Our best defenders: Part 1, individual comparisons

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When I did my analysis of our midfield I said it would probably be one of two posts but there was so much to collect and compare that I decided to split the second part into two.

To begin, I’m using stats from  hosted stats.com, Squawka.com and my own sums to look at individual performances.

Who do you think is better – Coates, Kaboul or Koné? How do they compare to John O’Shea?

And would you rather have Billy Jones than DeAndré the Throw-in Slayer?

Read on, and all will be revealed.

Or maybe not.

Read moreOur best defenders: Part 1, individual comparisons

Sixers Says: U21s’ title challenge intact after uninspiring win at Middlesbrough

Malcolm Dawson writes……they say as we get older we revert to childhood. In my case that means buying two ounces of black bullets and needing someone to cut my toenails for me. Pete Sixsmith on the other hand has got himself a paper round and spends his hard earned cash on lucky bags and going to watch Sunderland Reserves. OK – I know they’re not called that anymore but he got a bit of a shock yesterday as his desire for real “Monday Night Football” used up the pocket money he gets from taking copies of the “Financial Times”, “Country Life” and “Spectator” round to the inhabitants of Busty Bank, Shildon. He’s had better Monday nights but at least the boys kept up the pressure on Manchester United who should win the league but might just slip up.

Down at the Riverside
Down at the Riverside

Middlesbrough Under 21’s (a).

Five weeks ago, I reported on a splendid Under 21 game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough at the Stadium of Light, which we ended up winning by the odd goal in 5 and which included excellent performances from George Honeyman for us and Harry Chapman for them.

Last night, I witnessed the absolute antithesis of the previous game at The Riverside where we once again won, but by the odd goal in 1. Chapman has gone to Barnsley on loan while Honeyman had a desperately disappointing game – of which more later.
Our line up included Billy Jones and Wes Brown in the back four and Jeremain Lens up front. All need match practice; all may well be needed for the desperate run in that we face in an attempt to avoid an away day at the Pirelli Stadium, Burton-on-Trent. Regulars like Agnew, Mandron, Stryjek and two of the multitude of Robsons were also there, but there was no Rees Greenwood, who I think is away with the England Under 20 squad.

The evening got off to a bad start when I was charged £2 to park the car and then £3 to get in. Had this been at the far superior Stadium of Light, parking would have been free and for a genuine pensioner (as I now am; the 65th was reached last Friday) it would have cost me £1 to enter the hallowed portals. Obviously Middlesbrough are short of cash.

In the ground, there was a smattering of Sunderland aficionados and the talk was of positives and negatives from the visit to the Sports Direct. All agreed on the importance of the next three games and all felt that there would be at least one twist in the relegation battle; Watford’s current wretched form was pointed out but they probably had enough to stay out of the deep doo-dah that we currently occupy.

Lens got a much needed run out
Lens got a much needed run out

We opened well and Mandron put a good chance over the bar early on. Middlesbrough turned out a young team, apart from injury prone Aussie central defender Rhys Williams (he limped off again early in the second half, poor lad), and they also showed a more aggressive style in a league not noted for it. There may well have been some bad blood between their Jordan Jones and our Thomas Robson as Jones hacked away at him on a couple of occasions.

Ethan Robson left early and was replaced by Denver Hume, a new name for me, and he had a decent game, possibly his first one at this level. But it wasn’t a great spectacle, with both teams making basic errors in passing and tackling. It was settled with a well taken goal by Carl Lawson in the 62nd minute. He picked up a good pass from Hume and scored with a volley not dissimilar from the one that Jermain Defoe had fizzed past Rob Elliott at the Sports Direct 30 hours earlier. From then on, we hardly saw the ball, as Boro came at us. Max Stryjek made three very good saves and looks a very promising keeper. We have a good set of home produced custodians with Jordan Pickford and James Talbot all a testimony to the work that Mark Prudhoe has done with them.

Jake: Will we see him with the big boys again? Sixer has his doubts.
Jake: will we see him with the big boys again? Sixer has his doubts.

We held on to win and the general consensus was that we would probably have been better off at home answering questions on University Challenge or looking for some of my former students on Police Interceptors. (They wouldn’t be the ones in uniform – Ed) For the three first teamers it was a useful run out and Lens showed some good touches in the 80 minutes he played. Wes Brown did OK but Billy Jones had a poor second half and looked sluggish. He has clearly fallen behind Yedlin and Eboue in the pecking order and I would be surprised to see him in a first team shirt again.

The same applies to Mikael Mandron, Liam Agnew and George Honeyman who are clearly not going to make the grade and will probably need to leave Sunderland if they are to make a living in the game. Honeyman has suffered some cruel injuries and looked well off the pace last night, Agnew is a good player and a good leader but is clearly not a top level player while Mandron consistently flatters to deceive.

At least they didn’t have to pay two quid to park their cars…………



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Sixer’s Swansea Soapbox: always good to win away in Europe

Malcolm Dawson writes…..Peter Sixsmith made a night of it. Having not only the chance of a cheap ticket but also a lift to the Valleys from a repentant brother, father of our recent Arsenal WAY contributor, he jumped at the chance to head off to South Wales. At half time, those of us stuck at home were resigned to another opportunity squandered. Benno was more laid back than usual when the first goal went in. He was a little more animated as Adam Johnson missed a glorious opportunity to put us two up after only five minutes and openly frustrated that despite seeing a Swansea player red carded, when the whistle went at the end of the first forty five, we were going in two-one behind. Peter’s text was of a similar vein. Then a second half where it all went crazy. My first view of the action was on MOTD which was disappointingly brief and while I was watching in came another of Sixer’s texts extolling the quality of the Shropshire Gold. Talking points aplenty but I would have been disappointed if Defoe’s goals hadn’t stood had I been in the ground. Even on TV it seemed to me that he timed his runs perfectly and was level as the balls were played to him. But then I’m biased. It’s a long way off and there are plenty of points to play for but at the end of the season if the Swans are a point short of safety I expect we’ll hear more about this match. But for now let’s hear what Sixer has to say, not so prompt as usual. It’s a long way back from Wales in the snow, when you are full of laverbread, black pudding, bacon, fried bread and Glamorgan sausage soaking up the indulgences of the night before.

SOAPBOXswansea

SWANSEA CITY (A) 2016

The last time we won in Wales’s second city, JFK had just been assassinated, Sir Alec Douglas-Home was Prime Minister and Harry Worth (ask your da) was on television. Goals from Charlie Hurley and Nicky Sharkey at the Vetch Field took us to the top of the league and although Leeds United regained the lead the following week, we were never out of a promotion place for the rest of that season. M. Salut and I were not at that game but there would have been a good following. I am sure that the likes of Billy Reilly, Kenny Snowdon and George Thompson used their British Railways passes to make the trip – and I imagine it was two long overnight trips with copious changes on the way.

Since then, we have hardly played each other, although we have drawn at both The Vetch and the Liberty Stadium and there have been some punishing defeats. Gus Poyet’s first game was there and ended up in a 4-0 crushing and I remember losing 3-1 in the late 70’s after Alan Brown had scored in the first minute.

So it was very pleasant to win 4-2 on Wednesday night. In fact it was more than pleasant. It was one of those nights where you knew exactly WHY you are a Sunderland supporter and what it means to you. It was, as they say in these parts, “absolutely f****** mint.”

Of course, we were helped by a refereeing performance that would have been deemed below par in the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Extra Reserve Competition. Graham Scott had an absolute stinker and it is hardly likely that there will be a welcome in the hillsides for him should he ever return to the Land of Song. He got two major decisions wrong, one against us and one against them and was aided by a pair of assistants who looked as if they were conducting an experiment in how Blind Pew would have fared as a linesman.

The Brown penalty was forgiveable. I thought it was a penalty and Brown seemed to accept it, but a viewing on TV tonight made it perfectly clear that Ayew accidentally tripped himself. The referee had a split second to react and although he got it wrong, he can be excused.

Not so on the sending off. Here, he bit far too quickly and dashed towards Naughton while trying to get his red card out. M’Vila didn’t help the situation by rolling around a tad theatrically and Mr Scott took note of that before despatching the full back for the early use of the shower gel and moisturiser.

Lens looked lively
Lens looked lively

And then Sunderland played like most Sunderland sides I have watched for the last 50+ years – ineptly. The defending for Ayew’s goal was hopeless, with Cattermole being taken apart by the Swansea player. The finish was excellent and it allowed the crowd, who, up until the penalty had banged drums and serenaded us with a selection of Max Boyce’s Greatest Hit, to give full throat to their feelings to their team (positive) and to Mr Scott (not quite so).

We defended as if we were walking through jelly. The ball was hoofed away and was sent back to us. The midfield exerted as much influence over the game as an ageing supply teacher does over a class of recalcitrant 14 year olds. Not to put too fine a point on it we were, in the words of the great Terry-Thomas, “an absolute bally shower.”

And yet, early on, we threatened to have had the game buried by half time. Their former Arsenal goalkeeper set the tone by making two splendid contributions to the first goal. Jermain may well have been lurking in an offside position, but he was lurking and a good lurk will often bring a goal. Four minutes later, Adam Johnson contrived to miss an open goal, one which Long John Silver could have put in with his less useful leg.

We went in a goal down at half time and the general consensus was that we were struggling. Jarvis the Cocker Spaniel was there and had already exposed his canine genitalia to the crowd but not to the South Wales Police (or Heddlu as they are known in these parts) who continued to train a video camera on the Sunderland support throughout the game.

The second half was a completely different kettle of fish as Swansea went for the third goal instead of trying to slow the game down. Add to that tactical ineptitude from their manager the fact that ours, a man of 450 games experience, had clearly told our full backs to get at them and use the pace that we had. It worked as Van Aanholt, who had had a good first half against a tricky winger, rattled in an equaliser with his right foot. And then Defoe, lurking like a champion, broke their offside trap and put us ahead. Was he offside? I neither know nor care.

Three more for Saint Jermain
Three more for Saint Jermain

The game should have been put to bed by the impressive Jeremaine Lens but the ball struck Fabianski’s foot – although Mr Scott thought it had hit the post and awarded a goal kick. Swansea had a goal disallowed as Mannone almost won the title of “Worst Former Arsenal Keeper on the Pitch” when he dropped a speculative shot, allowing the wonderfully named Angel Rangel (we should have a right back called Billy Pilley) to put it in the net – but he was yards offside; even the assistant saw that.
Jermaine wrapped it up with a few minutes to go when Van Aanholt set him up beautifully, prompting the ground to empty as quickly as a theatre when the compere said “And here they are…. it’s Mike and Bernie Winters.”

Three points won, three goals for Defoe and three pints of splendid beer (Shropshire Gold, Wye Valley Bitter and Young’s Winter Warmer) were quaffed in The No Name Wine Bar and I sat in the chair that Dylan Thomas reputedly sat in and wrote a couple of poems. Another three pints were taken in the Wetherspoons next door until it closed at midnight. There were Red and Whites of my vintage in there, all full of hope and ale and hoping that Spurs was not as they feared it might be. And this was after the brother’s chum (who thoroughly enjoyed himself and is now a Sunderland supporter) had got me, him and Paul “Sobs” Dobson back to the city centre in a Toyota Aygo – no mean feat.

Sixer and Sobs
Sixer and Sobs

It was a very important win and it lifts us above Newcastle but there were still problems. The keeper was patchy and the defending ropey at times. We need pace in the middle of that back four. Neither Cattermole nor M’Vila were up to their usual standard and both must be looking forward to the FA Cup weekend when they may well be sloping around Dubai rather than facing Burnley in t’cup.

Lens played well again and may have realised that the best thing to do is to show how good a player he is. He worked hard and pushed forward well, as did Borini who needs a run in that wide spot. And Defoe was Defoe – a predator who will always score goals if you give him the chances. Swansea were reported to be setting up an exchange deal between him and the inconsequential Gomis. That would have been the greatest steal since a simple child (aren’t they all) exchanged a cow for a handful of beans.

This morning, as we took the lift from the seventh floor of The Dragon Hotel to the breakfast room, the lady who lives in the lift responded to our pressing of the button by saying “Going down.” It is to be hoped that that applies to Swansea, Newcastle and Villa rather than us. We have every chance to make that dream come true.

Sixer’s Villa Soapbox: old guard see us through basement battle

Malcolm Dawson writes…….Sixsmith Towers was a haven of joy and celebration this morning as Pete Sixsmith listened to Test Match Special’s description of Durham cricketer Ben Stokes totally destroying the South African bowling. World records tumbled as the highest ever partnership compiled by two ginger headed batsman put the game (and probably the series) beyond the reach of the home side. There were celebrations yesterday too, though somewhat more muted, following Sunderland AFC’s third home win of this season’s Premier League campaign. On the way to the game we speculated that recent injuries to Kaboul, O’Shea and Coates left Big Sam with few options at the back so it was with some relief that we heard the team news as we parked up pre-match. O’Shea and Brown, a well tried but ageing partnership was surely better than any available alternative. It didn’t take a genius to realise that anything short of a win would have left us with as much chance of avoiding relegation as South Africa have of winning the second Test. We achieved that at least and the lifeline, through frayed is still intact. Here’s how Pete saw things.

Jake says "Gerrin me Bonny Lads!"
Jake says “Gerrin me Bonny Lads!”

Aston Villa (H)2016

In our dire situation, a win is a win and three points should be gratefully accepted – and we do, oh yes, we do. The first win since current media darlings Stoke City were seen off at the end of November saw us regain a grip on the coat tails of Newcastle United and Swansea City in the swamp that is the bottom of the Premier League. Much can change between now and the darling buds of May appearing. We could go on a blistering run a la Leicester City and pick up 30+ points between now and the final game at home to relegation rivals Chelsea. Or we could slip away with barely a murmur as Aston Villa appear to be doing after their loss at The Stadium of Light yesterday.

It depends on the calibre of footballer that arrives on Wearside in the next 28 days. The squad needs bolstering, of that there is no doubt, but which players can be tempted to sign for a club which started the season as one of the favourites to go down and who have done little to make the bookies sell their Jags and replace it with a second hand Lada.

Yesterday’s win was welcome but was against opposition so poor that it would have been an utter disgrace not to have beaten them. If this was the best that Reme Garde could produce, what a shame that he isn’t in charge at The Sports Direct. I said in the 7 that it was the old boys who got us through this, and it was. John O’Shea and Wes Brown have known little other than relegation struggles since Steve Bruce brought them to Wearside, which must be strange after a lifetime of winning things with Alex Ferguson. Brown has hardly played this year and is clearly winding down his career. Sunderland must hope that his experience and professionalism rub off on Thomas Beadling, a young central defender who may well get a game at Arsenal on Saturday. Both central defenders did well in this one. Brown may have missed the speed merchant Traore for the equaliser, but his no-nonsense defending and ability to boot the ball out gave us a relatively secure base, while O’Shea’s complete domination of Gestede meant that any chances Villa created came from their midfield.

Lee Cattermole grew into the game and was excellent in the second half, tackling, cajoling and passing the ball as if his life depended on it. With the always reliable M’Vila (we’ll forget the attempted trip on Traore) behind him, we had a reasonable base to win the ball and move it forward.

And up front we had Jermain Defoe. According to the ever reliable Sunday Mirror, he is on his way to the retirement home that is Bournemouth, swapping a crowd of 41,000 for one of 11,000. The climate may be more agreeable on the Costa del Geriatrica but if he wants s to play his football in front of a proper audience, he will stay at Sunderland. He took his two goals well. His first was a joy to behold, not least because it put us back in front. He received an excellent ball from Johnson and then stitched the ageing Joleon Lescott up beautifully before beating Guzan at his near post. A classic striker’s goal and one that spelled doom for the Villa.

Will he still be here in February?
Will he still be here in February?

His second came after a comedy of errors that would have shamed the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Division Three as Villa threw the ball to Cattermole who took it up to the corner flag and then from the resulting throw allowed Graham to play in Toivonen, who calmly squared it for Defoe to rattle the back of the net. If ever a goal summed up the ineptitude of the opposition that was it.

What about the others? They did OK. Nobody was totally off the pace, although Borini looked unhappy on the wing. There was plenty of effort as there had been on Wednesday and this time we were able to go on and win. Mistakes were made but that happens – our errors were nowhere near as catastrophic as those perpetrated by the visitors.

But we have no identifiable style and it always strikes me as 11 blokes playing football. Villa, for all their weaknesses, played some tidy stuff in midfield but they ran out of steam, with Grealish being the main culprit. Yet another example of a player choosing to believe what is said about him rather than focusing on performing. He is clearly the next Joe Cole/Jack Wilshere. (or Connor Wickham? MD)

There is still a long way to go and a win over Villa is nothing to get excited about – they may struggle to beat our 15 point total and could even fall below the alarmingly low 11 points that Derby County (Robbie Savage and all) achieved in 2008.

We now go into an FA Cup tie with Arsenal and I expect to see a very different team from the one that turned out yesterday with some of the younger players given a chance to show what they can do. Then, we go on to Swansea, where I expect to see at least one new player as we go into yet another crucial game. Win that one and we give ourselves a chance – lose it and we are back amongst the dead men yet again.

Villa are already there and waiting for the coffin nails to be banged in.

VillaH(FT)



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Sixer’s Liverpool Soapbox: when even doing one’s best just isn’t enough

Malcolm Dawson writes……it’s hard to put a positive spin on another defeat when we are at least seven points off safety. But I’ll have a go. To anyone who would have settled for two draws this week I’ll say we’ll be better off if we scrape a win on Saturday. But nothing is guaranteed against a Villa side who are in even more desperate straits than we are and if the rest of the relegation contenders carry on picking up the odd point here and there, a victory might still be too little. Another positive was the mood in the ground. I’ll concede that the Norwich game was a shocker and I accept people who’ve paid good money can walk out when they like, but last night the followers of Sunderland AFC showed why they really are a special set of supporters. I’ll always argue that with the fans behind them the team will be less likely to let their collective heads drop. Last night there was no negativity and the atmosphere was fantastic even after we went behind. Though we never looked like equalising the only time we looked like conceding a second was when Benteke was clean through allowing Don Vito to show that maybe he is back to his best. Probably just in time to see him offloaded somewhere. To any Liverpool fans who may drift onto this site can I just applaud your lot for turning up in your thousands in midweek and totally respecting the end of year silence. A credit to the club. With regard to our on the field exploits at least, most of us will be glad to see the back of 2015. Pete Sixsmith certainly is and he’s not really looking forward to the rest of the season. Here he brings us his spin on yesterday’s match.

Happy New Year.

SOAPBOXliverpoolLiverpool (h) 30/12/15

And so the curtain came down on what has been a thoroughly miserable calendar year for the thousands who follow Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, in front of their laptops or in foreign climes. Three managers and only four wins more in the entire year, indicates what can best be described as a struggle and what is now looking like a serious attempt to renew friendships with Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The latest defeat was an improvement on the previous two. In this one we went an entire half + 38 seconds without conceding which is far better than being three and two down after 25 minutes. But once this team goes a goal behind, there appears to be as much chance of them levelling as there is of me being awarded an Oscar for my performances as Father Christmas.

The players, by and large, did their best. The problem is that their best just isn’t good enough. Not good enough to combat the pace of Watford, not good enough to combat the lifting of frustration at Chelsea, not good enough to combat the sheer quality of De Bruyne and Silva and not good enough to combat a limited but well organised Liverpool side.

The Reds were no world beaters and look like a side who might scrape into a Europa League spot next season. But they were far too well organised for us, having a strong back four, some muscle in midfield and a bit of extra quality in the two Brazilians, Coutinho and Firminho. Against those two, our willing but limited midfield found it hard going. Cattermole and M’Vila toiled manfully in the engine room but there was no quality when we went forward. Johnson did what he has done ever since he arrived at Sunderland in that he flattered to deceive. One sublime ball to Jones (who then lost it) was followed by numerous episodes of him chasing his tail like an over excited terrier – and then losing the ball.

We looked reasonably solid at the back but it is impossible for us to go through an entire game without at least one catastrophic error. It duly came while the Hospitality Boys were still taking their seats after a good feed. Wes Brown (who had a sound game, considering his age, his lack of first team action and the fact that he was playing in our back four) lost his concentration and the previously anonymous Benteke played himself in to score.

And that was it. Some huffing and puffing and the sight of Vito Mannone charging up for a corner a la Mart Poom was all we had to offer as another three points disappeared down the A19.

Who can ignore his desire to win?
Who can ignore his desire to win?
There were some good individual performances (Mannone, Brown, Cattermole M’Vila, Borini) but that is what they were. At no stage did we look like a consistently homogeneous team and that will be our downfall. We have too many players who have been signed piecemeal as successive managers have brought them in and have attempted to create a “style” with players who do not fit it. We are now left with men brought in by Bruce, O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat with the whole thing starting again tomorrow when Allardyce attempts to bolster this failing squad with a couple of players tempted to the Roker Riviera by the lure of money. Nobody comes to us in order to advance their careers – or if they do, they are soon shunted sideways.

I have little optimism with regard to the first half of 2016 as I am as sure that the burden of the last four seasons will prove to be too much for a group who have become convinced that they cannot win. I am ready for the barbs that will be flung at Sunderland supporters and can only hope that we can at least drag that lot from up the road down with us.

The latest defeat was compounded by the fact that we lost to a Liverpool side who are no great shakes and who failed to press home their advantage. Their manager is an ideal fit for them in that he preens himself and does not appear to see high self-regard as a drawback. His histrionics when Lens caught Sakho were worthy of Rodgers at his best. Fifty years ago, a Liverpool side containing real men like Billy Stephenson, Ron Yeats and Ian St John rather than softies like Sakho and Lallana won the league, while we bumbled along to finish fourth from bottom, with Blackburn and Northampton Town slipping out. The financial rewards of the First Division were insignificant compared to those that will be showered on the Premier League next season. Those that miss out may find it increasingly difficult to get back in.

And so we move on to the New Year. Lose to a wretched Villa side and that really is curtains for us. As always, we live in hope.

Jake: good riddance to 2015
Jake: good riddance to 2015

Sixer’s post Everton Soapbox: no good at Goodison

Malcolm Dawson writes…..it could have been a perfect weekend for Pete Sixsmith. In fact it could have been a brilliant week as there was footy on every day, starting with the Under 21s’ game on Monday and ending with the senior side’s visit to Merseyside yesterday. It didn’t quite work out like that with a raft of disappointing results and extra time in an FA Vase tie meaning he had to miss a cracking concert at The Sage on Saturday night and then witness the shocker at Goodison.

SOAPBOXeverton

NO GOOD AT GOODISON

It would be correct to say that I have had better footballing weekends. I saw a grand total of 20 goals over three games which, even for the most demanding football fan would seem to guarantee a wide smile. Alas, eleven of them were conceded by clubs in which I take an interest, hence the gloomy cloud that is sitting over Sixsmith Towers this morning.

It started on Friday night where I saw a competitive FA Vase game between Bishop Auckland and South Shields, which the Mariners won by the odd goal in three. The attraction here was the appearance of one Julio Andres Arca in the Shields side. The former Willow Pond player (I seem to remember him playing the odd game for Sunderland and Middlesbrough) turned in a solid performance in midfield supported by such luminaries as Lee Paul Scroggins and Brian Smith. Rumour has it that Julio is on “gate money” – £1 for every attendee above 200. Shields’ last home gate was 1100+.

Saturday was a trip to Worksop (just) in Nottinghamshire for Shildon’s FA Vase game with Handsworth Parramore, a Sheffield based club who own Worksop Town’s former home at Sandy Lane. The Tigers are tenants much to the chagrin of their loyal support. Shildon were joint favourites for the Vase along with the reborn Hereford club. Alas, no longer, as they fell at the first hurdle, losing 5-4 to a stronger and savvier Handsworth team whose centre forward Kieran Wells scored a hat trick as the Railwaymen slumped to a 5-4 defeat after extra time.

The Shildon manager blamed his defenders and thought that his team were naïve in not closing the game down immediately after taking a 2-1 lead. Their cause was not helped by a needless sending off when the score was 4-3 and there was plenty of time to get back into the game. The afternoon was a major disappointment for the hundred or so who travelled south but who at least had the opportunity to visit The Mallard, an excellent pub on the westbound platform at Worksop station.

Howard Kendall
Howard Kendall, 1946-2015

Some of those who witnessed that defeat then set off early on Sunday morning for Everton. The Durham bus was by no means full, which gave ample opportunity to sleep, read the papers, listen to the cricket and wonder why experienced coach drivers find it difficult in setting the heating correctly on their coaches. After boiling and freezing in equal proportions, we parked up at 10.30 giving those who wanted to, time to look at the dignified and moving billboards that Everton had placed opposite Stanley Park celebrating the life of Howard Kendall.

The floral tributes alongside the Dixie Dean statue were from his family and it showed the love and affection that the supporters of this great club had for a Durham lad who played for and managed them over four decades.

Tributes from the family
Tributes from the family

I strolled down to the Leigh Arms, scene of a few decent pre and post-match drinking sessions, only to find the metal shutters up and an air of decay around another lost pub. It still had its Higsons signboards up, a beer that has become better with memory.
So, it was to another anodyne Wetherspoons that I sampled my single pint of the day, a Caledonian Brewery wheat beer called Flying Dutchman, an appropriate drink, we thought, for Patrick van Aanholt. John McCormick joined us and we had an amiable chat about life, liberty and the pursuit of three points although we decided that one would do.

And off we went to The Old Lady, a grand stadium in a world of bland new builds and one which we should cherish for all its imperfections. The wooden seats were reminiscent of Roker and there is still evidence of the Leitch lattice work above our heads as well as on the Gwladys Street stand. The Z Cars theme brings back memories of Wednesday nights sat in front of the Ferguson or Bush and waiting to see if Fancy Smith or Charlie Barlow walloped somebody and there was an impeccable silence for those who had lost their lives in foreign wars.

The Grand Old Lady
The Grand Old Lady

By the time the stadium erupted into applause after four minutes to remember Kendall (memo to Evertonians – don’t do it every game as it dissipates the effect) we had hit the post and looked good. Both wing backs were pushing forward and the balance of the team looked right. When we struck the woodwork again, it looked even better. And then……

The disaster started when Arouna Kone, a less than prolific striker since his move from Wigan Athletic, showed that there is much more to his game than merely ramming the ball into the net – although he did show us that later. His wonderful pass to Delofeu caught us in a state of defensive narcolepsy, as Van Aanholt was caught out of position and in a foot race with Billy Jones the young Spaniard was the only winner. He stroked the ball home to give Everton the lead. Ten minutes later, the supplier turned finisher when he rammed home a fierce shot as our defence (I use that term lightly) backed off Kone and allowed him a free shot which he accepted. Cattermole, already struggling with an injury, lost him completely while nobody else thought to go and make a challenge and perhaps make things a wee bit harder for him.

By now, the optimism had drained away as quickly as the beer had in the pub and Everton had more chances which they did not take. The central defensive trio were creaking and the full backs, looking good going forward, were far less keen to drop back quickly and it was apparent that Everton were happy to bide their time and pick us off. Cattermole disappeared down the tunnel and was replaced by a heavy looking Rodwell.

He received a generous round of applause from the home crowd who clearly sympathised with a young man who had followed the gold to Eastlands and had ended up as a sub in a rag bag of a team that, on this performance, is unlikely to dodge the relegation bullet this season.

A lifeline was thrown to us at the end of the half when the industrious and effective Defoe got onto and converted a long punt up field by Coates and it was even-stevens when M’Vila played a sublime ball into Defoe who brought Van Aanholt in and the full back’s cross was headed in by the hard working Steven Fletcher.

Jake: back on the score sheet
Jake:JD back on the score sheet

At 2-2 we needed to settle down, stifle Everton and unsettle the crowd. We did none of these and they proceeded to run riot. All four subsequent goals were avoidable, although three of them were very well taken and Lukaku would have headed in the third had Coates not got his boot there first.

It shows that our recruitment “policy” over the last three years has been an unmitigated disaster. The first choice central defenders are injured and we are left with a man whose best days are long gone and a Uruguayan plodder who can only play with O’Shea to talk him through a game. As a boy, I sometimes winced as Cec and Len (Power plus men in the words of the old Fulwell End song) stumbled through games but the current full back situation is an embarrassment and could well be a major part in the inquest that will follow our seemingly inevitable relegation/Great Escape Vol 3. The last half decent full back we had was Bardsley, the last decent one was probably Chris Makin.

I used the word rag bag earlier and that is what we are. Everton had a purpose and a style, one that Martinez has developed and they are a long way away from the more prosaic teams offered up by David Moyes. Their front three had pace and verve and completely destroyed our defence. Lukaku was outstanding, showing intelligence and movement and so much better than Steven Fletcher. Not that Fletcher had a bad game, but Lukaku has the luxury of having players behind him who feed him well and in Barry and McCarthy they have a central midfield who organise, think and who, on this performance, are four steps ahead of their opponents.

It was a chastening experience but utterly predictable after the shenanigans of the previous week. The manager has to coax a much more disciplined performance out of this lot for next week. He is already talking about moving those on who do not show what is required of him and there are five of yesterday’s starting line-up who should be looking to their agents now as I believe they have no future at this club.

Some small rays of sunshine in that going forward we looked better than we have for a while and a there was a decent cameo from Duncan Watmore. He may get the opportunity to turn cameos into full appearances, but not yet. The older players need to show the younger ones how you can take on board what a new manager says – problem is too many of them have heard new managers too many times.

Sixer Says (before disappearing): Wes Brown and what the retained list overlooks

salut new

Pete Sixsmith is about to vanish beneath a tall pile of exam papers to mark. It’s a wretched job but has to be done and helps towards season ticket purchases for SAFC and Durham County Cricket Club. Before he pulled on his history teaching/examiner’s hat, he took a look at Sunderland retained list (*see in full below) and read between the lines, always advisable since these lists are a formality and rarely tell anything approaching the real story …

In the Good Old Days, clubs would issue their retained lists and supporters would know who was staying and who was going. Contracts were seen as private agreements between the individual and the club.

Occasionally, a manager would drop a bombshell and a popular player would be told that his time was up at Roker Park/St James’/Ayresome and he would be free to look for another club. Or a rival manager would come in and take a player, contract or not, if the board decided to sell him.

That was how we got Brian Clough from Middlesbrough in 1961. He was signed in July for the princely sum of £55,000, an absolute fortune then. He was regarded as a nuisance at Ayresome Park – he always struck me as a typically chippy Teessider – and they couldn’t wait to get him out of the door. He took to Sunderland like a duck to water and worshipped at the altar of Alan Brown.

But I digress. The retained list. Have we issued one? If so, who is on it and who is off it?

Wednesday morning’s Northern Echo was a busy one. There was the aftermath of the Carver/Stone sacking – so much for their job for life; it lasted for a shorter time than the one we gave to Ricky Sbragia.

There was a report on Durham’s excellent win over Somerset and Yorkshire’s tidy one over Middlesex. Darlington had signed another player from Darren Williams’s Whitby Town and there were less interesting pieces on Boro and Pools.

And there was an exclusive by Paul Fraser that gave me food for thought as I scooped up my porridge and slurped my tea. The piece said Wes Brown and Anthony Reveillere were to be offered a year’s extension to their contracts and that they were expected to sign sooner rather than later [in fact, the Sunderland Echo now reports that Monsieur Reveillere’s contract will not be renewed whereas Brown is expected stay for another year; see Sixer’s comment below – Ed].

Fraser concentrated on Brown, saying “Advocaat thinks that he is a valuable and respected member of the squad” and that “his experience is seen as integral to the squad Advocaat wants for next”. The praise for Reveillere was not quite as fulsome, saying only that “negotiations are at an advanced stage”.

Jake remembers Wes in one of those wins vs Man City
Jake remembers Wes in one of those wins vs Man City

However, the Black Cats’ list, using the PL site as a source, suggests that both have been released – which they have, up to a point. Their contracts run until the end of this month, which gives club and player a couple of weeks to sort their futures out for 2015-16. It may be that both are offered and sign a new deal for the year or they may, in Wes’s case, decide that appearing on reality TV is preferable to trying to create a watertight defence at the Stadium of Light.

So technically both have been released yet both could well return if the head coach wishes them to. I assume both Brown and the club expected him to retire this summer, hence no advanced talks regarding a contract extension, while Reveillere was only here on a short term deal.

With a combined age of 70, (a number that M Salut is quickly approaching) [steady on, I’m younger than Mick Jagger and, come to that, Dick Advocaat! – Ed] neither are in the first flush of youth.

When fit, Brown has never shirked his responsibilities and, when he came into the team at the end of the season, was as solid as a rock. Reveillere dropped out when Advocaat arrived after playing well in the middle of the season. He also appears to enjoy being at the club – although I am sure that his salary may have a little bit to do with that.

Pete: getting on but still younger than others around here
Pete: getting on but still younger than others around here

Looking at the list, there are some interesting names. El-Hadj Ba and Chavrias Mavrias are on the retained list, in what I assume are the final year of their contracts. It would be a surprise if they returned to the North East and another year’s loan at wherever looks likely.

Valentin Roberge is another name that appears. He seems a really nice guy who can play football in a pleasant and thoughtful way – which rules him out of the physical hurly-burly of the Premier League. He spent last year at Reims, playing 11 games and not really setting the Vesle on fire (I had to look that one up. It is described as a fourth level river – so presumably something like the Browney or the Skerne).

Then there are players in the final year of their contracts whose future needs to be settled ASAP. Both Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham fall into that category and I suspect that many Sunderland fans would not be weeping and wailing and renting their garments if both were to leave for pastures anew before August 8.

Adam Johnson is in the same boat, but his circumstances are ever so slightly different.

Once Dick gets in situ at the Stadium, we can hope to see some new players arrive, but with every other club in the league hoping to strengthen, what can we look forward to? I have little idea about some of the names mentioned – defender Kim Young-Gwon, currently playing in China, Joselu of Hannover and Franco di Santo, who has played in the Premier League for Blackburn and Wigan (and who scored the goal that did for Steve Bruce – so not all bad, then) and who has done well at Werder Bremen.

There will be others and it is to be hoped that we have a much stronger squad in August. Hopefully, we will be able to see some of them at Bishop Auckland on July 9 and at Doncaster Rovers 20 days later.

I am now disappearing for three weeks as there are 303 GCSE History papers festering next to my desk. Enjoy June mes amis.

******The retained list as registered with the Premier League:

Contract Players

Agnew Liam John
Ba El Hadji
Beadling Thomas
Bridcutt Liam Robert
Buckley William Edward
Casey Dan Patrick
Cattermole Lee Barry
Defoe Jermain Colin
Fletcher Steven Kenneth
Giaccherini Emanuele
Gomez Garcia-Penche Jordi
Gooch Lynden Jack
Graham Daniel Anthony William
Greenwood Rees
Honeyman George Christopher
Johnson Adam
Jones Billy
Karlsson David Moberg
Larsson Sebastian Bengt Ulf
Lawson Carl (Offer)
Mandron Mikael
Mannone Vito
Mavrias Charalampos
O’Shea John Francis
Pantilimon Costel Fane
Pickford Jordan Lee
Pybus Daniel Joseph
Roberge Valentin
Robson Ethan
Robson Thomas
Rodwell Jack
Smith Martin
Stryjek Maksymilian
Talbot James
Van Aanholt Patrick John Miguel
Watmore Duncan Ian
Wickham Connor Neil Ralph

Scholars

Blinco Jordan William (Offer Contract)
Ganiyu Avis
Graham Kieran
Hume Denver Jay
Ledger Michael (Offer Contract)
Lowrie David James
McEvoy Dylan James (Extended)
Molyneux Luke
Nelson Andrew George Robert
Poame Jean-Yves
Purvis Greg Anthony
Robson Joshua Paul
Wright Daniel

Free transfers

Brown Wesley Michael
Burke Peter
Cartwright Andrew
Dixon Joel Stephen
McNamee Thomas Gerard
Reveillere Anthony

Pure Poyetry: Defending the defensive but defending too much against Man Utd

Jake: 'i didn't expect much - and got nothing'
Jake: ‘i didn’t expect much – and got nothing’
Malcolm Dawson writes….Sixer and I saw SAFC concede twice today and have a man sent off but they not only maintained but in fact strengthened their title challenge. No I haven’t gone mad – we were at Dean Street where Shildon scored two cracking goals after twice going behind against Northern League leaders West Auckland. With games in hand Shildon now have control of the Championship’s destination. I was kept up to date with the goings on at Old Trafford thanks to the modern day wonder that is the i-phone – events relayed to me by a couple of lads sitting behind. So I can’t say much about the game. Gary Bennett’s comments on Radio Newcastle indicated a decent first half performance but a worrying observation that Jermain Defoe seems to have lost the spark he brought with him to the club. He’s only been there five minutes. Another refereeing howler provided the post match talking points. The other teams around us lost so things could have been worse and in his post match e-mail Gus remains positive but then that’s part of his job.

Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox

Dear Colin,

It was a very decent start from us, everything was going to plan and we did well, creating a number of chances through Connor [Wickham] and Jermain [Defoe] and we held United.

After that we dropped off a little too much; we defended too much and stopped creating chances and trying to pass and control the ball. There were too many actions to defend and when that is the case you concede a goal, and of course for us the penalty was the turning point of the game. We needed to readjust after going down to ten men and change how we could play.

[On the red card and penalty] When I saw Falcao get past the defenders and hit the ball wide I was delighted, but then I saw the referee give a penalty and then everyone was gathered around and talking, on the bench we weren’t sure who had made the foul. After that we needed to stay in the game, but we couldn’t cope after losing a player and United took their chance.

For long spells we defended really well today and we need to take that into the next two games and build on it. Now is our time to do that.

Thanks for your support,

Gus Poyet


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Behind Enemy Lines: shaky Fulham sink shaky Forest

Jake: 'back to Wembley?'
Jake: ‘back to Wembley?’

Rob Hutchison, our man of single word player assessments took a trip to the north bank of the Thames last night to take in a not so sneak preview of our F.A. Cup opponents. Here’s what he saw – little to fear for a Premier League side he thinks but as we all know too well, Sunderland is no ordinary Premier League side.

When my mate said he had a spare season ticket at Craven Cottage for their league game against Nottingham Forest last night, it struck me as the perfect opportunity to check out the opposition for our forthcoming Cup game on Saturday. So here in a couple of hundred words is a quick resume of what we can expect . . . .

Fulham lined up 4-4-2, with a Mag loving centre back by the name of Hutchinson holding the back line together, Scotty Parker and Ryan Tunnecliffe taking charge of the midfield and Rodallega and £10m danger man Ross McCormack as a front two. Fulham were up to the pace of the game far quicker than Forest, winning all the second balls and carving out dangerous opportunities at will while Forest sat back, seemingly still on the team coach. By the 31st minute they were 3-0 down, courtesy of a stunning Ross MacCormack hat-trick – the first a clean left footed strike from 25 yards. The second was a similar but right footed strike into the left hand corner from 20 yards and his third another right footed effort from a similar distance albeit with a big deflection. The game was over – home and hosed. Bring on Sunderland.

Rob:
Rob:

But it’s never that easy, is it? Although Forest were abject and I mean abject (think Sunderland but double it) schoolboy errors at the back by the home side helped to carve out a couple of opportunities for Forest and they pulled one back on the stroke of half time with a smart Henri Lansbury free kick. Pearce (black suit, brown shoes never a good combination) gambled and moved to 3-5-2 for the second half. The extra man in midfield caught Fulham cold, and they appeared completely unable to keep possession and re-create the silky smooth passing game wich had epitomised the first 45 minutes. Yet more defensive frailties were exploited and Forest deservedly scored a second from another Lansbury effort, again from outside the box. Fulham brought on Bryan Ruiz for Parker, and Cauley Woodrow for the ineffective Rodallega but the red tide kept swarming forward and the home team continued to look very shaky under pressure at the back. Ultimately it wasn’t enough for Forest and Fulham held on to secure a generally deserved win on the night.

So what do we have to deal with on Saturday? Well in a nutshell stop McCormack and you stop Fulham. He can go left or right, shoot at will with either foot from distance and while he doesn’t possess pace, he occasionally drops deep into the hole and can be very difficult to pick up. A midfield enforcer like Cattermole would you’d hope deal with any threats from Parker and Tunnecliffe. We need to come out of the traps and deny Fulham any time on the ball. Under pressure there’s and air of panic in their defence on occasions. They pass the ball neatly and patiently and are happy to build from the back, but there’s also limited pace in their side, so you’d hope Brown and O’Shea (or any of our centre back pairings) could deal with everything in front of them, without the fear of runners exploiting any gaps. No real threat to speak of from the wingers or wing backs, should also give Johnno & Giaccherini (if playing) the chances to weave some magic. It’s made for Van Arnholt and Defoe for me. Play the ball to them in the right areas and hopefully we’ll be OK, but of course it’s never easy with Sunderland.

So I guess to sum up – if Fulham play like they did in the first 45 minutes last night they should be play off certainties. If Forest do the same, Stuart Pearce will be next in line down the job centre.

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Pure Poyetry from Liverpool: Cats secure Anfield draw

Malcolm Dawson writes…..last Saturday afternoon, on my way to the Stadium of Light, I gazed out over Roker beach at a sea that was a deep shade of battleship grey. It seemed appropriate with the week ahead. Although like all fans I live in hope, the little nagging voice of realism was telling me that a return of zero points was a distinct possibilty. But hadn’t we outplayed all three teams on their own grounds at the back end of last season. Sure we only got four points from the nine available, but we won at the Bridge, almost took all three at the Etihad where Vito’s fumble gave City a point they hardly deserved and although beaten at Liverpool had given them a good run for their money. Despite that, my head said anything would be good. I was impressed with the way we played last Saturday, and fully deserved the point. Overwhelmed by a quality team in midweek, how would we react today? Happy with a point? I guess so but the inability to convert one point into three is becoming a little worrying. Still Gus was impressed as his e-mail to M Salut and others shows.

Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox

Dear Colin,

After 65-70 minutes I thought today was going to be the day that Sunderland got a win at Anfield – unfortunately we weren’t able to score a goal to change the game. From this performance what we need to take and make sure of, is that we when we play like this and are on top in a game we can go on and score and get the win.

On a positive note we are becoming a very difficult team to play against; we stopped Chelsea from scoring last week and now we’ve stopped Liverpool from scoring at Anfield; that’s credit to the players and the way they’ve been playing. The team have been defending well at the back and really worked their socks off. Then up front we’ve shown confidence to get forward and create chances to score goals.

It was important for the players who came into the side today to realise how much they were needed; it was fresh legs for us and an opportunity for them to play at Anfield. Most of the players who started today started against Everton, so there was no great surprise, they know each other and have played alongside each other so it didn’t change our shape. These players having been knocking on my door to play and they gave good performances, which is great for our system, as we’ve got a lot of games coming up and may need to make changes to stay fresh.

O’Shea and Brown did very well – with Wes nearly scoring. They both have a lot of experience and they are important players for us.

Overall I think it was a decent performance.

Thanks for your support,

Gus Poyet