Malcolm Dawson writes: It’s the pantomime season and Sunderland’s defenders had obviously rehearsed long and hard as they totally ignored the cries of “he’s behind you” that echoed around Old Trafford throughout the afternoon. It was difficult to decide whether it was Bramble, Cuellar or O’Shea who was playing the back end of the pantomime donkey as they were all out of step at some point, and just like Cinderella they were too often too late for the ball. There was no genie either, although Frazier Campbell did provide one fan with a moment of magic. We’ll let Pete Sixsmith explain. COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE – VOLUME 5 . Pete’s grim fairytale afternoon in Manchester!
Seeing as we haven’t won at Old Trafford since Bruce Stuckey was a Sunderland player and Brian Statham and Noddy Pullar were plying their trade down the road at the cricket ground, I don’t go to the self styled “Theatre of Dreams” with any great hopes.
There have been some decent performances over the years and some shockers. There was a 4-1 mauling in the 19 point season, a memorable debut for Paul Williams in 1990 when Lee Sharpe destroyed his career and the Cantona game, which must have Dickie Ord hiding behind the sofa every time it appears on some compilation programme that fills up the schedules.
This one wasn’t too bad as bad goes. It could have been 5-0 and it could have been 3-2 – and had it been 3-2 who knows what might have happened.
But it wasn’t. In fact, when Tom Cleverley scored the second, I thought there was a chance that the hiding administered to Ipswich Town a few years ago (9-0) was on. That it wasn’t was due to a combination of strong goalkeeping, careless finishing and a general United feeling that they just couldn’t be bothered.
To go two down in twenty minutes means that there is precious little chance of getting back into the game. That both goals were due to woeful defending didn’t help.
The first one was a feeble attempt by Cuellar and Johnson (a right wing combination which would struggle to terrorise the likes of Penrith) to “tackle” Young. His cross was shinned out by O’Shea, straight to van Persie, who could have walked over to the errant Eire international and shook his hand before dispatching it into the net. Had Shildon Sunderland Supporters F.C. done something similar, buckets would have been kicked and water bottles would have been scattered to the four corners of whatever pitch we were playing on.
United then scored a lovely goal, although the fact that Cleverley was allowed so much room by our “defence” contributed to it. We really must try to tackle opponents. It does help.
By this time United were playing some silky football, but apparently it wasn’t good enough to rouse the crowd from their slumbers. I gather that Fergie has been quite critical of them and I can see why. Do they not exult in the quality of their players? Do they only wake up when they play City or Liverpool ? The ground was almost as quiet as Highbury used to be and Ashburton Grove is now. I know that United fans can be passionate, but they seem like the family who have over indulged on the turkey, sprouts and chocolates and who can’t appreciate a beautifully made Christmas Pudding.
Puddings describes us for the remainder of the first half. Fortunately, Rooney, Evra and van Persie all decided that it was more fun to pick off people in the crowd rather than add to our embarrassment and we trooped off at half time looking like a well beaten side.
Fletcher did not re-appear after the break and was replaced by Connor Wickham, who continued his progress by barging about and unsettling the previously settled United defenders. He is beginning to look like a real prospect. It would be interesting to see him paired with Fletcher at Southampton next week.
However, any hopes of a revival were snuffed out when Cuellar and Bramble allowed van Persie to wriggle between them and set up Rooney to finish the game. Cuellar is patently not a full back and would have been better employed in the centre of defence instead of the woeful Bramble, who is surely heading for a Championship club in January.
This is the area that MON must to strengthen in the upcoming window. We don’t have a centre half that dominates, talks or clears the ball. Michael Dawson’s name has been mentioned. He can’t be any worse than the current crop; O’Shea and Cuellar lack mobility, Bramble is incredibly slow and lacks concentration while Kilgallon is not strong enough. This is the area that will drag us down in 2013.
United’s pace and sheer ability made our midfield look as pedestrian as ever. Gardner worked hard as did McClean, but any thoughts of playing Larsson in the centre of midfield must have disappeared by now. He can’t do it and I expect David Meyler to be in the middle next week. He scored again for Hull and, according to the Football Echo, O’Neill has spoken to Bruce about re-calling him.
We did pull a goal back, which showed the weaknesses that United have at the back. However, when they go forward so effectively, they can cover up these deficiencies. They fell asleep as Sessegnon’s deep cross was headed in by Campbell and were rattled a little as we pushed forward in search of a second that might have had sphincters squeaking in the quiet seats – all 73,200 of them.
Once again, we came back reasonably well in the second half, but we were already 3 down – just like we were to Chelsea . All this does is paper over the cracks and partly alleviate the awful defending that had put us in this position. Since the West Bromwich game we have conceded a number of totally avoidable goals which have sent us sliding down the table and which have also worsened our goal difference. Not great, is it?
At least there was one happy Sunderland fan. A group of Dutch fans were sat behind me, one of whom was attending his seventh Sunderland game and had never seen us score. When Frazier’s header hit the net, he was mobbed by his mates and spent the rest of the game with a huge smile on his face.
A consolation goal at Old Trafford – that just about sums us up at the moment. I hope that Southampton score a consolation goal next week – but I’m not holding my breath.