Was yesterday the day we all finally lost patience? What is Ellis Short thinking now about the return on his hefty investment? Why in heaven’s name did we even think of letting Darren Bent go without having another striker lined up? How have good or expensive players suddenly become so clueless? Pete Sixsmith picks his way through the rubble of another disaster …
I once worked for a headteacher who, when things went wrong, would call meetings and ask us all to have a good look at ourselves and sort things out. Morale deteriorated, good teachers did things badly because the motivation wasn’t there and it looked like we would fail a forthcoming OFSTED inspection.
Then he left under a cloud and things got better.
A simple story, most of which is true and something which many people may think applies to Sunderland AFC and Steve Bruce this morning.
I steeled myself to watch MOTD last night and it looked awful. All three goals were avoidable, with poor defending for the first and non-existent challenges from midfield for the other two.
But what worried me more was the demeanour of the manager. Here was a man who looked more than shocked by what he had witnessed. He looked as if he did not have a clue about what to do.
Plenty of people who paid good money to watch this fiasco on Saturday would agree with him; we were awful. The defence was all over the place and previously reliable players like Turner and Onuoha looked like Steve Hetzke and Bernt Haas on a bad day.
Turner had a real stinker. He was taken apart by the excellent Odemwingie, persistently failing to get to the ball first. His distribution was atrocious and his body language suggested that he did not want to play. He is a player I like and I awaited his return, confident in the expectation that he would tighten up the back four. Got that one wrong, didn’t I!!
The four in midfield created very little. Richardson had a good twenty minutes until his knock – although his booking should be met with a large fine for stupidity – and Cattermole was excellent for 44 minutes.
He tried to get us going. His tackling was crisp, he closed down space and apart from one wasteful pass, he managed to find a red and white shirt with a regularity not always associated with him.
But once he was booked, his game fell apart as he knew that one more mistimed lunge and he would be off. As a result, what control we had in midfield disappeared as the other three were about as effective as a trio of Greek, Irish and Portugese bankers.
I had called for the restoration of Malbranque, Elmohamady and Zenden after last weeks humiliation. My wishes were answered, but those who doubted the effectiveness of these three were proved right and I was wrong. Each one of them showed exactly why they should not be playing – timid, no imagination, no punch. Can you ever see one of our midfield players scoring? I can’t.
Problem is, the forwards aren’t either. Welbeck looked as he had done in September – lacking in confidence and out of his depth, while Gyan worked hard but it is misguided effort as a succession of poor balls are thrown in his general direction.
Compare him with Odemwingie, who pulled Turner all over the place and then received a pass, to his feet, from the impressive trio of Brunt, Mulumba and Scharner.
Not only that, he had the presence of mind to take advantage of our inability to deal with a bouncing ball in the area to equalise. In our team, Odemwingie would be watching the ball sail over his head.
Albion are a good side. Man for man they could not compare with the names on the Sunderland team, but they made up for it with a pattern that Roy Hodgson has imposed on them. It’s dead simple. Win the ball, pass it to a player in the same colour shirt as you and keep on doing that. They are very well organised and are as safe as any team can be in this congested bottom half.
Where do we go from here? I don’t know and I suspect that Bruce and Black don’t either. Talk of “battening down the hatches” and “working on the training ground until we get our shape back” indicates that they are struggling.
Niall Quinn and Ellis Short must be extremely worried. This club cannot stand another relegation and that is becoming a distinct possibility. They need to look carefully at Bruce’s body language, gauge the mood of the players and, if a change at the top is necessary before the end of the season, make it. Jeremy Peace at West Brom did and it has worked for them.
Birmingham City next week, followed by Wigan Athletic; we need six points from those two, four as an absolute minimum. Do we stick with this management team for them? My view is “Yes” but it would not surprise me if there was a change. And, should we survive, it is likely that the club will be looking for a new manager for 2001-12.
How on earth has it come to this?