Sixer’s WBA Soapbox: is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?

Sixer says: grim times haven't gone away
Sixer says: grim times haven’t gone away

John McCormick writes: Some time in the sixties I can remember congratulating a group of Baggies in the Fulwell end after WBA had undergone a terrific cup run. Since then we’ve both experienced the highs and lows that come with supporting also-rans. Most recently we’ve been on the up and they’ve been yo-yos. Are circumstances changing once more? Back from The Hawthorns, Pete Sixsmith gives us his opinion:

Read moreSixer’s WBA Soapbox: is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?

Sixer’s Fulham Soapbox: false dawn or just a blip? Let the readers decide

Malcolm Dawson writes: to me yesterday was a microcosm of life as a Sunderland supporter. The mood around the ground was one of excitement and anticipation of a new season ahead. The early signs were positive. It was apparent that the new players had qualities their replacements lacked and the attack minded approach was refreshing after the dross of recent seasons. As the half time whistle blew there was nothing to dampen the optimism, except perhaps that despite the pressure and dominance the Fulham goal was rarely threatened. That those hopes were dashed by an opposition snatch and grab and that the subsequent resignation of those around me that defeat was on the cards summed up my 49 years of following The Lads. But I was encouraged by the approach and what is undoubtedly a stronger squad than the one that finished last season. Peter Sixsmith can appreciate my view but asks the readership whether this is justified or just more false optimism …

SoapboxFULHAM

Read moreSixer’s Fulham Soapbox: false dawn or just a blip? Let the readers decide

Adieu Mignolet, now of Liverpool. Sess and Catts to follow him out of the door?

From Jake's series of PDC revolution images
From Jake’s series of PDC revolution images

Salut! Sunderland is famously cautious about transfer speculation. Sometimes, there is no need for caution and absolutely no need to wait for the club’s traditional dawdle towards making a proper announcement.

With Simon Mignolet, the writing was on the wall from the moment the season finished, if not earlier, and we felt perfectly able to comment on his likely departure. His agent did make some ambiguous comments that seemed at odds with the truth, long after Liverpool had quite obviously begun the process of securing our keeper’s services. But then his agent has form, as indeed do most agents. What Is An Agent For? might make a good title for a Lower Sixth essay.

Read moreAdieu Mignolet, now of Liverpool. Sess and Catts to follow him out of the door?

The Newcastle-Sunderland Soapbox: high times, low life

Jake finds the word. And a smile for SIxer
Jake finds the word. And a smile for Sixer

The scoreline bears repeating over and again: Newcastle United 0 Sunderland 3. It was a wonderful team performance and it seems beyond belief that Alan Pardew should place such store by the wrongly disallowed Newcastle goal when Howard Webb had spared his side two, perhaps three first-half penalties, the likelihood of an early Sess goal and a sending off. It also seems beyond belief that in 2013, humanity can still find enough zero-intelligence specimens to beat up a city centre, their own city centre at that though it wouldn’t actually make it seem more civilised had their spite been vented somewhere else, because a football game has been emphatically lost. Pete Sixsmith offers the right mixture of high praise and schoolmasterly scorn …

Read moreThe Newcastle-Sunderland Soapbox: high times, low life

Paolo’s Pow-Wow: Newcastle Utd 0 SAFC 3 – ‘my perfect warriors’

PDC captures the points. Jake captures the man
PDC captures the points. Jake captures the man

Not for nearly half a century has there been precisely this scoreline from St James’ Park though we remember or know about the later 4-1 variation. That was Gary Rowell’s game. This was Stephane Sessegnon’s. It was a truly outstanding performance in a team display that had many very good ones. Paolo Di Canio can bound up and down the technical area as much as he wishes when celebrating events such as these. This is his verdict on a mighty and mightily important win …

Read morePaolo’s Pow-Wow: Newcastle Utd 0 SAFC 3 – ‘my perfect warriors’

McCormick’s Craic: putting a value on Steven Fletcher

John McCormick: looking for points
John McCormick: looking for points

John McCormick loves his stats. After his theorising on the importance of goal difference in ensuring Premiership survival, he now turns his thoughts to the value that individual players make, particular our now crocked goalscoring centre forward. Not simply in terms of physical contribution either – he attempts to quantify this in hard cash. We’ll let John explain…….

Following the news that we will be without our top scorer for the rest of the season I’m rushing into print with something I’ve been developing for a while. (Less of a rush than intended but you can blame the editors for that – Dep Ed) My original premise arose from a question –

How much is Steven Fletcher worth to us?

I’d say it was an impossible question to answer, but I began to try anyway. My original premise was that he scores goals which generate draws or wins when we would otherwise lose or draw. These goals have therefore won us points which have moved us up the table. Moving up the table has a value.To estimate that value I began to track his performance in January.

I started by ignoring matches we lost and matches we won or drew without Fletcher scoring. For the remaining matches I tried to calculate how many points Fletcher’s goals generated. If he scored in a 1-0 win, for example, then that one goal will have generated an extra two points. If he scored in a 1-1 draw then he has saved the loss of a point and therefore generated a single point. Where he was one of a number of scorers I tried to divide the gain logically.

For example, in the home game against Fulham we were 2-0 down when Gardner and Sess scored so I’m crediting them with 0.5 of a point each. You could argue that as we finished with what we had at the start they didn’t gain us anything, but that doesn’t seem sensible. Here’s an example of a slightly more complicated situation. It’s easy to see that Fletcher’s goal at home to Wigan gained us two points. However, away to Wigan he scored twice and he alone equalled Wigan’s goals total for the game. Should that be one point for Fletcher, or does it qualify as generating two points? If we take the view that Fletcher’s brace gave us the win then he generated two points. If we take the view that we started with one point and Gardner and Fletcher between them made sure we came home with another two they generated one point each.

It’s obvious that this is a flawed method of calculating someone’s worth – and not just because the sums are a bit sloppy.  It also misses a lot. It doesn’t begin to put a value on Ming’s saves, for one thing, and they must be worth a fortune in themselves. It also has to be accepted that Fletcher’s goals are not always individual efforts and that I’m ignoring his and others’ contributions in defence, their effectiveness in bringing in other players, setting up goals, keeping opponents back, etc. So to continue the Wigan example from the previous paragraph, we could agree that Ming kept us in the game towards the end, that O’Shea and Bramble marshalled the defence and even Elmo managed to help in running the clock down in the few minutes he was on the pitch. However, we couldn’t begin to quantify this team effort in terms of points earned per individual. All I can do for my part is acknowledge that these crucial aspects of the game have made a significant contribution to our overall points total, meagre though it is, point out that we succumb without them and ask for them in every game.

But to go down this route is to miss the point. Fletch is a predator whose skill and out and out killer instinct translates into goals which others might not score and it is this which provided a basis for my calculations.

Our post-Bent goal machine, by Jake
Our post-Bent goal machine, by Jake

What did I find? Depending on how I looked at multi-goal games Fletcher’s goals had gained us a minimum of 9 points and possibly 12 by the end of January. He then had a drought and failed to score for two months (apart from QPR, where we got no points) before injury finished his season. By the end of January his added points meant the difference between 11th place and a relegation spot or, at about £3/4 million per place, potentially over £5 million by the end of the season.

Now it’s academic. We won’t know how many he would have scored in the remaining eight games. All we can do is hope someone or someones step into his shoes and generate enough points to ensure survival. Who might gain those points for us? I was able to do the same calculation for our other goalscorers, once again ignoring goals in games we lost,  and do a comparison:

Adam Johnson. 2-3 points: two points against Man City plus a goal against West Ham. This  had us earning a potential £1.5 million over the season.
McLean: 1-2 points for wins against Reading and West Ham, potentially £1 million
Gardner: Gained us a point with a penalty against Norwich, potentially gained us another with a penalty at Wigan and half a point with another against Fulham. That could be worth £2,000,000 and a lot more if we stay up by 1 point
Sess: Sess has scored some crackers, but too few and not always when it made a difference. He has only generated about an extra point, certainly not more than two, worth maybe £750,000 -£1,000,000.
Larsson and Cuellar: they have generated maybe half a point each so far – let’s say they each have gained the club half a million pounds.

Jalkes washes brightest
Jake’s washes brightest

Of course these sums are irrelevant if we do not stay up. We now need to ensure survival and the emphasis has shifted from money generated by players gaining points to the gaining of points in itself.

While Fletch was rapidly repaying his transfer fee this lot together were generating just about enough points to keep us out of the relegation zone, but not much more than that, and they are still not scoring enough to guarantee safety. Apart from our spot kicker – who has done the job well – Adam Johnson has been our next best performer in the points earned stakes and he has not set the world on fire. The conclusion has to be that points will be in short supply for the rest of the season.

But we knew that already, given that Fletch had been off the pace in recent games, so perhaps we now have the opportunity to look at this from another perspective. It is regrettable that our number one points earner will not be around for a while but really, he already has been missing for a while. Now our manager has no choice but to stir the mix. Danny Graham or Connor Wickham might just be what is needed to breathe life into our attack in the remaining games.

Let’s hope so.

The Lars Word: let’s have some New Year’s resolution lads!

God Jul, Glaedelic Jul, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Natal, Kala Christouyenna, Sawadee Pee Mai, Nollaig Chridheil dhuibh, Nollaig Shona Dhuit, Merry Christmas.

To reflect the global readership of Salut!Sunderland our Scandavian correspondent Lars Knutsen reflects on Sunderland’s season so far and suggests the team adopt some New Year resolution in the rest of the current campaign.

Lars Knutsen

Being well into Advent and with last Saturday’s visit to Southampton approaching,

I was reminded about the legendary motivating powers of former Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett. The Blades were in a pattern of starting the season poorly and then went on a great run in the New Year, managing to avoid relegation for several seasons, rather like a modern-day Wigan.

Bassett decided to hold a Christmas party, complete with balloons, crackers, turkey and Christmas pud, in the month of September! The idea behind the early festivities was of course to persuade his team to show their traditional New Year form, but some months before the usual pattern.

So aside from our fine 3-0 and 1-0 wins over Reading and Southampton, I was starting to wonder, “What do we need to do to motivate this team?” and the answer was: go behind!

This season started with a solid defence, and sneaking the odd goal, with a lot of draws but few wins or defeats for that matter. Then for several games we got into a pattern of going behind in matches, and finally starting to play when 2-0 down. Against West Bromwich Albion, Norwich, Manchester United…we played some of our best football when we had our backs to the wall, but sadly for our points total, we got nothing from those games.

A report in a major newspaper described our second half at Carrow Road as a one of the best performances the journalist had seen from any team this season, and as he expected of a Martin O’Neill side; committed, fast on the break and dominating goal chances, but sadly for the fans, it was ultimately disappointing, despite Connor Wickham’s disallowed effort and that truly shocking miss from Kilgallon. The centre-back looked as if he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him.

Jake still looking for visions of plenty of points

The 1-0 win on the south coast last Saturday under difficult conditions was a truly professional effort from the whole team, and was very welcome as well as timely. We need ten wins to ultimately be clear of the drop zone, and are now on four, but with Man. City and Spurs next up at the SSOL, when will the next one come?

Martin O’Neill did have a bleat to the media on Saturday about our squad being small, but he was the guy who sold Turner and Richardson, let a lot of players go for nothing and then allowed Meyler and Elmohamady to leave on loan. Obviously we do not know which players he almost signed, and that will all be forgotten if Ellis Short loosens the purse strings and allows one or two major signings in midfield and upfront. Overall, O’Neill’s signings have been sound and have shown good judgement of players’ abilities, but I am not sure what Saha and McFadden have added to the team so far…

So to the second half of the season. What has been clear is that one can buy a set of players but it takes times to make a team. We had to watch while some big name players like Sessegnon, Larsson and Johnston struggled for form, but when fit, others such as O’Shea, Rose, Mignolet and Fletcher have been outstanding. A problem I see is that we recruited Gardner, Larsson, Fletcher and Vaughan from relegated teams and it takes a while to build a winning mentality after leaving a losing side…some of those habits have been hard to shake off.

Others, such as O’Shea have never ever faced being in the bottom three, which was something they never experienced under Steve Bruce, despite his struggles to get the team to hit form in 2011.

Captain Courageous by Jake

It is clear we need a fit, driven and disciplined Catts to shape us into a team. So my New Year wishes will be for our star players to do what they are paid to do, produce excellent form, and for the team to gel. The squad is basically good enough to excel in the Premiership, but we just need this engine to fire on all cylinders, and for the spark to come back consistently, not just in flashes.

See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739

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Salut’s Week: Rose wants out of Spurs, Steed scores in France

 

Jake’s way of looking back on a Salut! week

Stephen Goldsmith writes: I was slightly confused when I was asked this morning if I had done the Salut! Sunderland’s week review.The requisition e-mail was always there as it happens, but akin to an opportunity for Titus Bramble to clear the ball sufficiently in the danger area, it must have passed me by.  There may be more on Bramble next week in Salut! Reflections, as the gaffer’s (Martin O’Neill, not Colin Randall) newly found confidence in the player is either some sort of delusional utterance or a genius method of motivation. Saturday will begin the judgement of which.

Read moreSalut’s Week: Rose wants out of Spurs, Steed scores in France

Salut! Reflections: Rose’s desire to leave Spurs, Sessegnon’s form questioned

Stephen Goldsmith writes: Recent discussions between Monsieur Salut and myself concluded that this feature could be a functional way of giving contributors a topical voice. I say discussion, Monsieur may suggest it was more a one-sided pitch akin to Tony Soprano’s boys popping round for a chat. Monday in itself provided plenty of material for debate but I held back to try and maybe do a summary at the week’s end. Since then, it has been reported that James McFadden is training with the club and I’m going to ignore suggestions from Mr O’Neill that he plans to move Craig Gardner back into midfield, in the hope that it was my imagination that I read it in the first place.

Read moreSalut! Reflections: Rose’s desire to leave Spurs, Sessegnon’s form questioned