Taylor Made on Sunderland in Toronto: a worrying postscript with Leicester looming

Lesley: 'hang on, Bill, which way are Sunderland meant to be kicking?'
Lesley: ‘hang on, Bill, which way are Sunderland meant to be kicking?’

What a pity that pigeon post from such remote parts of Canada as Toronto has become so unreliable. Bill Taylor, who lives in that city and attended Sunderland’s game the other night, reckons the poor things tend to get shot down over Newfoundland. If Martin Bates’s long-promised dispatch avoids those guns and reaches Salut! Sunderland before the new season starts, it’ll get an airing, the least Martin deserves after being the source of those excellent pre-match photos of players mixing with fans. For now, Bill continues his re-emergence from Salut! exile with some more thoughts on what we should read into Sunderland’s performance, not one that impressed him though some of us may prefer (cling to?) the fitness-before-quality mantra …

With our opening game at Leicester less than two weeks away, are we in for another dour season of “play for a draw” games, the like of which darkened our horizon during Steve Bruce’s tenure at the SoL?

Hard to tell from seeing one pre-season friendly and reading about the others but, in spite of the Black Cats’ 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, I didn’t come away with very positive feelings.

Even my wife Lesley, who’s only ever seen two live football matches, turned to me at one point and said, “Shouldn’t Sunderland be playing better than this?”

Well, now that you mention it… yeah, kinda.

Summer tours are usually a bit of a hoot for Premier teams. They get away for a few weeks, put on a bit of a display for the locals, with two or three of the big-name players taking the field for a while to strut their stuff and show the home team how it’s done.

To wit, Arsenal’s 6-0 rout of Lyon on Saturday. One suspects that a good time was had by all, even the losers.

Not so much at BMO (pronounced Bee-Mo, if you were wondering; it’s a corporate short form for Bank of Montreal) Field last Wednesday. It was not a team largely made up of reserves that Dick Advocaat sent out.

Bill Taylor:
Bill Taylor: the first of two more pix from Wednesday night

I was sitting close to the visitors’ bench and Advocaat didn’t look a happy man, not even at the final whistle. He waved his arms and yelled at the players a fair bit, though I couldn’t make out what he was saying.

The Sunderland players did quite a lot of yelling, too. Mainly “Catts, Catts, Catts!” and “Seb, Seb, Seb!” Ironically, the two players, Cattermole and Larsson, who wound up with yellow cards.

TFC just got on with the job, dominating the wings, using space intelligently, controlling the ball in a sometimes delightful fashion and keeping the pressure on. I was particularly impressed with midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who picked up a sloppy clearance to put TFC ahead in the first minute of the second half, and striker Sebastian Giovinco, a diminutive Italian powerhouse. As the Mags used to sing of John McNamee almost half a century ago, “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every f***ing where…”

And where were Sunderland? For the first 45 minutes, in their own half mostly, unable to move the ball forward (Lesley: “Shouldn’t they be kicking it THAT way?”) and forced more times than were comfortable to pass it back to Pantilimon.

It looked almost from the opening whistle as if Advocaat, having seen his lads go down twice in the US, had told them to play for a draw; don’t worry about scoring, just make sure Toronto doesn’t.

With eight or nine guys playing defensive roles, when the ball did go upfield, there was generally only a solitary figure to try to keep possession while the others scampered after it. TFC, cool, calm and collected, would gather it up and start another well-thought-out move to pressure the hard-working Pantilimon. They could easily have racked up three or four goals.

Only once did Steven Fletcher, with a flash of individual brilliance, make a one-man breakthrough that came, alas, to nought.

It was only after Osorio’s goal that the Cats woke up. Jermain Defoe, to a half-hearted chorus of boos from the home crowd, scored twice in five minutes. His first goal was deflected in by a Toronto player but the second was a beauty with Defoe finding space to pick up a well-directed Fletcher pass.

Toronto head coach Greg Vanney by now was doing the sort of thing you’d expect more from the Premier side in a game like this – making substitutions, a total of eight, not only from the reserves but also the “farm team” of up-and-comers.

It was, he said, to see how young players, as yet without a TFC contract, hold up against supposedly top-class opposition. They did pretty well.

Not only that but Vanney also cheekily experimented with a new 3-5-2 formation. That did pretty well, too.

More from Bill

The crowd, just over 14,000, was bigger than I expected, almost half filling the 31,000-capacity stadium. I was delighted to see so many red-and-white shirted supporters, too, most of them packing the end behind the goal where Defoe put the ball away twice. They made more noise than the TFC fans and, after the whistle, were given their due appreciation from both players and team officials.

They got their win but they deserved a better game. Advocaat’s excuse was that his squad was tired after a lot of training. I won’t argue with that but what bothered me most was the way they played – not so much as a team (and they’ve been together for a while now), more as 11 guys who know the moves better than they know each other.

If the on-line rumour mills are anything to go by, Ellis Short has told Advocaat he has to sell some players before he can make any more purchases, and Swansea is making a £4 million bid for Fletcher. Whether they get him or not, his departure seems to be not unlikely.

I’d hate to see him go. And I’d be fascinated to see who replaced him in the squad.

What I’d like more than anything right now is to see a smile of Dick Advocaat’s face. It might just have an effect on the players’ attitude. The impression I got on Wednesday was that TFC were enjoying their football but Sunderland were not. And that’s not good.

* NB: people on the other side of the Atlantic, even when originally from Bishop, have odd ways with English. M Salut has left most of Bill’s North Americanisms untouched; hence football teams become singular entities (eg “Swansea is” bidding for Fletcher) whereas the British English style, a little more pleasing on the eye, is to regard them as plural …

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14 thoughts on “Taylor Made on Sunderland in Toronto: a worrying postscript with Leicester looming”

  1. I wonder if Mr Short’s definition of Premiership ‘success’, and that of a fan’s, are one and the same. Somehow I doubt it.

    To the average Sunderland supporter, a successful season would see us perhaps finishing in tenth spot. Mid-table mediocrity would be a pleasant change.

    However, perhaps Ellis defines Sunderland success as 1) finishing above 18th place and 2) collecting the Premiership cash windfall. If so, this past campaign, although it was a close run thing, was ultimately a ‘success’: 40,000 bums in seats per game, player costs kept relatively low, and surviving relegation. What’s not to like?

  2. Boateng and Kaboul. Are we trying to create a Pompey tribute team?

    Good player but, a handful, let’s say. As I type I’ve just been reading that our friends from up the road are prepared to pay over 13M for Charlie Austin.

    Fletcher endearing himself to Sunderland supporters is a rarity so you should be feeling blessed to have witnessed such a moment. I think Downing would have been a good signing for us. He went where his heart belongs. A good pro Downing and the sort of character that we could with. Shame but no issue with the lad going back to his home town club.

  3. I have to say Fletcher endeared himself to me Wednesday with that one flash of inspiration. Mind you, it wasn’t difficult to look good against most of the others. And, in the final analysis, it didn’t come off. But at least he was thinking and taking action. And he did set up our second goal.

    I would like to have seen Downing at the SoL but, like Malcolm, I admire him for going to Boro. Yes, he’ll make good money but I think he’ll put in an honest day’s work for it.

    I see from the rumour mill that Swansea have an eye of Fletcher and that Kevin Prince-Boateng might be a possibility for us. Given his recent history he might come at bargain price (relatively speaking) and not be a bad buy if he gets his act together. Better than Tom Huddlestone, anyway. I think we might be better off not pursuing him.

  4. We are constantly told that this is the best in the world etc, yet the top English clubs are failing in European competitions. Roddy is dead right. People are being hugely over charged for watching football.

    The reason “they want it like this” is very simple Bill. The PL is a cartel for the top 6. Created by the then top 6 and since gatecrashed by the megabucks of Chelsea and Man City. It stifles real competition and allows them to win in turns. Great for them and not so good for everybody else. It’s all a bit like the Emperor’s new clothes. Best league in the world, 27th richest club in the world, and here come Gomez, Bridcutt, Graham and Fletcher! They are having a laugh and it’s at our expense. Name me another PL club that would even give Bridcutt a pass for the car park 🙂

    There’s so much money about that even completely sh*t players are multi-millionaires almost overnight.

  5. Interesting, too, what Roddy says about last Wednesday’s game not only sullying Sunderland’s repution – which it did – but the Premiership brand, too. I think it would certainly make a local fan think twice about paying through the nose to see a visiting Premiership side. What I hope the game did accomplish was to make TFC supporters – who, like Mackems, are both fiercely loyal and fiercely critical – appreciate a little more what they have at home. That would be good for TFC’s reputation and the Major League Soccer brand.

  6. It’s an excellent thread in response to a great article this one. Everybody complains about the amount of money in the PL. It’s ludicrous and about to get worse. While it’s understandable that the Ageueros and Costas etc get paid in buckets, it seems even more ridiculous that the 27th richest club in the world are persevering with no marks like Danny Graham.

    The problem with the PL is not with the rewards for success which is bring to the winners and challengers, but the riches that is provides for those who consistently fail (such as us). There are two unbridgeable gulfs. That between the top and bottom half of the PL and the bigger one between the PL and the Championship. Neither of them are easy to deal with for any club, and that’s pretty much the way the cartel have wanted it.

    • I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, Jeremy, I just don’t understand why they would want it this way. Surely the entire Premiership – and Championship – would benefit if those gulfs were bridged and the standard of football was more uniformly good. And who knows, the likes of Ellis Short might even start seeing a return on their investment.

      Short has a net worth, I believe, of $1.36 billion – about £874 million. I’m assuming none of that is revenue from Sunderland and that the club runs at a loss. I may well be wrong; I have no idea of the financial breakdown.

      But, either way, surely it would benefit him in the long run if he were to put his hand a little deeper into his well-filled pocket and make a signifcant investment in players. He might either start making money or make more than he is now.

      Or maybe I’m just hopelessly naive.I’m certainly too stupid to comprehend a salary structure that allows players to pick up tens of thousands of pounds a week for standing around on the pitch like one o’clock half struck.

  7. I attended the Toronto match and despite the Sunderland win, came away with a queasy feeling in my gut. Yes, I know it was an exhibition game, they’re still not up to top fitness etc., but the way in which Toronto manhandled the Sunderland starting eleven in the first half was unnerving. Only after the interval did the Black Cats start to come to grips with the game, aided by the fact thatTFC was in effect fielding every bench-rider and future prospect they had dressed.

    I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a Toronto fan say some version of the following: “That’s a premiership team??? You’ve gotta be kidding me!” during, and especially after the match. After a display like that, Sunderland have done their international reputation no favours, and definitely sullied the Premiership brand as well.

    Unless Ellis Short loosens the purse strings and Congerton can attract some quality signings soon, I’m afraid it will be a depressingly long season for Dick A. and the fans alike. The spectre of relegation will, without a doubt, haunt this lacklustre side throughout the campaign, and I very much doubt it will have a happy ending this time.

  8. It seems to me that today the gulf between the owners of clubs in the Premiership and older supporters is wider than it has ever been. Those of us who grew up supporting a team in pre-Sky days want to see a team that wins things. I suspect most (but not all) managers are the same.

    Owners’ desires are driven more by the obscene amounts of money that differentiate the rewards for clubs in the top flight from those earned by lower league clubs. therefore Premier League survival becomes objective number one and qualification into the lucrative European competitions objective number two.

    Mercenary managers and players go along with that because they know they will earn enough to buy themselves a house in Sandbanks. I admire Stuart Downing’s comments that he moved to the Riverside because the Premier League sides that put in offers for him were not going to give him anything different to West Ham whereas Boro should once again be looking to go up. I’m sure Steve Gibson will make sure he’s well rewarded though.

    Unfortunately it seems there is an increasing number of supporters who have also bought into the philosophy of survival. To an extent I can understand that as the experiences of Portsmouth, Wigan and I suspect Hull show that despite days out at Wembley relegation can be the start of a difficult period for a club. But I’d still like to see us win a Cup and personally I’d take relegation if we got hold of some silverware.

    I have also been critical of Ellis Short’s motives and methods in the past but my instincts suggest that he is beginning to get a feel for the area, the supporters and what the club means to us. Dick certainly absorbed that quickly.

    My hope for the new season however is still that we have a team that excites us whenever we see them play.

  9. I certainly agree about Ellis Short. His reasons for owning Sunderland are… opaque, shall we say. He can’t have come into it expecting to make money and nor does he need to. A club like our is a labour of love. Love it or leave it and I’m afraid that he doesn’t really love it and he’s not about to leave it.
    As for Advocaat, I don’t think he’ll walk away mid-season. My fear is he won’t get the results the fans want and he’ll be forced out. That’ll put us back into the old managerial revolving door thing and, sooner or later, that’s gonna put us not a place or two above relegation but a place or two below.
    I hate to say it, because I love being in the Premiership, but going down for a season or two might not be a bad thing. Give us a bit of breathing space, take some pressure off and force Short to look at himself in the mirror. Would he see a man who wants to own a Championship team? I suspect not and that might get him out of our hair. Better still, I think whoever came in to replace him would be determined to do whatever it took and pay whatever it cost to put us back in the Premier League and on a firmer footing.
    I hope I’m wrong. I hope Advocaat takes the team by the throat and turns it around. But thinking back to Wednesday, that’s not what his body language was saying. But we’ll know more when we play Leicester; a very significant and telling season-opener.

  10. It would take more than that to draw me to the bosom of the church Bill; I must be honest. What I find most frustrating with all of this is that the lessons of each season appear to have been learned in the highest of chambers within the SoL, it becomes immediately clear that the perennial failings are ignored yet again.

    It baffles me why Ellis Short wants to own the club when he runs it like this. Bob Murray was happy to run a slight profit and to finish one place above the drop zone every year. A man with stultifying lack of imagination or ambition. It’s sad to see that Ellis Short is of the same cloth. We all expected more. I’m sure there’s nobody more disappointed than Advocaat. It’s as clear as day that assurances/promises etc are being broken. Right now I don’t expect DA to stick it out for the season. My feeling is that he will walk and tell it like it is. Should that materialize then that will be the end of it for me.

  11. The Mags wanted Austin didn’t they but couldn’t afford him. Leicester was in the running too but I’m reading that he wants 85,000 quid a week. Ellis Short might jib at that,to say nothing of the transfer fee – £15 million, isn’t it? I’d love to see it happen but I’d be very surprised.
    Mousa Dembele seems like a better bet, depending on how much it’ll take for Spurs to let him go – that’s if he wants to come to the SoL.
    To get them both? That might just bring me back into the arms of the church…

  12. The last time our supporters were heard singing “he’s here, he’s there etc” was for the former gas fitter Mr Dunn. That was in 1979.

    The rhythm of that doesn’t quite work for Giovinco, who looks like he’s somewhere between Zidane and Maradona in the MLS. He’s a cut above in that company.

    It’s difficult to judge anything from pre season friendlies but easier to make assumptions at the personnel trotting out for us. Unless there are some stellar acquisitions over the next couple of weeks then we are in for another season like the last few seasons. Unleash the purse strings Mr Short and bring us Charlie Austin and Dembele.

  13. They should make your lass the manager lol Play better and kick the ball the right way isnt a bad start

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