Bill Taylor advocates realism ahead of Arsenal on Saturday. Whether that translates as the point he and most us would relish, or a philosophical response to heavy defeat, Bill expects the season to start slowly, if slowly’s the right word …
If faith can move mountains, then faith can surely also move a good striker into the Sunderland line-up.
Steven Fletcher, alas, seems as firmly rooted as a mountain in the Midlands and, for all Martin O’Neill’s stated optimism that there will be sudden and useful movement before the transfer window closes, this season’s squad right now is looking too much like last season’s for comfort.
At least Sessegnon appears to be staying put (I wish we could rely on that – ed), albeit with a crocked ankle; a classic good news/bad news scenario. The better news is that it’s apparently not as bad as first thought and he may be up front at the Emirates on Saturday.
The other bad news/good news is that Phil Bardsley also has an ankle injury, possibly not serious enough to keep him out of the season-opener but enough to rule him out of Scotland’s Wednesday game against Australia.
Let’s be grateful for such small mercies. And let’s be VERY grateful if we come away from Arsenal with a point. That’s not being pessimistic, but realistic.
Partly because of the lack of new blood – am I wrong (I haven’t checked but it seems so) in thinking Sunderland have made fewer signings than any other Premiership side? – but also because of the utter madness of the midweek international friendlies.
I’ve never seen much point to this kind of match, especially in today’s prevalent climate of “club before country.” It’s one thing to be playing in a tournament with something at stake. But Wednesday is just going to see a series of glorified kick-arounds with neither rhyme nor reason.
Having these just a few days before the season starts is doubly reprehensible. Players are going to be tired; some inevitably will be injured. Clubs such as Sunderland, whose squads are not as strong as they might be (and, let’s hope, very soon WILL be) stand to be doubly penalized.
O’Neill has, I believe, six players wasting their time and energy: Mignolet (who had a recent groin injury and really doesn’t need this outing), Larsson, McClean, Westwood, O’Shea and Elmohamady. David Vaughan might have been out there, too, if he wasn’t already on the injury list and a non-starter against Arsenal.
Wes Brown has a big fitness question mark next to his name and the last thing O’Neill needs is anyone else sidelined.
In interviews with the BBC and the Sunderland Echo, MON has expressed his frustration with the internationals – “I genuinely don’t see the point, particularly after the Euros” – and acknowledged the work that still has to be done to put together what he calls “a proper squad. We’ve got a few weeks in which to work.”
Which is all well and good and I haven’t lost faith in the man to spend his money wisely. I just wish it would happen sooner rather than later. I wish, too, that Connor Wickham wasn’t being dangled as loan bait for Fletcher.
I can still see a storming finish for Sunderland this season. But I fear the Cats will get off to a slow start and then have to play some determined catch-up. Patience is going to be a virtue.
The Arsenal game will be a good indicator. Let’s just hope and pray MON isn’t forced to start a bunch of bench-warmers to fill in for casualties from the Wednesday follies.