Looking beyond the disappointment of yet another failure to take three points off our nearest rivals on home soil, Pete Sixsmith sees a disturbing lack of initiative and quality from the boys in red and white. Judging by the grumblings of the fans leaving the Stadium of Light on Sunday, he is not alone. Here he presents his thoughts in his inimitable style ..
Will it ever happen? As I move through my seventh decade, with the possibility of maybe one more, there are a few things I wish to see before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
World peace and an end to hunger and child poverty are near the top of the list. The return of a proper socialist government in Britain, where those who make a contribution to society take a fair share while those who leech off the rest of us are consigned to the nether regions. I would like to see The Kinks play a series of concerts and A Very Peculiar Practice shown again on TV.
But most of all, above everything else, I would like, really like, to see us give the Mags a good walloping at our ground.
In all the years I have followed Sunderland, I have seen it just once and that was in 1967 when we had hit a purple patch. Jim Baxter was sober for some of the time, Neil Martin was scoring goals for fun and a fresh faced youngster called Bobby Kerr had made a tremendous impact on the first team. He scored twice with George Mulhall getting the other and since that March day, when I was preparing (or not) for my O levels, I have not seen us send them home yelping and whining.
So Sunday should not have come as a real surprise. We have stuttered and stumbled through the first six games of the season, winning one and losing one and have never looked convincing.
The West Ham result was unfortunate in that it looked as if resolute defending and a little bit of luck had won the game for us and we went on to beat Wigan to get some momentum going.
It all crashed around our ears at Eastlands, where a far superior side demolished us without over exerting themselves and it was clear to many that there were problems that needed to be addressed.
Is it desirable to concede a stupid goal in the first five minutes? Is it necessary for us to give the ball away quite so freely? Seeing as we employ two wingers, could we actually use their pace to feed our decent centre forward? Can we grab a game in midfield and squeeze the life out of the opposition?
All of these are rhetorical questions as they perfectly describe what we did and did not do against what has to be said was a far superior Newcastle United side – and the hurt I have just suffered in writing those words is as intense as any I have ever felt.
McClean slipped in an area that had been watered before the kick off, (the same thing happened in the previous home game) allowing the ball to run to Ba. His shot was saved by Mignolet but Cabaye was quicker than any of our players and stroked it home. He stood unchallenged, nobody went to him and we were chasing the game from the third minute.
It got worse. Their midfield trio of Tiote, Ben Arfa and Cabaye swatted away the feeble challenge of Colback and Larsson and totally dominated the middle of the park. Solid defending kept them out and then we had a stroke of good fortune when Tiote, who had been awarded a free kick after Colback fouled him, crashed into Fletcher, three yards away from Martin Atkinson and off he went – a tackle that puts him in the Cattermole class for sheer stupidity.
Did it make any difference to the game? Not one jot. We huffed and puffed went sideways and backwards, gave the ball to them and never once put them under any pressure.
Fletcher was willing but received hardly anything of any note and when the ball did get to him, he found Coloccini in outstanding form. His performance was the best individual show I have seen this season. Fortunately, he failed to last the whole game and the cramp that he suffered allowed us to snatch a point at the end.
I said before the game, to anyone who was prepared to listen to me, that we needed a good game from two of the Sessegnon, Johnson and McClean triumvirate. One of them would have done, to inject a bit of pace into what is a woefully pedestrian team and run at the likes of Simpson and Williamson and keep them on the back foot.
Not one of them obliged. Sessegnon was as poor as I have ever seen him, with plenty of pointless stepovers and flicks, but no telling balls through, no driving runs at the heart of the defence and no spectacular shots – in fact, no shots at all.
McClean has stopped running on to the ball and seems to think that all he has to do is give a shimmy and a shammy and the full back will collapse. The only time he used his pace was when Louis Saha came on and played the best pass of the match into the Irishman’s stride, allowing him to steam past Simpson and deliver a decent cross.
Johnson looks like an expensive luxury at the moment as he consistently struggles to get into the game. Granted, he was well marked today, but nobody else was able to take advantage of the gaps that might have been left as two or three Newcastle players blocked his progress.
The goal was fortunate in that O’Shea’s header was going wide before Ba popped up to knock it in. I suppose we deserved that piece of good fortune as we had plugged away and had not given up, but had Coloccini been on, I doubt that O’Shea would have had a free header. That it was the supremely annoying Taylor who lost him gave me a scintilla of satisfaction.
Twelve months on from the end of the Bruce period and how much progress have we made? Not much if this bitterly disappointing show is anything to go by. There is little pace and/or movement from the midfield or the full backs. Compare the rigidity and sheer torpor of our midfield with the fluidity and energy of theirs.
Look at how their defenders pass to fluorescent yellow shirts (yuk!!) rather than propel it forward in the general direction of the one forward we use. They are, at the moment, a far better side than we are in just about every department.
What is to be done? Well, let’s use the pace and intelligence of Saha a bit more. He deserves a start next week ahead of Sess who looks less like a mixture of Messi and Pele and more like a combination of Lemon and Cunnington.
Let’s break up the Larsson/Colback partnership and push Cattermole and Gardner there for the Stoke game and actually get hold of a game. Maybe we can push Vaughan in there or find a place for Meyler – but we need to do something or we will be slipping down among the dead men before Christmas.