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.
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.
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?