There seems consensus that Sunderland showed vast improvement at West Ham – they could hardly have been worse than a week before – but that the crowd saw two fairly poor teams, neither truly deserving to lose or, for that matter, win. Bob Chapman‘s ascent of Sixer’s Soapbox was a little more painful than usual – read on for medical news – as was his hobbling tour of east London landmarks beforehand. But he left the Boleyn head intact and predisposition to optimism unshaken …
With a debate raging about whether some of our current squad are fit to wear the Sunderland shirt, I awoke on Saturday morning to a similar discussion with my wife.
I had had a painful ankle for the previous couple of days, which had got progressively worse; so painful in fact that I was unable to walk without a walking stick. The stick itself was a relic from my own playing days when “Big Jim” from Leighton Town put me in hospital overnight with a massive haematoma. It’s a big bruise really, but haematoma sounds better. Periodically, the walking stick appears at Sunderland matches, usually when I am struggling with gout, but the last time at Villa three years ago was because I had fallen out of the attic at home!
If this had been a Friday morning I would have phoned in sick, but with a 5.30pm kick off I knew I could get to the emergency walk-in doctor’s and let them look at my ankle. I have had gout repeatedly in both my toes and knuckles. Very painful, it’s like having sand grains in your joints, but I have never had it in an ankle.
My wife suggested that because of my age it might be a thrombosis and that I had all my priorities wrong by attempting to go to the match, half crippled. Any way I returned back from the doctor, who confirmed that it was gout once again and so in my mind I was fit enough to go.
With medication ingested and backed up with painkillers I set off an hour later without the stick for the short 40-minute trip into London. With the knowledge I couldn’t have a drink I decided to make a day of it and visit the Cutty Sark at the Naval Museum in Greenwich.
I had a nice couple of hours here which brought back memories of a visit I made with Sixer, Doug Bones and Ian Douglas, 35 years ago to the month for a Charlton match. We decided to take a Thames cruise to that match. We boarded a tiny boat at the Embankment. The skipper claimed the boat had been used in the D Day landings, but we were not so sure and felt he was just after a bigger tip. We alighted at Greenwich pier and the only Cutty Sark we visited was the pub of that name.
We won the match 4-0. Those were the days of 2nd Division success and I wondered whether that would be better than the constant struggle for survival these days.
With time to spare and the gout problem receding I travelled up to Stratford to the Olympic Park, to have a look at our opponents’ new ground. Unfortunately, just like the last, pre-Olympics time that I visited, it was a building site and you could view only from a distance.
I quite like West Ham, but have little respect for their current owners and managing director. Pity the treatment of poor old Sam, who could well end up at the SoL next season, and I asked myself who had financed this rather lavish move for them?
I wandered into Upton Park wondering what changes the new manager would make after last week’s debacle. From the start he has my vote as there was no place for Bridcutt in the absence of Cattermole. In hindsight Poyet was too stubborn. He wanted to play a system and didn’t have the players good enough to work it. What he needed to do was play a system that suited the best attributes of his players. He also believed that the best Championship players can do it at the top level. Bridcutt is the classic example that the majority cannot.
Once we started the match it was interesting to see that we were essentially playing 4-4-2 with Wickham at the top of a midfield diamond and Larsson in the holding role. The first half was even with half chances falling to both sides. Lacking width we were playing on the break trying to get Defoe in behind their makeshift back four.
This seemed to be working well and led to an early volley from Wickham. However the best chance fell to Defoe himself, who should have done better than shooting just wide. If only we could get that opening first goal I thought. Still, it was good first half and we went in four goals better than last week, without anybody leaving the ground early!
Although we found ourselves under more pressure in the second half, the whole team were defending properly for once, in light of the manager’s observations of the players walking last week against Villa. Without a goal I kept looking at the clock, counting the minutes down and at the same time checking that all the players were still running. Didn’t spot a walking player once, which has to be progress.
However the pressure was building. Van Aarnholt had a decent shot from outside the box, which on another day may have gone in, but with the players on their last legs and with minutes to go Sakho scored. Everybody knew the game was up, but very few left and when the final whistle came the team were applauded off the field.
So, another defeat and no goals again. I left Upton Park disappointed, but hopeful that this will not be my last visit. On this display and the fact that nobody gained any ground on us over the weekend, I am my usual optimistic self and feel we will escape.
Connor Wickham was outstanding in this defeat and there were signs that he could rescue us again.
On to the next one. Never has a derby match carried so much on it. Let’s hope for another Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
* ‘They worked their socks off’: see what else Dick Advocaat – ‘sounds like a men’s rights lawyer,’ said one wit at Twitter – made of it at Advochaat: https://safc.blog/category/advochaat/