After the nightmare, we wake up. Malcolm Dawson, entering the witness box of the Salut! Sunderland inquest, urges caution and a sense of proportion …
OK so the performance at Sid James’ Park was abysmal. We were trounced deservedly by a side that performed much better on the day, that were better prepared, both tactically and mentally and who showed more energy and commitment. In short a team that were up for it.
But this is not the time for overreaction and knee jerk responses in our camp.
Five one defeats are not good. Obviously! Five one defeats should give cause for concern and give rise to time for reflection. Obviously!
But take out the fact that we were playing the Mags and look at this as we should any 5-1 reverse. Put the pain and hurt into perspective and imagine we’ve lost 5-1 to Stoke, Fulham, Villa or any of the teams we aim to finish above at the end of the season. Look at it in the context of the season so far and try to be objective.
There is no doubt we have a better squad now than we have had for several seasons. We have performed well against some good sides.
Mixed in with that have been some average and frankly disappointing performances. I was criticised in some quarters for refusing to go overboard when we beat Manchester City. Yes it was a great result against a team of expensive signings but I didn’t think we played that well. Indeed had Tevez not missed a sitter the result could have been much different.
The Lads were hopeless at West Brom, as bad as they were against the Geordies. Blackburn and Villa may have earned us four points but we were hardly convincing.
We are consistently inconsistent. Everyone will have their own opinions as to what needs to be done to ensure that progress continues to be made and for the manager and those running the club, priorities will have to be tempered with realities.
For many fans the answers are simple. Get out the cheque book and buy players. But it’s not that simple, as our experiences with Chamakh have shown. However, there is no doubt that Bruce and Quinn will be analysing our areas of weakness and looking to change the balance of the side. Hopefully Bruce will be questioning his tactics but there is no doubt that Ellis Short will be looking at the return on his investments.
Before Sunday we may have only lost one match but we had only won two. It seems that Bruce would rather we drew than lost which is fine but not when it means he would also rather we draw than win. It’s hardly quantum physics to realise that to stay in the Premier League, never mind trying to challenge for a place in Europe, involves winning some games. Thirty eight drawn games equals 38 points. Winning all your home matches and losing those on the road results in 57 points.
Rightly the 4-5-1 formation is being questioned. Yes it helps stabilise the defence (not against the Mags though) but it only works as an offensive option when the lone front man is getting support from behind. Malbranque and Elmo have shown good skills this year but have never threatened the opposition goal in the way that Nolan did. Welbeck seems desperate to fulfil the role but that desire led to him having an ineffectual shot with our top scorer in a better position, screaming for the pass that would have put him through in front of goal. If SB is to persist with this formation then he’d better find an attacking midfielder quickly.
Our squad is definitely stronger but I am sure that the board are beginning to question the wisdom of having four World Cup stars keeping the bench warm and a £2million full back who struggles to make an impact in the reserves. I am not one who believes that the managers should be replaced every season and a half but it is right to question their tactical ability and success in the transfer market. I still believe Bruce is heading in the right direction. The starting line ups this season have been mostly his signings, Malbranque, Henderson and Bardsley the only ones he inherited playing regularly. The Stoke game gives Bruce the ideal opportunity to revert to 4-4-2 with Gyan and Bent up front.
After that we have Spurs and Chelsea away. We surely can’t afford not to go down to London with anything less than a convincing victory behind us! But all in all I still think we’ll finish 7th or 8th. The division is really tight and will stay that way I feel. The real character of the team will show itself in the next game. Sunday was a Halloween nightmare but we’ve had the wake up call and can get back to the real world.