Feb 272014
 

The first trophy of the football season will be decided at Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon as Man City play Sunderland in the League Cup Final. It’s always a memorable occasion as the two sets of fans descend on Wembley for the big match and although Man City will start the game as overwhelming favourites, they will not be underestimating a Sunderland side who have done a brilliant job to get this far in the competition.  Gus Poyet and his men are in the midst of a relegation battle in the Premier League but they seem to have been able to play without that pressure in the Cup this season, which has seen them make it all the way to the Capital One Cup final and are also in the last eight of the FA Cup.

Meanwhile, Man City are right in the hunt on all domestic fronts going into this final and it would be a massive boost for Manuel Pellegrini if he can lift a trophy at the first time of asking since taking over at the Etihad last summer. His City side are right in the mix in the Premier League and are still in the FA Cup, making the treble a real possibility whilst are also still technically in the Champions League for the time being but face a massive task to keep the dream of winning the ‘quad’ alive having lost the first leg clash with Barcelona 2-0 recently.

City have been scoring goals for fun this season, only Liverpool have scored more in the Premier League, and given the strength of their attacking flair, it would be no surprise to see them give the Black Cats defence plenty to think about.

That said, more recently, City have struggled a little bit over the last few games when it comes to scoring, with only one goal to their name from their last four matches in all competitions. That will give Sunderland a glimmer of hope heading into this one although City fans will no doubt be expecting that mini scoring drought to come to an end sooner, rather than later. Sergio Aguero is back in training and the Argentinian will surely be desperate to be part of the squad for the big match. The bookmakers are convinced that city are the team to beat here with majority of online bookmakers rating them as short as 3/10 shots to win the match within 90 minutes!

It has been a very tough season for Sunderland so far with this Cup run the main highlight of what has been a difficult slog up to this point. Paolo Di Canio was given the elbow back in September after a disastrous spell in charge and while Gus Poyet has overseen a recovery of sorts, they remain deep in the relegation mire with the campaign now entering its final phase. They have lost their last two League games which has seen Sunderland slip back down into the drop zone with the prospect of a League Cup Final clearly having an effect on their performances recently.

Sunderland will go into the final hoping to emulate Wigan who beat Man city to cause an upset in the FA Cup final last season despite being massive underdogs. That is the blueprint for Poyet and the Sunderland players and on their day, the Black Cats have been something of a bogey side for the mega riches of Man City. That was the case earlier this season as Sunderland beat City 1-0 at the Stadium of Light which will surely give them some confidence ahead of this massive game.

Punters wanting to back Sunderland to win the League Cup Final in 90 minutes are looking at a juicy price of 10/1 with Bet Victor (the same odds Wigan were heading in to the FA Cup final), while backing them to win the trophy by any method might prove more value at 9/2 as the Mackems may fancy their chances more if they can take the game to extra time or penalties. Poyet will be hoping that Steven Fletcher can regain his scoring touch in front of goal, while Adam Johnson will also be key for the Black Cats as he looks to take revenge on his former club this weekend.

The League Cup is often seen as the poor relation when it comes to the domestic trophies in England but there is no doubting the importance of the Final this season. Man City are without question the team to beat and it is hard to think they won’t lift the trophy on Sunday, if they play anywhere near their best. It would be a major post for Pellegrini to lead City to the first trophy on offer and he will be hoping that a win this weekend can catapult them to more silverware over the coming months. Sunderland are likely to try and keep it tight at the back with the hope of nipping a goal as Wigan did in the FA Cup final last season, but the chances of lightning striking Man City twice in less than 12 months are slim to say the least.

Aug 312013
 

Crystal Palace vs Sunderland, 17:30

– It may be only the second weekend in the Premier League, but this clash at Selhurst Park could already be billed as a six-pointer with neither side able to muster a win as of yet. and with both teams only scoring one goal apiece in the league thus far, upping their accuracy in front of goal will be paramount.

– The Black Cats task will not be made any easier by the presence of Joel Ward in Crystal Palace’s backline. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index the English right-back has made 11 tackles – the most of any defender. This sort of dogged determination is exactly what the Palace faithful will be yearning for, as they brace themselves for the relegation scrap that they have in store.

– On the opposite flank, Dean Moxey is certainly putting in his own defensive shift making 8 tackles in the first two games, second only behind his team mate.

– Crystal Palace’s defensive feats have also been aided by the contribution of Damien Delaney. He has made 23 clearances so far this season, the eighth most in the league.

– Midfield general Mile Jedinak has also made his fair share of defensive clearances.He cleared the ball 14 times against Stoke, showcasing his ability to protect the back four.

– Sunderland have struggled for goals in the first couple of games of the season, and midfielder Cabral will have to up his game to improve Sunderland’s fortunes. Of the 4 shots he has attempted, he has failed to hit the target once. Only Hatem Ben Arfa has a worse ratio.

– Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has invested in foreign talent this Summer, with 10 foreign players arriving to bolster the ranks. Jack Colback is one of the English players to remain, and he’s certainly proving his worth withb a 100% tackle success rate. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index he has won all 5 of his tackles.

– Adam Johnson may have considered himself unlucky to have missed out on Roy Hodgson’s England squad, as, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, his 4 crosses are the second most in the league. His battle with the Eagles’ outstanding fullbacks is something to really wet the appetite ahead of Saturday.

– Hodgson may have been looking at Johnson’s shooting so far this season, as the former Manchester City wideman has had 3 shots and failed to hit the target once. Only Hatem Ben Arfa, Cabral and Nacer Chadil have had more efforts without working the keeper.

– At the other end of the pitch, Sunderland defender Ondrej Celustka has much to work on following the opening two games of the season. Of the thirteen tackles he attempted, he only managed to complete 7 of them.

Aug 242013
 

Southampton vs Sunderland, 15:00

Southampton have started the new Premier League season on a high, with Rickie Lambert scoring the winner for both club and country in the last week. Lambert’s late penalty was just his second attempt at goal in the game, and his first on target. Lambert contributed to 24 goals last season (15 goals, 9 assists), second only to Theo Walcott among the Premier League’s English players.

James Ward-Prowse put in an impressive performance which suggests he may be the latest star to come out of Southampton’s youth system. The 20 year old winger delivered five crosses, the joint highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with Everton’s Leighton Baines

Jose Fonte ensured that the Saints started the season with a clean sheet by contributing 14 clearances in the game, the joint highest in the opening round of games. Those clearances contributed to 21 defensive interventions by Fonte in total, the most in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Sunderland’s summer loan signing Ondřej Čelůstka announced his arrival in the Premier League by attempting the joint highest number of tackles in the first round of games. Čelůstka won just five of the tackles though, so while the intention was there he will want to improve on the frequency with which he comes away with the ball.

John O’Shea was also a key part of the Sunderland defence last season, and ended the season ranked third in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for defensive contributions with 367 across tackles, blocks, clearances and interceptions

Despite Sunderland leaving the game against Fulham without scoring, Adam Johnson looked lively on the wing and delivered four crosses, the second highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for the opening fixtures.

New signing Cabral also threatened with four efforts at goal, a total bettered only by Frank Lampard among the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s midfielders

May 192013
 

Tottenham v Sunderland 16:00

 

- Spurs came from a goal behind to win 2-1 against Stoke in their penultimate Premier League outing thanks to goals from Clint Dempsey and Emmanuel Adebayor. They come into this final game one point behind North London neighbours Arsenal in the race for fourth place.

 

- Despite his name unusually not appearing on the score sheet, Bale has 8 shots at goal with 5 on target against Stoke, the joint highest of the last round of games.

 

- Bale’s season will end with some of the most impressive stats in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He’s had 151 shots at goal getting 62.9% on target and converting 20 goals. He’s ranked third for dribbles completed with 48 so far this season, and 4th for crosses delivered with 114.

 

- Bale has taken the headlines this season, but Jan Verthongen has also excelled. He’s attempted 102 tackles this season, winning 79% of them. That’s the highest tackles won percentage of the 25 players who have attempted 100 or more tackles in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index this season.

 

- Jermain Defoe hit fine goal scoring form earlier in the season, but has struggled for goals of late. Of the nine players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index to have had over 100 shots at goal Defoe has the lowest goal tally with 11 (joint with Carlos Tevez).

 

- Sunderland come into the game knowing they are safe from relegation after Arsenal beat Wigan in midweek. Their last league outing saw them draw 1-1 with Southampton thanks to a Phil Bardsley goal.

 

- Paolo di Canio singled out Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and John O’Shea as players that he knew were “exciting” when he signed as Sunderland manager, but has promised wholesale changes elsewhere in the team.

 

- O’Shea once again showed his impressive reading of the game against Southampton, making 15 interceptions, the second highest by a player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index in the last round of games. He is ranked fourth overall for interceptions this season with 217.

 

- O’Shea’s defensive contributions overall across tackles, interceptions, clearances and blocks number 361 – the third highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

- O’Shea, and the rest of the Sunderland back four, have been shown impressive protection by the tough tackling of the Sunderland midfield this season. James McClean and Craig Gardner are ranked second and seventh respectively among the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s midfielders for tackles won, with McClean wining 76 and Gardner 66. Gardner has made the third highest number of defensive contributions of any midfielder this season, totaling 242 across tackles won, clearances, interceptions and blocks.

 

- Not named by Di Canio but undoubtedly vital to Sunderland’s survival this season has been the performance of Simon Mignolet. Mignolet made 13 saves against Southampton, the joint highest by a goalkeeper in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index in the last round of games and the third highest in a game all season. Mignolet has been the busiest goalkeeper in the Premier League this season making 224 saves in total.

May 142013
 

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.”

May 122013
 

Sunderland v Southampton 15:00   

 

- A John O’Shea goal saw Sunderland fight back to earn a point at home to Stoke in their last outing.

 

- Adam Johnson remains the main creative driving force behind the Black Cats and manager Paulo Di Canio will be expecting to see him to continue to develop next season regardless of what division Sunderland are playing in. The winger has made a squad high 97 crosses this season.

 

- Carlos Cuellar has a record to be proud of this season, excelling in the defensive duties. The Spaniard has a quite superb tackle success rate of 85.9% from 64 attempted challenges and will be integral to Sunderland’s efforts to shackle a dangerous attacking force in Southampton this weekend.

 

- Although a rare goal against Stoke will have pleased John O’Shea, he, like Cuellar, has been performing magnificently in his main role at the back. He has now joined the small group of players to have surpassed the 200-interception barrier this season (202).

 

- Southampton were the latest team to suffer at the hands of Gareth Bale, the Welshman’s late strike sending the Saints away from White Hart Lane with nothing after a 1-0 loss.

 

- Although noted as creative midfielder who will often be able to fashion chances for those around him, Gaston Ramirez has shown a distinct ability to get a shot off when he’s found himself near goal this season. He’s has a shot on goal on average once every 36.8 minutes he’s been on the pitch this season.

 

- For a player who should supposed still be coming to terms with his first season of top flight football, Nathaniel Clyne has been regularly defying expectations. Despite possessing an excellent tackle success rate of 74.5% from 98 challenges, the youngster has only conceded 16 fouls according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. This maturity beyond his years could see several clubs linked with his signature come the summer.

 

- Morgan Schneiderlin could learn a thing or two from Clyne, as although he has made more attempted tackles than anyone in the league this season with 147, he’s also committed more fouls than any other Southampton player with 65. That’s a full 30 indiscretions ahead of his nearest team mate in Rickie Lambert.

May 062013
 

Sunderland v Stoke 20:00 

 

- After back to back wins against Newcastle and Everton Paolo di Canio’s reign as Sunderland manager was brought back down to earth after a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Villa. 

 

- Danny Rose had equalized for Sunderland before Villa ran riot in the second half. That was Rose’s first goal of the season, in a year in which he has excelled in the defensive aspects of his role. Rose has won 65.5% of the 82 tackles he has attempted this season. 

 

- Rose has now topped 200 defensive contributions overall, stepping in on opposition attacks 208 times in total this season, including 127 interceptions (enough to put him in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s top 20 for this discipline). 

- The worrying aspect for Sunderland fans for the Villa game is that but for the heroics of Simon Mignolet it could have been worse. Mignolet made 10 saves in that game, the most by any goalkeeper in the last round of games. 

 

- Stoke seem to have done enough now to ensure another season of Premier League football, with survival once again built on organization and an impressive defensive record. 

 

- Sixteen of Stoke’s 35 Premier League games this season have involved one or fewer goals, and their last outing was true to that form with Charlie Adam the only goalscorer in a 1-0 win over Norwich. 

 

- Adam’s goal was his third of the season, although he has also contributed four assists, meaning he has had a hand in 22.5% of Stoke’s 31 goals this season. 

 

- Stoke will need to build on their rock solid defence with a more prolific goalscoring option next season. Their top goalscorer Jonathan Walters scored seven goals this season. Only two clubs have a top goalscorer with a lower tally - Norwich (Holt, 5) and QPR (Taraabt, 5). 

 

- Stoke’s focus on defending even from the front is clear when you consider that Walters and Peter Crouch are ranked 3rd and 4th among the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s strikers for tackles attempted, with 74 and 72 respectively, although Crouch won just 11 of his 72 attempted tackles.

Apr 292013
 

Aston Villa v Sunderland

 

- Despite a much improved second-half performance, Aston Villa were powerless to stop Manchester United in their pursuit of the title as they fell to a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford.

 

- Aston Villa are fighting for their Premier League survival and, as have been the story of their season, it will be to Christian Benteke that they will turn to attempt to retain their status in the top flight. The young Belgian has been by far and away Villa’s most potent attacking force this season, attempting 97 shots on goal and managing to make sure one of those found its way on target on average once every 41.4 minutes.

 

- Despite the ups and downs of Villa’s season, Matthew Lowton has been consistently turning in some rock solid defensive performances. Indeed, he has the best tackle success rate of any of the 18 players to have broken the 100-tackle barrier this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, currently sitting on a highly impressive 74.8%.

 

- Remarkably, not only has Lowton been excelling in his expected defensive capacity, but also in his work higher up the pitch. No Villa player can match his 475 successful passes in the opponent’s half this season, the 23 year-old averaging one every 6.9 minutes he’s been on the field of play.

 

- Paulo Di Canio’s first match as manager at the Stadium of Light ended in a much-needed victory as his newly motivated Sunderland side overcame Everton in a 1-0 win.

 

- Paulo Di Canio recently hailed the influence of Stephane Sessegnon, the French winger shouldering much of the attacking responsibility for the Black cats this season. Sessegnon has had more efforts on goal than any other Sunderland player with 53, as well as chipping in with 5 assists.

 

- Carlos Cuellar has been a defensive giant for Sunderland this term and will undoubtedly be part of his new manager’s plans moving forward to next season. He has the best tackles success rate of any player to have made more than 50 tackles on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, his 88.5% from 61 challenges the gold standard for the season so far.

 

- Rumours have been circulating of a possible return back to Tottenham once Danny Roses’ loan spell with Sunderland ends and it’s not hard to see why went you consult the stats. Rose has, on average, made a defensive contribution once every 10.1 minutes, placing him fourth in the Sunderland squad.

 

Apr 222013
 

We’ve all seen false dawns but no one can seriously doubt the impact Paolo Di Canio has had or where we would be, for all his feelings of being hard done by, had Martin O’Neill stayed. Pete Sixsmith wonders whether the same commitment from players and fans seen on Saturday can propel SAFC to safety at Villa Park next Monday night. He also detects the essential changes evident from two marvellous wins against NUFC and Everton. MoN, if he were an avid reader of Salut! Sunderland, might say Sixer identified similar improvements when he first took over and he’d be right. But can PDC sustain this progress where the Ulsterman, sadly, could not?

It seems that the last time we beat Everton, Roker Park and Goodison Park vied for the title of finest Archibald Leitch lattice work, Harry Catterick was managing the Blues and Dixie Dean was banging them in with gay abandon.

In fact, it was 2001 and Claudio Reyna scored at the Stadium, Walter Smith was the manager and the Everton No 9 was Kevin Campbell. But, it is a long time ago in the days when most of us were still debating the values of mobile phones, the Football Echo still appeared on a Saturday night and Des Lynam was hosting The Premiership on ITV. Ah, happy days!!

This was the first time we have beaten a David Moyes side and the first home win for Paolo Di Canio. It was a vital one as well and means that we have not been dragged back into the very serious stuff at the bottom of the league. There is now only one relegation place to fill and should Villa lose at Old Trafford on Monday night, we will have a decent cushion. We should be more than capable of taking four points from the final four games to ensure survival.

As happened 15 months age, we are benefiting from new manager syndrome.

Di Canio has come in and revitalised a group of players who were sleepwalking to the Championship. The organisation looks better, the players seem switched on and we are having those little bits of good fortune that had deserted O’Neill in his final months.

Make no mistake, we played well against Everton. We took advantage of a slip by Leighton Baines (that’ll teach him to refuse to sign for us!) and scored a good goal. Seb Larsson hit three very good free kicks, each of which was inches away from being brilliant and we defended as if lives depended on it – which, looking at the macho postures adopted by our head coach, they probably did.

The main difference looks to be that players have been given specific instructions as to what to do.

Take Alfred N’Diaye. Three or four weeks ago, some were hoping that Hartlepool or Red Star Paris would do as he looked anything but a Premier League player. He was seen as symptomatic of the decline under O’Neill and comparisons were being made between the large amount of cash forked out on him, compared to the few sous that Sissoko had cost for our Tyneside rivals.

He had a good game last week and had a gigantic game this. He thundered into tackles, won the ball in tight situations and annoyed Fellaini so much that I expected a hissy fit from the hirsute Belgian. It really was an excellent performance that showed us that, whatever O’Neill’s failings, he could spot a decent player.

Same with Danny Graham. He was foiled in the opening few minutes, when he took advantage of the lack of pace in the middle of the Everton back four. His first goal in a red and white shirt was prevented only by an excellent save from Tim Howard.

But after that, he ran his legs off, went looking for the ball and never once allowed the ponderous Distain and accident-prone Heitinga to settle. All he needs is a goal and the transformation will be complete. But Di Canio and his coaching staff will know the benefits of a centre forward who never allows the opposition breathing space.

It is clear that the players have bought into the different style that the Italians have brought to the club. The tempo is quicker, the tackling fiercer and the attacking play more direct than it was under the previous regime.

Add to that the fact that the head coach has good ideas and you get true professionals (and that’s what we have as opposed to the mercenaries at Loftus Road) wanting to listen to him and buy into his short term philosophy. Men like O’Shea, Cuellar, Johnson and Mignolet do not want a relegation on their cv.

O’Shea and Cuellar were immense on Saturday. The Irishman never missed a header and won the battle with Anichebe early on. The Spaniard was equally impressive, with timely interceptions and good tackles with his, apparently, telescopic legs.

Backed up by strong performances from Colback and Rose, we rarely looked under threat and, as Everton revealed that they lack goalscorers, an equaliser looked less and less likely. That they resorted to lumping the ball into the box for the last 20 minutes and to falling over in the penalty area tells you how strong our defenders were.

Dipping into the metaphor bag, the green shoots of recovery can be seen and we look a far, far better bet to stay up than we did three weeks ago after Manchester United contemptuously brushed us aside.

Certainly, the arrival of Di Canio has galvanised the whole club. The atmosphere in the Stadium was brilliant and the crowd roared the team home in the last 20 minutes. That’s what crowds are there to do. Singing is ok, but the Roar is the best. When the now execrable Michael Chopra notched the winner at Villa Park in Keane’s second season, the 3,000 Sunderland fans there knew that if we hung on, we would be safe. They outroared the Villa fans and showed them what a real football club is all about.

Next Monday could be the game that cements our place in the top flight for a record breaking seventh season since our first relegation in 1958. A Graham winner would be a lovely way to do it. There may not be 3,000 there for a Monday night, but the roar will be just as loud if we can win and heap the pressure on Villa and Darren Bent – whoever he was.

Apr 202013
 

Sunderland v Everton, 15:00

 

Sunderland host Everton on a high after new manager Paolo di Canio masterminded a famous 3-0 win over Newcastle in their last league game, the first victory for the Black Cats at St James’ Park in 13 years.

 

Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan were all on target to help ease Sunderland fans’ concerns over top scorer Steven Fletcher’s ankle injury.

 

Fletcher has some of the most impressive striking statistics in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, getting 75.5% of his shots on target (compared to van Persie’s 57.8%) and averaging 4.54 shots per goal (compared to van Persie’s 5.52). However, Fletcher has struggled for chances so far this season, having just 49 efforts at goal compared to van Persie’s 116.

 

– While the goalscorers naturally took the headlines for Sunderland, John O’Shea also made a telling contribution making six clearances against Newcastle, the second highest from the last week of games.

 

Carlos Cuellar has also excelled in defence this season winning an incredible 87.9% of tackles he has attempted while only conceding one foul for every 7.25 tackles this season. Both stats are the best in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for players who have attempted 50 or more tackles this season.

 

Everton were in action against Arsenal in mid-week in a tough game which ended 0-0.

 

– The pace and physicality of the game are clear when you see that Marouane Fellaini, never shy of going in for a tackle, attempted 11 tackles against Arsenal. That’s the second highest from the Premier League fixtures taking place last weekend or in midweek. It’s also the second time this season Fellaini has attempted so many tackles in a game, the other occasion coming against Villa back in August.

 

Kevin Mirallas got the headlines for off the pitch reasons after the game against Arsenal, but his performances on the pitch this season suggest that he may be good for more than his current tally of five goals next season. Depsite averaging 13.5 shots at goal for each of his four goals, Mirallas has the most accurate shooting percentage of any player to have had 50 shots or more in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

Mirallas has got 74% of his 54 shots at goal on target this season. However, of the players to have had 50 of more shots on goal he has got the fewest goals, a statistical anomaly that suggests the goals may start flowing for Mirallas soon.

 

– In defence Phil Jagielka also continues to shine, having attempted 67 tackles but given away just 11 fouls, a rate of a foul every 6.1 tackles, one of the best in the Premier League. He has also come away with the ball from 83% of those tackles, second only to Sunderland’s Carlos Cuellar in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Apr 142013
 

Newcastle v Sunderland, 12:00

 

– A dramatic stoppage-time strike from Papiss Cisse clinch an important 1-0 win for Newcastle at home to Fulham last weekend and ease the relegation fears previously surrounding the club.

 

Jonas Gutierrez has established himself as a cult hero amongst the Toon Army thanks to his lung-busting efforts and unreserved commitment to the Newcastle cause. The Argentinian has proved himself a accomplished defender as well as attacker during his time on Tyneside and he has one of the best tackles success rate of anyone in the Newcastle squad to prove it, currently sitting at 72.3%.

 

– Fullback Davide Santon continues to impress with the consistent level of his performances this season, and his offensive abilities may well cause an at times hesitant Sunderland defence problems this weekend. For players with 20 or more attempts on goal, he currently sits second on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for Shot accuracy, with 80% of his attempts on goal testing the keeper this season.

 

– Should Newcastle local Shola Ameobi make an appearance this weekend, it will likely be from the bench. However the experienced front man knows what it means to play in derbies of this magnitude and will bring endeavor and passion to the Newcastle cause. Expect him to add to his already solid shot accuracy rate of 63.6% from 22 attempts should Alan Pardew decide to throw him into the mix.

 

– Paulo Di Canio’s first match as Sunderland manager nearly saw them pull of an unlikely win at Stamford Bridge last weekend. However Chelsea showed steely resolve to battle back and claim a 2-1 win to see Sunderland go into this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby outside of the bottom three on goal difference alone.

 

James McClean has certainly showcased his love of hard graft this season, the Irishman proving to be than happy to get involved in defensive duties in the middle of the park. He’s won more tackles than any other Sunderland player this season with 70.

 

John O’Shea continues to quietly amass some very impressive figures with his performances this season. He’s joint second on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for interceptions with 185 and his reading of the game may well be crucial this weekend as the Black Cats look to negate the technique and vision Yohan Cabaye.

 

– Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been attracting interest from a host of top clubs following some outstanding performances between Sunderland’s sticks. His excellent total of 180 saves may well be added to this weekend when he is called on to deal with Newcastle’s attacking threats.

Mar 302013
 

Sunderland v Manchester Utd 12:45

 

Craig Gardner’s penalty earned a 1-1 draw for Sunderland at the Stadium of Light last time out, leaving them just above the relegation fight.

 

– Sunderland have just been dealt an unfortunate blow after they found out that star striker Steven Fletcher will now not be fit until next season. The Black Cats will sorely miss his potency in front of goal, his ten goals this season complementing an excellent 75.5% shot accuracy rate from 49 attempts on goal.

 

– Despite being one of Martin O’Neill’s biggest threats going forward, Sebastian Larsson is also Sunderland’s biggest transgressor for defensive errors. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the Swede has given away more fouls that any other Sunderland player with 43.

 

Carlos Cuellar has clearly not been suffering from any drop in defensive form, the Spanish centre half establishing a superb 87.7% tackle success rate from 57 challenges, only conceding 8 fouls along the way.

 

– An unconvincing performance saw Man Utd still manage to record a 1-0 win at home over struggling Reading thanks to Wayne Rooney’s strike.

 

– Midfielder Shinji Kagawa has been finding himself on the scoresheet in recent weeks and it show be no surprise given the Japanese international’s movement and accuracy in front of goal. Kagawa has an excellent shot accuracy rate of 75% from 16 attempts.

 

– Despite reduced game time, Rio Ferdinand is still showing the youngsters how defending at the top level should be done. He’s made 137 defensive contributions this season, the highest in the United squad.

 

– It is little wonder that the Red Devils continue their onward march towards yet another Premier League title given their collective intelligence and passing accuracy. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, Utd now have a total of 15 players in their squad who have, on average, successfully completed a pass in the opponent’s half every five minutes or less that they have been on the pitch.

Mar 192013
 

Seven full internationals started for Sunderland against Norwich City. Pete Sixsmithcould be forgiven for wondering whether it was San Marino they had all played for until the manager decided they weren’t quite up to it. This is not the place to come on if your spirits need lifting. It is, however, as incisive an analysis of what is wrong at Sunderland as you’ll find  …

Thank goodness that weekend is over. Work will seem a welcome release after sitting through two games that were as exciting as a plank warping contest at a paint drying convention.

Alloa Athletic and Brechin City didn’t matter much as John Penman and I traversed the back lanes of Fife and Clackmannanshire looking for a game. Brechin managed a single goal, the Wasps not one in a game that was of little significance.

 

Fast forward 22 hours and there I was at the Stadium of Light telling Katy Gornall and a Late Kick Off camera crew that I was confident that we would win, that a win would settle our nerves and that relegation was a worry rather than a fear.

That was at 12.45. When I spoke to her again at 3.30pm, the optimism had gone the same way as the fleeting Sunday morning sunshine and, as cold rain began to fall, a cold chill crept along my spine as I remembered past relegations that looked unlikely.

For make no mistake, we are down among the dead men, where the brave prosper and the weak go under. The Darwinian end of the Premier League is one we have flirted with in the past but have had sufficient quality and spirit to stay out of. This time, we appear to be lacking both.

This was a truly dreadful display where the players seemed to have little idea of how to win it and also little inclination to go that extra mile. Not one of them did anything to enhance his reputation and some did themselves more harm than good with sloppy, lazy performances that had the crowd gasping at the ineptitude of it all.

The goal we gave away was indicative of our slipshod approach to this vital game. A needless corner was given away. A routine defensive header was missed from the cross, allowing Kamara to flick the ball on. Hoolahan (all of 5ft 6ins) was unmarked in the box and headed home.

Training ground routine for Norwich, absolute shambles for us. Does anybody look around and say “Who’s got him?”

Does anyone in our defence take any responsibility for marking and picking up? Do we practise defending corners? Probably not, as we don’t appear to have anybody who can take an accurate one. Awful.

We were handed a lifeline a few minutes later when their keeper was sent off for handball outside the box. Looked a good call by Chris Foy to me but we hardly took advantage of it as Norwich just worked that bit harder to make up the one man deficiency.

And if that helping hand wasn’t enough, Bassong then gave away a penalty which Gardner converted with the kind of authority that was so missing in our general play.

The second half exposed all of our weaknesses. There was a complete lack of pace and creativity from our midfield. Vaughan and Larsson were dreadful, turning back all the time, misplacing passes and never once looking as if they could get the better of depleted opponents.

Sessegnon was back to his form of the autumn where he looked like the 234th best player in Benin, while Johnson had a few decent touches but crossing reminiscent of Brian Usher or Tony Cullen on a bad day. He was taken off again and must be beginning to see his international career (and Premier League one) going down the pan.

Up front Graham and Fletcher, who we hoped could be footballing equivalent of Morecambe and Wise or Fry and Laurie, were more like Mike and Bernie Winters, who once appeared at the Glasgow Empire, a notorious graveyard for London based “comics”. After Mike’s opening routine had had all the impact of a Seb Larsson corner, Bernie appeared on stage, prompting a Glaswegian, intoxicated by Bucky and filled up with Tunnock’s Snowballs to utter the immortal line “F****** hell, there’s two of the b*******”.” After today, I know how the inebriated Glaswegian felt.

Graham missed a good chance just before the end of the first half, while Fletcher did very little and was comfortably shackled by one Michael Turner.

The returning Turner looked positively world class compared with the three central defenders that we fielded. John O’Shea must surely be the worst passer of the ball to have played for Sir Alex Ferguson. For the umpteenth game he gave it away so regularly that we began to think he suffers from colour blindness and has a visual block about anything in red and white stripes.

Carlos Cuellar did ok and continued to show that he is very good at recovering from slips, errors and misplaced passes. Of course, we could ask why he makes those errors in the first place thereby obviating the need to recover so well.

And then there is Titus Bramble, who came on in the second half and summed up this half hearted, ragged, incoherent squad with a performance that contained both the sublime and the ridiculous. Two thundering tackles and a couple of strong headers were cancelled out by allowing Grant Holt almost to win it for City, and a series of aimlessly booted clearances that would have been better suited to Cockton Hill Rec and the Wear Valley Sunday League.

Where do we go now? The prospects are not good. The next four games are difficult verging on the impossible. Should that grim prediction prove to be correct, we will be in the bottom three and heading for a one way ticket to Palookaville.

The paucity of our squad is now being well and truly shown up. The poor buys that Steve Bruce made combined with the disappointing ones that O’Neill has brought to the club (only Fletcher and Rose of his signings were there at the end) leaves us with a squad that is a long way short of genuine Premier League quality.

We have eight games left to save the top-flight place that we won back six years ago. Southampton and Stoke should be winnable games. But the mood around the place is an unhappy one and the crowd have had enough of these turgid, tiresome tactics. I can’t see the Season Ticket Renewal staff getting much overtime this year.

And if we do stay up, what do we do next season? Does the owner stick with O’Neill or does he say “Thanks very much” and start yet another search for the visionary who will lead us back to the Promised Land?

I wish I knew.

Mar 172013
 

Sunderland v Norwich, 13:30

 

Sunderland fell to 3-1 defeat away to a rejuvenated QPR last time out, another Steven Fletcher goal proving not enough to knock the will from their opponents who battled back after falling behind. It was a result that put pressure on Sunderland to avoid being drawn into a relegation battle and they will looking to recover quickly at home this weekend.

 

Steven Fletcher continues to be Sunderland primary threat of goal, despite increasing help from midfield from the like of Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index he has an excellent shot accuracy rate of 75.5% from 49 attempts on goal, converting that sharp shooting into 11 goals so far this season.

 

– Some of Carlos Cuellars’ defensive work has been outstanding this season. The imposing Spaniard has an excellent tackle success rate of 86.8% from 53 attempted challenges.

 

– Pacy winger Stephane Sessegnon has been more than happy to test out opposition defences this season and Norwich’s back four will have to be aware of the threat he poses. He currently sits third on the EA SPORTS for dribbles with 39.

 

Norwich battled to a 0-0 draw against Southampton last weekend, after Grant Holt saw a late penalty saved by Artur Boruc. Chris Hughton will be looking to see his side try and grind out another result this weekend to help ease any lingering fears of relegation around the club.

 

Robert Snodgrass has been vital as a creative force for Norwich this season, consistently moving forward with purpose into dangerous attacking positions. He’s also found space to plays others into those positions, having completed a pass in the opponent’s half once every 4 minutes he’s been on the field this season.

 

– Look for defender Russell Martin to potentially be crucial to preventing the at times dangerous Sunderland attack from gaining any kind of momentum. He has one of the best tackle success rates in the Norwich squad, completing 68.2% of his 44 attempted challenges, conceding only 10 fouls.

 

Grant Holt will likely lead the line for Norwich this weekend, having done so to great effect for much of the season to date. His 5 goals represents the highest total in the Canaries squad, bolstered by his solid on-target accuracy of 62.2% from 37 shots.

Mar 112013
 

Bob Chapman once again fills Pete Sixsmith’s outsized shoes to  report on a game the master chose to miss. It started as a day when Bob  and a friend would impress two young Aussie women with a scintillating  show by Sunderland preceded by the delights of a west London gastro-pub. Something went wrong; they endured takeaway KFCs in a foodless boozer  near the Bush and the poor Aussies may never set foot in another  football ground. Meanwhile, Bob was left feeling there’s something  damaging to the health in watching SAFC at this stage of a season …

Pete Sixsmith contacted me last week, to ask whether I could fill in for him at QPR, whilst he went and communed with the  gentry down at Ascot, supporting Shildon in the FA Vase.

Naturally I replied that this posed no problem. However, it does  become a real problem for me when Sunderland play so poorly and lose.  What can you say? As a teacher I write numerous reports all of which  usually have to have a positive slant.

All the same, I will try my best even though my fellow supporters at  Loftus Road suggested I should just send in “rubbish, could well go  down” and leave it at that.

It’s getting to that time of year when my mind is totally preoccupied  with football. Being a Sunderland supporter it’s always the same. Oh for the life when I could just go and watch a match without there being  some underlying threat. I’m sure it does you no good in the long run.

I was greeted by some unusual faces when I arrived at Bedford station.

Kevin Spencer had brought along two female Australian gap year  colleagues for the experience. Being Aussies they preferred Rugby Union  but were quite willing to give “soccer” a go. They told me they went  down to London most weekends.

Choice of pre-match pub was my brother Tim’s. He selected the  Coningham Arms on Uxbridge Road, a traditional boozer only 10 minutes  from Loftus Road. To come through the door at midday to find it  virtually deserted, apart from a man with a strange haircut standing at  the bar seemed bizarre and a little unsettling. Closer, rather  intermittent examination of this haircut revealed a blue and white close crop with a QPR razor cut into it. Was this a sensible choice?

Anyway he turned out to be a really friendly chap and it soon became  clear we had similar opinions. He, like me, couldn’t understand why we  were in such a desperate situation with the squad we have. The beer was  OK but definitely no food was on offer. Food came from the local KFC two doors along. The two rather charming pint-sized landladies didn’t seem  to mind, although our Australian friends certainly seemed bemused.

I like days out in London, but resent having to pay exorbitant ticket prices for matches. The fact that 91 p[er cent of QPR’s income is spent on players’ wages suggests they will have problems should they go down. I dislike clubs like that, although to their credit they do produce a  quality programme.

In an article headed “The numbers game”, Sunderland apparently per game  have 11 shots against an average of 17.  Our average possession is only  44 per cent and we complete one through pass per game. I think this last point is at the crux of our problems, in that we currently don’t have  an adequate midfield.

Unlike other recent matches I felt we deserved nothing from this  game. We only showed one glimpse of quality in the whole 90 minutes. A  Sessegnon break down the right allowed him to get to the bye line and  deliver a quality cross to Johnson at the back post. His drive in was  converted by Fletcher for the opening goal. Once they equalised, rather  fortunately following a deflection off O’Shea, there was only going to  be one winner.

Although we are now playing with Graham and Fletcher up front we seem unable to get up and support them with any conviction. Sessegnon and  Johnston are always double marked when they are on the ball, so we need  to use an alternative strategy. Sadly we don’t seem to have one. Tricky  wingers are always double marked and I couldn’t understand why we didn’t do it yesterday as Colback and Gardner were continually exposed.

We are definitely a much better side when Cattermole is playing. He  drives the team on from the midfield and I feel this is the area that is causing most concern.

If Cattermole had been fit for the season then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Danny Graham had a season in the Premier League with Swansea and  then got found out by defenders. If you do not have pace then ultimately you will struggle. Consequently he spent most of his time on the bench. I believe we have bought a Championship player and the sooner we recall Wickham the better.

Alternatively we should revert back to 4-5-1. You could never predict a  Roy Keane side and MON is the complete opposite. I think you need  something between the two and you don’t play players out of position.   Although we were beaten by two wonder strikes with which Mignolet had no chance, you have to question why those players were able to shoot from  outside the box.

So I am sorry it is not much of a report but I can’t honestly  remember seeing very much football and the resounding response at the  end of the match was justified.

Will we go down? I don’t think so, as I am sure we will pick up the  necessary points of which three against Norwich are essential.

Like Pete Sixsmith against Fulham, my loyalty points mean I have been offered a hospitality  package at the Stadium of Light for the game against Norwich. I have managed to persuade my wife of nearly 23 years to come along for her first match. Let’s hope it’s a win and the  first of many for her – unlike our Aussie friends who went straight home after the match. Was it the “soccer” or was it the Coningham Arms  experience. I may never know!

Mar 082013
 

QPR v Sunderland 15:00 – EW

 

QPR secured a vital win in their relegation fight, as they beat Southampton 2-1 last weekend. Jay Bothroyd was brought back from loan early by Redknapp last month, while Loic Remy was a January purchase, with both players scoring on Saturday to repay Redknapp’s faith.

 

Bothroyd has needed just 122 minutes to get his first QPR goal, while Remy has averaged 161 minutes for each of his two goals.

 

– Those strike rates already compare well with fellow QPR striker Jamie Mackie has scored twice in 1732 minutes on the pitch this season, while Dijbril Cisse took 1199 minutes to score three goals before leaving QPR in January.

 

Sunderland came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Fulham in their last game, thanks to goals from Craig Gardner and Stephane Sessegnon.

 

Gardner’s goal was his fifth of the season, having come from 45 efforts at goal with 57.8% on target.

 

Sessegnon has also scored five goals this season, coming from a marginally more efficient 43 efforts with a significantly more accurate on target percentage of 67.4%.

 

– The game will see two of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s best players with the ball at their feet. Sessegnon is ranked third for dribbles completed with 38, four behind today’s opponent and league leader Adel Taarabt with 42.

 

Adam Johnson set up Sessegnon’s goal, his 7th assist of the season coming from 76 crosses, the 6th most frequent crosser of the ball in the Barclays Premier League.

 

Gardner’s goal came from a penalty won by January signing Danny Graham. Graham is yet to score his first goal for Sunderland, despite playing 233 minutes for the Black Cats. In that time Graham has hit four shots on target and one off target. Graham’s shots per goal ratio this season at Swansea was 9 shots per goal, but an on target percentage improved from 62.9% to 80% suggests it won’t be long before he’s firing for the Black Cats.

 

Carlos Cuellar has now got the best tackles won percentage in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, with 86.8% of his 53 tackles won, over taking Everton’s Phil Jagielka who’s tackles won percentage is 85.2%.

Mar 012013
 

Sunderland v Fulham 15:00

 

Sunderland are five points clear of the relegation zone, despite losing 2-1 to West Brom in their last Barclays Premier League outing. Stephane Sessegnon hit the target in that game.

 

Sessegnon also completed 6 dribbles in the game. Only two players have completed more than six dribbles in a game this season – Sergio Aguero v QPR and Luis Suarez v Norwich, and Sessegnon also sits third overall for dribbles in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

Sessegnon’s skill on the ball is well complimented by a tough tackling midfield. James Mclean has attempted 98 tackles this season, the 5th highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He has the best percentage of tackles won in the top ten most prolific tackles with an impressive 66.3%.

 

– Meanwhile Craig Gardner leads the Premier League’s midfielders in interceptions (109), blocks (15) and clearances (30).

 

Simon Mignolet was named North East Football Writers Player of the Year last week for a series of impressive performances for the Black Cats. He has made the second highest number of saves in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with 153. Just behind him in third place is his opposite number today Mark Schwarzer, who has made 150 saves this season.

 

Fulham beat Stoke 1-0 in their last game thanks to a Dimitar Berbatov volley from Sascha Riether’s cross.

 

Reither is in the top 20 crossers of the ball in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, having delivered 49 so far this season. That’s the 19th highest overall and 5th highest by a full back.

 

Berbatov’s goal was his 9th of the season, coming from 54 efforts at a rate of exactly 6 shots per goal. He is also ranked third among the Premier League’s strikers for passes completed in the opposition half, with 554.

 

Berbatov has made the second highest number of interceptions among the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s strikers, with 49, just one behind last week’s opponent Jonathan Walters.

Feb 262013
 

Pete Sixsmith reports on another awayday disappointment,  in fact not one but – for him – two in one weekend. Can’t speak for fans of the Leeds Rhinos but it is familiar reading for Sunderland supporters …

I should have known that it wasn’t going to be my weekend when a huge Melbourne Storm forward called Jesse Bromwich careered over the  Leeds Rhinos’ line to put his team ahead in the World Club Challenge at  Headingley on Friday night.

Eighteen hours later at West Bromwich, a similarly sized and equally  effective Belgian centre forward took advantage of a misjudgement by  Titus (“Look out there’s an error coming”) Bramble and put the Baggies  two goals up against us and subsequently won the game for them.

A disappointing weekend for those who support the Rhinos and The  Black Cats, but the Rhinos game counted for very little in the whole  scheme of things, unlike the Hawthorns encounter which could play a  seminal part in our season.

To be fair, we did not play badly and both Baggies goals were  avoidable. The referee got the Gardner penalty spot on; if the ball hits the outstretched hand it’s a penalty. Unfortunately, Mr East failed to  spot Gareth McAuley’s handball a few minutes later, to the chagrin of  Adam Johnson.

East is a referee in transition as he is not yet on the full time  list. This was his fifth Premier League game and he has been given  middle ranking games (Fulham, Villa, Liverpool, that kind of thing),  including two against us – he made his debut at Swansea in September.

He had a decent game except for the fact that on at least two  occasions he got in the way and spoiled promising moves which could well have brought us something.

Jake records another defeat

But enough of Wiltshire Roger. What of the performance of those gallant lads, freshly returned from the winter hell that is Dubai?

It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good, it was, well, average. And that is about as good as it gets for us this season. Average.

There was nothing to get excited about and not much to get too depressed about – although if we continue losing games by the odd goal, we will end up down amongst the QPRs and Readings of this world.

The manager decided to go with the clamour for two forwards and four in midfield. Did it work? Probably not, as neither forward scored and Graham did little to worry the impressive Ben Foster. Fletcher (roundly booed by the Baggies fans because of his Wolves connections; how childish. Catch us jeering former Mags when they turn up at the SoL.) hit the post and tried to get the forward line moving, but the lack of spark in midfield made that very difficult.

That is where the nub of our problems lies. Comparing the respective midfields is like comparing English Rugby League with its Antipodeans equivalent. One gives plenty of effort and has the occasional spark, while the other is a well oiled machine that just keeps on rolling.

Sess had a good game out wide and Adam Johnson had his moments. Both Larsson and N’Diaye worked hard, but neither had the ability to pick a telling pass or set up the front men.

Albion were able to do this, with the very impressive Youssouf Mulumba showing how it should be done. He is a very good player and Albion will do well to keep hold of him should bigger clubs come calling – although I doubt he will take off to QPR.

Where do we find a player who will control the centre of midfield? Vaughan was ok when he came on and he showed his composure when he brought down the ball and hit a shot that was deflected narrowly wide.

Composure is something that we sadly lack. N’Diaye exhibited precious little when he put a cross into the crowd from a very inviting position and James McClean really should have put away the ball that landed at his feet as Mr East prepared to blow his whistle for the end of the game. Instead, he shanked it over the bar when a sidefoot or header would have given us a point.

The other thing that struck me was that had we been 2-1 ahead at the SoL with ten minutes left, the opposition would have battered away at us and we would have retreated deeper. It didn’t happen here.

We did attack but with out a great deal of intensity and McAuley and Olsson were discomfited but not troubled. We should have been hoying the kitchen sink, gas cooker and American style fridge with water cooler, ice maker and drinks dispenser at them, but we didn’t.

In February, we have taken zero points from nine, allowing every team around us to play catch up and one or two to get ahead of us. By Monday night, if either the Mags or Southampton win and West Ham take all 3 points from Spurs, we will be looking over our shoulders.

A similar return from the next three games and we will be well and truly in the proverbial brown stuff. Are we good enough to get away from it and leave QPR, Reading, Villa, Wigan and Newcastle (wishful thinking there) cutting each others throats? We shall see.

Finally, many thanks to West Midlands Police for routing the returning coaches through parts of Birmingham that even Brummies know little of. They made us wait until almost 6pm and then, instead of a left turn past the ground and on to the M5, it was a right turn and the delights of Brown’s Green and Hamstead. I suggest we get our own back next season by sending the Baggies to Jarrow and through the tunnel before joining the A1 somewhere near Morpeth – assuming we are in the same division!