff and individual players, but what we saw was 11 players doing their best and showing the support that even if they would rather be elsewhere, they appear to be prepared to put themselves about a bit.
After a bright opening we proceeded to give away a goal as bad as any we conceded last season and the season before.
Johnny Russell, the Rams best player, got past Brendan Galloway with consummate ease, put a low cross into the box which our central defenders missed and Bradley Johnson turned it in. Cheers from the Derby fans and heads in hands from the home support as we contemplated another morale sapping result.
But we came back. There was one hairy moment when a Tom Huddlestone shot was spilled by Jason Steele and we thought we had another Calamity Kelvin Davies between the sticks, but he gave his head a shake and grew in confidence as the game went on.
There were chances at the other end as well, with Lee Cattermole having a shot well saved by Scott Carson, Lewis Grabban firing over the bar and Aiden McGeady being thwarted by Andre Wisdom after excellent work by George Honeyman.
Those were the four players who caught the eye.
Cattermole is a perfect central midfield player if you want aggression and leadership. Those qualities were fully on display here as he charged about winning the ball, making tackles and rousing his team mates. He looks a Simon Grayson type and will be very important for us in the coming months. It’s a pity that after eleven years as a pro, he still cannot be relied upon to pass the ball with consistent accuracy and the less said about his heading the better. But he never ever gives up and that is a vital quality in this 46 game slog.
Lewis Grabban had an excellent game and on this showing, looks the business. He has a good goal scoring record at this level and brings a wealth of experience from his days at Rotherham, Bournemouth, Norwich and Reading to a forward line that is short of it. He took the penalty well and was unfortunate when after being set up by a lovely 5 yard pass from Captain Cattermole, he hit the post. He makes space well and has a physical presence. I enjoyed watching him.
McGeady also caught the eye. It looks as if Grayson has given him a free role and he switched wings with Honeyman on a number of occasions. He will take players on and is a bit of a throwback to the 60s when most teams had a Scottish “tanna ball player” in the team. He sometimes over-elaborates but as the team settles he will hopefully be more astute with his final ball.
Finally, George Honeyman fully justified his place above Wahbi Khazri with a solid performance which showed that he too can blossom at this level. Had we sacked Moyes earlier, appointed a decent manager (Mr Pastry would have been an improvement) and stayed up, Honeyman would have been away. Now he has an opportunity to establish himself in the team and there was a fifteen minute spell in the second half when he roasted a good solid Championship full back in Craig Forsyth. He finished strongly as well and produced a couple of really good runs to the by-line.
Of the others, Kone was solid, Ndong worked as hard as Cattermole and tackled well, Vaughan did an awful lot of running and disturbed Keogh and Davies just enough to open up spaces for others. Nobody did that last year.
The two Everton loanees struggled a wee bit. Galloway had a poor first half and could have been replaced but he showed real character in the second and competed well against the excellent Russell. There was also one storming run at the end as the Derby defence tired. Tyias Browning was steady but got caught a couple of times. He looks to be the “other” centre half alongside Kone or O’Shea and is worth sticking with.
As for the Rams, they looked a typical Championship side. They were well organised and players filled the roles they had been given. I liked Russell and thought that Keogh and Davies will prove to be a good partnership. Johnson worked hard as did Butterfield, the latter perhaps a tad unfortunate to give away the penalty. As I texted M Salut, I would have been Mr Angry had that been awarded against us. Oh and Chris Martin missed an absolute sitter near the end. As the man in front said “And that is Scotland’s first choice centre forward!”
It was my first game in the new seat, a move which has halved my season ticket cost. Those sat around seemed pleasant enough and Wood Major and Minor are a few rows in front. You could clearly see how much the pitch has been shortened and narrowed and we also appear not to be blowing the balls up enough to judge by the fuss that Scott Carson made in the second half – the more cynical may think that he was trying to take the steam out of a sustained spell of Sunderland pressure (don’t remember writing that last season).
The other good thing was that I was home by 10.45 although I would trade that off for an increase in crowds as people are drawn back by what appears to be an honest and pragmatic approach to football. That thousand mile journey already looks a little more manageable.
Salut! Reflections has developed into a corner of Salut! Sunderland for outsiders, not usually supporters of SAFC. The contributions range from blandly stating the obvious to offering interesting or pertinent points about the progress or lack of it of our club. Even after heavy editing, those in the former category struggle to shine.
This is at the higher end, more imaginatively written, up to date and opinionated. Since we are assured the author, William Sundin, is a media production graduate from Sunderland University, there may be a good reason for that. What we certainly hope to be true is that his failure to see the qualities of Lewis Grabban reflects his shortcomings, not the player’s …