John McCormick writes: the transfer window has closed. Did Coleman get what he wanted? A keeper and an experienced forward – yes, although maybe not the ones originally on his radar. A defender and a midfielder up for the fight – yes, and the Scousers I’ve spoken to rate Ejaria. So will we stay up?
There’s a poll running so you can give us your opinion and to help you decide we have Pete Sixsmith later and Lars Knutsen right now:
A wise saying we need to take heed of in the early part of 2018 is: “The only thing we can be sure of is change”.
The team we support is for the second time in six months relying on the recruitment skills of a new manager to save us from relegation, and a second consecutive relegation would be a disaster. For the FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough on Saturday January 6, we had a whole team out injured, and were forced to blood another young player, Elliot Embleton. We again made changes for the game at Cardiff; both those matches were eminently forgettable. The defeat to Birmingham was a disaster, but predictable given the current form of that Midlands team and our lack of striking muscle.
Aside from the blows of all the regrettable injuries, it emerged early in the transfer window that our top scorer, Lewis Grabban, was not up for the fight towards the bottom of what is a very tough league. He chose instead to return to parent club Bournemouth and has ended up plying his trade at Aston Villa at the very end of the window. There is also the ongoing saga of Jack Rodwell, who seems to an outsider to need his head examined; earning £70,000 per week and being unmotivated to play football for our beloved club.
Which leads us to another question: will the pain of relegation from the Premier League ever really subside while we are struggling towards the wrong end of the Championship? The anxiety of going down again is there in the back of our minds, and it clearly traumatised some players.
But I will say that performances such as in the last home game, when there was a really positive team effort combined with an excellent goal in the 1-0 win over a battling Hull City, do bring belief back to the supporters. That rightly brought praise from Chris Coleman for our young strikers Maja and Asoro, as well as Catts and O’Shea, who led by example.
After what was an anxious summer, fans feared that while our erstwhile owner, Ellis Short, was trying to sell a managerless, relegated club of tragically low morale, everyone else in the division were girding their loins in preparation for a season in a league of 15 clubs with more or less realistic pretensions of promotion.
Aside from us of course. We were looking to “consolidate”, to scrap our way through the season’s fixtures with last season’s top performers Defoe and Pickford gone along with 13 other players, with many others including Duncan Watmore injured,
Sunderland for most of my time following the Black Cats has been a yo-yo club, and here is my list of promotions and relegations from almost 50 years as a supporter:
1969 – 70 – relegated
Our current situation is not that unusual, then. Granted, we never plumbed the depths of the old Fourth Division, unlike teams such as Aston Villa, Brentford, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Manchester City and Huddersfield Town. We experienced just one season at the third level in 1987-88, which then manager Denis Smith safely negotiated us out of. Early the following season I went by what passed then for a club shop and bought a video of that year’s highlights. The lady serving me said “Oh, you mean the Championship season?”; if she had been guiding PR during Theresa May’s last election campaign, I reckon we would have seen the result that was more widely expected.
This last summer we quietly poached a new manager in Simon Grayson who had improved every club who had hired him and felt that he had not really been at a “Big Club”, despite his tenure at Leeds United. He initially executed plan B with great alacrity, not putting up with second best displays pre-season.
Grayson appeared to seize his opportunity and at first seemed not to put a foot wrong, especially after the 3-1 win at Norwich. He kept on two players who clearly love the club, John O’Shea, and Lee Cattermole. O’Shea did once complain to a reporter that it was ridiculous that he was the longest serving player, but he conveniently forgot Catts. But even a normally indomitable Cattermole seemed to have been dragged down by the home hoodoo as well as the side’s generally wretched form and lack of conviction.
During the Nick Barnes/Gary Bennett BBC Radio Newcastle commentary of the pre-season home collapse to Celtic, Nick quoted John Ellington, a friend of mine and fellow fan from Reading, Pennsylvania. He said it was looking to be a long, hard season. And after a series of miserable, gutless performances, Grayson was inevitably shown the door after the home draw with Bolton.
Sunderland are a huge club, despite the recent struggles. That is what attracted Chris Coleman to take the helm – get it right and you will become a legend. We went all season up to Grayson’s departure without keeping a clean sheet, and despite a horrific injury list we have had 5 in the last 12 games. There is something to build on, and if the five players now signed: the promising Jake Clarke-Salter, winger Kazenga LuaLua, midfielder Ovie Ejaria, striker Ashley Fletcher and goalkeeper Lee Camp blend in rapidly and are up for the challenge, real hope will emerge.
I was surprised that the charismatic Coleman did not go for Welsh hero Hal Robson-Kanu at West Brom., but I am happy to accept his judgement in football matters. The urgency is to win more games; positive change in that direction will give us a team who can challenge next season.