Is a mug the way to a despairing Sunderland fan’s heart? Would the already rosy life, relatively, of a Baggie be made complete by having something new to pour his tea into?
There is very little Monsieur Salut wants to say about the third Guess the Score prize competition in a week. It is painful enough to think about Sunderland’s wretched season without having to find something new to write about it on these pages.
During the close season we gave readers the opportunity to select their relegation favourites from the entire Premier league. Then we asked readers to select three candidates from the eight clubs which came top.
By the season’s start some 3,500 votes had been cast in our relegation poll
Hull were firm favourites to go down, with Burnley and Sunderland giving the North a full house. Watford weren’t far behind Sunderland, then came ‘Boro, Bournemouth and West Brom, followed by one hundred votes for “another club”and finally Crystal Palace, whose 67 votes (we got three times as many to become third favourites) must surely mean safety for them.
Malcolm Dawson writes……For some reason I found it hard to get fully involved in this game yesterday and my attention was wandering for significant periods of play. Had my school report been based on the way I viewed this match, it would have read “must learn to concentrate and pay more attention.” I don’t know why I was so easily distracted, but there were times yesterday when I was considering when it is better to lead an Ace against a No Trump contract, trying to remember the lyrics to John Shuttleworth’s “Can’t Go Back to Savoury Now” or whether or not I really should do a round on 1980s aftershaves the next time I do the questions for The Red Lion Quiz night.
I’m sure I’ve seen worse games, in fact I know I have. Maybe it’s just the resignation that comes from seeing too many disappointing performances. This was a run of the mill game that didn’t get me excited at all. I didn’t think we were outplayed but I’m going through a phase (who isn’t?) where I am more geared up to see the team fail than succeed. Perhaps my diffidence is a natural self defence strategy to save me from yet more heartache. Peter Sixsmith, ace Salut! Sunderland match reporter, is made of sterner stuff and fully focused on what went on to bring us his views on the game at the Stadium of Light yesterday.
At home, I have a bottle of Bateman’s Victory Ale. It came in a four pack of that Lincolnshire brewers good, honest ales and instead of quaffing it at the same time as the Dark Lord, the XXXB and the Combined Harvester, I kept it in order to toast our opening win in the Premier League. It looks like it is going to remain unopened for quite a while.
Here was another opportunity to open the account for the season that went begging. The Baggies are a decent side, not quite as effective as Crystal Palace, but they controlled this game for a large section of the ninety minutes and had they had a little more push about them, they could well have won it. The introduction of someone with pace eg Berahino might well have caught our tiring defenders out at the end. Let’s be grateful for the Pulis philosophy of “a point away from home is a good point”.
Had Jermain Defoe taken that chance in the fourth minute (and it was of the type that he often puts away), the complexion of the game might have changed. Had he taken the other one in the second half when we were on a bit of a charge, it might well have done the same.
Having said that, Defoe looked the only Sunderland player likely to score until the team’s second top league scorer, Patrick Van Aanholt arrived on the scene as a midfielder. This was probably the most interesting substitution that the manager has made all season. As Jan Kirchhoff was carried off, we expected to see Jack Rodwell come on and fill the space in midfield. As it was the serially disappointing Rodwell replaced McNair a little later and offered very little.
Instead, we saw Moyes switch to three central defenders with Denayer joining John O’Shea and Kone across the middle with Manquillo and Van Aanholt pushing up. It looked better and the hitherto comfortable Baggies found themselves under pressure. It ended with Watmore linking well with Van Aanholt and the Dutchman shanked home an equaliser to the relief of an increasingly tetchy crowd, who had spent most of the time jeering James McClean.
Pulis took McClean off which allowed Manquillo to push forward and the Atletico Madrid loanee looks far better going forward than he does defending. He learnt from last week’s aberration and kept his hands to himself this time. He can leave gaps at the back when he attacks, but if we had any kind of pattern in our play those gaps would be filled by someone else.
I said in the Seven that we were “papering over the cracks.” For all that O’Shea had an excellent game, how long can we rely on a 35 year old at the heart of the defence? For this game, he was dragging Lamine Kone along with him. Kone looked disinterested at times and it was his carelessness that left the impressive Nacer Chadli with a clear run on goal, which he rounded off with the kind of finish we have come to associate with Defoe. When Kone arrived, we saw a dominant central defender who attacked the ball and used it well. He had the ability to become the next Charlie Hurley or Dave Watson. But he has looked ordinary this season and although not quite the next Steve Hetzke, his name may be mentioned alongside Anton Ferdinand and Stan Varga as central defenders who start well and then slide into mediocrity. It looks like he misses Younes Kaboul, who has spent time warming the bench at Vicarage Road. What was it that Allardyce did to inspire these two at the back end of last season?
The main problem we have is the pedestrian nature of our midfield. Khazri buzzed around and contributed an awful lot more than Januzaj, dubbed the new Le Tallec by one reader, has done recently. He received a warm hand shake from the manager when he was eventually replaced by Lyndon Gooch at the end. He now has to show that he is an “away” player in the cauldron that is the Municipal Incinerator Stadium in two weeks’ time.
Other than that there was plenty of hard graft in the centre of the park but no quality and the final ball was poor. Ndong looks like he could be a good player but doesn’t shoot. Kirchhoff looks as if he is having a serious dose of second season syndrome and does not shoot. McNair looked hopelessly out of his depth, like the little kid who has been invited to play with the big boys on the rec and can’t handle the switch from a Frido ball to a casey. He doesn’t shoot either. Oh for a Tony Towers…..
The crowd stuck with the team (although large numbers went for an early visit to the loo and a pint when we went a goal down – Ed) although we know that this will be a long and difficult season and that relegation is a probability rather than a possibility. The manager is honest about the issues that face us and he knows that, unless he can bring in another two forwards and a creative midfielder who can score, trips to Nottingham and Newcastle will be on the agenda for next season. Where he finds these players is anybody’s guess. Would any self-respecting agent really want to place his player with a club like ours who struggle every season?
And if they do, what is the guarantee that anyone would stay? The Daily Telegraph might want to look at the series of terminally poor signings that Sunderland have made over the last five years. Graham, N’Diaye, Altidore, Diakite, Cabral, Lens, Bridcutt, Buckley, Pantilimon to name but a few and I am sure that the readers could add more.
We have a break from the misery of the Premier League for a couple of weeks which may give the manager time to think about what he is going to do for the period up until we can bring in reinforcements. It will probably be another wallpaper job and the deep seated problems that exist in the club will continue long after David Moyes has left unless something is done sooner rather than later. But don’t ask me how.
Finally, for the second week running, the away support has been desperately poor. I thought that Albion would have brought more than Palace but there were 200 or so fewer. Is the Premier League losing its magic for the fans of clubs who know that mid table respectability/obscurity is the sum total of their ambitions? If so, can someone please offer an explanation as to why we have sold our entire allocation for a visit to Stoke-on-Trent? You never know, I might just uncork the Bateman’s after that.
The first-half disappointments – Defoe’s missed sitter, sloppy play leading to WBA’s well-taken goal – had Pete Sixsmith gloomily tweeting a seven-word verdict he thought might survive to end: ‘Lacking in quality all over the field.’ It was difficult to quarrel with that. Patrick Van Aanholt deserves immense credit for almost everything he did after coming on for the the hapless Kirchhoff, his magical crossfield ball to Khazri setting up another good Defoe chance and then starting and ending the move for the equaliser. But don’t expect Sixer to get carried away …
Monsieur Salut writes: the review section of the UAE newspaper I write for, The National, has a feature they call The Long Read. I’ve done it a couple of times – from the Jungle in Calais and on Muslim writers threatened by fanatics for having a progressive instead of medieval outlook. It came to mind when I was posting Andrew Caulton’s ‘Who are you?’ interview. A passionate West Bromwich Albion fan exiled in the USA, Andrew goes on a bit, but then so do my questions. And I found his replies engrossing.
As a postscript, I reminded him he had promised a photo showing his brother and Paolo Di Canio at the infamous WBA v SAFC game that was to be PDC’s last in charge. He searched high and low for that picture now and it has now been been added to this follow-up …
Monsieur Salut writes: Every few months, a satellite US radio station Sirius XM, asks me onto a late show (late for me) to talk about the latest woes afflicting Sunderland. That is where Andrew Caulton*, an Englishman in New Hampshire with fingers in lots of football pies, heard me (twice). We met again at Twitter, where he revealed his lifelong West Brom allegiance and readily agreed to sit in the ‘Who are You?’ hot seat. His recollections of the 1973 cup run and of coaching Calum Davenport, who played for us on loan, are priceless.
It is another long read but Andrew seems the sort of bloke you could happily natter with for hours in the pub …
Hands up anyone who is looking forward to Saturday.
In fact, there’ll be plenty. Support, loyalty, passion often transcend the lack of serious expectation. David Moyes and his team have made an abysmal start to the season, the sort that gets managers sacked in panic reaction from owners.
Would you believe that some people, somewhere, think Man Utd will be relegated? And that others say the axe will fall on Spurs, Chelsea, or Man City. Some even say Arsenal will go down.
That’s democracy for you, so please, please, no histrionics, vitriol or gratuitous insults. There have been enough of them these past few weeks and it’s time for civilised behaviour between gentlefolk, like we always get when discussing football.
Salut! Sunderland is delighted to announce Dawn Astle, inspiration for the Jeff Astle Foundation in honour of her father, one of the greatest players to wear the colours of West Bromwich Albion, as first-place winner of our HAWAY award for the 2015-2106 season. Read about the results at https://safc.blog/2016/06/haway-awards-1-west-bromwich-albion-2-norwich-city-3-tottenhams-littlejohn/. Here, to be read in the knowledge she was interviewed before the 0-0 draw vs WBA at the Stadium of Light on April 2, a game she attended, is how the interview was introduced and how it proceeded … Dawn wins a subscription to When Saturday Comes …
The judges have spoken. We have winners in the HAWAYs, Salut! Sunderland’s annuals awards for best interviews given by opposing supporters in the Who are You? series. HAWAYs, as you will have worked out, are otherwise known as Highly Articulate Who are You?s.
Another season produced another crop of excellent contributions. And we are again indebted to our prize sponsors, the friendly folk at the famously half-decent football magazine When Saturday Comes and the purveyors of fine football tops at Classic Football Shirts.
For 2015-2016, the voting ended with a runaway victory in first place and a tight battle for second.
Dawn Astle, daughter of the late WBA legend Jeff, was the clear winner, our voting system giving her 38 points, 16 ahead of the nearest rival. Dawn wins a subscription to When Saturday Comes and her interview will be republished here tomorrow.
“An outstanding piece,” said John McCormick, associate editor. “For me, this was WAY ahead of the rest. “Well written and heart warming,” added Peter Lynn, aka Wrinkly Pete. Both had her in first place, as did Monsieur Salut while our deputy editor Malcolm Dawson placed her second, with Pete Sixsmith including her in his “highly commended” group.
“Another excellently scripted piece from a true football fan,” said Malcolm. “That her dad was one of the greats just adds to the relevance and her tireless work for the Jeff Astle Foundation deserves as much publicity as possible.”
Scant consolation for relegation but Gary Gowers pipped the Tottenham Hotspur-supporting Richard Littlejohn, unrivalled master of Mr Angry columns in the Daily Mail. He collects a £25 voucher towards any purchase from Classic Football Shirts.
For Sixer, who chose him for first place, Gary “sums up the ‘niceness of Norwich’ which will be missed next season. He fully understands the difficulties of keeping a (relatively) small club with no major financial backers in the top level and supports the manager who almost kept them up, but not quite. Lovely quote about Defoe and his entourage – ‘Norwich is a small city and would struggle to accommodate them all’. Just good writing from start to finish.”
Malcolm’s winner would have been Littlejohn: “Well written piece as you would expect from a professional journalist. Realistic and humorous. Liked the Wayne Bobbitt reference but, like Sixer, you won’t catch me buying a Daily Mail.”
Richard will win a suitably designed mug, which is unlikely to change his life.
If another of our usual sponsors responds belatedly and positively to our cap-in-hand approach for prize sponsorship, we will find another worthy candidate for a special late award. Contenders in that category would be Sam Myers (Everton), who won marks from Wrinkly Pete for declining to name any player who should never have been allowed to wear his club’s shirt; the Exeter City pairing of Paul Sussex and Neil le Milliere and Watford’s Ben Clarke.
Paul “Sobs” Dobson, the star A Love Supreme chronicler, was on his own in selecting Ben in any position and had him first for his interview, “a good appreciation of how their recent achievements have been accomplished and not getting too rose-tinted about the future”. Of Gary Gowers, Sobs said: “Realistic to the point of … well, I’d never be that realistic about a Sunderland team!”
Our thanks to the sponsors and to the judges, but also to all – or almost all – the interviewees we found during the season. There were honourable mentions for both Swansea City “Who are You?” candidates, Newcastle United’s Adrian Darnell and one fan from each of the Manchesters, United’s Chas Banks and City’s David Mooney.
We had perhaps better not adopt Sobs’s idea of an additional award for the most irritating interview of the season, and there are no prizes for guessing which two (this and that) he may have had in mind.