The cruel truth is that our season seems over. Sunderland inspire so little confidence that many, maybe most supporters feel at least they’ll know the worst by tomorrow night. In other words, Wigan fail to win and we survive, they win and we go down, since few consider Sunderland up to doing the job for themselves at Spurs. And no one would dare look to Villa for favours, though they’d go down on goal difference should all the ifs come together including us drawing at WHL. Pete Sixsmith has seen it all before. Will he pay to endure it again? …
There are many times over the last far too many years when I have said that I have had enough and I won’t be bothering next season. I actually did it after the relegation at Selhurst Park and only watched a dozen games of the Play Off season. Eventually, I drifted back and have sat through another 14 seasons of highs and lows. But I have to say that the camel’s back is very, very close to being broken.
In a week when my best mate has lost the love of his life, football pales into insignificance. But, rightly or wrongly, the game does matter. It matters to me, it matters to Pete Horan and it mattered to Sue.
So, after a wretched week, a win over Southampton and the securing of our place in the top flight, would have lifted those of a red and white persuasion who knew and loved Sue. Instead, we messed up yet again.
No club in football knows how to mess up like Sunderland. Chelsea in 1963, Liverpool at home in 1969 when they gave us chance after chance to win before Chris Lawler apologetically scored the goal that sent us down, numerous mess ups against the likes of Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and Gillingham which have contrived to either send us down or keep us down; all have been witnessed and absorbed.
This time, if Wigan secure victory at Ashburton Grove, we will have to win our final game at White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur, a free flowing, easy on the eye team, who desperately want Champions League football, in order to guarantee a place at the (very) rich man’s table next season. And the chances of that are …….?
Believe me, this was an inept performance from a crowd of players who look like they are stumbling towards the Championship. They were made to look worse than ordinary by a Southampton team who were tactically superior, passed the ball to their players and should have won comfortably. Only Mignolet and some slack finishing gave us the dog’s chance that we have now.
Granted, the squad is wafer thin. Two players have managed to get themselves red carded in the final stage of the season, leaving us even shorter handed. We have injuries to our only goalscorer and the captain who, for all his failings, may just have given us a lift.
What we are left with is a team that is, quite frankly, hopeless, managed by a novice and which, on the evidence of the last three games, does not deserve to retain its Premier League place. The current head coach has inherited a gargantuan mess from the previous two regimes, but those three games have indicated that he has strange ideas of how to use the players at his disposal.
Once again, we went into a game with James McClean on the field and David Vaughan on the bench. That was bad enough, but to compound that by starting McClean on the right after the awful performance he had put in on Monday was difficult to fathom. The Irishman has all the appearance of a six month wonder. Giovanni Trappatoni must be chortling into his grappa.
Add to that, a centre forward who combines the worst traits of Andy Gray, Tom Ritchie and (one for the connoisseurs) Andy Kerr, and the prospects of us streaking into an unassailable lead are about as likely as Simon Cowell coming over all humble.
Graham looked a busted flush. He must be regretting leaving South Wales, a League Cup winners medal and Premier League and European football next season, so he could return to his roots. There is every chance that he will be departing them in the summer.
On Saturday, I took in a Wearside League game between Willington and Prudhoe Town. The home team will finish either first or second and will return to the Northern League after a lengthy absence. They had two no nonsense central defenders who did what ours can’t do; they can pass to their own players and they can clear their lines when they need to. Maybe Carlos Cuellar and John O’Shea could ask them how they do it and try it out at whichever club they are playing for next season.
Cuellar had a nightmare and showed that like a temperamental pace bowler he has to be rested frequently. His distribution was dreadful, his marking poor and his reaction to the Southampton cross from which they equalised, abysmal. He wasn’t alone in standing around admiring Mignolet’s save, while Puncheon stepped in quickly to give the visitors a well deserved point.
As for the rest, Colback was the pick of the bunch; he had high energy and actually played some thoughtful football. Johnson had a couple of runs, particularly after McClean had departed at half time and N’Diaye showed some promise. He would be better if he could stay on his feet, particularly when tackling.
Southampton looked neat and tidy and should build on this season to establish themselves as a decent Premier League side. Luke Shaw looked a good prospect at left back and the whole team had a pleasing shape about it, with midfielders knowing what they were supposed to do rather than just running around chasing the ball as ours too frequently do.
The jury is out on the head coach. He has to attempt to make a silk purse out the various sows’ ears that Messrs. Bruce and O’Neill have left at SR1. He is limited through injuries and suspensions as to what he can do and he needs a transfer window to stamp his and his coaching staff’s identity on Sunderland AFC.
It is a big job. Any neutral watching the football that Wigan played at Wembley and comparing it with the dross that we have served up on a consistent basis this season, would not hesitate in giving the Pie Eaters the thumbs up and us the thumbs down.
Will it get any better next season? Can a man with limited experience of big transfers bring in players who will take us away from the wretchedly low level that we have inhabited for years. Will I be there to see it? It’s easy to cancel a direct debit.
Meanwhile, as the banner says: “In Arsène We Trust.”