We both knew our views would be controversial. And so it has proved. Some good, robust replies point legitimately to shortcomings in Moyes’s brief reign.
Fresh from much-praised exploits at the San Siro (despite a defeat) and in the draw at the Etihad, Southampton naturally fancy their chances against Sunderland in the EFL Cup 4th round on Wednesday. A hearty welcome to Aidan Small*, a budding sports journalist who owns www.freshsaints.com even if he does think we’re doomed to relegation without the consolation of further interest in the League Cup after the visit to St Mary’s …
Would you settle for a Sunderland defeat at Southampton on Wednesday, ending our interest in the EFL Cup, and a home win on Saturday? Me too, if your answer was yes.
Of course, wins in both games would be even better. But whereas beating the Saints would be nice enough, and stir dreams of a return to Wembley at the end of February, we are desperate for another kind of victory: the sort that brings three points and gives us hope that all may not after all be lost.
Around this time of every year, there are certainties we take for granted. The calendar will tell us it is October, trees shed leaves, shops advertise Christmas as if it’s only next week and Sunderland supporters still await a first win of the season.
We generally don’t draw too much comfort for we have actually won twice, because there is something distinctly hollow about beating lower league opposition in the League Cup when you can barely pick up a draw in the Premier League.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..Pete Sixsmith is slipping. His trip to the south coast last week meant he missed yesterday’s Under 23 game at Eppleton CW (a 3-0 win v Southampton) and this Bank Holiday Monday he will only make three games. The long journey back yesterday means that his much awaited match report from St Mary’s has taken a little longer than usual to reach us but here it is.
SOUTHAMPTON (a) August 2016
Three years and four managers ago, Pete Horan and I discovered Salisbury. We found a Bed and Breakfast that suited us perfectly fifteen minutes’ walk from the city centre, with a good beer pub just around the corner and the railway station within sight and sound.
This was our fourth visit to St Mary’s Stadium. The previous three had gone like this;
1) late equaliser after taking an early lead.
2) a hammering which we shrugged off as “Just one of those things” while quietly seething.
3) and a very late equaliser after taking a late lead which was far, far worse than the 0-8 as this one was towards the end of the annual relegation battle , provoking fears that this was one struggle too far.
This year, we hoped for a win, feared a defeat and would have been satisfied with a draw.
There were two taboos that nagged away at us as we discussed the game in The Platform Inn on Southampton’s waterfront. Could we shake off the stigma of failing to win a game in August since the days of Steve Bruce and could Jack Rodwell, quietly impressive this season, actually start a game in a winning team? Add to that the goalkeeping situation, the Kone situation and the Lens situation and we had more situations than the BBC Comedy Department.
The Sausage Festival at The Platform went down well. I eschewed the Llama, Alpaca, Zebra and Camel varieties, opting for Venison (a trifle de(a)er I thought) and Lamb and Mint while PH went for a Continental approach, opting for Toulouse and a Bratwurst – a mix of last season’s midfield of M’Vila and Kirchhoff.
The bus ride to the stadium was interesting. Tony the driver, a lookalike for Bernard Cribbins, he of the Spoons salesman in Fawlty Towers, novelty discs like Hole In The Ground and Right Said Fred, railway hi-jinks in The Railway Children and Wombling narrator, eventually got us there after a half hour wait outside the Isle of Wight ferry terminal.
It meant that we missed the kick off, something which some fans regard as sacrilege while others merrily amble in five or ten minutes late having finished off their pints. We were in time to collect our red envelopes containing a tenner courtesy of Virgin Media, the Saints new sponsors. Jeremy Corbyn supporters refused the Branson shilling and suggested it would be better spent by using it to buy bigger carriages on the East Coast Main Line.
We walked in just as Pickford was making the first of a handful of decent saves and we saw plenty of the action in the opening fifteen minutes as Southampton attacked our “new” defence. Manquillo was tested and came through, Kone and Djilobodji began to gel and with Rodwell, Gooch and Pienaar beavering away in midfield, we gained a foothold in the game. The longer it went on the better balanced we looked and the more ragged the Saints became. Opportunities began to present themselves as Kone headed wide when he should have scored as did Rodwell but as the half ended, the team in the spanking new all white with a bit of blue in it strip, looked the more comfortable.
The second half reiterated that fact as we began to take control. Januzaj slalomed his way through a number of tackles and was brought down on the edge of the box only for Borini to take a feeble free kick and injure himself into the bargain. Watmore, on for Borini, delayed his shot after Lens, on for Pienaar, had played him in and gave a poor ball to Defoe. We kept pressing and then the breakthrough came. Lens broke down the left and played a smart ball into Defoe. The former England man moved into the box and encouraged Southampton captain Fonte to foul him. The Portuguese Euro Winner, who was sent off for a foul on Defoe last season, promptly did and it was a clear penalty. Up stepped Jermain to nearly lift the net off its supports. Ten minutes to go.
Could we hold on? Would we win in August? Would Jack have that elusive victory?
Of course not – this is Sunderland we are talking about. Southampton pushed forward and we were pushed back. With four minutes on the clock, Jay Rodriguez lined up a shot, hit it well and beat Pickford, who allowed it to go under him and into the net. Frustration on the pitch, much wailing and renting of garments in the away end and the home team pressed for what would have been an entirely undeserved winner. That we prevented that is a positive to take.
At the end, some of the players came over and Defoe gave away his shirt, prompting thoughts amongst one of the party that he was on his way to Palace or some other such third rate club. There was sympathy for Pickford, a Sunderland supporter since childhood and there was hope that a solid performance from Kone indicated that he wanted to stay – although Moyes’ press conference afterwards made that look less likely. PH was impressed with Djilobodji and I was impressed with Manquillo. All of a sudden, things began to look better as we reached the dizzy heights of sixteenth in the first proper league table of the season.
It was a much more balanced team than the one selected for the Middlesbrough game. The back four looked solid, albeit against a Southampton side who like us, have hit the road stumbling. I think we can get better. I am not sure about them.
The transfer window will hopefully see a forward and a couple of midfielders in and Kone staying. If he stays and plays, we are a side who will be on the up. If he leaves and we have nobody to replace him, we may well see sixteenth as the optimum position.
The night continued in jolly style back in Sarum. The Turkish restaurant we ate in was interesting. The food was fine, the décor a tad faded and the front of house entertaining. The card machine didn’t work and the couple on the next table had to go to the Convenience Store next door to get cash. Mr Front of House had no change so they tipped him more than they might have done.
A brisk walk back to the Duke of York, a splendid pub if a bit quiet for a Saturday night, led to Matt the Landlord placing a whisky bottle on the bar and encouraging us to partake of it. Pete then fell into conversation with a surfing hippy who had been in France and I chatted to the drummer from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch. He was called John, the original drummer had been Stan and, although Dave Dee had died a few years ago, they still got together to play. He had fond memories of Sunderland Empire and liked “that thing opposite Newcastle that looks like a huge condom.” I assumed he meant The Sage and not Mike Ashley.
A good weekend ended with the sight of bleary eyed and gravel voiced Hull FC supporters making their way home from Wembley having won the Rugby League Challenge Cup. Horan and Sixsmith, the Old Firm, were not quite in that category but we were two tired pensioners when we got home. Listening to the stinker between The Baggies and The Smoggies didn’t help. May the transfer window bring us all we need in the form of arrivals and non-departures. I shall be consulting the various web sites with growing frenzy as Wednesday night approaches.
Finally, a happy birthday to M. Salut, who reaches the splendid age of 60+ a few today. Have a grand day down there on the Cote d’Azur.
Rob Hutchison is driving back and it will be a while before he reaches home. So he phoned his daughter and she passed on his one-word verdicts:
John McCormick writes: I’m frequently surprised by stats showing how little possession we have when we look untroubled for long periods. Today was another example. Saints pressed but rarely bothered our keeper and when they did he rose to the challenge on every occasion but one. Unfortunately that one time gave Southampton a point – I was going to say gifted a point but, in reality, our attack was poor and we didn’t threaten much ourselves.
Looking untroubled must mean our defence is improving, mustn’t it? I thought it not only looked solid in the centre but also coped with wide balls and tricky wingers, so I do think things are looking up.
But does David Moyes? The letter he sent to M Salut (and perhaps a couple of others) immediately after the game is a little short on optimism:
A point at Southampton is always a good return. But for the third time in four seasons – the odd one out leaving us a little humiliated – Sunderland lost out on an important win because they could not defend a lead. SAFC were the better side in the first half, recovered from a second half loss of dominance to take the lead through Jermain Defoe’s penalty but could not keep the Saints out for the remaining minutes … Pete Sixsmith will fill in into more detail about his trip down south in due course but this is his instant verdict ..
Alan Copps* is one of Monsieur Salut’s valued former colleagues and his fine writing – as opposed to M Salut’s basic reporting – graced the pages of The Daily Telegraph and later The Times. Late in his career, he moves significantly upmarket to offer various thoughts to the thinking man’s football site Salut! Sunderland ahead of Saturday’s game. Oh, and as I write, Salut! Sunderland is seven followers short of 2,000 at Twitter …
John McCormick writes: We make the long trip to Southampton aiming to put a stop to the poor start to the season. And what team will we have out to do it? Kone, do you think, alongside new signing Javier Manquillo? Or perhaps Borini returning to feed and support Defoe?