The announcement everyone expected came today, as Gary Bennett had said it would. Dick Advocaat has resigned – see the club statement at http://www.safc.com/news/club-news/2015/october/advocaat-departs – amid kind words from all. Ellis Short, the chairman, said: ‘I am truly saddened by Dick’s decision, but I respect him for his honesty and for doing what he feels is right for the club. He is a man of integrity and a true football person. He was hugely respectful of the club in taking this decision and he acted 100 per cent in our best interests. It is also testament to his character that he has forgone any kind of a financial settlement, something which is very unusual in football.’ Dick’s own words appear in the footnote*.
Pete Sixmsith wrote his report of the 2-2 draw at home to West Ham before the news broke, though he knew as did just everyone what was coming. He sums up the match, and his thoughts on Dick’s departure, with customary eloquence …
As usual, the Greeks have a word for it and that word is swansong.
It means a final gesture, effort or performance given just before retirement or death and dates back to the Greek belief that the swan, a notoriously silent bird that rarely appears on BBC Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day, is silent until death is imminent, whereupon it bursts out into beautiful song just before it expires.
Did Dick give us his swansong yesterday (yes – Ed)? The first half was as good as anything I have seen from my current seat in the Stadium of Light and I have been there for 12 years. The defending was solid for 44 minutes, the midfield totally dominated a good West Ham side and the pace and hunger of the forwards took the breath away after years of tepidness and drudgery.
That it fell apart in the second half (plus one minute at the end of the first) cannot be avoided, but, for the moment, let us dwell on the positives – not something we have done much of recently.
The full backs looked secure, with Billy Jones, a player that Dick clearly likes, having his best game in a Sunderland shirt. He read the game well and got forward as and when he could. His colleague, DeAndre Yedlin, looks raw but has genuine pace and ability and was a safer defensive bet than Van Aanholt.
In the centre of the defence, O’Shea and Coates looked equally secure and this partnership works. What possessed us to bring in Kaboul when we have Brown as a third defender and a couple of decent youngsters? I suspect that Advocaat was as keen on Kaboul as I am on Rugby Union and I wonder if it were that that might have tipped him over the edge.
The three/five man midfield worked. Cattermole was comfortable and sensible in front of the back four, while M’Vila simply oozes quality in front of him. Now that the Stockton Strongman has realised that all he has to do is to give the ball to the French Fortifier (that’s enough strained alliteration – Ed), we move forward with purpose.
In front of these two, Toivonen tolled manfully and looks one of those very good players who will never be quite top notch but will be an asset for clubs like Sunderland, Rennes or Norwich City.
He has a sure touch and, compared with the likes of Gardner, Bridcutt and Colback, looks a very good player indeed. Will he stay with Dick going? Will M’Vila? For the first time since Eric Roy and Stefan Schwartz we have two quality European midfield players. Please tell me that they will not be sacrificed for Kevin Nolan.
Borini and Lens were mostly excellent. Borini caused the Irons defence all kinds of problems in the first half and should have scored when a rejuvenated Fletcher played him in. That would have made it 3-0, would have opened Borini’s account and might have led to a Manchester City style avalanche. But he missed and he also had two other good chances where he needed an extra touch and was pushed to the right.
Lens scored a sublime goal, one which he started himself with a legal challenge on Reid. The ball broke to M’Vila who immediately threaded it through to the Dutchman, who then chipped Adrian to considerable clamour from the 42,000 crowd. Brilliant and just what we wanted.
Two up and cruising.
But it got to Lens’s head and 10 minutes later he was needlessly booked for his challenge on Cresswell when, had he stayed on his feet, he would have been fine. Ten minutes into the second half, another unnecessary challenge on Reid. Neil Swarbrick got few things right on the afternoon but he had little choice here.
Finally, Steven Fletcher, who probably epitomises our squandering of funds over the years, had a game that showed how good he can be when he concentrates on football rather than Ferraris. He took his goal well, led the line like a proper centre forward and gave us some hope for the rest of the season. Will it last, or is it like this week’s weather, no more than an Indian summer for the Scot. I don’t see him being offered a new contract next year whatever division we are in.
So, for a change we have positives sprouting from every orifice. But there are negatives and they will ultimately prove to be our undoing as we slide towards Saturday nights on Channel 5 with George Reilly, Kelly Cates and a tongue tied Michael Gray.
Both of our goals were excellent – both of West Ham’s were totally avoidable. Once again, we failed to keep a clean sheet in the first half as, with seconds remaining, Moses slithered down the left and pulled it back for the onrushing Jenkinson who was not picked up. That was a game changer and set the crowd on edge from the start of the second half. It made Slaven Bilic’s half time talk easier and Dick’s harder.
The second goal was a blunder by the Giant Pantilimon who should have done better with Lanzini’s shot, perhaps catching it rather than patting it down. Payet was quicker to the rebound than our defenders and the lead had gone, never to return.
Even the news from Eastlands was no real consolation.
Then there is the case of Neil Swarbrick. He likes his red cards does our Neil. There were seven last season, eight the year before and Lens was his first this season. I have no problems with that one but, like 40,000 others, failed to see how he could not issue a second yellow to Mark Noble.
He booked the Hammers skipper in the second minute for a foul and continued to book players regularly in a game where there was not one dirty challenge. A block by Noble on Borini was, by the past record of the Preston-born whistler, a yellow and it would have evened the teams up at 10 each. He didn’t and the influential Noble played for another 15 minutes before he was withdrawn by Bilic.
So, another wasted opportunity to claim that first win and it is beginning to look a difficult task.
In the last two relegation seasons we have had eight and five points by the time of the October international break. Two years ago we had one and escaped after changing the manager. It looks like another managerial change and a new philosophy that may not suit the players that Advocaat specifically brought in to do a job – Lens, Toivonen and M’Vila may not be as central to Big Sam, say, as they were to Uncle Dick.
And (as we now know – Ed) this was his final game, then I wish Dick all the best. As the great EJ Thribb may have written:
So, goodbye then Dick Advocaat
You came from Holland to save Sunderland from relegation
And went back home when you heard that swan singing
Back to your roll mops and Edam (or Gouda) cheese
And Mrs Advocaat’s tulips
* And this is what Dick Advocaat had to say about his resignation: ‘I have made the decision to go after only eight games as I felt it was important to give everyone time turn things around – like we did last year. I am thankful to the chairman for understanding my feelings and I remain on good terms with everyone at the club.
‘I wish Ellis, Lee (Congerton), all of the staff, players and of course the supporters, who made me feel so welcome here, the very best of luck for the rest of the season. I have some wonderful memories to take.’