Pete Sixsmith, with apologies to Bon Jovi (or was it a band called Europe?) for his headline choice, is fed up. From Bardsley’s impersonation of Jonny Wilkinson (can conversions be that high in rugby?) to the kamikaze defending, yesterday was no day for faint hearts; Sixer’s nearly gave up the ghost …
At 4.49 on Saturday, the usually reliable Wes Brown made an elementary error to hand Wigan Athletic their first away win of the season and, in all probability, start the process that brings down the curtain on Steve Bruce’s 30 months in charge at the Stadium of Light.
Brown’s error was inexplicable, on a day that featured hapless central defenders in Wesley, the manager and David Corner, dragged from well deserved obscurity to do the half time draw to applause that was so muted as to be almost sepulchral. However his error at Wembley did not lead to howls of derision coming down from the stands. Brown’s did.
I have never heard Sunderland fans turn on a manager like this. From all four stands came “Bruce Out” and it got louder as the final whistle went. Reid got some of it, Wilkinson was booed, Keane was grumbled at, while poor Mick McCarthy was given oodles of sympathy because he had nothing to spend.
This was a full scale mutiny from fans who love the club, who want it to succeed, who have sat and suffered for 11 months and have been rewarded with two home wins. These are fans who pay £400 for season tickets, who come every game and, like Peter Finch in Network are “as mad as hell and ain’t going to take it any more” The clear feeling was that enough was enough.
And yet, it started so well. The passing was crisp and sharp and for 35 minutes, it looked like a game between a side on the up and a side stuck at the bottom. Bendtner held the ball up well, Sessegnon ran at the defenders and was kicked for his pains, Richardson looked dangerous and the defence was untroubled. When the impressive Larsson took advantage of an error by Al-Habsi, we sat back and awaited the oft promised kick start.
It failed to materialise. The keeper made up for his mistake with good saves from Richardson and Brown, but the turning point came when Phil Bardsley missed an absolute sitter in front of goal. From that moment on, the confidence drained away and Wigan began to believe that there was something in this game for them
Moses began to run at the permanently disappointing O’Shea and when Larsson clumsily nudged him in the box, Gomez put away the penalty to level up a minute before half time. Had we gone in 1 up, it would have eased the pressure. The crowd would have applauded them off. Bruce could have emphasised the positives. But we didn’t.
We started the second half well, but it soon began to fall away. Bendtner kept out of the Wigan box, allowing Caldwell and Stam (hardly world class central defenders) to organise and clear their lines. Al-Habsi was not forced into one worthwhile save in the second half as crosses whizzed along the line and defenders blocked shots.
The substitutions smacked of panic. Off came Cattermole and Bardsley to be replaced by a new central midfield combination in Gardner and Vaughan. They had 25 minutes to try and change the course of the game and they failed. Then, O’Shea went off to be replaced by Ji and Larsson went to right back rather than slinging in centres at the still to convince Korean.
This decision probably sums up Steve Bruce. Here was a game we had to win – a draw was as bad as a defeat – and he cannot/will not trust his defenders to hold out while the kitchen sink (or in our case, the kitchen washing up bowl|) is thrown at the opposition. Safety first all the time; so little spark and imagination.
Then came the blunder that will be talked about for weeks and it was all over. Wigan had not forced Westwood into a single save, yet they had won. Players slumped to the ground prostrate and the jeering cranked up.
Martinez took over at Wigan at the same time as Bruce took over at Sunderland. He has had considerably less money to spend and cannot lure players to the DW Stadium with promises of a passionate crowd and immortality.
But what he can do is organise a side. Whoever he picks, they will know exactly what they have to do. They will be well prepared, well briefed and will play to a pattern. The midfield pushes forward, they have pace and although they are lightweight up front, they have willing runners who do not drift in and out of the game.
We far too often appear to be 11 men in Red and White shirts who are told to go out and play. Midfield sits deep. Sessegnon is told to be tricky. Bendtner is told to put himself about. But there does not appear to be any plan or any coherent approach to the game. It’s all about “rolling the sleeves up on the training ground”. I can hear Martinez and the young breed of managers coming through (Adkins, Lambert, Rogers), having a wee chuckle at that.
What now? Bruce handled the press conference with dignity and a degree of honesty – although he was not publicly prepared to admit to any shortcomings. He said he is not a quitter and that he is sure he can “sort this out”. I wonder.
He will have an awful week. There are many who would happily drop him off the Wearmouth Bridge and few who would throw him a lifebelt. He will probably remain in charge for the Wolves game and, if we win that, the Blackburn one. Lose either and he will be gone.
Ellis Short is from Missouri and Missourians are known to be sceptical. It is known as “The Show Me State”, indicating that, for those from Independence Mo, actions speak louder than words. His actions over the next two weeks will show us if Short can follow in the footsteps of Harry Truman and make a very difficult decision and cut loose a manager he has backed. 40,000 people wait expectantly, Ellis.