John McCormick writes: Some time in the sixties I can remember congratulating a group of Baggies in the Fulwell end after WBA had undergone a terrific cup run. Since then we’ve both experienced the highs and lows that come with supporting also-rans. Most recently we’ve been on the up and they’ve been yo-yos. Are circumstances changing once more? Back from The Hawthorns, Pete Sixsmith gives us his opinion:
Churchill described Montgomery and the Sixth Army’s victory at El Alamein as the end of the beginning of the war against Nazism but not the beginning of the end. It could well be that this latest defeat marks the same for Paolo Di Canio in his attempt to engineer a revolution at the beached whale known as Sunderland AFC.
This is the fourth manager since we dispensed with Mick McCarthy two thirds of the way through the 15 point season. Bob Murray kept the faith in the Yorkshireman, but the disparate collection of players that McCarthy had assembled had us relegated before the Christmas decorations had come down.
It started off badly with five consecutive defeats, before picking up a little bit as we rose to the giddy heights of 17th after a couple of draws and a win at Middlesbrough. After eight games, we had 5 points and there was a scintilla of hope. That was blown away when Manchester United came to the Stadium and toyed with us while winning 3-1.
This time round, with a huge number of new players, we have a single point on the board. Games 6, 7 and 8 are not against West Brom, Middlesbrough and West Ham but against Liverpool, Manchester United and Swansea City. All three teams have ambitions at the upper end of the league or in Europe. Doesn’t look good, does it?
Of our first five opponents in 2005, we met Liverpool (finished 2nd), Chelsea (won the title) and Manchester City (started well under Eriksson before crashing and burning). This time round, apart from Arsenal, we have played teams who are part of our group, the “could do well, could struggle group”. We are no longer members of that one, being founder members of the “long, hard season” group, which currently consists of us and maybe Crystal Palace and Fulham.
West Brom will finish comfortably in mid table as they are a competent, well organised team who have good players who are well organised and who know what they are supposed to do. Which is the exact opposite of Sunderland………………………
Team selection looked reasonable, with Gardner and Ki taking up the roles that they had filled well enough in the second half last week. Borini, a player who seems to excite Di Canio more than he does the support, came in for Altidore, which may have worked against a potentially ponderous central defence of Olsson and McAuley. Giaccherini took the place of Mavrias and O’Shea was in for Roberge. Quite a conservative line up by PDC’s standards – but tellingly, no sign of Vaughan or Larsson. They didn’t even make it to the bench.
For twenty minutes we were neat and tidy and had the upper hand as we pushed Albion back. But we never threatened their goal and Myhill spent the whole afternoon on his feet, never once dirtying his knees as a result of our attacking.
In the 20th minute the immutable law of the ex came into action when Westwood failed to deal with a shot from Sinclair and Stephane Sessegnon followed up to score a simple goal. No celebrations from Sess – he knows that, whatever the Head Coach thinks of him, the fans hold him in high regard – but he knew that he had just won the game for the Baggies as he would be well aware of how fragile his former team mates were.
From the seats behind the goal, we could see that that little bit of confidence that we had vanishing like spring snow. Shoulders were slumped, passes were misplaced and we resorted to lumping the ball upfield and hoping that we could get on the end of it.
The second half saw the ineffective Giaccherini replaced by Mavrias, but things barely improved. Cattermole came back into the fold for Gardner and he began to play a little bit. It was his pass that put the anodyne Adam Johnson in and Johnson’s cross was helped on by Altidore (on for the equally anodyne and ineffective Borini) and Fletcher put it over the bar, dislocating his shoulder in the process. No more subs available and a difficult task became an uphill one as Westwood’s punch from an Amalfitano corner went to Liam Ridgewell who rattled it into the net. I saw Ridgewell, those facing the ball saw him, but the nearest man to him, Adam Johnson, was facing the wrong way and didn’t. That’s not down to coaching, but down to players who don’t care. Johnson has been the most disappointing signing since Brett Angell showed that he could only score against us and not for us.
The third goal was academic and I was walking back to the coach and missed it, but it was a shocking defeat against a side that had scored but a single goal all season and that by a central defender at Fulham in the 90th minute.
There was plenty of time to chew over this on a quiet journey home and the chewing was not pleasant. Di Canio can go to the fans until he is blue in the face, but this was another performance which made it clear that our tenure in the Premier League is hanging by a thread. The Head Coach and the Director of Football need to be checking their contracts for severance terms.
As usual, we had stopped in Lichfield, where visiting Mags had caused problems the week before. Staffordshire’s finest were out in numbers but were untroubled. I spent some time watching Dr Samuel Johnson’s 304th birthday being celebrated in the Market Square by various choirs, civic dignitaries and actors. It is not recorded whether the good Doctor was a Baggie, a Villan, a Bluenose or a Wolf. But he did say something that gets to the essence of what PDC has to do;
“to strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next is to strive and deserve to conquer.”
Nobody worked harder than Mick McCarthy eight years ago and look how we ended up. Di Canio will have to adopt Herculean efforts to get us out of this mess.
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