Burton Albion came to Wearside knowing that they had never lost there and left with that record intact. The result left the home side in their lowest ever position since joining the Football League in 1890, after a performance which was as grim as the weather.
The phrase “gone for a Burton” is thought to have originated in WW2 when the euphemism was used to explain the non appearance of RAF pilots after skirmishes during the Battle of Britain. Burton Ales were popular at the time and rather than report that a pilot was missing in action or had been shot down it was suggested that they had popped out for a pint. It was SAFC that went for a Burton last night.
Marmite is a byproduct of the brewing industry and is also produced in Burton on Trent. It might be said that Jack Ross was a marmite manager, liked by some, loathed by others and earlier in the season it was those who found him distasteful who got their way. So how might we describe Phil Parkinson in terms of stuff to spread on our breakfast toast? Not Gentleman’s Relish it would seem, if the dissenting voices in the Roker End are anything to go by.
Malcolm Dawson and Pete Sixsmith were both there, suffering with the rest and with them sharing the responsibility for reporting on home games this season, it is Malcolm who drew the short straw and is forced to recall the events of last night over his scrambled eggs.
ENOUGH TO DRIVE A MAN TO DRINK
Well let’s start with the positives:
It didn’t rain.
The queue for the park and ride was non existent.
I was back in my car just after 10 o’clock.
I was having a cup of tea with my sister in law in Houghton just 35 minutes after the full time whistle and the dog was pleased to see me.
Ten years ago Sunderland, managed by Roy Keane were a Premier League club and Burton were in what was then known as the Conference. Last night those of us unfortunate enough to be there saw two League One clubs (and let’s face it not even very good ones) playing in a Premier League Stadium.
Twenty years ago I was living in a small rural, former mining village, not that far from Burton on Trent, regularly making the 380 mile round trip on a Tuesday night to the Stadium of Light, to see a team with the likes of Niall Quinn, Kevin Phillips, Eric Roy and Stephan Schwartz finish 7th in the highest division of English football. Now and then when Sunderland didn’t have a game, I would occasionally go to Burton’s crumbling ground at Eton Park, to see them in the Dr Marten’s League face the might of such teams as Ilkeston, Atherstone United or Rothwell Town. How times have changed.
Last night the teams met on equal terms, but only a handful of Burton fans made that journey to see a Sunderland team with the likes of Conor McLaughlin, Will Grigg, Joel Lynch and Chris Maguire drop to 11th place in what many of us still like to think of as the Third Division.
Meanwhile I have moved to a small rural, former mining village somewhat closer to the Stadium of Light and am left wondering why I bother to make a round trip of less than 40 miles.
Make no mistake, it’s not the fact that the club finds itself in the lowest league position in its history and has gone out of the FA Cup in the first round for the first time ever since the Football League was extended and teams in the top divisions were excluded from the early rounds. No it’s the fact that I’m not sure I want to endure any more afternoons or evenings like last night.
So to the football. It was not good last night – there’s no getting away from it. The team performance was not good enough to take the three points from a club that is hardly setting this division alight.
With Conor McLaughlin back from suspension, it allowed Luke O’Nien to play in his more favoured midfield role, just behind the lone striker and ahead of Leadbitter and Power. Watmore replaced Maguire on the right and not only injected more pace into the team but was also more disciplined in his positioning, giving us more width down that flank. Both Maguire and McGeady look to drift inside as soon as they can and not only does this make us play too narrow and easier to defend but ends up pushing Will Grigg who, reputation would have it, is a proven goalscorer, away from the predator’s natural habitat in front of goal. I have been patient with Grigg, pointing to a lack of service, but to be honest Josh Maja, frequently also had to cope with little in the way of quality balls but somehow developed the knack of making space and finding the net. Whatever confidence Grigg brought with him from Wigan has surely gone now. Many are calling for Kimpioka to start and they may be right but my feeling is that he isn’t the answer to our problems and a run in the team may actually knock his confidence. Still I thought that about Maja as well before he proved to be a goal machine.
I have noticed a change in the pre-match warm up since PP has replaced JR and while the starting XI still indulge in a bit of small sided two touch possession passing drills, they do it in a marked area which is roughly ten yards square, rather than a much smaller two by two and they are bringing this into games. Under Ross we would often see two or three players, almost on top of each other tippy tapping the ball between them in tight situations, allowing opponents to get close. This has the advantage of creating more space away from the ball but more often than not resulted in our conceding possession. Now the players appear to be trying to make more medium length passes of six to twelve yards. This has the advantage of making opponents space out but unfortunately many of our players don’t appear to have the ability to make these kinds of passes with sufficient accuracy. Combine this with a lack of understanding as to where passes will go and we are conceding possession far too easily.
Coventry’s goal on Saturday came after a woeful back pass from Maguire put Burge under pressure and the keeper did well only to concede a corner. But that needless corner resulted in the Sky Blue’s opener. That had come after several other poor passes, often just outside our own penalty area, Leadbitter and Hume being especially culpable in those early stages. Leadbitter was at it again last night but he was by no means alone.
One incident in the second half summed it up for me. Joel Lynch, in space and with time, air kicked at a ball that was no more than a foot away from him, then tried to recover by playing the ball to Jordan Willis, but his pass was woefully short and it was easily intercepted as Burton bore down on goal. Lynch to his credit, got back and put in a saving tackle but a side more clinical than Burton, would have got a third. In fact on at least two occasions I remarked that the Burton forwards looked as poor as ours.
But it started so well! Though we were by no means dominating the game we weren’t second best either in the early stages. A good cross field run from Watmore saw him pass for once and send the ball out wide left. It reached Aiden McGeady who played the ball into the box where O’Nien had his heel clipped and the ref pointed to the spot. The lad that sits next to me couldn’t look, recalling McGeady’s previous effort which had been one of the worst penalties I’d ever seen. No such problems this time as he spurned the fancy stuff to drive it hard and low into the bottom left hand corner as O’Hara moved in the opposite direction. One – nil and with the players celebrating my neighbour decided it was safe to dispose of some pre-match lager. When he got back to his seat he had missed seeing two goals as the visitors were back on level terms after less than thirty seconds of actual play.
A throw on their right was moved quickly and accurately and a neat back heeled flick from Boyce found Wallace in space inside the box. He side footed firmly towards goal and though Burge did well to get two hands on it, could only palm it out to Edwards who had got in front of Denver Hume and he had the easiest of tasks to stick it away with a simple header.
When we weren’t misplacing medium length passes we were trying the route one approach which was equally inaccurate and kept the ball boys busy. The Brewers on the other hand, whilst hardly world beaters were at least able to pass the ball to players in the same colour shirts and created a decent chance when Boyce was put into the box. The Burton fans will probably think he should have done better with his left foot effort, while we can credit Burge with another decent save which this time was cleared to safety.
In one of our better moves, Hume who had been trying to run at defenders all half, carried the ball infield and slipped it through to O’Nien who had a decent enough effort but one which O’Hara was able to turn round the post with a diving save to add to his DvD CV.
It doesn’t take much to knock the stuffing out of the side at the moment and for the most part we huffed and puffed our way to half time with those around me increasingly frustrated. There were a few boos from the south end of the ground as the sides walked off for their half time energy drinks and hair dryer avoidance tactics, though this manager does not appear to be that animated, so maybe they just settled for the Lucozade or Carabao.
On around about 48 minutes the Roker End decided to get behind the team and for the next quarter of an hour or so were as vocal and supportive as I’ve heard for a while. It was during this air of positivity that we were at our best (though that’s not saying much) and took the game to Burton without ever really looking like regaining the lead, although at one point McGeady teed up McLaughlin whose powerful drive just cleared the crossbar instead of breaking the net bringing back memories of Chris Makin. Then Hume and McGeady combined down the left hand side and the Scottish Irishman whipped in a cross from the by line which found O’Nien but his bouncing shot was easily collected by O’Hara at the second attempt after taking the pace off it.
With the crowd starting to quieten down again it was inevitable that we would concede a second as Burton took control. They had broken and found space a number of times, often as a result of our players’ inability to keep possession and eventually they were able to finish off a move and finish off our hopes of a win. That it was such a soft goal, lacking in any sort of defensive challenge was too much for the home fans. The ball was collected by the Burton left back who played a simple ball to Scott Fraser, just inside the centre circle in his own half of the pitch. Fraser ran unchallenged all the way into our box with no red and white shirt ever getting within a yard of him. A simple ball across the face of goal and the onrushing and unmarked Liam Boyce had the simplest of finishes and the boos started.
It wasn’t just the goal that created the unrest. It was such an easy goal of the sort we seem to have forgotten how to create ourselves that summed up the way the side is performing at the moment. When the ball went past Burge there were more yellow shirts around Boyce. Far too often we just fail to create meaningful opportunities from decent positions. Far too often, we try hopeful long balls that come to nothing. Far too often we make things easy for opponents. The visitors continued to find space and create chances, one long range effort rattling the cross bar with Burge beaten and if anyone was going to score again it would be them.
And so another miserable night wound down. I was getting frustrated in my own quiet way. Others were more vocal. Singing “sacked in the morning” and booing the team off the field may be a way of showing dissatisfaction but it’s not going to get us out of this mess. It will, if anything have the opposite effect.
Twelve months ago we had an owner, a manager and players who wanted to be here. People who were looking to get the club out of the mess it had found itself in and who wanted to give something back to the fans. We had an opportunity then to build on what we had – excellent facilities and a large and passionate fan base. Unfortunately some of that passion is expressed in less than helpful ways. I’ll not forget the way some in the Sunderland end have berated our players in angry and aggressive ways at places like Fleetwood and Accrington. We saw at the beginning of last season how far owners, management and players would go to develop the relationship with supporters. Even last night Max Power and Chris Maguire found time between the warm up and kick off to pose for selfies with young fans but there seem to be too many who were too quick to seize the opportunity to do the club down.
These people may purport to care about the club but the way they show their passion can only in my view, end with the complete opposite result to that which they crave. Twelve months ago playing in front of 30,000 at the SoL must have seemed like a dream to many players. Playing in the toxic atmosphere that hung around the ground after that second goal went in will hardly inspire any player or manager to want to come here. Stewart Donald must be beginning to wonder if his effort and investment is worth it in the face of such ingratitude. How attractive will potential investors see the club now? As a going concern with the potential for success or as a source of asset stripping after running down the playing side of things?
Once again we see and hear their simplistic solutions. Sack the board, change the manager, get rid of the players and bring in the names that the press bandy about, whether or not those names are open to a move to Sunderland. I’m not saying fans are to blame for our current predicament but I don’t think a section of them are helping or doing themselves any favours. At the root of the problem is this notion that we are a “big club”. We may be in terms of facilities and the amount of people that come through the turnstiles but we are hardly a successful club in modern times.
Six times we have finished as the top club in English football.
Five of those times were more than a century ago. The last time was 84 seasons ago and we won the Cup for the first time the following season. The only other occasion the FA Cup was brought back to Wearside was 47 seasons ago. It’s going to be a long time before we get back to those heights. It’s not impossible but it will need time and patience, qualities which some amongst the Sunderland fanbase seem to lack. Just 11 years ago Leicester City were relegated to the third tier and nine years later won the Premier League and are currently sitting second in the top flight. It didn’t happen overnight and their fans are loving it.
Now I’ve got that off my chest I need to reiterate that the way we are playing at the moment is nowhere near good enough to take us on a similar journey. There are plenty of reasons other than negativity in the stands, in the pubs, on the internet and in the press which have brought us to this nadir. We can look at tactics, individual players, recruitment and a whole host of other issues.What is clear is that just now we are simply not good enough to get out of this division and I’m not looking forward to my next game. I’ll still be there though.
Ha’way the lads!
If there is any copyright claim, not answered by “fair use”, on the images used in this report please let us know and we will acknowledge or remove as requested
As readers know, we have been unable to publish comments for some weeks and this seems likely to remain unresolved as we wind down the site (which will remain visible until the hosting period, already paid for, expires).
Each post we publish allows a solitary response, which does not appear but can be seen by Salut! Sunderland’s editors behind the scenes. Afterwards, anyone hoping to comment is prevented from doing so and sees an automatic message about a ‘critical error’ on the site. Phil Davison’s was that single response to this article. It read simply: ‘Malcolm and Pete. I will miss the voices of reason regarding SAFC’.
IF YOU WISH TO MAKE CONTACT WITH US, please us this e-mail address or visit our Facebook group at this link . It is open to all; if you receive a prompt asking you to join, be assured that it is a simple process and approval is very quick