APOLOGIES FOR THE EARLIER LOSS OF THE SITE FROM THE WEB: IT SEEMS LIKELY ONE OF THE IMAGES — USED OF SEB WAS TO BLAME. ITS REMOVAL HAS DONE THE TRICK
There are departures and departures. Sometimes players go and we’re delighted to see the back of them, either because they proved to be useless for Sunderland or seemed to care nothing for the club. Offer your own list of candidates.
A few are so good or promising that it would be unrealistic to expect them as professionals to stay. Witness the two Jordans, Henderson and Pickford: they’ll always be Sunderland fans but how many of us would allow such simple preferences to stand in the way of massive job opportunities?
And then there are those who have done a job for us but for whom a move is in the best interests of club and player.
Four wins in seven games have given us all a lift – and Sunderland a chance. We know Old Trafford presents a stiffer test than Hull, Watford or hungover Leicester at home, or Bournemouth away for that matter.
But it is a test to which Sunderland have risen and should be capable of rising again. If a Manchester United victory seems the logical outcome, David Moyes has to persuade his men to believe they can cause an upset and play accordingly.
Towards the end of the 2013-2014 season, having already been there and won a League Cup semi-final on penalties, albeit as a bad a shoot-out as anyone could remember, Gus Poyet’s Sunderland went to Old Trafford on the back of great wins at Chelsea and at home to Cardiff, and a draw that ought to have been a win at the Etihad. Could we do it again and more or less ensure Premier League survival?
Pete Sixsmith was there. Let us start with Malcolm Dawson’s perfect scene-setting introduction and then marvel at the beauty of Sixer at his best – in each case as written in early May 2014
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Malcolm Dawson writes….on the day that Storm Desmond hit the North East of England, those who braved the long journey down to North London were rewarded with a decent performance but with no end result. At least that’s how the manager sees it in the customary post match e-mail.
ARSENAL 3 SUNDERLAND 1
We didn’t get in front like we should have done; when you create an opportunity against Arsenal you need to take it.
We missed a very good chance inside the first 15 minutes and when those appear you need to grab them. We managed to pull back to 1-1 after going behind and I thought that was deserved. At that point we should have capitalised and took the lead. I thought we played well but we just didn’t take our chances and to come away having lost 3-1 after creating those chances is disappointing.
Today was one of those days, on any other day we would have scored. Hopefully we can continue to play the way we played today in creating so many opportunities and score goals and ultimately win games.
It was a good performance. I can’t knock the players for their efforts. It’s the best performance I’ve seen since I’ve been at the club. The players are improving, each week they’re performing better and better, it’s just unfortunate that it didn’t get us a result today as I thought we deserved to.
We had players like Lee Cattermole, Jermain Defoe and Seb Larsson missing due to injury and I was encouraged by the players who stepped in for them.
I am disappointed with the result, but in terms of performance I’m satisfied with how the team played against Arsenal, who are a side that always provide a tough test.
Malcolm Dawson writes….as kick off approached I was enjoying a few excellent pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and taking part in a pub quiz less than three miles from Toronto. Meanwhile Bill Taylor, who I don’t think is related to the founder of the Keighley based brewing company (though he might inform me otherwise) was making his way to the BMO Field for last night’s final game of the three match pre-season tour of North America. I went home and watched it on TV via my laptop, as the Toronto I was near to is the one just outside of Bishop Auckland whereas Bill, County Durham born and bred, now lives over there. I could see, even over a dodgy internet connection, the influence that Jozy Altidore has had on his team mates, if Osorio’s glaring miss just before half time is anything to go by! We will be getting a more detailed version of events later from Martin Bates, the latest of our new found correspondents courtesy of SAFC NASA, but we’ll start with some of Bill’s pics and his explanation as to why he has been much missed on the pages of Salut! Sunderland in recent times.
TORONTO FC 1 SUNDERLAND AFC 2
I know what you’re thinking! “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water… there’s that bugger Bill Taylor again, doing his celebrated impersonation of a bad penny.” Okay, that’s a shark metaphor gone wrong and, don’t worry, I’m not back to stay.
Some of you may remember I took my leave of this site when the appalling (but much-admired at the time, as I recall) neo-fascist Paolo di Canio took over at the SoL. Somehow, even after his departure, my cynicism — mainly at the club’s management structure remained and I stayed away.
As an aside, I’m by no means convinced that Dick Advocaat is the answer to our prayers but I’m still a Mackem through and through. I still follow the team closely, though often despairingly, and I still read Salut! Sunderland. And there was no way I wasn’t going to be front and centre (literally — a TFC season ticket-holder got me seats in the first row right next to the tunnel and close to the visitors’ bench) when the Lads came to Toronto.
Other, more expert, eyes were also at the game and will deliver a longer and more considered verdict.
Me? Apart from Defoe’s two goals and a nice solo effort by Fletcher that didn’t come off, Sunderland were not impressive. Toronto played better football all-round, positionally, controlling the ball, setting up chances. Especially in the first half, they constantly forced Sunderland onto the back foot and confined them to their own half. At times, our lot seemed genuinely surprised to find they had an attack starting and had to scramble to catch up. TFC were unlucky not to win. They scored first and came close to scoring three or four times more. They made a lot of substitutions, perhaps to allow as many of the team as possible to say they’d played against a Premiership side.
I hate to say it, but unless Sunderland really pull their collective socks up, this time next year they really will be a Championship side. There’s a LOT of work to be done.
And come on, lads, two yellow cards in a friendly? Really? Seb Larsson’s, which I saw close up, could easily have turned into a red, the way he argued with the ref.
Malcolm Dawson writes….I was OK for the first 60 minutes. Despite all the pressure from the home side I felt the boys were coping well. Then as the old song says “time goes by so slowly……but time can do so much” and the old nerves started to get the better of me. The oft held doubts crept in and with 92 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock I still thought we might concede. But maybe the fact that a block from Coates went wide and a Billy Jones deflection hit the woodwork and was scrambled to safety were the omens that we would come away with the point we needed. OK we had chances and Norman Stanley might have finished more clinically on a couple of occasions in seasons past but hey let’s not quibble. This was a sterling, solid, backs to the wall performance and whilst the bus wasn’t exactly parked, it was in the lay-by with the engine ticking over and the players deserved the result because of the performances they have put in since the Little General arrived.
Pete Sixsmith’s post match text said “I have aged ten years in the last 90 minutes. Great defending and commitment.”
Dick was understandably emotional as the final whistle went. He says he’ll give his answer as to whether he’ll stay on sometime next week. A tug of love perhaps between mevr Advocaat and SAFC? Let’s hope he can persuade her that Sunderland is after all a special club. The pharmacies on Wearside were well stocked with blood pressure medication before kick off but now it can all be returned to the back room until the new season.
After a few weepies here’s the Dutchman’s post match e-mail to M Salut and other members of the red and white persuasion.
It was a really great feeling for our players, for our fans and for the people at the office. Everybody works so hard to give everybody the right feeling and this is great for the club.
It was a special match because we played against an excellent team in Arsenal, but the way we worked made us deserve it and seeing the fans after the game was a great feeling. We all worked so hard every day to get results out of the last six games and we have only lost once. I’m very proud of everyone involved with Sunderland.
We had a great goalkeeper as well today with great saves and I’m very happy. The whole team were desperate to get the result and you saw at the end some of them couldn’t run anymore because it takes so much pressure out of you.
Every player was brilliant – playing or not playing – they gave everything and we really deserve it.
Malcolm Dawson writes….we have had several “must win” games at the Stadium of Light this season and generally (Burnley and Southampton apart) have failed to come up with the goods. A win against QPR, Villa, Hull or Palace and we would have been safe weeks ago. No I haven’t forgotten the Defoe wonder goal but it’s been the failure to beat the bottom clubs at home that has left us still needing a point (or a favour from the Uniteds of West Ham and Manchester) with only a week of the season left. The Mags are themselves in dire straits and the six points we took off them is part of the reason why they are currently below us. Results at White Hart Lane and Loftus Road mean that despite yesterday’s fixture being another crucial one, it was less of a “must win” and more of a “mustn’t lose”. The draw might just be enough. It certainly was for the Foxes whose great escape rivals that of our own last season. Pants and O’Shea did their best to mess things up at the end but really that was the only heart in mouth moment in what was hardly an advert for quality football but a good example of honest endeavour from two hard working sides. It might have lacked quality but not effort. My sister thought it one of the better home performances of the season but Pete Sixsmith’s verdict was that it was a dreadful game. Let him explain why……
LEICESTER CITY (H) 2015
As I stood doing the ironing on Saturday night, I tuned into a programme on Radio 4 about “Chokers”. There was Eddie Waring commentating on Don Fox missing a last second conversion at Wembley in 1968, BBC Golf correspondent Ian Carter talking about Colin Montgomerie throwing away the U.S. Open in 2006 and Jimmy White nearly thumping one time Quizball host David Vine after he lost the 1994 World Snooker Championship by missing a relatively simple shot. All chokers suggested the host Matthew Syeed, who had done the same as a table tennis player at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He went on to talk about the concept of “fight, flight and freeze”, which is how a part of our brain reacts when faced with a difficult situation.
In 1997 we froze at Selhurst Park and went down because the teams below us won and we didn’t, while we succumbed to flight in 2005-06 when it was perfectly obvious, after a handful of games, that we were not good enough. Last year we showed fight to survive after looking dead and buried when West Ham beat us at the Stadium of Light one cold Monday night in April, but we fought back and won four of the last six games to stay up.
This year we are within sight of the finishing line and one more burst of energy will see us over it. But can we summon up that strength or will we choke at Ashburton Grove and Stamford Bridge while our rivals fight at the KC Stadium and The Sports Direct? We had a chance to put it to bed against Leicester City. They came to us with 6 wins out of 7, bursting with confidence and with a healthy following (minus the appalling clicky/clacky type things they had last week – that alone is reason enough for relegation).
Both sides had rigid formations; 4-3-3- for us, 3-5-2 for City. Both sides had managers who do not appear to suffer fools gladly. If Dick Advocaat is enigmatic, Nigel Pearson is at times completely off the wall, likening journalists to ostriches and getting involved in brawls with opposition players.
So, this game was a cast iron, bang on draw with few goals in prospect – and that is exactly what we got. Nervy, edgy and short of quality, it was similar to the game at whatever City call their stadium now. We were better organised than we were then and we had a couple of chances to win the game, which was more than we had in November. Graham missed a good one, Wickham put one over the bar and both Larsson and Johnson stung Schmeichel’s fingers but that was as close as we came to grabbing the three points that we needed to finish our season and extend Leicester’s.
The ninety minutes showed the progress that has been made since Dick Advocaat took over. Organised, committed and playing with some confidence, it showed that our players can, when given clear instructions, do what is expected of them. The back four did well with Coates being the pick of them. Although lacking in pace (Vardy tested him a couple of times in the last ten minutes), he tackled well, read the game even better and may well have earned himself a contract for next season. O’Shea made a couple of errors, but was solid while the two full backs did well. If we could transfer a bit of the defensive solidity from Jones to Van Aanholt and some pace from the Dutchman to the Englishman, we could have a good pair for the future.
Unfortunately, City were even more solid in defence, with their back three, all big lads as Mr Waring would say, making sure that our deadly strike force of Wickham, Defoe and Graham were effectively snubbed out. Wickham was a major disappointment, being pushed about by whichever centre half challenged him. He continues to disappoint and has made no consistent progress in the four years he has been at Sunderland. Midfield was busy and tackled ferociously (all three were booked by Martin Atkinson) but there was not a great deal of creativity – not the first time I have said that this season. Cattermole started well, had a mad spell in the middle and finished strongly while Larsson did all that we expect of him – constant energy and the promise of a match winning free kick which never actually arrived.
Poor Bridcutt continues to struggle although I thought that he had one of his better games. But the crowd do not rate him and he is not given the leeway that Cattermole and Larsson are. When he limped off and Johnson came on, there was a welcoming burst of pace and creativity that may well be utilised in North London on Wednesday.
Like us, Leicester were well organised and committed. Their midfield five worked hard and they had the best player on the field in Esteban Cambiasso, at 35, a class act who can run, pass, tackle and organise, doing the job that we had hoped that Jack Rodwell would do for us. Hmm.
So, do we choke or do we get over that line? Wednesday night is the big one – lose that and the tension on Sunday will be great. Memories of Selhurst Park and Wimbledon will come flooding back. But there are positive omens. The last time we played Chelsea on the final day of the season, Hull played Manchester United. Both lost and both survived. The team that went down were……… Newcastle United, beaten by a team in claret and blue. Could it happen again?
And so the season closes on the Soapbox for 2014-15. I shall not be at either of the last two games so Sixsmith Minimus will be reporting from Ashburton Grove. A one-time Roker Park regular, he is combining business with “pleasure” in London and has my ticket. Bob Chapman will be at Stamford Bridge while I hide under the covers (if we lose on Wednesday) or stand outside the Sports Direct (if we are safe). Fight or freeze? I have a feeling that Advocaat is a fighter and not a choker. Let’s hope the players are.
Malcolm Dawson writes….. “you must be pretty confident today” I said to the West Brom father and son combo as we grabbed a burger on our way up Millennium Way.
His reply “Not really – this looks like a nil nil,” led to my asking about his thoughts on Pulis and he admitted that although not his first choice the new manager had quickly got them organised and playing together. “He’ll have them sitting back and playing for the point,” was his spot on prediction. I probably enjoyed the burger slightly more than the game though not much more. It wasn’t a classic (burger or game) but if we’re going to draw 0-0 I’d rather we did it looking to get forward and win rather than by sitting back and risk defeat. West Brom rarely threatened and never looked liked scoring and we played most of the match in their half. But Johnson’s effort apart Ben Foster had a pretty easy time of it. He had one moment of nervousness after a cracking shot from Larsson but apart from that his only contribution was to catch the ball, run forward a few yards then throw himself on the ground unchallenged writhing around in agony as a vital few minutes ticked away. Pete Sixsmith was there and his post match comment to me “at least we didn’t lose” summed it up nicely. His slightly longer and more erudite take on things is here…..
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (H) 2015
It was better than Queens Park Rangers and it was better than Bradford City – but really, it wasn’t very good as we huffed and puffed our way to an uninspiring goalless draw with an equally uninspired West Brom team who will be down there with us until the end of May.
There was an improvement. We never looked like conceding and we worked hard, particularly Seb Larsson, who is probably our outstanding player this season. He ran and ran and ran, urging the other players on and showing why he deserved his contract extension last year. However, all Larsson’s excellent running in midfield is to no avail if we have no creativity there – and we haven’t. His partnership with Cattermole (good to see him back) may well be crucial in keeping us in this league for another season of mediocrity, but the lack of players who can open up a defence is worrying.
Alvarez shows signs of being able to do it, but he is frustratingly ineffective, often running up blind alleys and wanting to beat a man twice or even thrice. Do we persevere with him and hope that he comes good? We don’t seem to have much else , as Giaccherini appears to have succumbed to an endless series of ankle injuries. Johnson equally tried to open up a resolute and physical Baggies defence but he too got nowhere. Pulis has his midfield and defence so well organised that they fill any space available and it needs a quick killer pass to get round them – but we don’t do that.
After match discussion centred around the officials, as it usually does. Unlike Mourinho, both Poyet and Pulis voiced their opinions on the incident that could have been the turning point. According to Pulis, “old ladies on the high street take more of a knock than that and stay on their feet”, a statement which won’t win him many friends in the old lady department. Poyet, like 40,000 Sunderland supporters, thought it was a red card as Lescott denied a clear goal scoring opportunity and he was the last man. Initially, Mike Jones didn’t give it, but his assistant flagged, we hoped for a penalty and expected Lescott to troop off. We got neither, one rightly, the other wrongly. If it was a foul, it had to be a red; yet another serious error by an official and one which may prove to be very expensive.
The assistant then got himself in the old ladies’ least favourite manager’s good books when he gave Adam Johnson offside as he slotted home Ricky Alvarez’s clever pass. Those who stayed up late to watch MOTD know that Mr Hatzidakis got it wrong. No gifts from this man with a Greek sounding name.
The rest of the game trundled on and the crowd retreated into their coats as a cold wind swept the stadium. A flock of seagulls (real ones, not the ridiculously coiffured 80’s pop group) swept and soared and could have nested in either penalty area, there was so little happening.
Not quite a stinker in the QPR class or a disaster in the Bradford mould, but another lost opportunity and it means that we need to take points from the next two away games at Old Trafford and the KC Stadium. To do that, we need to display some creativity and urgency to go with the undoubted effort and commitment that the players showed on Saturday. The crowd got behind them and showed that they wanted manager and players to succeed.
But, as I often remind students, wanting to do well and actually doing it are two completely different things. At the moment, we are struggling to get a worthwhile grade in our annual relegation exam. The fear is still there that we might fail it this year.
Malcolm Dawson writes……I couldn’t get to this game being otherwise occupied on the Fylde coast. Phew – got away with that one. Of course Pete Sixsmith gets to every home game and most away matches too but even his patience is being tested. The euphoria felt at Old Trafford and Sid James’ Park isn’t making up for the amount of dross and drivel he is being served up on a far too regular basis. Already he has taken the decision to cut down on the number of times he follows the Lads to away grounds and it sounds like he is not far from choosing to leave his seat at the Stadium of Light unoccupied. He’ll be back next week, as will I, but his commitment is being pushed to the limit. With many of the fancied teams now out of the competition the F.A. Cup offers us a realistic chance of silverware. Not, according to Pete, on yesterday’s performance. Here’s his somewhat downbeat assessment of the goings on on the banks of the River Wear yesterday.
Sunderland v Fulham FA Cup (H)
I could, and perhaps should, have driven off at 2.05 and headed for North Shields in order to watch Shildon put their Northern League challenge well and truly back on track with a 1-0 win against the then league leaders. Why 2.05? That was when Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett read the team out for this FA Cup Fourth Round game. First of all they said that McCormack and Rodellega were on the bench for Fulham, suggesting that the Cottagers were not over fussed about this game.
Bennett suggested to Barnes that Giaccherini was almost certain to be part of a midfield three with Larsson and Rodwell and that hopefully the one time Italian international would be able to spark some creativity and create chances for new arrival Jermaine Defoe.
Then came the team news; no Giaccherini, no Alvarez but a three of Rodwell, Bridcutt and Larsson. There was a sharp intake of breath from Bennett – and from the driver’s seat of the trusty Mazda. “Where is the creativity going to come from,” said the pundit. “Should I head for North Shields,” said the fan.
I made the wrong decision – which was several less than Gus Poyet made on a truly wretched afternoon, which did nothing to assuage the mood amongst the support that bothered to turn out -that we were sliding towards the bottom three and that the miracle of 2014 was unlikely to be repeated in 2015. The lack of tempo and pace at the start was frightening as we allowed a competent and well organised Fulham side to settle. The Dog and Duck could settle against us as we pass the ball sideways, backwards, anywhere but forwards, putting minimal pressure on whatever opponents we are facing.
To many of us it was patently clear that the ball was not going to reach Defoe or Fletcher quickly and that when it did eventually reach them, the Fulham defenders were ready and waiting. It also became apparent that a week on the training ground is not sufficient to bed the players into this new 3-5-2 formation. They argued with one other, asked what they were supposed to be doing and generally looked as if they had little idea of what was expected of them. Of course, it helps if you can actually pass the ball to one of your team mates and this basic requirement seemed to be beyond too many of them, particularly those charged with the responsibility of driving the team forward. Only Larsson of the midfield three looked comfortable in this set up, drawing on his huge reserves of energy to push Fulham back and win the ball. His two colleagues showed little inclination to match him.
Bridcutt was, to put it mildly, poor but one expects little from a player who is clearly suited to the Championship. It is Rodwell who seems to encapsulate the problems that Sunderland AFC have at the moment. Hailed as a good signing by many (including this scribe), his first six months at The Stadium of Light have been distinctly underwhelming, culminating in a performance where the team actually looked better once he had been sent off. He could have gone in the first half, because the challenge that earned him his first yellow was as close as you will see to being a red. It was made after he had lost the ball, leading to him losing his temper and going in with his foot off the ground on Staflyidis. He then committed two more fouls which drew a quiet word from referee Anthony Taylor, before he got himself a mandatory yellow for obstructing the goalkeeper. “Idiotic”, “stupid” and “does he ever actually think” are words that spring to mind.
He had every right to be frustrated as his performance had done nothing to justify the large fee that Manchester City took off us for his registration. He struggled to keep up with the pace of the game which, for a man who is supposed to be a “box to box” player, is just not good enough. He appears to be yet another player who has come to Sunderland to maintain his lifestyle and who, on what we have seen so far, will not be an asset to the club and will bail out should we be relegated at the end of the season – something which is looking likelier as the weeks pass by and we show no pace, tempo or the ability to fashion chances.
The support is rapidly becoming disillusioned with the football being played. A single home win all season in the league does not inspire. Chelsea apart, the games have been dull and uninteresting and there seems to be an inexorable slide towards relegation. There is an old adage that players are more important than systems and that good players will fit to whatever the coaching staff wants them to do – as long as they buy into it. Look at our players – fractious, unsure of themselves and seemingly not convinced by what they are being asked to do. They know that we are going into a series of home games that will define our season and will either propel us to mid table safety and obscurity or dump us in the bottom three, possibly for the rest of the season.
Some flair and imagination are required for the Burnley game on Saturday. Johnson should return and hopefully Cattermole, whose drive and energy has been sorely missed. If Defoe is to flourish, he needs players who will get the ball to him quickly and take advantage of his ability to make his own space against defenders. Whether Fletcher, who mysteriously spent much of his hour on the field in a wide position, is the man to play alongside him, remains to be seen. As does the ability of Messrs Poyet, Tarrichio and Oatway to get our season moving. Burnley could well be their make or break game.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..“Don’t be too unhappy going home girls – it’s a long way back,” I cheerfully remarked to two lasses in their claret and blue scarves heading for the North Stand Upper, before kick off yesterday. They probably weren’t, as a point each seemed fair after a decent game where both sides had chances. They may have been as disappointed with the penalty award as their manager, but a push is a push and was intended to stop Johnson getting the cross in. No Shearer on MOTD to say a forward is “entitled to go down when there is contact” but Messers Savage (who of course never tried to con the ref in his playing days) and Murphy felt it was soft. You’ll all have your own opinions. But whilst another draw is better than nowt, the inability to turn them into victories is cause for concern. Our biggest disappointment came as our American international once again failed to convert as simple a chance as you ever get in this league right on the stroke of half time. Well at least he’s consistent. Even we atheists were praying he’d have a good game yesterday despite being perplexed at the manager’s decision to start with him rather than Steven Fletcher. Gus was smiling after the game but I suspect his disappointment is greater than that of his West Ham counterpart, those two girls and the rest of the travelling support. Here’s Peter Sixsmith’s take on events.
SUNDERLAND 1 – WEST HAM UNITED 1
With the clock ticking down to the end of an enjoyable and entertaining first half, fought out between two decent sides, Seb Larsson took off on a coruscating run down the right hand side of the pitch, stretching a Hammers’ defence that never looked anywhere near as comfortable as their highly accomplished midfield. Our Swedish Svengali got to the by-line, looked up and saw Jozy Altidore, free of his marker, thundering in, with only goalkeeper Adrian to beat. It needed an inch perfect ball played into the feet of the American and surely we were 2-1 up.
In went the ball, a fantastic pass from a player who has had his critics on Wearside but who has had a very good season so far. Up went the crowd in anticipation of a half time lead and a chance to build on an encouraging performance. In went Jozy, all bustle and enthusiasm, desperate to score his first Premier League goal in 12 months. Here it was; the cheer was ready in the throats of the 40,000 Sunderland fans shivering in the Stadium.
And he missed it!
He arrived a split second too early and the ball, instead of being pushed over the line, was ever so slightly behind him. Not due to bad luck or a mishit pass or the ball hitting an emerging mole, it was entirely due to Jozy’s adrenaline rush taking over from what should be his striker’s instincts and his natural ability to be in the right place at the right time. Groans from the crowd, disbelief from the players and, apparently, tears from the man himself. That could well be his final act in a red and white shirt.
In my younger days, I would have probably castigated him mercilessly. The likes of Tom Ritchie, David Swindlehurst, and Mel Holden all caught some flak from the fat bearded type stood in the Clock Stand Paddock. But, as I have grown into my dotage, I realise that players do not miss chances on purpose and it is hardly their fault if they are not good enough.
My mood has been tempered as well by reading Ronald Reng’s powerful and moving account of the life and tragic death of the German goalkeeper Robert Enke, a man who succumbed to deep depression on two separate occasions, the second of which led to his untimely death.
He was a top notch keeper in the Bundesliga but had failed at Barcelona and at Fenerbache. Jozy has had two bites at the Premier League cherry and it is clear that he is not good enough to play at this level. His enthusiasm and desire cannot be challenged and I thought that he had a decent first half, but it was clear when he re-emerged for the second that he knew that the game was up.
Credit to Poyet for not replacing him at half time as that would have had a devastating effect on his self-esteem and when he was withdrawn on the hour for Fletcher, he got a sympathetic round of applause from fans who can see that, whatever his weaknesses are, lack of effort and desire are not amongst them.
Fletcher’s arrival and that a few minutes later of Ricky Alvarez, gave us our best spell of the game and introduced some pace and craft to a team that works very hard but which lacks the natural strength and inventiveness that the better teams have. Alvarez looked comfortable on the ball and clearly has the eye for a pass. He worked a couple of impressive openings down the right hand side with Santiago Vergini and had the previously comfortable Carl Jenkinson, struggling.
Connor Wickham blazed a couple of chances over the top and Adrian made an excellent save from another and we ended up with our ninth draw of the campaign. At this stage last season, a point from the fourth placed team would have been welcomed with cheers and huzzahs. This year, there was a sense of disappointment as we trooped back to the warmth of our cars and coaches and enjoyed listening to Arsenal rattle the goals in against the Mags.
How close are we to being a decent side stuck in the kind of mid table obscurity that we crave and how close are we to being seriously involved in the relegation battle? We are well organised and, by and large, have cut out the mistakes that have cost us dearly in the past. The back four is solid and with Jones almost fit and Van Aanholt resuming light training, we will have choices to make. Reveillere had another good game yesterday but he is 35 – positively ancient for a Premier League defender.
In midfield we are solid but we backed off too much yesterday. When Stuart Downing (and didn’t he play well) moved forward to hit the equaliser, Cattermole backed off and gave him the room he needed to rifle home his shot. What we had done against the patricians of Chelsea was not done against their more proletarian East London neighbours. Gomez moves the ball on well but is lightweight and I did not like the nasty foul on Downing for which he was deservedly booked. He took his penalty well despite Adrian’s attempts to distract him and all the hoo-ha about the award. It looked a soft one from the East Stand but who am I to argue. And we could have had one for handball in the second half.
I was quite impressed with West Ham. They played some thoughtful and intelligent football and it was a toss up between Downing and Song for their best player. The likes of Song will never end up in a city like Sunderland and the cosmopolitan mix of London makes it so much easier for West Ham, a club at our level, to attract European/African players.
We now have the week to prepare for our visit to the Sports Direct Arena. We should go with some confidence in that we are difficult to beat and we compete for 90 minutes. Gus’s team selection is very important for this one; do we bring in Bridcutt to tighten it up, leave Johnson to slip past their defenders or take a gamble on Alvarez to show his pace and his quality?