The SAFC v Fulham Soapbox: high life, low football, bright skies, dark thoughts

Jake longs to paint  a smile n Sixer's chops
Jake longs to paint a smile n Sixer’s chops

Some of you have already heard the spoken version – 46 minutes into a BBC Radio Newcastle clip at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0151krv, catching Pete Sixsmith breathless but not legless after a heavy bout of Stadium of Light hospitality. He made some good points, very critically, happy with a draw but wondering about the quality of what he’d been watching. Here’s the written account, essential reading as ever (just buttering him up in case he’s minded to keep that threat to abandon SAFC for Rugby League and park football after all the serial disappointment ….

It was a beautiful day in the North East of England on Saturday. The temperature made it into the lower teens, the sun shone and your trusty correspondent was being wined and dined by Sunderland AFC pre and post match in the Executive Lounge.

The letter I received said that it was for being a season ticket holder for ever and a day and for attending away matches on a regular basis – and for, presumably, creating my own, personal trail of tears up the A1(M) since Adam was a lad.

So, accompanied by Ms Dawson, we turned up at the club reception at noon and were ushered into a side of the stadium I have rarely seen – Monsieur Salut’s 60th birthday bash may well have been the last time I was there.

That came on the eve of a particularly dismal performance against Manchester City. This time, an equally uninspiring 45 minutes against Fulham followed the excellent meal and, shall we say, ”interesting” company that we shared the table with.

The club do this very well. There must have been 500 people in the room, but the food was hot and the service attentive. A young man crooned on the stage and Monty introduced us to his special guest, the wonderful George Mulhall, a real hero of mine in the 1960s.

He was a winger who could shoot, pass and cross the ball and was rarely knocked off it by full backs who were far more physical than they are now. Would that we had a winger like that now …

Jake sense urgency - or is alarm?
Jake sense urgency – or is alarm?

We filed out of the Executive Suite and into the padded seats in the West Stand in time to see the players complete their warm up and to look on a splendid stadium, with its lower tier full and full of hope and optimism.

Monty had said a win was essential and that was the mood amongst those of us in the corporate seats that were dyed in the wool Sunderland fans and not part of a company freebie.

Our problems are very clear to see and not very easy to solve. We have an excellent keeper, playing behind a slow back four, made up of one centre half having his final season at this level and another who can look imperious at times but who is slow on the turn and who cannot pass a ball.

Add to that two decent midfielders playing at full back and you can see why we concede. And concede we did, with both goals coming down the flanks.

Gardner was tormented by Fulham’s Iranian winger Ashkan Dejagah. Gardner stuck his foot out, Dejagah accepted the invitation to fall over it and Mark Halsey clearly had a debate with himself about the merits of his fall before awarding the spot kick – correctly as it turned out.

But why did he take so long over it? It looked as if he was going to book the Fulham player for a dive and then he gave the kick. He was in a good position, he didn’t need to consult his assistant, so why take so long? It’s a mystery to me!!!

We then contrived to give Fulham another goal, a Fulham team that scores away from home as often as a Pope resigns. Awful defending as they went the length of the pitch and the full back, Riether popped up to slide the ball in. The prospect of Blackpool, Burnley and Barnsley loomed very large at that moment.

Fortunately Mr Halsey came to our rescue when he gave us a penalty as Phillipe Senderos grabbed Danny Graham. It was not a cast iron penalty and there was a feeling that he was suffering a guilt complex. But it got us back into the game as Craig Gardner smashed it in.

That set us up for the second half and once again we showed that we have restorative powers, but usually when we are two down. It took a while to level and, in truth, we should have been two down again, but the Blessed Mignolet saved a Berbatov shot with his legs.

This time we caught Fulham on the hop and a combination of Sess and Adam Johnson plus a rebound off the luckless Senderos ended up with the Benin Magician sweeping the ball past Schwarzer.

We had chances to win it. There were a couple of scrambles and there may well have been a penalty when that man again, Senderos, appeared to handle. Mr Halsey clearly felt that he had given the clowns on Match of the Day enough to talk about, so he turned it down.

It was an exciting and frenetic second half and we came away with a point that looked about as unlikely as a Tory by election victory at 3.35, but the worrying signs were still there, viz;

* We cannot defend. This was the third game out of four that we have conceded two goals. There have been two clean sheets in 2013, one against a feeble West Ham side, the other against a pre-occupied Swansea team


* There are some serious problems in midfield. The centre of it takes an age to get to grips, while the wide players frustrate. To be more specific; Larsson had a poor first half and an excellent second while N’Diaye did ok. But to be bettered by the likes of Sidwell and Karagounis as they were in the first half is not good enough.

* Sess did well on the wing, but Johnson continues to flatter to deceive. Too many crosses (just about every one, in fact) do not get past the first man. Larsson’s are not much better, but we expect so much more from a £10m. England international.


* Two up front does not work. Fletcher and Graham are too similar and clutter up the middle. Graham worked hard but looked lost at times, while Fletcher produced his best form when the new boy went off. He found space and got the five man midfield involved.

Back in the Executive Suite there was a palpable sense of relief that we had gained a point on Reading and Newcastle but the more experienced of us knew that we were still in a potential relegation situation. The Wigan result eased that pressure and should Manchester City beat an ailing Aston Villa, we will be a tad more secure.

But there is that sense of disappointment and frustration that a club like ours, whose average attendance is up in the top six and who can sell their allocation at the exorbitantly expensive dump known as Loftus Road, are still playing second fiddle to the likes of Fulham who brought fewer fans on a fine Saturday afternoon than Portsmouth did to Hartlepool on a damp and cold Tuesday night.

Season ticket renewals are in the offing, which may explain the invite. For many of us, it won’t be an automatic decision this year and the players and management need to give us something to look forward to come August. A win at QPR and wiping the smile of GoodOlArry’s face would be a start.

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9 thoughts on “The SAFC v Fulham Soapbox: high life, low football, bright skies, dark thoughts”

  1. I actually saw Ellis after the game when he came over to talk to someone I was at the game.I expected him to be downcast but not a bit of it .He was very animated about the last penalty shout and even did a very vigorous re enactment of the scenario before he shot off….I watched amazed….maybe he had overdone the Chateaunuef up in the board room!

  2. On the penalty issue although they could be called soft, Senderos prevented a goalscoring opportunity and should have been red carded, Halsey had a poor game and his intial reaction to their penalty seeemed instinctive what made him chane his mind?. We have a team who can beat man City and play great at times followed by ordinary performances, Ellis Short can’t be happy this season after spending so much.

  3. I thought I saw someone mention Garner being put into midfield again, but then I realised that couldn’t possibly be true as he has proved himself on too many occasions an awful midfielder who is constantly caught in possession and singularly fails to hit a fellow sunderland player at any point in the game. He isn’t a midfielder playing at full back, he’s a decent player, playing in his best position. I’m putting it down to the demon drink on my part, rather then the person who may have written it.
    Sess looking better behind the front 2? Therein lies the problem, he wanders inside from his starting point on the wing, depriving us of any width, then fails to recover his position when the ball is lost, leaving Gardner bereft of any support (both Colback and Gardner were consistently left 2 on 1 on Saturday because Sess and Johnson constantly failed to watch any kind of run) which leads to space and chances. Sess needs freedom to operate and we need wingers who cover – he’s offensively indispensible; defensively a liability. The answer? Stop playing him wide! And never, ever, ever play Gardner in midfield. Ever.
    I shall still watch the QPR game with a sense of hope and expectation.

  4. First penalty was a soft one,which is why Halsey thought about it,technically yes it was, but if ever a player went fishing for one that was a text book example of how to do it.The second was equally soft and given to balance things out.There was never going to be a third unless a player took a chainsaw to a another’s legs and amputated somewhere above the knee.

    Then we get another text book pivotal moment with Mignolet saving from what should have been a certain Berbatov 3rd and we go straight up and equalize.They say 2-0 is always a funny lead and it proved that way for Fulham,Otherwise we would really be in misery right now.

    All in all a typical Sunderland performance then, with a few football cliches thrown in,As a team we are poor and we will stay poor till end of season,still going for 17th-14th finish range.It’s gonna go to the wire.

  5. It was another disappointing performance but we have become used to that for much of this season. However had you offered me a point at 3.30pm on Saturday I would have bitten your hand off so fair play to the players for grinding out a point.

    There are still issues with this team and I still fear the R word is very much on our minds.Our defence has 2 midfielders at full back , a centre back who is a walking bombscare, a midfield which has no tempo or urgency and a winger (who cost a lot of money) and can’t cross a ball. Apart from that everything is okay.

    Pete is correct about the 2 up front. It failed dismally on Saturday and Fletcher is a far better player when on his own and supported by Sess. Fair play to MON for at least giving it a go.

    Our set pieces were utterly abysmal on Saturday and have been for most of this season. I may be missing something here but do we not practice these in training during the week? How many times does the free kick or corner fail to get past the first defender let alone get into an area populated by our players? Was it too hot to make an attempt to practice these on the holiday that was Dubai?

    The next 2 games are going to be pivotal in our season. Should we get 4 or more points then we are safe, 1 or less then we are in serious bother.Anything in between will have us continuing to look over our shoulders.

  6. Serial disappointment gave me a wry smile for some reason, kind of sums up how a lot of us feel. We never could abandon our club though, it’s in the blood no matter how fed up we get.
    Not sure I agree about N’Diaye Malcolm, think he covers a lot of ground and his ball retention is generally good compared to others, albeit he’s still raw. I think Vaughan has paid for being inconsistent to say the least. Larsson, well, I’ll give him his due credit he fought like a lion second half. If we’re going to play him there we need to be getting him into positions he can shoot within 25 yards of goal. We did once yesterday and he hit a decent strike just wide.

  7. Difficult to suggest what the manager can do with the current squad of fit players. We only had six on the bench yesterday, which limits his options somewhat.

    Personally I’m inclined to think we should persevere with the Fletcher Graham combo as they are showing signs of linking up. That Sixer says we looked better after Graham went off is true, but as we have done so many times this season, it happened when we had to throw the kitchen sink forward. For the majority of the season we have played with the formation Pete suggests but if it had been successful we would be higher up the table than we are.

    I’m not sure what N’Diaye is bringing to the team that Vaughan wouldn’t at this stage. Certainly not shooting ability. In the warm up before kick off I’ve yet to see him get a shot on target and he hasn’t really gone close in any game so far, missing a couple of good chances in his first two games.

    Whilst Rose is injured I’d also be tempted to put Bardsley back in the starting line up and replace Larsson or N’Diaye with Gardner but I’m only tinkering.

    The truth is we need to get through this season and sort out the centre of defence and midfield and sign at least two capable full backs. Everyone can see that and everyone is saying that but it doesn’t make it less true.

    • Very well put. It has been a very disappointing season so far, and I expect to see a massive clear out in the summer.

      We seem have plenty of good honest players but too few that have that bit of class that can turn matches….Sess and Mingolet being the exceptions. I expected better of McLean, who seems to be quickly becoming a one season wonder,and also of Johnson who has done very little to justify his transfer fee. I expect us to avoid relegation by five or six points but have a feeling it will a be very close thing.

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