John McCormick writes: Were there any positives to take from today? I’m trying to think of some but I’m struggling. I suppose, with Palace losing, that we’re not out of it, which is something David Moyes alluded to on “Radio 5 live” after the game. If I remember correctly he said we’re not too far away [from safety], which is true, but in every area of the pitch West Brom, with whom we’ve contested many a promotion challenge and with whom we’ve shared many a relegation battle, were giving Ellis Short a lesson in how to run a club.
I suppose another positive is that we do have a manager with a Premiership pedigree, although I think he might well be trying to rebuild a relegated side next season. Anyway, here’s what he thinks after yet another defeat:
John McCormick writes: Wrinkly Pete is quite prescient. I was thinking of doing a relegation review before the end of the week and might still do so, depending on what comes down the Salut chimney in the next few days. I know there’s a “Who are you?” due but there may well be other posts – and you can take that as an invitation to send us something of your own if you wish. Like our esteemed manager we’re always on the lookout for young talent and not above taking on a good old’n.
Which, I suppose, returns me to Wrinkly Pete himself:
Ed was away; he left me his season ticket and thanks to his generosity I watched the lads for free if I don’t count the 8 gallons of petrol, the couple of bottles of wine for Susan (my sister, who put me up) and a couple of pre-match pints for designated driver Paul.
Malcolm Dawson writes……..Pete Sixsmith was at the match yesterday but today he’s tied up with festive duties spreading peace and merriment in the heart of Magland so it falls on me to leave the subs’ bench and step up onto the soapbox to bring you my take on yesterday’s proceedings.
Sunderland 1 – Watford 0
It’s weird being a Sunderland fan. At least I find it so. The news coming out of the club this week should have had me feeling depressed – or at least a little pessimistic but strangely I wasn’t. The fact that Moyes suggests he was made promises that aren’t going to be kept came as no surprise. The revelation that there was to be no repeat of a January spending spree come the New Year wasn’t a revelation at all and the latest long term injury to Jan Kirchhoff just another setback in a long line of setbacks. Kirchhoff is in my view a quality player but the number of games he has missed means he is a luxury that the club can’t afford. I don’t expect him to be a Sunderland player next season.
The home defeat to Chelsea midweek wasn’t a surprise but I thought there were enough positives in that game to make me feel that we might just have enough to stay up again. If we do however, it will be because there are at least a dozen teams who are sufficiently lacking in quality to make the relegation struggle a contest. Watford, despite their relatively secure league position are one of those teams and this was a winnable game. For us not just winnable but one that we needed to win, Burnley being the next with anything gleaned from the Manchester United and Liverpool games a welcome bonus. I’m trying not to think about the effect that the African Cup of Nations and the fact we could lose players in the next window will have on the club with the visit of Stoke and a trip to the Hawthorns, early in 2017 other games we should be targetting. For now I’ll stay positive.
David Moyes didn’t have a lot to think about ahead of this game in terms of team selection with only thirteen fit, first team outfield players and Donald Love to choose from. Watford play a 3-4-3 formation similar to Chelsea but unlike in midweek Moyes decided not to go with the three centre back system and with John O’Shea rested, the personnel available meant that the team he put out yesterday was overloaded with predominantly attacking players. The good news was that Anichebe was back to add a bit of muscle to an otherwise lightweight midfield and forward line.
Watford on the other hand, physically resembled a pub team with a whole batch of top heavy, stocky, muscle bound players. Either that or they were wearing four shirts to fight the North East cold. Kone and Anichebe are pretty solid players but compared to Deeney, Zuniga and Ighalo they appeared svelte like.
With a flat back four, Denayer and Ndong were likely to be expected to do the bulk of the midfield defensive work, though Borini is tireless in his commitment and he and Big Vic covered the full backs whenever they could. Januzaj drifted behind Defoe, sometimes playing wide left and linking up with PvA, sometimes right with Love and Borini and looking more interested than he has in the past. He has undoubted ability and the way he can turn a man and hang onto the ball under pressure could be real assets as the season goes on.
So to the game. Unlike a fortnight ago I was in my seat with time to spare and ready for another immaculately observed silence to remember the players and supporters of the club who had passed away this year.
I can probably count on my fingers how many times we have attacked the North Stand end in the first half since the Stadium opened but we did so yesterday and forced a corner in the first minute when Kaboul tried to shepherd the ball out of play and instead nudged it over the line when under pressure from JD. He got a good reception from the home support and wasn’t jeered as some TV pundits would have us believe. I suppose “Kaboooooooul” might sound like “Booooooo” to the untrained ear. The corner was played short to Defoe and eventually he set up Djilobodji who could get no power on his header and the corner came to nothing.
Within a minute The Hornets had one of their own. It was cleverly worked with the ball sent straight to Amrabat, unmarked on the edge of the area. He crashed a volley straight towards the top right corner of Pickford’s goal and forcing the type of save which shows why he is being tipped as a future international.
The worrying thing for me, and I hope the coaching staff is the movement of our players at set pieces. We didn’t concede yesterday but watch the replays and see all the red and white shirts move away from the centre of the goal towards the ball, leaving one or two Watford players unmarked behind them. It would have only taken a slight flick at the near post to leave an opponent with a clear shot on goal.
Donald Love who did well when he replaced the injured Billy Jones on Wednesday was having another decent game and it was his touch which diverted a Deeney cross just enough to take it away from the foot of Ighalo who would surely have scored.
Just before the half hour mark, Denayer committed a foul a yard from the goal line and just outside the box. The ball found its way to the far post and with three Watford players queuing up it found the head of Britos, who found the head of Kaboul who showed why he was such a useful defender in red and white as his deflection sent it harmlessly wide of the post.
That said we had a few chances ourselves, the best falling to Anichebe whose powerful run down the left wing took him into the box, towards the near post where his side-footed shot was blocked by a covering defender as he attempted to curl it around Gomez into the far corner.
We had another when PvA received the ball in an offside position but the flag stayed down and he forced Gomez into a save at the near post just as the half time whistle was raised to Bobby Madeley’s lips.
We did what we had to do in the 2nd half. Denayer had been industrious all game and won the ball inside his own half and gave a short simple pass to Januzaj. The Kosovan/Albanian/Belgian turned his man beautifully and released a peach of a through ball to JD who looked up and found PvA on the edge of the six yard box. Van Aanholt was in the right place at the right time to swivel on a sixpence (look it up younger readers) and slot home what would prove to be the winner.
Despite my concern at our defensive co-ordination from set pieces the Djilibodji/Kone partnership is starting to repay the faith that Moyes has had in both players. It is rare that clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea ever sign duff players and both Jason Denayer and Papy Djilibodji are beginning to show the potential that made them attractive signings, even though both were loaned out and saw little first team action. Ndong on the other hand, did some excellent covering work and was winning the ball well in midfield only to let himself down by being caught in possession or by making a misplaced pass and giving the opposition the ball back. Fortunately Watford had players who could emulate him and we had more possession in the second half. Defoe had a decent long range effort that went wide then in a carbon copy of the move that had brought the goal Januzaj won the ball deep in our half, slipped his man and pushed forward before setting up Defoe. This time with no supporting player JD drove into the box but lost possession before he could trouble the keeper.
Watford entered into the festive spirit as their subs warmed up looking a lot like Santa’s elves – that post match analogy care of Mr Sixsmith which he delivered complete with a Government elf warning as we trooped back to the car. Even at a game he is obsessing about his festive duties.
Despite my arthritic knees, I was on my feet to celebrate Victor Anichebe’s 62nd minute goal until I realised that it had flashed just wide. Januzaj on the right wing back heeled the ball to Love whose cross found the big man on the edge of the penalty area and from my seat in the East Stand it looked for all the world as if it was on target. Not to be but we were having the better of the second half and the crowd who had been a little subdued in the first period were in fine voice. Keep it up lads and lasses – it can only help the team.
There were a few more heart in mouth moments, I am never happy when two goals up never mind one and Pickford made a great save from an effort that was flagged offside before making two in quick succession as the clock ticked down.
Watford will probably feel they deserved a point but we just about edged it in my view. We have come away with nothing on plenty of occasions when we should have had something so it’s nice to get a battling three points.
For once we are not on the bottom at Christmas. Can we hope that we are out of the bottom three by F.A. Cup weekend? Well the Swansea result should teach us not to count our Christmas turkeys but we can hope.
Merry Christmas and Ha’way the Lads.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..with Pete Sixsmith bringing joy to the faces of the youngsters of North Tyneside after ducking into a phone box and swapping his everyday togs for those of his alter ego St Nicholas, it falls to me to bring you today’s soapbox. If only someone had warned me in advance I might have been able to mimic Peter’s insightful and witty style in my take on yesterday’s proceedings. Instead you’ll have to make do with my unexpected observations. By the way – just in case you haven’t twigged Pete will be back when festive duties don’t interfere.
Sunderland 2 Leicester City 1
A pre-match catch up with some of the lads from the Heart of England Branch meant that I only just took my seat at the Stadium of Light as the minute’s silence for the victims of the Colombian Air crash began. That, plus other events closer to home, reminded me once again that in the grand scheme of things, there are more important things in life than the result of a football match. But that said, here was another in a series of games where a positive result would have a direct effect on the fortunes of the club over the rest of the season.
Having lost ground to West Ham and Crystal Palace earlier in the year, match ups with Bournemouth, Hull, Leicester, Swansea, Watford and Burnley before we enter 2017, all give the team the opportunity to make up ground in the annual relegation struggle and the results against the first two have given us hope. Another 10 or 12 from the other four and things would look a lot brighter. Yesterday saw the first three of those go on the board. Anything against Chelsea and from the trip to Salford will be a bonus.
I think most followers of English football were glad that Leicester had broken up the cartel that has dominated the game since the advent of the Premier League, but the truth is that they haven’t the resources of the Man Cities and Uniteds, Chelseas and Arsenals of this world and their league form this season is a more realistic reflection of their status. Here was another winnable game against a team that had only taken one point away from home all season.
After the Arsenal match I criticised certain sections of the home support but yesterday, right from kick off, they were behind the team and it showed. It looked too as if Moyes had sent the side out with a positive mindset and unlike the Hull match we dominated the early stages of the game. Here was a team and its fans pulling together and we could easily have had a two or three goal lead with the game clock still in single figures. More of the same please. I am convinced that positive support leads to increased confidence and more effort on the pitch, even if it comes about subconsciously.
We lined up in a 4-4-2 with Denayer sitting in the holding midfield role, Djilibodji in for O’Shea and Anichibe playing wide left in a more advanced position than he had at Liverpool. What a difference he has made to the team. Not only is his ability to win the ball and subsequent hold up play excellent, the difference in Defoe’s body language is noticeable with Anichebe alongside him. In fact the whole team seem less fearful when in possession having him as an outlet.
So we set off at a pace. Watmore had a decent shot within the first two minutes and Anichebe and Defoe both had good efforts diverted over the bar by Morgan. We could have had a penalty when Anichebe was manhandled inside the box by Robert Huth and Defoe scuffed a shot which he would expect to convert seven or eight times out of ten.
Leicester were playing a narrow formation and this gave Jones and PvA plenty of space down the flanks and we looked dangerous every time we got wide behind their defence. Denayer was looking assured in front of the back four, winning the ball when necessary and distributing it effectively. The centre back pairing looked more like an established centre back pairing than earlier in the season. Djilibodji actually played like a centre half and a lovely little bit of trickery to create space for a clearance indicates a growing confidence. Kone seemed more like his old self, using his muscle and radiating enthusiasm, something we haven’t seen for a while. Team spirit seems much improved and at last Moyes seems to be getting them playing as a unit, with the new dimension that Big Vic has brought being the catalyst.
N’dong is a curate’s egg. He ran around winning the ball, and negated Albrighton and Mahrez but every now and then he would dwell on the ball or a loose pass would undo his good work. Still he seems to be finding his feet and with Cattermole out long term he will play a key role in the run up to New Year. Watmore too looked lively combining well with Jones down the right and obviously has been told to get in the box more and his long range shot on twenty minutes had Zieler beaten but flashed wide.
As it was we couldn’t find the net and Leicester gradually established themselves. At one point a shot/cross scraped the top of the bar but in truth Pickford was rarely troubled. After 30 minutes it was a more even contest and I was beginning to fear that we might rue not capitalising on the chances we had had.
Last season’s wunderkid, Jamie Vardy was largely anonymous and a shot that was well wide of the target and a poor header when he eventually found some space in front of goal showed why he has failed to score for 16 or so games.
Pienaar who had been lively in midfield, putting in a shift and breaking up Leicester attacks suffered a nasty blow to the head just before half time. I didn’t see it but the animated bloke in front of me claimed it was an elbow. Marriner gave nothing.
Nil-nil at the interval was scant reward for a decent first half performance from the lads in red and white.
The early season hasn’t been kind to us with regards to injuries. With Gooch and McNair the latest victims it was just as well Kirchhoff and Larsson had reached a stage where they were fit enough to make the bench and boy did we need them. With Pienaar suffering from the blow he took to the head just before half time and with Denayer apparently suffering from a virus both came on for the start of the second period.
Leicester had the first chance of the second half but the ever improving Djilibodji got into the right position to deny Slimani allowing Kirchhoff to clear the danger. Then five minutes later the substitutions bore fruit as we won a corner, the Swede banged the ball in from the right and the big German climbed above the crowd. His header wasn’t the best but Huth running back to cover could do nothing as the ball struck him on the chest and he bundled the ball into the back of the net to a crescendo of sound from the home support. Who needs cardboard clappers?
Not long afterwards Seb and van Aanholt played a neat one two in the left corner, PvA repeated the move with Anichebe and as he drove into the box he was clipped quite clearly by Danny Simpson. Not the most malicious of fouls but enough to cause the Dutchman to lose his balance and a certain penalty. Except in the eyes of André Marriner who shook his head and waved his arms. Later he was to book van Aanholt for a dive when he was again fouled, waved play on when Defoe was manhandled off the ball then booked Larsson for a similar foul. The referee was never on my Christmas card list but he’s not going on it either after yesterday’s performance.
Still it mattered not as once more some interplay down the left hand flank presented Watmore with a chance to shoot. The unfortunate Huth stuck out a boot to block the shot and simply deflected the ball straight into JD’s path and another clinical finish brought him his 151st Premier League goal. Game over. Well not quite.
A few minutes earlier JD had a powerful shot well saved by Ziegler and as always I never feel relaxed until we have at least a three goal lead and the Foxes pulled one back when Okazaki made a good run to steal in front of Djilibodji at the near post to reduce the deficit. But we hung on. Towards the end of the 6 minutes of added time (necessary because of what looks like a nasty injury to Watmore) City had a corner and up came their big keeper to see what he could do. Not a lot as it happens but after a bit of ping pong in and around the box Pickford got up off the deck to make a stunning save from Morgan whose follow up mercifully went sailing into the North Stand.
At half time a few of the 73 Cup winning side made the 50/50 draw and a somewhat embarrassed Jimmy Montgomery was pressed into a half time interview as Bobby Kerr, Vic Halom, Micky Horswill all sloped off feigning deafness as the stadium announcer pleaded for a few words. Pickford’s last minute save might not have been as good as Monty’s in 73 but his celebration was and as the final whistle blew the manager did a slightly understated version of Bob Stokoe’s tracksuit, overcoat and trilby charge to congratulate the young keeper.
So three valuable points. West Ham, Burnley and Swansea all lost and we make our highest league position so far this season. With Boro playing Hull tomorrow we may find ourselves back in 19th position or four points behind the Teesiders but things are looking better.
The injury list is a worry and the African Cup of Nations may impact in January but yesterday showed something of the spirit, effort and organisation that will be needed if we are to climb up the table. It’s still a work in progress but the signs are better. A win in Wales would be good.
Ha’way the Lads
Bournemouth away was an occasion to remind supporters of Sunderland AFC, from nippers to long-in-the-tooth codgers, why they care so much about football. And this lovely piece from Rob Hutchison, the perfect complement to an excellent Chapman Report, captures our part of a special day …
“Which is the away end mate?” asked Colin, aka Monsieur Salut, as we approached the stadium. “Follow the voices”, the young friendly steward replied “They sound nothing like us!”.
We’d just been putting the world to rights in the Sir Percy Florence boozer with a few hundred other Mackems who had started drinking when the coaches left at 6am by the sound of the place.
Monsieur Salut writes: it was a pleasure seeing Rob Hutchison, purveyor of one-word wisdom, in the away-friendly Sir Percy Florence Wetherspoons – and his charming daughter Olivia – before the game. Olivia, 18, has seen every away game so far so deserved the victory we secured. She sent dad’s one-word ratings as he shouted out his verdicts while driving home. ‘Well that was emotional,’ he told her to add, ‘about time we got a break’. Like everyone in the away end, Rob was taken with the mighty performance of Victor Anichebe …