The world saw Pete Sixsmith shaking his head in disbelief, or rather all too familiar belief, at Molineux. If you thought that made for dodgy television, wait until you read what Pete makes of having been present at the chilling reality of one more Sunderland collapse …
Martin O’Neill started to follow Sunderland at about the same time as M Salut and I.
We all worshipped Charlie Hurley, Jimmy McNab, George Mulhall and others of that generation. That side was a good one that failed to establish itself in the top flight because of a dithering board of directors. Our current custodian of the club has acted quickly and has appointed a manager renowned for being successful. What on earth did he make of Sunday?
He must have been impressed with the two Kierans and Sessegnon: all three did well. For 70 minutes, he must have nodded his head in approval as Brown and O’Shea strode through the game and looked like the players we expect them to be.
Larsson, Bardsley and Colback would probably have him thinking that they were competent, if limited Premier League players. He saw the best and worst of Cattermole – a great through ball to Bendtner in the build up to the goal, preceded by a needless booking when he attempted to hold up a Wolves player. He won’t be starting next Sunday as it was his fifth yellow of the season. Not a captain who leads by example.
I don’t think he would have been impressed with Ji Dong-won or Bendtner. The Korean looked way, way out of his depth, while the Dane did not seem to have a great deal of, shall we say, “personal motivation”.
As Larsson lined up to take the penalty, O’Neill could well have been thinking that we had won it and it relieved the pressure. Twenty minutes later, he would have been thinking that he and his coaching staff have an awful lot of work to do between now and next Sunday if we are to stay out of the bottom three.
This was a four game stretch that was supposed to start our season off, four winnable games against teams in the same category as us: strugglers. From three games, we have taken one point – and that came courtesy of a glaring Clint Dempsey miss.
We have taken the lead in the last two and have proved incapable of holding on to it. This week, we contrived to let Steve Fletcher loose in the box on two occasions so that he could score. That’s what Fletcher does – put him in the box and he scores. Presumably, neither Brown nor O’Shea realised this and so left him unmarked.
But the main problem came in the centre of midfield, where our two limited members, Cattermole and Colback, were pushed back by their two limited members, Edwards and O’Hara. Four similar players, neat and tidy, good ball winners, lacking in imagination, but the Wolves pair seized the opportunity to push us back. Plus, they have an outlet in Jarvis that we do not. Width and pace are sadly lacking in O’Neill’s inherited team.
The first half was distinctly average, with a great save from Westwood and a Sessegnon shot cleared off the line being the only notable incidents. Wolves concentrated on getting the ball to Jarvis, but Bardsley handled him well and Fletcher and Doyle did little to trouble the centre backs.
Richardson’s excellent goal gave us hope and when Larsson tumbled over Craddock’s outstretched leg for the penalty, it looked all over. He made the most of it, but Craddock did have his leg in the way and there was minimal contact. Phil Dowd was perfectly positioned and was right to give it (Salut! Sunderland split shock – ed).
Whether Larsson was right to take it was another matter. Sessegnon took the last one we got and stroked it in nicely. Larsson appeared to be intimidated by the unhappy crowd and the giant figure of Hennessey and took a penalty that I could have saved. Poor stuff!!
I turned to Ronnie McDonald and said: “We’ll lose this now.” That was based on 50 years of watching Sunderland and I know when we are about to fall to pieces. Had we scored, the crowd would have been quietened and may well have turned on McCarthy and we would have coasted home.
Instead, they perceived that a wrong had been righted and went up and scored. Wolves fans can be a miserable bunch (QPR and Swansea at home show that), but when they get the bit between their teeth, they can lift players. Which is exactly what they did.
The previously unruffled Brown and O’Shea now found themselves under intense pressure and could not handle it. Jarvis skinned Bardsley, O’Hara might have handled it in the build up to the winner but Brown lost Fletcher and that was it. From a position of dominance, we were now in deficit and never looked like levelling.
The new management team have this week to instil some confidence in a bunch of players who are severely lacking it at the moment. Goalscoring is a problem as there is nobody we can rely on to get us one when we are under pressure. The midfield does not impose itself and it will be interesting to see who gets in on Sunday. There are rumours that Gardner has not settled and may be off to Wolves in January. O’Neill has already sold him once.
As for Wolves, they worked hard throughout and personify Mick McCarthy: gritty, determined and reliable, a hard side to beat if you allow them to come back at you. It was a huge win for them and gives them hope for the future. That’s the third season running they have come from behind to beat us at Molineux. They must love playing Sunderland.
Next Sunday is now a real six-pointer and a serious test for the new manager. Expectations of a 17th place finish are all that we are interested in at the moment, but a resurgent Rovers team may well dump us in the bottom three. Martin O’Neill must be thinking wistfully of the Hurleys and Crossans of another world as he looks at the collection of odds and ends that make up the squad he has inherited.