John McCormick writes: for me, this piece by Pete Sixsmith brings back many memories. I was at Goodison when we lost, and at Spurs when Kirchhoff came on and a young keeper who would go on to play for England couldn’t hold back the tide. I saw us come back to snatch that point at Anfield as well. But the game that sticks out, of all the ones below, is one I never got to. The 1-0 win against the Mags. I was intending to go but stayed in Liverpool. My daughter gave birth that day, two weeks late. I have a print of Defoe’s goal ready to give to my granddaughter when she’s old enough to appreciate what she made me miss…
Until as recently as the weekend, no one could seriously fault the bookies’ belief that Sunderland were relegation probabilities. Now, Chris Coleman has made the sort of start after replcaing Simon Grayson as manager to encourage measured hope that a swift ascent of the Championship table is more likely. Here, William Sundin, a media production graduate from Sunderland University, looks back at the short but successful stint of one of Coleman’s predecessors Sam Allardyce, who has now steered Everton to ninth top, and wonders when the two clubs may meet again in the top flight …
Big Sam already has the team climbing back up the table and it wouldn’t be out of the question to suggest that having taken over a team staring relegation in the face, he could even steer them towards a top six finish.
Like Pete Sixsmith, Malcolm Dawson gets to more matches than most people. He’s well placed to comment on skill, systems, strengths and weaknesses. He’s a regular at the Stadium of Light too, which means he’s well placed to comment on them in the context of SAFC.
But that’s not all. He’s a keen observer of all things Sunderland, which makes his end of season review very interesting indeed. Read on for some wholesome food for thought while we await events off the pitch
John McCormick writes: I don’t often visit other fans’ websites. But in setting up this edition of “Who are you?”, which Colin organised before his departure, I visited The EaglesBeak and I have to say I was impressed. It’s everything a fan site should be, so it’s no surprise that we have another good set of answers to our questions, from Eaglesbeak’s Dan Crame. I can’t say I agree with him about Patrick, but he’s right up there when it comes to everything we want to know before the Palace game.
Following on from M Salut’s look at how Seasonal Adjustment Disorder (SAD) is affecting the Stadium of Light faithful, Malcolm Dawson sums up his own thoughts on why he is feeling SAD (season approaching disaster). Don’t expect anything fresh or remarkably insightful as we’ve been here more than once. As Sweet Sensation once said, not long after Sunderland had been succeeded by Liverpool as the F.A. Cup holders, it’s just one more thing to put down to experience.
SAD – Seasonal Adjustment Disorder or Sunderland Are Dire?
The BBC has a feel-good reality show called “DIY SOS”. In the early days TV presenter Nick Knowles, a team of builders and a designer would go along and take three days to fix up a room where botched efforts at home improvements had gone wrong. This might have been a kitchen, a bathroom or a lounge which was virtually unusable, but in a house where the rest was perfectly habitable. Then it morphed into “DIY SOS – The Big Build” and now targets families whose home is failing to meet the specific needs of one of the occupants and creating extra stress for the carers. These days the original team are supplemented by an army of local tradespeople who rip out the entire interior, build an extension and effectively create a brand new house in the shell of the old one, in nine days.
As a metaphor for the state of SAFC this might not be the best, but as I struggle to come to terms with the state of things on Wearside it’s the best I can offer. You see for the past few seasons when relegation was avoided it was obvious the club was in need of a big build – a big build that wasn’t forthcoming. But last season was different. It seemed as the season drew to a close, that the structure was solid and with only a few tweaks and one or two additions here and there, we would be in good shape. Then as the summer drew to a close it became apparent that the house was collapsing and it was back to the big build.
In a comment on Sixer’s Soapbox, Ifos mentioned the flat atmosphere prior to the West Brom game with supporters already resigned to another year of struggle. That’s certainly how I feel but what makes this year different to the past few is the disappointment of falling from a perceived position of relative strength to the familiarity of the perennial struggle.
We had a decent team in May. One which was stronger than the sum of its parts, and bore fruit only as the last campaign drew to a close. Let’s not forget Sam Allardyce’s first few months in charge brought little in the way of success but things were to change once the January signings bedded in. The balance of the team was better and suddenly players who had seemed a liability in late 2015 blossomed and became important cogs in a successful machine. Suddenly Kaboul, Yedlin, van Aanholt became integral members of the starting eleven with team mates implementing a system which covered their weaknesses. And Defoe found form. Team spirit was excellent. The players knew their roles, supported and fought for each other. Even fringe players like Toivonen, N’Doye, Lens and Rodwell gave their all when called upon and showed their enthusiasm for the club when sat on the bench.
It was obvious the summer would be crucial but the plan was simple. The brickwork was sound and all we needed was a bit of tarting up. Buy M’Vila, buy Yedlin, get in a decent forward, provide cover in the key positions of full back and centre back and get the likes of Matthews, Bridcutt, Buckley etc. off the payroll. A sensible pre-season training camp, and a series of increasingly testing friendlies and we’d be fit to go.
It would be easy to say that June 27th and England’s defeat to Iceland was the first crack in the building. Martin Bain wasn’t in post and the transfer window hadn’t opened but at that stage Allardyce was still in charge and not linked with the England job.
I sensed that Allardyce was getting frustrated with the lack of transfer activity even before the F.A. came a calling (how well that worked out!) but as he left after the Hartlepool game the squad seemed better prepared than for many a long year. When Moyes came in to replace him we still had a firm foundation and a structurally sound framework. Now it looks as if we are about to be condemned.
The reasons are pretty obvious and it’s not easy to come up with anything new. Perhaps that’s why comments in response to articles on the site have not been so forthcoming of late. We are beginning to sound like a corrupted MP4 file, the more modern equivalent of a scratched record or damaged CD.
Injuries have been devastating. Early on the loss of Cattermole, Larsson, Kirchhoff and Jones ripped the heart out of a team where M’Vila and Yedlin had not been resigned or replaced, before the season got underway. Then Borini, Manonne and Kirchhoff again saw players integral to Sam’s great escape team unavailable.
Transfer business was disappointing with mainly other teams’ cast offs our apparent targets. Two young players who weren’t going to feature for Man Utd were signed together with Januzaj on loan after he also had failed to make significant impact at Old Trafford. Djilobodji and Denayer couldn’t even make the bench at their respective clubs and came to us after loan spells at Werder Bremen and Celtic. Pienaar and Anichebe, free agents who had been released by former clubs hardly smacked of ambition and Mika’s late arrival was a necessity. Manquillo who although not setting the Stadium of Light on fire is at least as good as Yedlin and Ndong who looks as though he will be OK in the M’Vila role, are simply direct replacements rather than players who add depth to the squad. In the end the club managed to reduce the wage bill by offloading or releasing players who were never going to feature, but the loss of Kaboul was as sudden as it was disappointing and personally, I think the decision to let Lens go out on loan may be one that the club will regret.
The Kone situation didn’t help but having secured a massive long term deal he doesn’t look like the immense presence he was last season. We need him firing on all cylinders and give the supporters (who could have turned against him but haven’t) something to cheer about again.
Moyes has problems not all of his own making. Can he do what Sam did and turn things around as he spends more time in the job? Let’s hope so. At the moment it looks like he has an unbalanced squad, lacking in sufficient quality to cope with an atrocious run of injuries, to choose from. Can he find a winning formula with the players he has at his disposal? Will he strike lucky and find that winning formula through chance? In his one start Khazri looked more threatening to my eyes than Januzaj. Maybe there is a clause in the loan deal that requires the Albanian Belgian to start a certain percentage of games, but like Kone we could do with a on form Khazri. Has Moyes stumbled on something with Denayer at the back freeing up van Aanholt to become a more attacking threat? Can Love and McNair offer something in midfield that as yet they haven’t as defenders? Allardyce found a way to get his squad performing. Moyes needs to do the same.
Things may also be compounded by the Ricky Alvarez situation. Should the club be forced to pay £10 million for a player we didn’t want it will obviously impact on the funds that are made available to Moyes in January and it is unclear who will have to meet his wages for the past 14 months or so. What a mess!
I don’t think the manager’s negative comments and hang dog body language helps things but Moyes is in a lose/lose situation there. We all see through managers who try to put a positive spin on disappointing performances. We supporters aren’t daft. We can see he has problems and it’s his job to try and sort things out. We need to be patient and give him the opportunity to get us back on course but I suspect we will carry on being SAD as the clocks go back and the days grow shorter.
Roll on the winter solstice and the January window.
We’ve already had Pete Sixsmith’s words of wisdom on the Sam Allardyce affair. Here, Salut! Sunderland’s deputy editor Malcolm Dawson considers the issues that arise but also what it means to us, supporters of Sunderland …
“Being slightly paranoid is like being slightly pregnant. It tends to get worse.”
It would be easy to become paranoid as a Sunderland supporter. Every time we seem to be on the up, something comes along to kick us in the teeth.
Monsieur Salut writes: Despite far too many decades as a journalist (three of them with The Daily Telegraph), I have serious misgivings about sting operations. They may sometimes uncover genuine malpractice but, among a number of concerns, I wonder who polices the stinger, in this case the Telegraph. This newspaper has after all spent several years getting rid of the sort of seasoned, sensible and in many case outstandingly good journalists who might have been trusted with such a role. For some reason, it makes me think of speed cops hiding behind bushes, as happens in France. It’s, well, just not British.
That said, Sam Allardyce has been a very foolish man. Pete Sixsmith takes up the story and offers scant sympathy …
Malcolm Dawson writes….each year is the same or at least it seems to be. We end one season and I am convinced we will improve the next. Over the past few years new signings have created a feeling of optimism which has quickly dissipated as early season results brought home the reality that things weren’t really any better. This year has been even worse because that optimism was even greater in May but from the events off the training ground this close season it would seem the club is in freefall. There’s still time of course but with every hour that passes the outlook seems bleaker.
(What follows is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of Salut! Sunderland.)
I can’t help but feel (not for the first time) that I have been conned somewhat by those who run the football club I support. I don’t know if you noticed, but this year the date to get a discount on season cards was about six weeks earlier than last year. I still renewed mine, even though economically it didn’t make sense, as there are generally two or three games moved for TV which I can’t get to because of other prearranged commitments and last year I didn’t make the Watford game because a heavy fall of snow around midday caused chaos on the roads around Crook.
Viewed objectively over the whole year, I questioned the wisdom of forking out the best part of four hundred quid when after at least half of those games I left frustrated, disappointed and thinking there were more entertaining ways of spending my cash. Look back at all the Sixer’s Soapbox columns for 2012/13, 2013/14 2014/15 and 2015/16 if you need persuading.
But the way the team played in the second half of the season convinced me that better things lay ahead. I would have renewed anyway (well you just do don’t you and I like my seat) but here was a team on the up. We may not have been title contenders but we were set fair for entertaining football and a steady rise up the table.
We had seen the influence of Big Sam in the fitness levels, the organisation and the fighting spirit of the team. The January signings obviously had a massive effect, but the improvements in the performances of Yedlin and van Aanholt were as a result of defensive drills which Allardyce clearly insisted upon and eventually he found a way to get the best out of the players he had at his disposal. Rather than try and mould the players to his predetermined system he found a system which got the best out of his players.
I was hopeful that M’Vila would be signed quickly and that Yedlin or a similar wing back would be brought in and we would begin this campaign with a settled side, full of players who had bought into Sunderland AFC.
The inept performance of England at the Euros and the subsequent managerial turmoil at Sunderland which resulted from that, has distracted somewhat from a fundamental failure to build on the momentum that was generated as relegation was avoided and the team and its supporters ended on a high. The fact is that with less than four days to go until the start of the new season we are in a far worse position now than we were three months ago.
No M’Vila, no Yedlin and reports that Kone is on Merseyside for talks and pictures of him posing with an Everton fan. As I write there are 104 hours until kick off at The Etihad and so far we have brought in one untried player who managed less than two minutes playing time for Chelsea in a League Cup tie. He may prove to be as an astute a signing as the three Ks were in January, but not having seen him in action I’ll wait and see.
And so it seems that the clubs with the biggest financial clout are impacting on the rest of us. Manchester City offering a ludicrous £50 million for John Stones gives Everton the resources to offer Ellis Short the chance of a massive profit on one of our top performers and though he hasn’t gone yet the fact he has travelled for talks does not bode well.
I’m happy Moyes was appointed in the aftermath of Allardyce’s departure who I don’t think will prove to be England’s saviour. Not because he couldn’t be, but the players at his disposal just aren’t good enough and he will only have limited time to work with them.
But like the majority of Sunderland fans I am bitterly disappointed in the way this summer has panned out so far. I understand the need to balance the books and we keep hearing positive statements from Martin Bain and David Moyes but they are working to a remit. Despite their fine words we have seen precious little evidence that this is a club that is building for the future on the pitch and plenty that priorities lie elsewhere.
It’s becoming a little repetitive on Wearside. A positive end to a season that at one time seemed doomed. Hopes for better things to come then disappointment as they fail to reach fruition. Managerless a year ago when Advocaat took the advice of his missus, the joy at his change of heart was short lived. Fast forward twelve months and the club was set fair. Ha – this is Sunderland where events always seem to conspire against any long term feelings of optimism. Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson reflects on his emotional rollercoaster ride since the team walked off at Vicarage Road.
This close season for me has been a microcosm of the past few Premier League campaigns. Optimism, disappointment and relief in that order, resulting in cautious optimism with an undercurrent of resignation to another season of underachievement ahead.
It may seem strange to those who don’t follow Sunderland AFC that a 17th place finish should be seen as a cause for celebration but that is what it was for those who witnessed the transformation that Sam Allardyce brought to the club. Big Sam had his detractors before he came and we were warned what to expect. West Ham fans seemed particularly divided about his managerial style, some acknowledging his success in winning promotion then establishing The Hammers in the top half of the Premiership, but others insisting we could expect boring, long ball football with an emphasis on avoiding defeat. Pragmatic, rather than stylish.
Avoiding defeat was indeed Sam’s prime short term objective but initially it appeared to be a flawed philosophy. Points were dropped as we loitered in the relegation places but eventually it worked and the medium term aim of keeping the club in the top flight for a tenth successive year was achieved.
What’s more as Sam got to know the players he inherited, shipping out those he had no use for and adding others of real quality, I witnessed some of the most enjoyable football I have seen from a Sunderland team since the days of Peter Reid.
The purists might disagree. This was no Barcelona or Brazil but it was a team that played as a unit, played for each other and showed the fighting qualities I want to see in those who wear the colours of my club. That they won crucial games, away at Norwich, at home to Chelsea and Everton at such a late stage of the season, taking us to a place where it no longer mattered what the others did, added to the euphoria.
On that celebration lap, after the final home game, it looked like we had a club that would go places. I saw a squad who cared, playing for a manager who cared. The final game was further cause for optimism. The development squad players who were given their chance didn’t look out of place and a revamped side should have beaten Watford had the linesmen not flagged two perfectly good goals offside or had the referee not given a debatable penalty. Significantly too that match saw starts for Rodwell and Lens both of whom got on the score sheet. I’ll come back to them. The foundations were solid and long term improvement was on the cards.
Close Season So Far
Part 1. Optimism – I had seen enough to convince me that 2016/17 was to be a turning point in the recent history of SAFC. Twelve months previously we had just escaped relegation but ended the season managerless. This time we had a manager who would do things his way. The Director of Football model was defunct. The coaching staff had got the squad fitter than they’d ever been and no way was Big Sam going to let that slide. Not for this manager, publicity seeking, long range trips organised by the commercial department. This time a pre-season designed to prepare the team for the new campaign, ready to go from day one.
The squad was looking better than it had done the year before. We had the foundations of a settled side and a manager who seemed the perfect fit for where we were. Yes we still had too many players who didn’t feature in the manager’s plans and we had lost the services of several loan players but we would surely snap up M’Vila and look at bringing back Yedlin. Toivonen and N’Doye would be no great loss and with Fletcher and Graham no longer on the wage bill we would soon be in the market for fresh blood. I hoped that as soon as the transfer window opened and the Chief Executive got his feet beneath his new desk, signing those players Allardyce and his team had earmarked would be a priority.
Part 2. Disappointment – Maybe the club knew something the rest of us didn’t. Maybe they had suspicions that should the Euros go badly wrong for the national side, then the F.A. would come calling. That didn’t seem likely a month ago. Big Sam’s chance had been and gone when the “wally with the brolly” got the job. But transfer business was slow with just Vergini of the contracted players on the move and no-one coming in. We were linked with various names but for whatever reason it seemed that none of those targets would be signed quickly. Still this was no time for panic, as we were led to believe that negotiations were under way with Ayhew, Sakho, M’Vila and others. Then Hodgson did what many of us expected he would do and failed to get England to the semis against a side we should have beaten comfortably, throwing in the towel as he did so. Even at this stage it was unlikely to impact on Sunderland – or so I thought.
Was Wenger approached? If he was he was quickly ruled out of the running leaving Arsenal to continue their close season unhindered by speculation surrounding their manager. Step in the media with a concerted campaign to install Allardyce as England boss. I had hoped that if the club had acted swiftly in the transfer market it might have shown Big Sam its intent and make him think twice about leaving the job half done. He seemed the perfect fit and I wanted to see him take us onward.
Perhaps M Salut and others were right. Perhaps the club knew all along that if the F.A. came calling Allardyce would up sticks and leave anyway and perhaps that had something to do with the lack of transfer activity. Maybe the owner was more canny than I gave him credit for and had learned it was a mistake to lumber a new man with the previous manager’s signings. Once the media hoo-ha focussed on Allardyce there was surely no way he wasn’t going to get the job and going through the motions of talking to Bruce and others only added to the disruption.
Part 3 – Relief. And so Saturday came and the rapid installation of David Moyes. Would I rather that England had beaten Iceland and Hodgson’s contract been extended? Of course I would. We would have had a summer free from speculation and insecurity. We might even have had a few new faces in the pre-season training camps but I was pleased to see the club act swiftly in appointing the new manager. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the frustration at the F.A. seems to have been a result of their having accepted the inevitable and having the new boss lined up well in advance. From the club’s point of view (and ours) the longer Moyes had before the Man City game, the better. He’s here now and from the looks of the first two friendlies he has a squad that is fitter and better organised than the one at this stage last year. Only three weeks for the Scot to work his magic, but at least we have a man in post and it didn’t do Leicester City any harm appointing a new manager this time last year.
Part 4 – Cautious Optimism. Like many others I look back at Moyes’s time at Everton as the blueprint for Sunderland. Similar club, similar ambitions. In my opinion he was always on a hiding to nothing at Old Trafford, weighed down by expectation, following on from an iconic manager who hovered around in the background like a spectral figure, ever reminding the supporters, the media and the hierarchy of what had gone before. I don’t follow Spanish football too closely so don’t know why he wasn’t a success in that job but I see no reason why he can’t take Sunderland into the upper reaches of the division just as he did with The Toffees.
My renewed optimism is tempered by the fact that we still have glaring inadequacies in the squad and transfer business is so slow. How much that is down to the owner’s cautiousness or how much it is down to other issues, I wouldn’t like to say but I would have liked to have seen new players on the flight to France and I wonder just how fit anyone we do sign will be when they do come. We need them up to speed from day one.
The Championship starts a week before the Premier League and any teams interested in Bridcutt, Buckley, Gomez, Matthews and Mavrias may well lose interest if the club continues to hang on to them. In a way it is prudent to do so until replacements are found. They may well have been told they are not part of the manager’s plans and are unlikely to see first team action, but our senior squad is still too small and the Development squad players who may come good are still inexperienced at Premiership level.
And so to Lens and Rodwell. Here are two talented players, big money signings who have to date failed to have the impact on the field we would have liked, but both have shown what they can do in spells. If Rodwell can stay fit, if Lens has the right attitude and desire to give his all for the club I have a feeling they can be big players for us this season. If I’m right it’ll be like having two new players without having to splash the cash. Remember Lens goal against West Ham. Rodwell, like Kirchhoff may well have to fill in at centre back for a spell and though he was criticised for missing a few chances last season, at least he got himself into positions where he could be criticised for missing. We need more penetration from midfield and either of those could be just what we need. I would still want to see M’Vila back but if N’Zogbia proves worthy of a contract surely that would allow Borini to take a more forward role, playing alongside Defoe and the recruitment can focus on a centre back, a full back (or two) and another striker.
Finally, I really hope that Moyes sticks with Bracewell and Stockdale. They have done a great job working with the current squad and can provide continuity. Moyes might well want to bring in his own men, the Neville brothers have been mentioned, but there’s not a lot wrong with the men in situ in my view.
Now with less than three weeks to go I am back to my familiar state of mind when it comes to the new season. Anticipation tinged with trepidation. Can’t wait.
Stop press: Sixer was at Rotherham, along with David Moyes, to see an efficient 2-1 win friendly win. His Sixer’s Sevens verdict: “Good workout in front of new boss”
The Observer digs deep one again into its coffers to recruit our own Pete Sixsmith for a few words on Big Sam. How deep? Er, not enough to pay for the ice cream you see him licking; Sixer’s reward may well have to await his arrival on heaven (rather as is the case here at Salut! Sunderland. He was naturally writing before the David Moyes appointment was known) …
When Sam walked into the club, he inherited a group of players who were unfit, disillusioned and whose collective will was on a par with the recent Shadow Cabinet.