With Sunderland playing as if possessed by a death wish and commentators asking what has gone wrong, some supporters are raising awkward questions of their own. What has happened to dressing room spirit? Why was there an absence of intense collective celebration when Craig Gardner equalised on Sunday? Lars Knutsen considers reasons for our current predicament and identifies lack of leadership as the central issue …
Back in mid-January Sunderland were relatively comfortably placed in 11th spot on 28 points, after four victories in six games, coming off an important away win against Wigan and their first double of the season.
Many supporters, including myself, thought things had finally turned around, and that the team was looking upwards rather than downwards.
But a debilitating run of just three points in seven games since then has dragged us back into the mire. Aside from at QPR last week and at home to Norwich on Sunday, the team has not played too badly, and I am sure Martin O’Neill is not mentioning the R-word – I bet he is – ed – but it would be understandable if the team was showing signs of worry and concerned.
The display against Norwich was lacking in fluidity, and the players were rather nervy, in what was in reality a must-win game. The expectation is obviously that if Sunderland are at home against 10 men, the team will win. There were boos at the final whistle and that was understandable given the quality of football that was served up.
I have heard many commentators recently asking the question: “What is wrong with Sunderland?”
At least on paper this Black Cats team should be doing much better. I was optimistic at the end of the close season with signings such as Johnston, Fletcher and Cuellar. In my view we have three factors holding us back:
* the lack of a natural partnership up front
* key players showing patchy form
* a lot of injuries
Injuries always come, but our squad is on the thin side so we have been feeling it keenly. The absence of our talismanic captain, Lee Cattermole, with a serious knee injury has been particularly trying.
The lack of a natural partnership upfront has meant that we have had to rely on heavily Steven Fletcher, who has delivered the goods in front of goal when he has had the chances.
But there should have been many more goals from midfield, and it is disappointing that Larsson, last season’s joint top scorer, has netted just once with Johnson scoring only four despite starting regularly.
Brighter has been the form of Gardner but Sess has been patchy, chipping in five goals; more is expected from a man of his skill.
In 2008 following promotion we survived on 39 points, and the following year escaped the trapdoor on 36. But in 1997 The Lads went down on 40 points, and 42 points was not enough for the Hammers to avoid the drop in 2003.
We are now in a position that we need points from upcoming games against Man Utd., Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton. Unless those are secured against the odds over the coming weeks, it is going to be a very nervy end to the season, with the team looking over their shoulders at the teams below them.
Winning is a habit, and with only seven of those this season the team needs to get out of its collective funk as soon as possible. Having a leader such as Cattermole back on the pitch would be great, but wherever it comes from, we need leaders out there, and fast.