Sixer’s Stoke City Soapbox: Potters pile more pain on Moyes’s Boys (and us!)

Malcolm Dawson writes……….I never get too worked up about performances such as yesterday’s. I just don’t – ever! I enjoy it when we play well and win and can be as excited and emotional as the next person but my intense disappointment after a poor performance and defeat never really spills over into anger or feelings of violence. I think it’s just that I refuse to get too worked up about things over which I have no control – but maybe it’s simply that having followed Sunderland since 1964, I’m inured to the whole painful experience.

I always know when I’m really bored (or more often resigned to another loss) because I start thinking about what I’m going to have to eat when I get home and yesterday, as I sat shivering through my thermals, I was weighing up the pros and cons of an old fashioned beef stew with spring onion mash compared to lamb pasanda with sag aloo and garlic nan.

It’s fair to say that I have been preoccupied with things other than football since last weekend but as I made my slow walk back to the car I was thinking that I may well have a good excuse not to make it to the Tottenham game. Poor Pete Sixsmith will almost certainly be there and he’s got a ticket for Burnley! Here’s how he feels about yet another home defeat.

STOKE CITY (HOME)

There have been some catastrophic home performances in the last couple of years – Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers spring to mind – but there can’t have been many as dispiriting as this.

Seeking to follow up a good home performance in the last league game and perhaps climb out of the bottom three and put some pressure on the likes of Middlesbrough and Leicester City, we turn in a twenty minute cameo that leaves us sitting in the relegation places and looking as near to doomed as it is possible to be.

The Stoke goals were ridiculous. Poor defending, poor reactions and dismal goalkeeping. The passing and movement of the Potters made us look like a team of geriatric penguins as the likes of Shaqiri, Arnautovic and Allen showed what clever and sensible investment coupled with managerial stability, can do for a club. We have none of those.

If the way that we played was bad (and believe me, dear reader, it was), there was far worse to see on the pitch as players fell out with each other, seemed to give up and generally looked like a group who didn’t like being where they were and who may well be begging their agents to get them out of Sunderland and to a decent, well run club.

Will PvA stick with us or is he off?

Take Patrick Van Aanholt. He was one of the better players and he continued to push forward as we chased the game. His frustration grew, particularly with Adnan Januzaj and at one stage towards the end of the game, I expected a Kieron Dyer/Lee Bowyer situation to develop as Van Aanholt made it very clear that he was not impressed with the way that the Belgian held on to the ball. There was little Low Countries rapport between these two.

Take Adnan Januzaj. There is an acceptance from the support that he is a frail character, certainly physically and possibly mentally. They will make allowances for him and don’t expect him to be the next Billy Whitehurst. But they do expect him to make challenges and when he ducked out of one that was 70:30 in his favour, the howls of derision that rained down from all four parts of the ground made it clear that any sympathy that the support had with him, had gone – never to return. He makes Will Buckley look like Joe Bolton.

Take Fabio Borini. Here is another player who talks a good game but rarely produces. In a game where skill and thought are needed, he chases around, gives away endless free kicks and spends much of his time getting involved in needless spats with referees. Time to concentrate on what you do best, Fabio, although I and many others, are no longer sure what that is.

Take Jermain Defoe. He took his goal well, latching on to a long ball from Donald Love and outpacing the slowing Ryan Shawcross. But in the second half it looked as if he had given up, not something that is associated with this consummate professional. He got frustrated with some of the appalling play that went on around him. There could well be a return to his mum in London in the offing before the end of the window.

Take Vito Mannone. How can a keeper who had such a good game against Liverpool concede a goal like the third one? He was totally outjumped by the impressive Peter Crouch and that was the game gone. These last two Saturdays I have witnessed two appalling errors by the keepers of teams that I support. Both games were lost and both signified a season that was virtually over.

Fire fighting with hands, feet and any other moving parts tied behind his back.

There was an acceptance that the manager’s hands are tied. This was clearly his best XI and there is nothing sat on the bench that would make things any better. Love is more mobile than Jones and Manquillo may have to step in for Van Aanholt if he swaps a relegation battle in the North East for one in South London.

The other four outfield subs would not have made a scrap of difference to this shambles and it may well have damaged them irreparably. The two young forwards, Maja and Asoro, are promising but I saw them struggle against an experienced Everton Under 23 team last weekend and I shudder at what the likes of Shawcross, Johnson and Adam would have done to them yesterday.

George Honeyman was almost released by the club in the summer and I doubt that he is good enough at this level. Elliott Embleton may be. He ran the show in Wednesday’s comfortable 3-1 win over Shrewsbury Town in the FA Youth Cup and he may make that jump from promising to good. I would not be surprised to see him start at Burnley on Tuesday night.

As for the manager, he must be regretting taking this job on. He tries to remain upbeat and he interviewed well on BBC Newcastle after the game. But he now knows that he has walked into a club that is sliding away quickly, an owner who wants out, a poor playing squad about which he can do little – although the signing of Djilobodji is a millstone around his neck – and a financial situation which is potentially ruinous. He must be another one thinking about his next job – I see that Cowdenbeath need some help this season.

As for us, the crowd, we keep on going. 42,000 there yesterday but many will not be back. For those who go to every home game, there is no pleasure in this and we are becoming numbed by the pain of wretched season after wretched season. Could this be the one where the habit of going is broken?

Sixer’s West Brom Soapbox: disappointing draw leaves victory ale unopened

Malcolm Dawson writes……For some reason I found it hard to get fully involved in this game yesterday and my attention was wandering for significant periods of play. Had my school report been based on the way I viewed this match, it would have read “must learn to concentrate and pay more attention.” I don’t know why I was so easily distracted, but there were times yesterday when I was considering when it is better to lead an Ace against a No Trump contract, trying to remember the lyrics to John Shuttleworth’s “Can’t Go Back to Savoury Now” or whether or not I really should do a round on 1980s aftershaves the next time I do the questions for The Red Lion Quiz night.

I’m sure I’ve seen worse games, in fact I know I have. Maybe it’s just the resignation that comes from seeing too many disappointing performances. This was a run of the mill game that didn’t get me excited at all. I didn’t think we were outplayed but I’m going through a phase (who isn’t?) where I am more geared up to see the team fail than succeed. Perhaps my diffidence is a natural self defence strategy to save me from yet more heartache. Peter Sixsmith, ace Salut! Sunderland match reporter, is made of sterner stuff and fully focused on what went on to bring us his views on the game at the Stadium of Light yesterday.

wbasoapboxAt home, I have a bottle of Bateman’s Victory Ale. It came in a four pack of that Lincolnshire brewers good, honest ales and instead of quaffing it at the same time as the Dark Lord, the XXXB and the Combined Harvester, I kept it in order to toast our opening win in the Premier League. It looks like it is going to remain unopened for quite a while.
Here was another opportunity to open the account for the season that went begging. The Baggies are a decent side, not quite as effective as Crystal Palace, but they controlled this game for a large section of the ninety minutes and had they had a little more push about them, they could well have won it. The introduction of someone with pace eg Berahino might well have caught our tiring defenders out at the end. Let’s be grateful for the Pulis philosophy of “a point away from home is a good point”.

Had Jermain Defoe taken that chance in the fourth minute (and it was of the type that he often puts away), the complexion of the game might have changed. Had he taken the other one in the second half when we were on a bit of a charge, it might well have done the same.

Having said that, Defoe looked the only Sunderland player likely to score until the team’s second top league scorer, Patrick Van Aanholt arrived on the scene as a midfielder. This was probably the most interesting substitution that the manager has made all season. As Jan Kirchhoff was carried off, we expected to see Jack Rodwell come on and fill the space in midfield. As it was the serially disappointing Rodwell replaced McNair a little later and offered very little.

Instead, we saw Moyes switch to three central defenders with Denayer joining John O’Shea and Kone across the middle with Manquillo and Van Aanholt pushing up. It looked better and the hitherto comfortable Baggies found themselves under pressure. It ended with Watmore linking well with Van Aanholt and the Dutchman shanked home an equaliser to the relief of an increasingly tetchy crowd, who had spent most of the time jeering James McClean.

Jake says "PvA better off in midfield?"
Jake says “PvA better off in midfield?”

Pulis took McClean off which allowed Manquillo to push forward and the Atletico Madrid loanee looks far better going forward than he does defending. He learnt from last week’s aberration and kept his hands to himself this time. He can leave gaps at the back when he attacks, but if we had any kind of pattern in our play those gaps would be filled by someone else.

I said in the Seven that we were “papering over the cracks.” For all that O’Shea had an excellent game, how long can we rely on a 35 year old at the heart of the defence? For this game, he was dragging Lamine Kone along with him. Kone looked disinterested at times and it was his carelessness that left the impressive Nacer Chadli with a clear run on goal, which he rounded off with the kind of finish we have come to associate with Defoe. When Kone arrived, we saw a dominant central defender who attacked the ball and used it well. He had the ability to become the next Charlie Hurley or Dave Watson. But he has looked ordinary this season and although not quite the next Steve Hetzke, his name may be mentioned alongside Anton Ferdinand and Stan Varga as central defenders who start well and then slide into mediocrity. It looks like he misses Younes Kaboul, who has spent time warming the bench at Vicarage Road. What was it that Allardyce did to inspire these two at the back end of last season?

The main problem we have is the pedestrian nature of our midfield. Khazri buzzed around and contributed an awful lot more than Januzaj, dubbed the new Le Tallec by one reader, has done recently. He received a warm hand shake from the manager when he was eventually replaced by Lyndon Gooch at the end. He now has to show that he is an “away” player in the cauldron that is the Municipal Incinerator Stadium in two weeks’ time.

Could be money well spent but can he shoot?
Could be money well spent but can he shoot?

Other than that there was plenty of hard graft in the centre of the park but no quality and the final ball was poor. Ndong looks like he could be a good player but doesn’t shoot. Kirchhoff looks as if he is having a serious dose of second season syndrome and does not shoot. McNair looked hopelessly out of his depth, like the little kid who has been invited to play with the big boys on the rec and can’t handle the switch from a Frido ball to a casey. He doesn’t shoot either. Oh for a Tony Towers…..

The crowd stuck with the team (although large numbers went for an early visit to the loo and a pint when we went a goal down – Ed) although we know that this will be a long and difficult season and that relegation is a probability rather than a possibility. The manager is honest about the issues that face us and he knows that, unless he can bring in another two forwards and a creative midfielder who can score, trips to Nottingham and Newcastle will be on the agenda for next season. Where he finds these players is anybody’s guess. Would any self-respecting agent really want to place his player with a club like ours who struggle every season?
And if they do, what is the guarantee that anyone would stay? The Daily Telegraph might want to look at the series of terminally poor signings that Sunderland have made over the last five years. Graham, N’Diaye, Altidore, Diakite, Cabral, Lens, Bridcutt, Buckley, Pantilimon to name but a few and I am sure that the readers could add more.

We have a break from the misery of the Premier League for a couple of weeks which may give the manager time to think about what he is going to do for the period up until we can bring in reinforcements. It will probably be another wallpaper job and the deep seated problems that exist in the club will continue long after David Moyes has left unless something is done sooner rather than later. But don’t ask me how.

Finally, for the second week running, the away support has been desperately poor. I thought that Albion would have brought more than Palace but there were 200 or so fewer. Is the Premier League losing its magic for the fans of clubs who know that mid table respectability/obscurity is the sum total of their ambitions? If so, can someone please offer an explanation as to why we have sold our entire allocation for a visit to Stoke-on-Trent? You never know, I might just uncork the Bateman’s after that.

Our best defenders: part 2, in praise of John O’Shea

Lies_player
Jake’s take

We started our season at Leicester with a line up that included Seb Coates and Costel Pantsilimon. Substitutes included Adam Matthews, who came on for Billy Jones.

By the time we got to the final game Seb Coates, Costel Pantsilimon and Adam Matthews were no longer at the club. Billy Jones, subbed 12 games previously and subsequently dropped, came on for the final fifteen minutes, replacing DeAndré Yedlin, who hadn’t featured at Leicester.

They weren’t the only changes. Our manager had long gone, as had Danny Graham, Stephen Fletcher, Emanuelle Giaccherini, and Liam Bridcutt, all subs for that first game.  Our new manager had made room for players who could bolster a leaky defence and strengthen a porous midfield.

They were Lamine Kone, Whabi Khazri and Jan Kirchoff.

And the rest is history

Read moreOur best defenders: part 2, in praise of John O’Shea

Our best defenders: Part 1, individual comparisons

Lies_player

When I did my analysis of our midfield I said it would probably be one of two posts but there was so much to collect and compare that I decided to split the second part into two.

To begin, I’m using stats from  hosted stats.com, Squawka.com and my own sums to look at individual performances.

Who do you think is better – Coates, Kaboul or Koné? How do they compare to John O’Shea?

And would you rather have Billy Jones than DeAndré the Throw-in Slayer?

Read on, and all will be revealed.

Or maybe not.

Read moreOur best defenders: Part 1, individual comparisons

Idle speculation to get me through the quiet days

Malcolm Dawson back in the day with SuperKev.
Malcolm Dawson back in the day with SuperKev.

Malcolm Dawson, deputy editor, writes: this hiatus which falls between the end of season and the opening of the transfer window sees me scouring the media for scraps of gossip that may or may not indicate which way the club is going. Most of it will turn out to be idle speculation and bear little resemblance to what actually transpires between the 1st of July and the end of August.

Read moreIdle speculation to get me through the quiet days

Sixer’s Everton Soapbox: banishing the blues on Wearside (part 2)

Jake - "for goodness sake let me celebrate" - edited version
Jake – “for goodness sake let me celebrate” – edited version

Malcolm Dawson writes………if Saturday was immense then Wednesday night was immenser! The first part of the job was completed at the weekend with victory over the Blues of Chelsea. The crowd was there to see the team complete the job against the Blues of Everton and my word were they up for it? What an atmosphere, what a noise! This was the best home support ever at the Stadium of Light, even eclipsing some of those fantastic games we saw in the Peter Reid era. We can truly say the Roker Roar is alive and well.

Chicken or egg? There’s no doubt in my mind that a positive mindset within the crowd spurs on the players, but Big Sam has engendered an ethic and workrate in his team that motivates the crowd. Last night every single player, not for the first time, gave far more than their utmost. Man of the match? For me Kaboul but only by a whisker. Everyone deserved a 10 last night, from Manonne who looked so assured and made some cracking stops, to Wahbi Khazri who ran around all night like (to quote Pete Sixsmith) a Yorkshire Terrier on acid. We have to give the manager credit for that and he revelled, quite rightly, in the adulation he received. We have all seen players who have bought into the club, Bennett, Gates, Hurley, Ball, Quinn, Arca, Gabbiadini etc. and I sense that there are some in the current squad who we can add to that list. Let’s get M’Vila signed on a permanent deal. Let’s make sure that Jermain Defoe entertains no thoughts of moving back to the south coast. Let’s turn over Watford on Sunday and take the momentum into next season. I can’t say we’ll do a Leicester but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect Big Sam to move the club into the dizzy heights of mid table security. The downside of that will be not having times like last night to savour.

Of course Pete Sixsmith was in the sell out crowd enjoying it as much as (if not more than) anybody. Now, after getting up early to do his paper round and walk next door’s dog, writing his bit for one of the nationals and doing his bit for the Northern League he still finds time to bring us his take on last night’s proceedings.

SOAPBOXeverton

Everton (H)

And so it came to pass that the Good Lord/ Supreme Being/Call Him What You Will allowed us to pass on the Pirelli Stadium and cancel the visit to The City Ground. Once again, for the tenth successive season, we will be trudging off to Eastlands and Ashburton Grove, while our avian friends can have days out in Wolverhampton, Ipswich and Wigan.

This time, as we have done for the last three years, we saved ourselves. Not by a backs to the wall draw against a washed out Arsenal side or a steady win over a West Bromwich Albion squad who couldn’t wait to get to the beach, but with a rip-roaring, rollicking, rambunctious win over the poorest Everton side I have ever seen. We scored three goals for the third time in five games with these three coming from defenders, ably assisted by an opposition goalkeeper who would have looked out of place in the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Division Three.

But that is nothing to do with us. We turned out a team that was determined not to mess up and send us into a potentially buttock clenching last day of the season. Jobs were allocated and jobs were done. The build up was patient, nobody panicked and there was a feeling that the goals would come.

Patrick van Aanholt

The first one came from Patrick Van Aanholt, a candidate for the most improved player on the club’s books. A defensive liability for last season and the first part of this, he has listened to advice from Allardyce and has responded positively. His fourth goal of the season, following on from ones against Spurs, Swansea and Stoke City was a well struck free kick which caught Robles wrong footed on its way into the net.

There was a mixture of jubilation and relief at this and like London Buses, another one came along a few minutes later – this one thumped home by Lamine Kone, nearly knocking the goal over in the process. Kone has been a sensation since he arrived from L’Orient in January. Big, strong and an inspirational character, he made his mark with the winning goal against Manchester United and then sealed his name in SAFC folklore with two in this stirring victory. Had we taken the plunge, there would surely have been a host of clubs enquiring about his availability. (Don’t forget his flattening of Yaya Toure – Ed)

Jake: 'two goal hero in a team full of heroes'
Jake: ‘two goal hero in a team full of heroes’

His partner at the back, Younes Kaboul was, quite simply, magnificent. Up against Romelu Lukaku, he dominated the Belgian international to such an extent, that he spent as much time in the Sunderland penalty area as Mick Jagger does in Britain – Jagger might have got nearer to the goal. It was an immense performance by Kaboul who started the season off being compared unfavourably with Sylvain Distin after that dismal defeat at Dean Court. Since building up his fitness and building a partnership with Kone, he has looked impregnable. Only Jamie Vardy has got the better of him since January.

Jake:solid as a rock and nearly scored
Jake:solid as a rock and nearly scored

The other stand out performance came from Yann M’Vila who produced a perfect example of what mid field play should be. Not for him the Shelvey approach of standing in the middle of the park and pinging the ball to the linesman. M’Vila reads the game, rummages around and is there wherever he is needed. He would be a great miss if he were not here next season. Sign him up Sam.

All of those who played last night covered themselves in what passes for glory in our corner of the world. We don’t ask for much but we do ask for effort and each and every player gave us that, from Mannone with a couple of excellent saves to Defoe, who worked the feeble Everton back four throughout the game.The atmosphere at the start was tense. Once Van Aanholt and Kone made the game safe, it was excitable and when Kone wrapped it up was a joyous celebration of our safety and the relegation of the Tynesiders. Of course it was parochial. Of course it was malicious. Of course it was great fun.

“Lock up your horses, there’s going to be hell” warbled the crowd. “The Mags are going down” and “We are staying up” followed. The splendid young man from Toronto sat next to me asked what they were singing. His grandparents were from Jarrow. This was his third game of the season. He got the horses reference – a true red and white. He had been over for a family funeral and this had made up for the sadness of that.

Now is not the time for looking at the whys and wherefores of the season. It hasn’t been a great one (surprise, surprise) but we have come through and have retained our place in the top league. We will be one of the first visitors to The Olympic Stadium and we shall be booking into Webster’s Guest House at Salisbury and supping in The Duke of York again. Shame we have to go to Middlesbrough.

The manager and the players have done well in the last ten games and very well in the last five. They do it for money but also for the supporters. Anyone who has listened to Mannone, Defoe and Borini this last few weeks knows how much they care.

And they also did it for those who are no longer here. Stuart Green would have been beaming after this. Steven Wilson would have been ecstatic and would have ribbed his best mate Brian Neil about the Geordies going down. And Suzi Horan would have absolutely loved it. Those three typify what our club – any club- is all about – the supporters.

Pete Sixsmith: 'sir, you look just like a real author!'
Pete Sixsmith: ‘sir, you look just like a real author!’

Ha’way The Lads!!!!!!!

Sixer’s Newcastle United Soapbox: we let this one slip – again!

Jake: 'nerve-shredding'
Jake: ‘nerve-shredding’
Malcolm Dawson writes………the fact that those supporters in black and white were euphoric at the end, whilst those in red and white (or their free green) appeared dejected said it all really. Both sides picked up a point in the chase to catch Norwich but while we saw it as two points dropped, they celebrated like they had won the Cup. Not for the first time we started off much the better side but once again after a bright start, where we pressed high up the pitch and restricted our opponents to a few ineffective attacks, a combination of tiring legs and a nervous desire to cling on to the lead saw us drop much deeper and allow a side we had dominated to get back into the game. Van Aanholt might have had a good effort saved but don’t forget M’Vila’s goal line clearance. We could just as easily have lost this one. Pete Sixsmith was there and reports on events in his customary style.

SOAPBOXmags

NEWCASTLE (AWAY)2016

At half time, I was considering which photograph to put on my Facebook page. Would it be Messrs. Brynner, Vaughn (Robert not David), Coburn, Bronson, Dexter (Brad, not Ted), McQueen and Bucholz? Would it be those forerunners of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – The Temperance Seven with their wonderful singer “Whispering Paul McDowell” or would it be the cover of the Enid Blyton book, “Well Done Secret Seven”?

As it happened, Aleksander Mitrovic, with a little help from Gini Wijnaldum, Dame N’Doye and De Andre Yedlin (fine English names there), made the choice unnecessary as he headed home his first goal since Tito led Yugoslavia, to give the Mags a point that they probably just about deserved but which we should never have allowed them. Forget the errors leading up to their equaliser (although it will be a long time before I can cast Yedlin’s abysmal foul throw that led to them moving forward to the memory banks) and think about the amount of play that we had in the first half and the opening 15 minutes of the second. For all that control and possession, we only scored once and as we all know, that is not enough for a team who cannot keep the proverbial clean sheet.

The first half was a non-contest as we played some crisp, clear and convincing football. The defenders never looked threatened by a feeble Newcastle attack and we controlled the midfield with consummate ease. Kirchhoff turned in another outstanding 70 minutes, breaking up the opposition attacks and moving the ball on to Rodwell, M’Vila, Khazri and Borini, who used it very effectively.

Rodwell had another quietly efficient game and looked a far, far better player than Shelvey. Where Shelvey tried to boom the ball around the pitch, occasionally hitting a black and white shirt, Rodwell looked for the simple pass and made sure that it went to a Sunderland player. He could have scored early on, but Elliott made a fine save from a header that, had it been placed a yard either side of the keeper, would have put us ahead.

Class
Class
Borini was another who had an excellent first half and tortured Colback, who was very fortunate to stay on the field. Both he and Janmaat were booked for crashing tackles on our wide players as they skipped past them almost at will.

The goal came from poor defending as Elliott pushed out a shot from Borini and Mbemba (also booked – 3 out of 4 in the defence saw yellow which tells you how much we were in control) headed it to Defoe who volleyed it in. Cue for great celebrations on Level 7 as we went in for the break. The feeling was that one more goal would see the home crowd turn on their team and we could pick them off at will.

We nearly got it when Van Aanholt forced an excellent save from Elliott, who was by far the busier keeper, but it seemed to stir the black and whites and they dragged themselves into the game. They pushed us back, Shelvey sat deeper and tried to pick us off and they took both full backs off and replaced them with midfielders.

Unfortunately, we were pushed back too far and it began to look as if we were under pressure.

The equaliser came when Yeltsin produced a throw in that Brandon and Byshottles Under 8s would have been ashamed of and from the Newcastle throw, they moved forward. The hitherto anonymous Wijnaldum skipped past a static N’Doye and produced an exquisite chip that Mitrovic headed in at the far post. He then made an arse of himself by ripping off his shirt and tripping over the obligatory portly pitch invader as the home crowd stopped thinking about how they were going to explain this one away and made a noise for the first time in the game.

So, why did we fail to win this one? Some on the bus home pointed the finger at the manager for his substitutions. Kaboul, who had had an excellent game alongside Kone, had taken a knock and seeing he is as robust as Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, he was replaced by O’Shea, who did not bring the same authority to the game. Maybe Kaboul would have challenged Mitrovic for the header and not Yedlin, a player not noted for his heading ability. Cattermole came on for an exhausted Kirchhoff, which also made sense, but the contentious one was N’Doye on for Khazri.

Jake - quality
Jake – quality

Khazri is another player who has found the mental intensity of the Premier League difficult. Every game is played at a ferocious pace and there is little time to think. Ligue 1 is not at all like that and that is why some French players struggle. By all means replace him but by someone with pace, not a rather lumbering centre forward. Lens might have been a better swap here or even Toivonen. But Sam likes N’Doye and on he went. He should/could have tackled Wijnaldum but didn’t and the rest, as they say, is history. The former Hull man did carry the ball out well a couple of times after that, but the damage had been done.

The result makes a Wear-Tyne derby in the Championship more, rather than less likely. Norwich winning at West Brom was not a good thing and although Palace continue to be in free fall, they will still take a lot of catching. We have the players to do it and for much of this game we looked organised and played well. But our inability to go through 90+ minutes without conceding is going to drag us down. The next two games (West Brom at home, Norwich away) are vital and a minimum of 4 points is required from them. We need to either score six in the first half or the only goal of the game in the 97th minute and even then I would be worrying that it could all go wrong.

We have a free week again next week and then the real stuff starts as the ever popular Tony Pulis brings Messrs Gardner, Sessegnon and McClean back to the Stadium of Light. That’ll be two respectful rounds of applause and a Colback like reception for one of them then.

SA’s Essay: never say die attitude at Liverpool brings welcome point

Jake: 'a point's a point?'
Jake: ‘a point’s a point?’
Malcolm Dawson writes…..an away point is always good and after it seemed like defeat was on the cards especially welcome. We are still a few wins away from safety and even two on the bounce might not get us out of the bottom three after today’s results but let’s not quibble. Sam was happy and says so in his post match e-mail to M Salut and the rest of the extended Mackem family.

LIVERPOOL 2 SUNDERLAND 2

Jake's take on Big Sam
Jake’s take on Big Sam
Dear Colin,

When you’re two-nil down at Anfield you think your day’s all over, but today we fought back from being two goals down with two quality goals of our own. We earned ourselves a point by not giving up and never saying die. It looked like the fear left us and we seemed to play a lot better after falling behind.

I was disappointed when we fell to one-nil because I thought we didn’t deserve it, [Patrick] van Aanholt had an unbelievable chance to pull us back just after, but he didn’t manage to score and then we were at fault for their second goal. I thought we had defended well up until that point and we had created a number of chances.

We had to make some changes today because of illness and injuries and then Duncan [Watmore] got injured early doors too, which forced us into another change.

[Adam] Johnson came on and he got forward a little more than what [Yann] M’Vila, [Jan] Kirchhoff and [Lee] Cattermole had been doing and it made a difference.

We never said die; we showed character and worked on opening up Liverpool a little bit more and it paid off with a quality free kick and then [Jermain] Defoe took his chance and wow, what a goal! It’s the quality of those goals that got us our point.

It’s not often you can come back from being two goals behind to get a point and it’s a very precious point for us today!

Thanks for your support,

Sam Allardyce



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Sixer’s Swansea Soapbox: always good to win away in Europe

Malcolm Dawson writes…..Peter Sixsmith made a night of it. Having not only the chance of a cheap ticket but also a lift to the Valleys from a repentant brother, father of our recent Arsenal WAY contributor, he jumped at the chance to head off to South Wales. At half time, those of us stuck at home were resigned to another opportunity squandered. Benno was more laid back than usual when the first goal went in. He was a little more animated as Adam Johnson missed a glorious opportunity to put us two up after only five minutes and openly frustrated that despite seeing a Swansea player red carded, when the whistle went at the end of the first forty five, we were going in two-one behind. Peter’s text was of a similar vein. Then a second half where it all went crazy. My first view of the action was on MOTD which was disappointingly brief and while I was watching in came another of Sixer’s texts extolling the quality of the Shropshire Gold. Talking points aplenty but I would have been disappointed if Defoe’s goals hadn’t stood had I been in the ground. Even on TV it seemed to me that he timed his runs perfectly and was level as the balls were played to him. But then I’m biased. It’s a long way off and there are plenty of points to play for but at the end of the season if the Swans are a point short of safety I expect we’ll hear more about this match. But for now let’s hear what Sixer has to say, not so prompt as usual. It’s a long way back from Wales in the snow, when you are full of laverbread, black pudding, bacon, fried bread and Glamorgan sausage soaking up the indulgences of the night before.

SOAPBOXswansea

SWANSEA CITY (A) 2016

The last time we won in Wales’s second city, JFK had just been assassinated, Sir Alec Douglas-Home was Prime Minister and Harry Worth (ask your da) was on television. Goals from Charlie Hurley and Nicky Sharkey at the Vetch Field took us to the top of the league and although Leeds United regained the lead the following week, we were never out of a promotion place for the rest of that season. M. Salut and I were not at that game but there would have been a good following. I am sure that the likes of Billy Reilly, Kenny Snowdon and George Thompson used their British Railways passes to make the trip – and I imagine it was two long overnight trips with copious changes on the way.

Since then, we have hardly played each other, although we have drawn at both The Vetch and the Liberty Stadium and there have been some punishing defeats. Gus Poyet’s first game was there and ended up in a 4-0 crushing and I remember losing 3-1 in the late 70’s after Alan Brown had scored in the first minute.

So it was very pleasant to win 4-2 on Wednesday night. In fact it was more than pleasant. It was one of those nights where you knew exactly WHY you are a Sunderland supporter and what it means to you. It was, as they say in these parts, “absolutely f****** mint.”

Of course, we were helped by a refereeing performance that would have been deemed below par in the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Extra Reserve Competition. Graham Scott had an absolute stinker and it is hardly likely that there will be a welcome in the hillsides for him should he ever return to the Land of Song. He got two major decisions wrong, one against us and one against them and was aided by a pair of assistants who looked as if they were conducting an experiment in how Blind Pew would have fared as a linesman.

The Brown penalty was forgiveable. I thought it was a penalty and Brown seemed to accept it, but a viewing on TV tonight made it perfectly clear that Ayew accidentally tripped himself. The referee had a split second to react and although he got it wrong, he can be excused.

Not so on the sending off. Here, he bit far too quickly and dashed towards Naughton while trying to get his red card out. M’Vila didn’t help the situation by rolling around a tad theatrically and Mr Scott took note of that before despatching the full back for the early use of the shower gel and moisturiser.

Lens looked lively
Lens looked lively

And then Sunderland played like most Sunderland sides I have watched for the last 50+ years – ineptly. The defending for Ayew’s goal was hopeless, with Cattermole being taken apart by the Swansea player. The finish was excellent and it allowed the crowd, who, up until the penalty had banged drums and serenaded us with a selection of Max Boyce’s Greatest Hit, to give full throat to their feelings to their team (positive) and to Mr Scott (not quite so).

We defended as if we were walking through jelly. The ball was hoofed away and was sent back to us. The midfield exerted as much influence over the game as an ageing supply teacher does over a class of recalcitrant 14 year olds. Not to put too fine a point on it we were, in the words of the great Terry-Thomas, “an absolute bally shower.”

And yet, early on, we threatened to have had the game buried by half time. Their former Arsenal goalkeeper set the tone by making two splendid contributions to the first goal. Jermain may well have been lurking in an offside position, but he was lurking and a good lurk will often bring a goal. Four minutes later, Adam Johnson contrived to miss an open goal, one which Long John Silver could have put in with his less useful leg.

We went in a goal down at half time and the general consensus was that we were struggling. Jarvis the Cocker Spaniel was there and had already exposed his canine genitalia to the crowd but not to the South Wales Police (or Heddlu as they are known in these parts) who continued to train a video camera on the Sunderland support throughout the game.

The second half was a completely different kettle of fish as Swansea went for the third goal instead of trying to slow the game down. Add to that tactical ineptitude from their manager the fact that ours, a man of 450 games experience, had clearly told our full backs to get at them and use the pace that we had. It worked as Van Aanholt, who had had a good first half against a tricky winger, rattled in an equaliser with his right foot. And then Defoe, lurking like a champion, broke their offside trap and put us ahead. Was he offside? I neither know nor care.

Three more for Saint Jermain
Three more for Saint Jermain

The game should have been put to bed by the impressive Jeremaine Lens but the ball struck Fabianski’s foot – although Mr Scott thought it had hit the post and awarded a goal kick. Swansea had a goal disallowed as Mannone almost won the title of “Worst Former Arsenal Keeper on the Pitch” when he dropped a speculative shot, allowing the wonderfully named Angel Rangel (we should have a right back called Billy Pilley) to put it in the net – but he was yards offside; even the assistant saw that.
Jermaine wrapped it up with a few minutes to go when Van Aanholt set him up beautifully, prompting the ground to empty as quickly as a theatre when the compere said “And here they are…. it’s Mike and Bernie Winters.”

Three points won, three goals for Defoe and three pints of splendid beer (Shropshire Gold, Wye Valley Bitter and Young’s Winter Warmer) were quaffed in The No Name Wine Bar and I sat in the chair that Dylan Thomas reputedly sat in and wrote a couple of poems. Another three pints were taken in the Wetherspoons next door until it closed at midnight. There were Red and Whites of my vintage in there, all full of hope and ale and hoping that Spurs was not as they feared it might be. And this was after the brother’s chum (who thoroughly enjoyed himself and is now a Sunderland supporter) had got me, him and Paul “Sobs” Dobson back to the city centre in a Toyota Aygo – no mean feat.

Sixer and Sobs
Sixer and Sobs

It was a very important win and it lifts us above Newcastle but there were still problems. The keeper was patchy and the defending ropey at times. We need pace in the middle of that back four. Neither Cattermole nor M’Vila were up to their usual standard and both must be looking forward to the FA Cup weekend when they may well be sloping around Dubai rather than facing Burnley in t’cup.

Lens played well again and may have realised that the best thing to do is to show how good a player he is. He worked hard and pushed forward well, as did Borini who needs a run in that wide spot. And Defoe was Defoe – a predator who will always score goals if you give him the chances. Swansea were reported to be setting up an exchange deal between him and the inconsequential Gomis. That would have been the greatest steal since a simple child (aren’t they all) exchanged a cow for a handful of beans.

This morning, as we took the lift from the seventh floor of The Dragon Hotel to the breakfast room, the lady who lives in the lift responded to our pressing of the button by saying “Going down.” It is to be hoped that that applies to Swansea, Newcastle and Villa rather than us. We have every chance to make that dream come true.

Sixer’s Soapbox: Arsenal’s artful dodgers create hard times for Sunderland defence

Malcolm Dawson writes….Can we do in midweek what Oxford United have just done and beat Swansea? We need to and although the first upset of this season’s FA Cup third round has just happened, for a few minutes yesterday it looked as if a shock might be on the cards at The Emirates. But to no-one’s real surprise it wasn’t. At full time my sister’s text read “so tedious that it all went to script as usual” and so it did. Unlike the script of BBC’s “Dickensian” which has both Pete Sixsmith and I speculating on who finished off Jacob Marley. My bet is on one of the characters who writer Tony Jordan created for the series such as Mrs Biggetywitch, whose name no doubt was inspired by the 70s group Picketywitch. Their biggest hit “I Just Get The Same Old Feeling” sums up watching Sunderland which is what Sixer was doing yesterday. Here’s his account of a day which means we won’t be going to Wembley again this season.

Jake "another FA Cup one off special."
Jake: ‘another FA Cup one off special’

ARSENAL (a) 2016. FA CUP

And so our interest in the FA Cup is over for another season. Not the most surprising result on a day of few shocks. The only ones I could identify were Eastleigh and Bristol City getting decent draws with teams well above them, Newcastle losing at Watford (because they love the FA Cup on Tyneside and Mike Ashley had promised them glory – just like he promised to make Sports Direct as good as John Lewis) and Manchester United getting a last minute penalty which (and here is the surprise )they actually scored from.

Work commitments (Ho, Ho, Ho) had prevented me from attending Ashburton Grove in December, so I signed up for ticket and coach when I heard the draw. I like visiting Arsenal, although I wouldn’t want to watch football there regularly. I found the mood at this game very downbeat and found myself irritated by the flags and the lack of any kind of passion from the stands. Lots of tickets being bought outside and lots of tourists there means that is beginning to get a lot like Old Trafford and Anfield.

It was also an opportunity to have a couple of pints in The Lamb, a splendid pub in Bloomsbury where Charles Dickens drank and probably considered putting together a portmanteau of his characters à la the enjoyable Dickensian on BBC 1. The Lamb is marginally less dangerous than The Three Cripples and the landlord did not appear to have a wooden leg. The bright and sunny dispositions of Ms Coldwell and Ms Jeynes were preferable to the gin swilling Mrs Gamp and the terminally miserable Fanny Biggetywitch. Mind you, one or two of the males in the group had a look of Mr Bumble and Sir Leicester Deadlock about them. Tiny Tim failed to appear – too busy tiptoeing through the tulips no doubt.

Pete Sixsmith enjoying the beer more than the result.
Pete Sixsmith enjoying the beer more than the result

There was a good gathering of Sunderland fans including the esteemed editor and proprietor and the Young’s Bitter was on top form. It is one of the few pleasures of following Sunderland that you can drink good beer in splendid pubs with old friends from all over. It makes the long journeys worthwhile.

The team selected was a decent one with Jordan Pickford making his debut and Lens, Toivonen and Yedlin being given an opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place. Arsenal, keen to claim a hat trick of FA Cup wins, also turned out a strong side so the stage was set for a decent game. And that was what we got. Neither side were looking for a replay on whatever night the television paymaster dictated, so both went for a win. When Jeremain Lens took advantage of a slip by an Arsenal defender and beat Cech, our hopes lifted. Could this be the win that started the latest version of The Great Escape? Could we be heading for yet another Wembley final? How strong was the Young’s Bitter?

Reality was established when the now traditional huge gap appeared down one of our flanks and Walcott squared for Campbell to slot the ball past Pickford. They finished the half stronger and looked as if they were in a hurry to finish the job.

After an enjoyable conversation with Eric, oft of this parish (tough enough to wear a short sleeved Sunderland shirt and NO COAT – a veritable Bill Sikes), the second half commenced and Arsenal ramped up the pressure. It looked as if they were going to regain the lead but we came closest when an excellent cross from M’Vila was headed over by our resident hipster, Steven Fletcher.

Jake: Billy never at home in the middle.
Jake: Billy never at home in the middle.

Then the changes came. With both eyes on the game at Swansea on Saturday, the manger had already replaced a tiring Cattermole with M’Vila and then off came O’Shea with Billy Jones taking the role of centre half. Arsenal responded by taking off Iwobi (quite impressed by him) and Chambers and sending on Ramsey and Arteta. Somewhere out there, Ian Harte shuddered at the name of Arteta – he is Holmes to the Spaniards Moriarty.

The instructions were clear. “There is a huge gap down their left hand side. Their midfield enforcer and best central defender have gone off. They have a back four consisting of two full backs who can’t defend and a couple of worthy plodders in the middle. Go out there and seize the day and bring glory to the crowd. And try to wake them up while you are at it.” Of course, it worked. Bellerin exploited the space that Van Aanholt left and set up two goals for Ramsey and Giroud and that was it.

There was a late flourish at the end as Mavrias came on for his first game since Nick Clegg was a recognisable face (the less said about his foul throw the better) and we went out of the Cup with our heads held a little higher than they were at Valley Parade last year or the KC Stadium the year before.

There were positives to take. Pickford’s debut was one of them. His all-round goalkeeping was good and his distribution was better than some of our midfielders. He found a Sunderland shirt more times in one game than Bridcutt did in two years. Definitely one for the future and it means that we have a Romanian or Italian keeper going spare. I think it will be goodbye to The Giant Pantilimon. Lens did well in the role he was asked to play and he took his goal very well indeed. He gave the third best keeper in the Premier League (after Pickford and Lloris) no chance with his shot and he generally looked interested. There may well have been a scout from Roma or Ajax looking at him, but he worked hard and did all that Allardyce would have asked from him.

But there were weaknesses. Our full backs just cannot defend. Yedlin is busy and wants to be involved but he gets pulled out of position far too easily. Poor Danny Graham was given the job of covering for him and he did it effectively, but why should he have to do that when all he has on his mind is scoring, scoring, scoring? He was absolutely drained at the end of the game and must be looking forward to a nice rest on the bench on Wednesday. Van Aanholt goes forward well but, as the two second half goals showed, he simply cannot defend.

The journey home was a long one, the equivalent of Pip and Herbert Pocket travelling from London for Satis House in Rochester. It rained the entire length of England as books were read, Magnum’s were consumed and music was listened to. The ultimate Dickensian optimist is Wilkins Micawber with his quotes about misery and happiness. His motto is the same as that of the city – “Nil Desperandum” – “Never despair”. I wasn’t in despair after this game but a similar score line at The Liberty Stadium on Wednesday and I may well need to change my tack on this and ask “What the Dickens is going on here?”