Sixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: bravo Benji, bravo (later) France, bad show Byrne’s boys

Hero, villain or just working the system?

Not so cool at the Pool, said Peter Sixsmith. Benji Kimpioka was cool, as were others of the young players at Jack Ross’s disposal. Catts and Honeyman, despite Ross saying the right things about how they were working for him, were distinctly uncool. What we all think of their agent, the club’s former CEO Margaret Byrne, may be best left unsaid. Sixer’s report – he chose the Victoria Ground over pub or armchair view of England losing decisively to Belgium – fills in the gaps while Monsieur Salut happily fetes France’s World Cup success, broadly deserved …

Read moreSixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: bravo Benji, bravo (later) France, bad show Byrne’s boys

Season reviews (7):staying up under Allardyce – as seen from down under

Malcolm Dawson writes…..last year Marcus Procopio, as Aussie as pie floater, vegemite and snags and tomato sauce joined our happy band of contributors with an early season summation of all that was wrong at SAFC. It’s well worth a revisit by clicking this link. In it he suggests that as long as a combination of a badly run organisation and a poisonous culture in the dressing room and on the training ground prevailed, Sunderland AFC would find it hard to progress. Consider the changes in personnel both on and off the field since January and correlate that with the most positive and optimistic feelings for years that currently surround our club (despite let’s not forget finishing 17th) and it’s hard to disagree. Although he lives about as distant from the Stadium of Light as is possible he continues to watch from afar and still doesn’t like what he sees. However, as always, he remains hopeful…

Marcus Procopio
Marcus Procopio

“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker” – Mike McDermott in Rounders.

This take on an old poker proverb has become increasingly apt in describing Sunderland in the Premier League. Half way into each of the last few seasons, it’s been incredibly difficult to find three obviously worse teams than ours. The remarkable thing is that, somehow, we haven’t been cleaned out and sent packing.

Having completed yet another fortunate escape, the question now is whether we can become a real player at the Premier League table – or whether we’re destined to be the league’s perennial fish.

Mr Nostradamus

Whenever I write my end of season reviews, I like to look back at some of the things I wrote at the start of the season. This time around, a couple of gems stick out:

My early season article on Salut! which included the following:

An insipid pre-season has now been followed up by two losses to start the season – to teams unlikely to feature in the top half of the table at its end. There are plenty of questions and there is genuine concern that we do not have the answers.

(For the record, Leicester won the league…(!) and Norwich were relegated. One out of two isn’t so bad is it?).

My opening match day comments on the Not606 Sunderland forum:

As we all know, the league’s schedulers have finally decided to stop sodomising our club and we actually have a chance to get off to a good start this season.

Leicester (A)
Norwich (H)
Swansea (H)
Villa (A)

Here are the possible outcomes for us after 4 games. What would you accept as a bare minimum?

WWWW (12 points) 
WWWD (10 points)
WWWL (9 points)

I put these in the ‘not impossible, but quite unrealistic’ category. If we achieved any of these starts we’d be completely buzzing to say the least.

WWDD (8 points)
WWDL (7 points)

Either of these would be very solid for me and what we should be aiming/hoping for.

WWLL (6 points)
WDDD (6 points)

I would happy with either of these. Although, the 3 draws would be frustrating.

WDDL (5 points)

This is the minimum point of acceptability for me. Not a flyer, but still not a disaster either. Definitely hoping for better than this.

WDLL (4 points)

This would be below par, even by our modest standards. At least we’d have a win.

DDDD (4 points, and lots of stuff being thrown at the telly by me)
WLLL (3 points, with a call for some counselling)
DDDL (3 points and broken lounge room furniture)
DDLL (2 lousy points, a claim on my home insurance and me saying ‘the EPL is overrated crap anyway’)
DLLL (1 effing point followed by Di Canio coming out and saying ‘see, I wasn’t so bad and I never had that kind of budget’)
LLLL (zippo and work being started on Advocaat and Short effigies)

For the record, our first four games netted two losses and two draws – the third worst possible outcome out of 15.

Lowering the bar

It’s well documented that we’ve had some very poor starts in recent seasons. However, you really need to see the numbers from the opening 9 games our last 5 seasons to get a full appreciation of this:

2011-12: 2-3-4 (9 points) – Bruce

2012-13: 1-6-2 (9 points) – O’Neill

2013-14: 1-1-7 (4 points) – Di Canio

2014-15: 1-5-3 (8 points) – Poyet

2015-16: 0-3-6 (3 points) – Advocaat

That’s a total of 33 points from 45 games which pro-rates to 28 in 38 games.

If you take only the last three seasons, then it’s 15 points from 27 games – which prorates to 21 points over 38 games… delicious!

Jake: 'so what's your theory, Charlie?'
Jake says: ‘so what’s your theory, Charlie?’

Aside from our disgraceful opening points tally, this season stood out from the four before it for one other major reason: we were winless, hopeless and gormless after 9 games – which included games against Norwich (H), Swansea (H), Villa (A), Bournemouth (A) and West Brom (A).

Not to disrespect any of these teams – but if you can’t beat any of them at all, then you’re not making a great case for staying in the Premier League and you’re going to have a bad time.

Yet another Messiah

We can now add Allardyce to the list of O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat, as managers that have come in mid-season and miraculously and emotionally kept us up against the odds.

I want to believe that things are different this time around. I really do. Some encouraging things in this respect are:

* Adam Johnson is gone.
* Margaret Byrne is gone.
* Danny Graham is gone. (Bit harsh on the hard working Graham I think. I suspect Fletcher may have had a more negative influence on those around him – MD.)
* Allardyce is a highly distinguished, experienced, proven and savvy manager who Alex Ferguson thinks is ‘massively underrated’.
* Allardyce has made some positive cultural changes – most notably getting the youngsters involved with the first team.
* The Kone, Khazri and Kirchhoff combo acquired in the January transfer window were inspired purchases which completely changed our season and the whole nature of our first team.

As good as those things are, the most encouraging thing for me comes in the form of raw numbers. Here are the latter halves (i.e. last 19 games) of our last 5 seasons:

2011-12, 24 points: 6-6-7 (GF: 22, GA: 24, GD: -2) – O’Neill.

2012-13, 17 points: 4-5-10 (GF: 21, GA: 30, GD: -9) – O’Neill/DiCanio.

2013-14, 24 points: 7-3-9 (GF: 26, GA: 28, GD: -2) – Poyet

(NB: this included 4 wins in a row just before the final day of the season – and a stretch of 2 points in 9 games before that).

2014-15, 18 points: 4-6-9 (GF: 15, GA: 26, GD -11) – Poyet/Advocaat.

2015-16, 27 points: 6-9-4 (GF: 29, GA: 24, GD +5) – Allardyce.

It is this more than anything that gives me the best and most realistic hope yet that we won’t be next season’s fish.

Wrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

Peter Lynn: What does he think of N'Doye?
Peter Lynn: players must take responsibility?

Amid a barrage of criticism levelled at SAFC ownership and management, Peter Lynn offers an alternative view of on and off-the-field problems that include, in his view, the spectacle of supporters leaving the Stadium of Light early …

Read moreWrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

View from the NW Corner: ideal opportunity to move Sunderland forward

Malcolm Dawson writes……off the field activities have dominated the news coming out of all three of the North East’s big clubs (I’ll stretch a point and include Boro!) in the past two weeks. Last night’s game at Leicester might have put us back in the bottom three (but didn’t) but there’s no doubt it’ll be the weekend that brings squeaky pants time. Have the Mags timed Benitez appointment on purpose, recent experiences showing that a new manager wins his second game in charge when it is a local derby? Hopefully we’ll be feeling more confident about surviving another relegation scare by Sunday tea-time but whether we stay up or not, the time is now right for Ellis Short to learn from past mistakes and move the club forward.

Mrs Logic's fanous photo
Mrs Logic’s fanous photo
I am pretty sure that somewhere within the bowels of Sunderland Football Club, there is an employee whose job description contains a section requiring him or her to monitor web sites such as Salut! Sunderland, RTG etc. as well as keeping tabs on what is being said on social media. I am also pretty sure that one of the ways professional journalists gain information and ideas for stories comes via the internet.

When I was Chair of the Heart of England Branch of the Supporters’ Club if you Googled “Sunderland supporters”, our website was always at or near the top of the list. I did several radio interviews and had a couple of e-mails from Sky Sports on the strength of this.

I have made no secret of my feelings about the way SAFC has been run since the departure of Niall Quinn from the boardroom. My criticisms of former Chief Executive Margaret Byrne, and ultimately owner Ellis Short are there for all to see in articles and comments I have made on this site. I made the link between the re-structuring of the club and a lack of progress on the field and negative publicity off it, both of which seemed to have worsened since the departure of our former centre forward. I made many of those statements before I had seen similar ones elsewhere though I’m not arrogant enough to think that others didn’t have the same thoughts. Recent headlines and articles, (see for example: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/mar/05/sunderland-stokoe-quinn-adam-johnson-margaret-byrne and http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/niall-quinn-set-sunderland-return-7547277?) offer similar views.

Recent reports suggest that maybe the Irishman has been approached to return to the club which he admitted “got under his skin.” I hope so because we need someone who understands our region, our club. Except it’s not our club any more. It is part of the portfolio of a Texas billionaire and I don’t see him having the emotional attachment to Sunderland AFC that a true fan has. I don’t buy into the theory that you have to have a lifelong affinity to a particular club to feel passionate about it. Take Gary Bennett, Kevin Ball, Marco Gabbiadini, as well Niall Quinn himself as proof of that. Super Kevin Phillips and Dick Advocaat have also shown how the club can affect a professional who only came to do a job in the first instance.

I don’t get the passion that those mentioned have shown when I look at Ellis Short. I thank him for the financial commitment he has shown, coming in as he did when the recession hit Drumaville Consortium looked to sever their ties, but I have been critical of many of his decisions. Firstly appointing himself Chairman wasn’t necessarily a mistake, losing the expertise and footballing brain that Quinny brought to the boardroom was. The restructuring of the club off the field has brought abject failure. It may be that’s the business model he wants but supporters want to see success on the pitch above anything else. However, with the huge amount of money that Premiership football brings it is surely a mistake to ignore the football side of things, even when commercial concerns are given priority.

Niall in earlier times
Niall in earlier times

So would the return of Niall Quinn be the answer? After all it was he who persuaded Ellis Short to invest in the club in the first place and Margaret Byrne was his appointment. But (and here’s the rub) a structure was set up that in my view patently hasn’t worked. Off the field the negative publicity from the Di Canio, Ricky Alvarez and Adam Johnson affairs all reflect badly on the club and the club’s reaction to them only fuelled the fire. The criticisms of Di Canio’s appointment seemed to take the club by surprise but surely anyone with a knowledge of the area could have predicted it. Was Miliband consulted ahead of the appointment? Then to make the statement it did
http://www.safc.com/news/club-news/2013/april/club-statement and to end with “Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter.” did nothing to assuage the concerns of those who felt strongly about the issue.

Fast forward a few years and when it was obvious the club’s handling of the Adam Johnson affair produced a similar statement, with a similar ending there would be more to come. Unlike M Salut I did not see this as a “dignified” response but as a fudge – a denial of the club’s part in the whole affair, with no apology to the victim or the victim’s family. Don’t tell me that Margaret Byrne didn’t see that statement before it was published. That she immediately decided to skip the country was yet another example of her head in the sand approach. She claims she didn’t share her knowledge of Johnson’s activities with the rest of the board. She may not have done but I and many others could see from the outset that that initial statement would not be the end of the matter.

I do not think that had Niall Quinn still been involved in the club’s administration things would have been allowed to develop in the way that they did.

When I did a Q&A for a West Ham website just ahead of Advocaat’s last game in charge I was asked who I thought would go down. I identified Aston Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland as three clubs with big problems. No great insight perhaps but I made the link that all three had imposed a system of player recruitment that put the power in the hands of people not directly concerned with performances on the pitch. Advocaat clearly didn’t think a lot of many of the players brought in over the summer. He was still struggling to make a team from a host of substandard players on high wages. Players brought in by Di Fanti or Congerton on contracts negotiated by and approved by Margaret Byrne. And look where that’s got us.

The signs are that Sam Allardyce made his demands clear before he came and has taken a more hands on approach to player recruitment and retention. Look at the club website and see how many players we have out on loan. Look at the summer signings – Vergini, Coates, Matthews all in and out with little impact on the team. Look at Valentine Roberge, picking up his wages for doing what? Is he even training with the team? And there’s still Alvarez claiming he doesn’t even know who holds his registration.

Now is an ideal time for Ellis Short to recognise his mistakes, listen to advice from those who know the game and know the region. Niall Quinn may or may not be considering a return to Sunderland AFC but whoever the owner brings in needs to have the intelligence, the knowledge of football, the understanding of just what SAFC means to the area and the ability for communicating with the media that Quinny has shown.

Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev back in the days when the football was worth watching.
Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev.

Sunderland, Adam Johnson and a sad but necessary exit for Margaret Byrne

Jake: 'let the Lads give us hope'
Another grim day for SAFC

Margaret Byrne has resigned as chief executive of Sunderland AFC in recognition of her flawed handling of the Adam Johnson affair.

When Johnson’s trial ended with a further conviction, on top of the Guilty pleas already entered, and with it the likelihood of a significant jail term, we reproduced SAFC’s statement and called it a “dignified response”. As far as it went, that was an accurate description. No one should be pre-judged; every accused person is entitled under our civilised procedures to the presumption of innocence until proved otherwise.

Read moreSunderland, Adam Johnson and a sad but necessary exit for Margaret Byrne

Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: Arsenal take advantage of Black Cats’ ill luck

Malcolm Dawson writes……..Peter Sixsmith is a frequent visitor to the National Stadium at Wembley. Usually it’s to watch a Rugby League game or a Northern League side in the FA Vase final. Once every twenty years or so he even gets to see Sunderland there. This season he dreams of another trip to see his home town side of Shildon achieve FA Cup glory and so Saturday saw him journey to the former Staffordshire coalfield, home of Norton United where the Railwaymen sought the victory that would see them go into the proverbial hat with the big boys of the Football League.

Look out for them in the first round proper draw (number 52) as the one all result sees them as the lowest ranked club still in the competition. Stand by for Pete’s report on his day away from the Stadium of Light. In his absence you’ll have to make do with my version of events there.

The Match with MDwithGus

Years ago I remember reading an article in some long gone football magazine in which Bryan “Pop” Robson explained how he took ballet lessons to improve his footwork and ball control skills. Based on the evidence of yesterday it’s time that Wes Brown and Vito Mannone donned their tutus and practised their entrechats and pliés in front of a long mirror.

I didn’t go to Southampton last weekend. Instead I was stuck in a traffic jam trying to get from the A1 to the International Stadium on my way to see Gateshead lose to Barnet. By the time I’d got parked up, Radio Newcastle had told me all about Vergini’s wonderstrike and Barnet’s two early goals. Those of you who thought that sitting at St Mary’s was a miserable experience at least didn’t have to put up with the crowing of obnoxious Magpies every time a goal went in on the South coast, whilst watching a disappointing Gateshead side succumb to a two goal defeat, both of which you had already missed.

So I maybe didn’t get as disheartened as many others by last week’s mauling. I told anyone who would listen that every team has a blip from time to time, we were still unbeaten at home, generally looked better than I have seen us for a while and could bounce back against an Arsenal side who are not the force they once were.

How things change in seven days! All those doubts and fears that I had consigned to the inner recesses of my mind have now burst through to occupy my waking thoughts. A threadbare squad. A lack of defensive cover. A shortage of proven goalscorers. An inability to create meaningful chances. A strategy of sitting too deep and allowing teams to attack us. A fragility that leaves us open to a quick counter attack. Players who are prone to individual errors.

And today the Independent carries a report that all is not well at SAFC. It claims there is friction between Poyet on the one hand and Ellis Short/Margaret Byrne on the other. Poyet it is claimed is not happy with his squad. Is not happy with the club’s purchasing strategy. Feels the “continental” set up with a Director of Football ties his hands when it comes to competing on the pitch. The article suggests that Byrne has problems with the manager and that Short himself feels Gus’s thinly veiled criticism of the club can’t go on much longer.

I’m a fan. I want to see my team winning and my sympathies lie with Gus. But in the real world of football these days financial stability is not something to be taken lightly. Ask the followers of Portsmouth, Leeds United etc. about that. Two individual errors cost us yesterday. Does the blame for that lie on or off the pitch?

Malcolm Dawson climbs aboard the Soapbox
Malcolm Dawson climbs aboard the Soapbox

The Sunderland fans were determined to back their team and there was encouraging applause for certain individuals as the starting XI was read out. Two changes saw Rodwell and Johnson in with Gomez and Wickham dropping to the bench. This allowed Buckley to start on the left of a five man midfield. Despite the fact we hardly touched the ball for the first fifteen minutes I was relatively happy with what I saw. Although we were a little too deep for my liking the shape of the team looked good, with the back four solid and the midfield in front of them leaving Arsenal with plenty of possession but little in the way of a goal threat. Welbeck’s shot from 20 yards was always going over and Vito had it covered anyway.

That was on the quarter hour mark and having weathered the opening 15 minutes we started to get into the game. We were much more positive and playing higher up the pitch, though like the Gunners never really looked like getting the ball in the net. Johnson was showing some quality ball skills, Larsson did what Larsson does, Cattermole was industrious, breaking down play and distributing the ball well and van Aanholt was marauding down the left.

Although at one point Mannone fumbled an Oxlade Chamberlain cross that he should have dealt with easily, I was satisfied with the first half hour’s showing. And then came Wes Brown who showed us why, after his appearance on “Who Does the Dishes” he is unlikely to be asked to grace the screens of “Strictly” viewers.

With the team pressing forward, Wes on the half way line was last man in front of Mannone. Under no pressure and with PVA in plenty of space to his left, instead of a simple sideways pass to the Dutchman he elected to try and turn to send the ball 35 yards or more to the Italian keeper. I have seen better co-ordination from a four year old prancing about to some tinkling piano music on BBC School’s “Time to Move” and I have seen more power on a back pass from a Subbuteo player, than our former England international showed yesterday. A gaffe to eclipse those of the previous week.

Mind you I saw the same player stand on the ball and concede a goal to Unibond North side Darlington 1883 in the pre season friendly so it was hardly a unique experience. But once Alexis Sanchez had seized on the error and chipped the advancing Vito to score Arsenal’s 1499th Premier League goal the writing was on the wall.

On the positive side, our second half performance was encouraging in parts. Despite losing the hard working Fletcher early on we continued to press forward without ever really coming close to finding an equaliser. Rodwell had a shot from a tight angle and a header that was easily saved. Larsson had a long range effort which threatened the goal but never looked like beating the keeper.

For their part Arsenal were profligate when they had chances. Cazola in particular squandered a couple of good opportunities to put the game out of reach. But the turning point for me came when Szczesny committed his own blunder and we failed to take advantage. The big Pole came out to the angle of his box and when his weak header only found Patrick van Aanholt an open goal cried out for a simple lob into the net. But PVA, who otherwise had a pretty good game, lacked the necessary composure and his left foot effort went six or seven yards wide. One all at that point might have seen a change of fortune. Then again it might not have.

No such luck for our hapless keeper. When a back pass from Buckley put him under a bit of pressure he showed Wes Brown that he wasn’t the only one whose footwork was more like that of a pantomime horse than that of Wayne Sleep or Darcey Bussell. It should have been dealt with but somehow Vito managed to kick the ball with what was meant to be his standing foot and once again Alexis Sanchez patted the four leaf clover in his pocket, kissed the rabbit’s foot around his neck and was glad he picked up the penny he saw as he stepped off the team bus.

And so another disappointing day in the life of a Sunderland supporter. It’s not like we are not used to them. Poyet will no doubt be thinking that he needs a bigger and better squad. Margaret Byrne and Ellis Short will no doubt be thinking that Poyet should be doing better with the resources at his disposal. My sympathies lie with both. We do need more quality but just how many goals have we conceded because the Poyet approach has led to individual errors whilst attempting to maintain possession in a dangerous area? Sometimes a hoof upfield is an uglier but more effective option.

Pete’s texts kept me updated on the Shildon situation. He would have been more satisfied with his choice of game than last week and a lot less frustrated than I felt at 5 o’clock yesterday.

Jake invites support
Jake invites support

 

Still time to vote for Salut! Sunderland in the Football Blogging Awards: see https://safc.blog/2014/09/football-blogging-awards-make-your-yes-vote-count-for-salut-sunderland/for details

Sixer’s Peterborough Soapbox: relief all round as Cats purr their way to victory

SoapboxPOSH

The atmosphere around the Stadium of Light last night was not that of a club in crisis writes Malcolm Dawson. Mind you when I arrived outside the ground an hour before kick off it was obviously typical of a League Cup fixture – quieter than Bishop Auckland on a Friday night when the bouncers outside the pubs outnumber the punters within. Surprisingly perhaps there was little talk of Di Canio’s departure, player power or possible incoming coaches. It seemed to me that those inside the ground were hoping that a decent performance would erase the memories of the dismal start to the season. There was a decent turn out too of Posh supporters on a mizzly September evening – more than Fulham brought. Pete Sixsmith was there too.

NEWsoapbox(Without Score)

A WEIGHT OFF THE SHOULDERS

It was a cup tie and it was against a team who were two divisions below us, but there was a palpable sense of relief at the SoL last night as a predominantly British team shrugged off Peterborough United to make it into the last 16 of the Football League Cup.

Relief at the fact that the owner had taken action to arrest a situation which was looking critical if not terminal even after five games; relief at the fact that we have not stampeded into a quick appointment and are happy to look at several candidates while leaving the first team in the very English hands of Kevin Ball.

Nobody that I spoke to was anything other than pleased that the mercurial Italian had left. The players were welcomed with warm applause, particularly O’Shea and Larsson, who are reputedly the ones who led the delegation to Margaret Byrne. They looked like men who had had a huge weight taken off their shoulders.

It would be wrong to describe the 90 minutes that followed as a sparkling performance. Some of the team were rusty, hardly having played this season. Others were desperate to impress and maybe tried too much. But they won, are in the next round and looked like a better team than past results have indicated.

Cattermole had an immediate impact, sitting deep and winning the ball before moving it forward. At times, he reminds me of a parks player, constantly chasing the ball and then giving it away. But he played one exquisite through ball to Giaccherini in the 32nd minute, which saw the excellent Italian put us ahead.
Ball played him behind Altidore, in the role in which we always hoped Sessegnon would excel. He looked a very good player last night, quick, sharp and with the ability to create his own space. This one could work and his celebrations when he scored indicated that he had played a considerable part in ensuring that Di Canio was queuing at the Alitalia desk on Monday morning.

Another who looked quietly impressive was Ki, who does simple things well and also has the ability to create his own space. However, he let himself down with a nasty challenge on Lee Tomlin, raking his foot down Tomlin’s Achilles and putting the Posh’s most influential player out of the game after 10 minutes. Altidore worked hard, as always, and was unlucky with a thumping shot that hit the post in the first half and Johnson was always a good outlet on the left. He put in a wonderful centre for Roberge to head home to wrap the game up, having earlier curled one just round the post.

So, no embarrassment to a team below us in the pyramid and a feeling that players and crowd were united in the face of adversary. We go into Sunday’s game against Liverpool with a win under our belts and that sense of relief that a bully has been beaten and that there is the potential of salvaging the season and getting some points on the board.
Kevin Ball has said that he wants the job. He has done well with the Under 21’s – but so did Ricky Sbragia. Whoever takes over has to be vetted carefully and has to have either the credentials or the potential to make quick progress. Poyet seems to be in a strong position and could be an interesting appointment. I suspect that Tony Pulis or Alex McLeish will not be popular with fans, but they are honest and reliable men. I like the cut of Eddie Howe’s jib and he has done well at Bournemouth and I gather he was on the Everton short list in the summer.

Whoever it is has a decent bunch of players to work with, and more importantly, a group of players who have shown that they do care about the club and their own professional reputations. Talk of player power is nonsense – as Martin Smith said on Total Sport, if they didn’t care about the club they would just say they were injured and pick up their salaries as Angeleri and a few others have done over the years.

We await the appointment with interest – and hope that Bally can give his chances a real boost on Sunday.


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