God Jul, Glaedelic Jul, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Natal, Kala Christouyenna, Sawadee Pee Mai, Nollaig Chridheil dhuibh, Nollaig Shona Dhuit, Merry Christmas.
To reflect the global readership of Salut!Sunderland our Scandavian correspondent Lars Knutsen reflects on Sunderland’s season so far and suggests the team adopt some New Year resolution in the rest of the current campaign.
Being well into Advent and with last Saturday’s visit to Southampton approaching,
I was reminded about the legendary motivating powers of former Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett. The Blades were in a pattern of starting the season poorly and then went on a great run in the New Year, managing to avoid relegation for several seasons, rather like a modern-day Wigan.
Bassett decided to hold a Christmas party, complete with balloons, crackers, turkey and Christmas pud, in the month of September! The idea behind the early festivities was of course to persuade his team to show their traditional New Year form, but some months before the usual pattern.
So aside from our fine 3-0 and 1-0 wins over Reading and Southampton, I was starting to wonder, “What do we need to do to motivate this team?” and the answer was: go behind!
This season started with a solid defence, and sneaking the odd goal, with a lot of draws but few wins or defeats for that matter. Then for several games we got into a pattern of going behind in matches, and finally starting to play when 2-0 down. Against West Bromwich Albion, Norwich, Manchester United…we played some of our best football when we had our backs to the wall, but sadly for our points total, we got nothing from those games.
A report in a major newspaper described our second half at Carrow Road as a one of the best performances the journalist had seen from any team this season, and as he expected of a Martin O’Neill side; committed, fast on the break and dominating goal chances, but sadly for the fans, it was ultimately disappointing, despite Connor Wickham’s disallowed effort and that truly shocking miss from Kilgallon. The centre-back looked as if he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him.
The 1-0 win on the south coast last Saturday under difficult conditions was a truly professional effort from the whole team, and was very welcome as well as timely. We need ten wins to ultimately be clear of the drop zone, and are now on four, but with Man. City and Spurs next up at the SSOL, when will the next one come?
Martin O’Neill did have a bleat to the media on Saturday about our squad being small, but he was the guy who sold Turner and Richardson, let a lot of players go for nothing and then allowed Meyler and Elmohamady to leave on loan. Obviously we do not know which players he almost signed, and that will all be forgotten if Ellis Short loosens the purse strings and allows one or two major signings in midfield and upfront. Overall, O’Neill’s signings have been sound and have shown good judgement of players’ abilities, but I am not sure what Saha and McFadden have added to the team so far…
So to the second half of the season. What has been clear is that one can buy a set of players but it takes times to make a team. We had to watch while some big name players like Sessegnon, Larsson and Johnston struggled for form, but when fit, others such as O’Shea, Rose, Mignolet and Fletcher have been outstanding. A problem I see is that we recruited Gardner, Larsson, Fletcher and Vaughan from relegated teams and it takes a while to build a winning mentality after leaving a losing side…some of those habits have been hard to shake off.
Others, such as O’Shea have never ever faced being in the bottom three, which was something they never experienced under Steve Bruce, despite his struggles to get the team to hit form in 2011.
It is clear we need a fit, driven and disciplined Catts to shape us into a team. So my New Year wishes will be for our star players to do what they are paid to do, produce excellent form, and for the team to gel. The squad is basically good enough to excel in the Premiership, but we just need this engine to fire on all cylinders, and for the spark to come back consistently, not just in flashes.
See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739