Sunderland would struggle against a team of pensioners

Peter Sixsmith stuck in the  wilds of snowy Shildon, delves into his bumper book of footballing  phrases to sum up Sunday’s game in the flatlands of East Anglia. Whilst  this one didn’t have Delia ranting and raving like some inebriated old  harpy on the pitch at the break, she was seen in close up on Match of  the Day towards the end of the match, biting her nails and mouthing the  word bun, as the boys in red and white laid siege in the home side’s  goalmouth. But then again she may just have been feeling a bit peckish  and thinking of refreshments laid on in the board room. The outcome of  the match hardly leaves Sixer over the moon. Let him explain……

A GAME OF TWO HALVES

What a pleasure to be able to use such a well loved  footballing cliché, for this was clearly a game of two halves. The first half started at 4.00pm and finished at 4.48 and the second started at  5.05 and was over by 5.55. By the time Phil Dowd blew his final whistle, the Canaries were singing while the Black Cats were most certainly not  purring.

There was plenty of time to consider this one on the long journey  home. Five hours on the coach with only The Clitheroe Kid on Radio 4  Extra to cheer this correspondent up, concentrates the mind wonderfully  and had me thinking of what happened in the away dressing room at Carrow Road between 4.45 and 5.00.

Whatever was said, Connor Wickham didn’t hear much of it as he was  out on the pitch warming up and receiving abuse from the Barclay End  because he had once played for Ipswich Town. How childish! Imagine us  roundly abusing a visiting player because he had once played for the  Mags. Far better to congratulate him on leaving loathed local rivals.

Wickham replaced an injured Steven Fletcher and pepped up our forward line by using his not inconsiderable physical presence. This combined  with a much more aggressive and forward thinking midfield, allowed us to get into a game which we had looked like losing by three or four goals  after a first half show that was as bad as the dross we served up on  Tuesday night.

Gardner’s well struck goal in the 44th minute also acted as a  catalyst for a performance which gave some short term encouragement to  the travelling support, who backed the team as only Sunderland fans can  when they believe that things can be turned around and who on the whole, still believe Martin O’Neill is the man to do it.

Not all. There were vociferous and well considered counter arguments  from some on the coach, who thought that it was a real gamble to allow  O’Neill to bring in new players in the January window – but no names  mentioned as realistic successors to the beleaguered Ulsterman.

The first half gave more ammunition to those who are in favour of a  change at the top. The two goals scored by a good Norwich side were  totally avoidable and smacked of a team lacking in confidence and also  lacking a strong voice at the back to organise the line when balls are  knocked into the box.

Bassong’s goal was a huge disappointment as he was allowed to bundle  the ball over the line, with goalkeeper and central defenders leaving  the ball to each other. Pilkington’s was well taken and showed the  benefits of a winger playing with confidence, but he was allowed to run  into the box and across it without any kind of challenge.

At no stage in that opening half did we have any grip on the  midfield. The defence looked shaky and the attacking wingers theory was  as believable as that proposed by members of the Flat Earth Society.

Much sullen discontent as half time approached and then Craig Gardner rattled one in. That gave us hope and as Sunderland fans know better  than anyone else, hope is often all we have.

In the second instalment of the game of two halves, we actually  grabbed hold of the game and dominated it. Gardner pushed us forward  while Johnson and the ever improving Rose pushed down the left. Wickham  held the ball up well for Sessegnon and there was a genuine feeling that if we equalised we would go onto win the game.

We did neither, Gardner hit the post and Kilgallon put the rebound  over the bar. The Norwich keeper, Mr Bunn the Baker’s Son, made a very  good save from Sess and Wickham had a goal chalked off for offside. As  he was one of four in this position, we could not complain.

But at the end of the day (good cliché, that one), we lost. We are  seventeenth in the league, a point above Southampton and looking like a  side that could well go into 2013 in a relegation place.

We are starting to give easy goals away – all 4 against Albion and  both goals yesterday – and we are still not scoring enough. A good team  would have used that second half dominance to go on and win the game. We didn’t.

A year on from Martin O’Neill taking over, we are in even more  serious trouble than we were then. At least in 2011 we knew that Bruce  had to be replaced and we had a name lined up to come in. Should O’Neill be dismissed or leave of his own accord, Lord only knows where we go  this time. Poyet? Hughes?  Robinson from Franchise F.C.?

The short term target has to be to run up two successive home wins  against sides who clearly have trouble defending. Unfortunately, we  would struggle to score goals against a team full of pensioners, so poor is our work in the opposition box.

Like little Jimmy Clitheroe, we get punished if we do things wrong.  Unlike Jimmy, we don’t come back and start again as if nothing has  happened the previous week. Chelsea and Reading will have noticed the  lack of cohesion shown in the first half and also noted that once we go a goal down, we lose.

Like Jimmy, who usually ends up getting a slippering from his  Granddad (child abuse was alive and kicking in 1960s radio sitcoms),  that could well be us – and then as the small Lancashire lad always  finds out, the game is well and truly up.