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When Will This Downward Spiral Ever Stop? - Notes for Sunderland
Friday, 2nd Feb 2018 11:15 by HarryFromBath

HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at The Stadium of Light by delving into their forums.

“Hello League One. Birmingham haven’t scored more than one goal at home in five months. Then we rock up. This season is a never-ending nightmare”, “This is not the Sunderland we know and love”, “I believe the double relegation is actually going to happen. This is the first time it has felt for real.”

“Two wins in a row? Never.” Tuesday night’s 3-1 defeat away to fellow-strugglers Birmingham left Sunderland second-bottom in the table, one point plus an inferior goal difference from safety. As the game petered out, any optimism garnered from their previous 1-0 home win over Hull had vanished.

“Why does every victory have to be followed by a woeful performance?”, “The big problem is our inconsistency. We battle to win one week and then don’t turn up the next. Our next step must be to become harder to beat”, “I have seen some poor Sunderland sides but this is by far the worst.”

“I don’t think anyone is expecting anything. Expectations were crushed a while ago, but every game rams home just how poor we are”, “I’m not sitting here fuming, I am sat here in expected sadness and I knew that this was going to happen. It’s pathetic but unsurprising. It’s what we’re used to.”

“I can’t see any daylight”, “The mashed-up left-overs of five managers in the space of three years are not likely to achieve anything but relegation”, “I’m as annoyed as anyone with that performance but the reality is that right now we are just one point off safety with 17 games to go. It’s all to play for.”

Chris Coleman

“We have been better under Chris Coleman, not good but definitely better”, “We have to trust him, so far he has been like a breath of fresh air”, “We have the right manager in charge this time. He’s doing his best but his hands are tied financially. The blame for this mess ultimately lies elsewhere.”

Chris Coleman imageChris Coleman

The former Wales manager, 47, replaced Simon Grayson in mid-November with the side bottom of the table with 11 points from their first 17 games. Some results and displays have been “abject”, but Coleman has crucially picked up occasional spirited victories to keep his side in touch with safety.

“We won one game in 15 under Grayson, but we have won four in 12 under Coleman”, “Keeping hold of him is by far the most important thing required by the club. He needs his own team and to rebuild from scratch”, “I don’t blame him, but I still can’t understand why he chose to come here.”

“Our form has improved under Coleman despite him shopping in the bins at the back of Aldi”, “He is going to be a legend here”, “There are few clubs in our position without a single senior striker. The fact that he has managed to both pick up results and keep clean sheets with this team is a miracle.”

Playing the Kids

“Sorry lads and lasses, but this is rubbish. We are lacking in every department”, “Coleman has not been left with much of a choice but to fill the team with the young ones”, “I’m surprised at seeing two kids up front but it looks like Coleman is targeting a win at Birmingham”, “Haway the bairns!”

RuiterBrowning*KoneClarke-Salter*MatthewsCattermoleRobson*Honeyman*OviedoMaja*Asoro*

Coleman’s starting XI (above) at St Andrew’s highlighted how unbalanced his squad has been, with six of the line-up (marked with an asterisk) either youth products or loan signings under 23 years of age. Their lack of experience and physicality is seen as a factor in the side’s inconsistent displays.

The failure of senior players to contribute has been a huge issue. Darron Gibson and Jonny Williams have been injured, Didier N’Dong (now at Watford), Callum McManaman and Jack Rodwell have been poor, while top scorer Lewis Grabban was recalled by parent club Bournemouth in January.

Five January Reinforcements

Five new faces have arrived in the January window to add strength across the team. Centre-half Jake Clarke-Salter arrived on loan from Chelsea earlier in the month. Winger Kazenga LuaLua came on as a second-half substitute at Birmingham, having arrived on loan from Brighton last Thursday.

The three deadline-day additions will hopefully address major areas of vulnerability. Striker and one-time Town target Ashley Fletcher arrived on loan from Middlesbrough and Wearsiders hope he will add strength and presence playing alongside teenage youth products Joel Asoro and Josh Mata.

The loan arrival of keeper Lee Camp from Cardiff, where he has failed to break into the Bluebirds’ team, has been widely welcomed as Robbin Ruiter is seen as being too error-prone. Meanwhile, the addition on loan of Ovie Ejaria from Liverpool will add a physical and technical dimension to the midfield.

A Lightweight Team

“This division is about pace, height and power. We have little of each”, “The team aren’t physically up to it, we’re soft”, “All the opposition need to do is rough us up and we roll over”, “We are easily outmuscled and outfought”, “We have so many poor players with a lack of any physical presence.”

“Surely improving the physical strength of the squad would be a quick win for us”, “The Cardiff game [a recent 4-0 drubbing] was men against boys. They bullied us all over the park, we were second to everything and we ended up hoofing it”, “We would still get bullied in League One with this squad.”

A New-Look Team on Saturday

“We are so slow and poor”, “Our team is atrocious. We have a woeful squad that no one could get much more from”, “The midfield is non-existent, we have nothing up front and we make basic errors at the back”, “The number of unforced errors we make on the ball is simply phenomenal.”

“Are we the worst passing team in the Football League?”, “Players in this team cannot pass the ball to each other”, “Our passing game is shocking. We literally can’t pass a ball five yards to our own men”, “We never take care of the football. It’s more that we just hope it will go to one of our players.”

CampBrowningO'SheaClarke-SalterMatthewsEjariaCattermoleRobsonOviedoAsoroFletcher

Coleman had preferred a 3-5-2 shape with full-backs out wide in recent games, but has also switched in games to a back four. Looking at fans projected line-ups (above) there is consensus over defence and midfield, but Aiden McGeady out wide or LuaLua behind a lone striker are alternatives in attack.

“We can’t play three at the back without John O’Shea and we saw this at Birmingham. Only we could somehow contrive to concede the three goals that we have tonight. Our defence and keeper had a complete amateur hour”, “I just sensed a goal for Birmingham every time they attacked us.”

“That midfield”, “We are crying out for a strong athletic midfielder who can pass the ball”, “The midfield offered nothing in defence or attack”, “When you have an immobile midfielder like Lee Cattermole, runners like George Honeyman, Ethan Robson or Lynden Gooch are critical.”

“We have no senior strikers and we desperately need a target man”, “We don’t look like scoring. We won’t survive if we can only scrappy ugly games 1-0.” Sunderland have scored five goals in their last 10 games. “Grabban’s departure was a blow, his 12 league goals in this side was a terrific effort.”

Birmingham 3 – 1 Sunderland

“Just back in from Birmingham, a 400-mile round trip to watch that rubbish. It must have been the worst 75 minutes of football I have seen from us”, “Three balls lumped up and three goals, and we had three centre-halves playing. You have to question the team’s desire, we lost so many headers.”

David Davis put the hosts ahead on 28 minutes, beating keeper Ruiter at his near post and 5ft 8in Jermaine Boga headed in the Blues’ second a minute before the break. Sam Gallagher tapped in a third on 54 before Bryan Oviedo pulled a consolation goal back seven minutes before full-time.

“I have just finished work. How bad was it?”, “Lamine Kone started, all you need to know.” The team’s defending was singled out for heavy criticism. “Our defending was criminally bad and the young players couldn’t get hold of the ball. Birmingham overwhelmed us and we were outfought.”

Sunderland 1 – 0 Hull City

“A massive win”, “An all-round committed performance”, “We shouldn’t be this happy about a 1-0 home win over Hull, but any win is a good one at the minute”, “We were sensational at times in the first half but made hard work of it after the break”, “Two home wins in 24 matches, I feel spoiled.”

“A great finish from Joel Asoro from a lovely through ball from Honeyman.” Sunderland won this relegation six-pointer when the teenager calmly finished off a good move on 20 minutes. It was a result and a positive display of spirited football which echoed recent wins over Forest and Fulham.

RuiterBrowningO'SheaClarke-SalterJonesCattermoleRobsonHoneymanOviedoMajaAsoro

“Playing a flexible 3-5-2 [above] feels like a blueprint for success”, “The best team performance of the season by miles. Keep that effort and togetherness for the coming season and we will be okay”, “We fought for each other all over the pitch, proper blood and thunder from every man out there

Cardiff 4 – 0 Sunderland

“A comedy of errors”, “I have seen some utterly spineless, gutless and inept displays in 40-odd years and that was up there with them”, “I thought I was getting to a point where I didn’t care any more, but I do and that hurt. Look at the state of the bastards out there, a bunch of complete wasters.”

Sunderland disintegrated after a scoreless first half. Callum Patterson headed Cardiff in front shortly after the restart and Sunderland’s Didier N’Dong was then dismissed on 49. Joe Ralls added a second on 55 before Patterson struck again on 80 and Anthony Pilkington added a fourth in stoppage time.

RuiterBrowningO'SheaClarke-SalterJonesWilsonN'DongGoochOviedoHoneymanMaja

“Five at the back and one up front [above], and we still concede four. Once again, we are the club that keeps giving”, “Cardiff hadn’t won in seven, 4-0 to them”, “Our players bounced off the Cardiff players. They had too much for us physically”, “That performance was an absolute embarrassment.”

Goalkeepers and Central Defenders

“Lee Camp isn’t great, but he was a regular in Bournemouth’s promotion season and was Forest’s keeper when they were a play-off quality side.

Lee Camp imageLee Camp

The 33-year-old one-time Canary didn’t feature for Cardiff, but he last played regularly for Rotherham and Millers felt that this would be a good move “Camp is a very good keeper”, “His heroics kept us in the Championship in 2016 and he will go down on our list of great goalies”, “He hasn’t played a minute of first-team football this season but he was brilliant for us when here”, “He could be dodgy on crosses but was a very good shot stopper.”

“The word ‘save’ and Robbin Ruiter seem odd together.” The 30-year-old ex-FC Utrecht man “has to go. This idiot is the worst starting keeper we have had in 20 years. He gets regularly done on his near post and Cardiff put every corner in on top of time. It was a matter of time before he screwed up.”

“It’s staggering that Lamine Kone was even considered for selection at Birmingham.” The 28-year-old ex-Lorient defender “was never a team player and the kids either side of him had no assistance”, “He is only good when someone more organised pulls him into shape. We’re a shambles if he’s leading.”

“Jake Clarke-Salter seems comfortable on the ball and has a good eye for a pass.” The 20-year-old Chelsea loanee arrived in January. “He won the U20 World Cup in the summer and is powerful and athletic. He’s comfortable bringing the ball out from the back. He is a lovely footballing defender.”

Jake Clarke-Salter imageJake Clarke-Salter v Liam Feeney (Cardiff City)

“Clarke-Salter is not afraid to stride forward and his distribution looks decent. He was excellent in the Hull game, confident, strong and good on the ball. He was really committed and up for it”, “He obviously missed O’Shea to guide him against Birmingham, often getting caught out of position.”

“Tyias Browning is a centre-half who needs players around him who are comfortable on the ball.” The 23-year-old Everton loanee “is a good out-and-out defender, quick, strong and very good in the tackle. He needs to be better in possession”, “He has the physical attributes for the Premier League.”

“Browning looked terrified of the ball at Birmingham. He completely ignored Sam Gallagher and let him have a tap-in for their third goal”, “He is powerful, but can often look very rigid and petrified in possession”, “He reads the game well, but his downside is when he has too much time on the ball.”

John O’Shea

“O’Shea held the defence together against Hull.” The 36-year-old former Manchester United man “won a dozen headers, closed down well and put in some great tackles and interceptions”, “He has been our best player for years but has struggled this season”, “There is nobody to replace him.”

“I don’t think O’Shea has the legs any more, although he was never the fastest player in the world”, “He can get caught out of position but he never hides. He should be fine with pace alongside him and our system gets the best out of him”, “He has provided some stability in times of total chaos.”

Full-Backs and Wing-Backs

“My God, I had forgotten how poor Billy Jones is.” The 30-year-old ex-West Brom right-back “is like a roaming pinball bumper”, “A full-back unable to cut out a cross or keep his position is not adequate for this level”, “It’s criminal. He ruins attacks and runs like he has a wardrobe strapped to his back.”

“Adam Matthews has improved this season to the dizzying heights of bang-average.” The 26-year-old ex-Celtic full-back “has been one of our better players this season. At least he offers something going forward”, “He’s energetic, tackles well and the defence gets a extra 10 per cent lift when he plays.”

Bryan Oviedo

“Oviedo’s forays into the opposition half are exciting stuff, but we ship a boatload of goals down his side. He’s often in no-man’s land and has the slow Cattermole for cover.” The 27-year-old ex-Everton player and Costa Rica international “was nowhere to be seen defending down the left at Birmingham”.

Bryan Oviedo imageJohn O'Shea and Bryan Oviedo

“Oviedo is a good ball player but an iffy defender”, “I don’t like his defending but he’s comfortable on the ball and is often our main outlet in attack”, “He went on a jinking run in our box at Ipswich but he lost it. The ball flashed by our keeper like a shot in seconds and we were two goals down.”

Central Midfielders

“Jack Rodwell is going to look back and regret a totally unfulfilled career.” Wearsiders are scathing about the 26-year-old former Everton man. “The squad is on its knees and he doesn’t want to be here”, “I don’t know how he can look at himself in the mirror every day. He should be ashamed.”

Jack Rodwell imageJack Rodwell

“Is there a worse player on the ball than Marc Wilson? His passing is atrocious.” The 30-year-old one-time Stoke man “does a half-decent job as a stopper but he can’t pass at all”, “He’s slow, he lacks bottle, he’s positionally embarrassing. He surges forward and passes the ball to an opponent.

“Ovie Ejaria has a wee bit of Patrick Vieira about him.” Sunderland fans have had little to say about the newly arrived 20-year-old loan signing from Liverpool, but Reds have high hopes for him. “He is very comfortable on the ball, more suited to a central role where his quick feet are more effective.”

“Ejaria has literally looked head and shoulders above the rest in his age group”, “He was going to go out on loan last year to Leeds before he had an ankle injury”, “He looks to play the ball forward and has an eye for a pass, a creative player who can break the lines and who will make things happen.”

“Lynden Gooch needs to improve his decision-making.” The 22-year-old youth product “has real bite in the tackle and closes opponents down quickly”, “He has tremendous enthusiasm and is at his best coming off the bench to lift our energy, but he now has to learn how to positively influence games.”

“Ethan Robson was everywhere against Hull. His running in and around Lee Cattermole make all the difference.” The 21-year-old youth product “was like a thorn in Hull’s side, snapping, hustling and tackling. He was tidy on the ball and full of running”, “His positioning is good on and off the ball.”

“Robson is nice and composed on the ball and he doesn’t hide. He looks to dictate play”, “He shows for the ball, looks up in possession, gets stuck in and is happy to get forward”, “He rarely misplaces a pass, he’s full of running and looks like a tough player as well, not afraid to make strong challenges.”

“If other players had George Honeyman’s attitude, things here wouldn’t be so bleak.” The 23-year-old youth product “is physically small, but he puts himself about in midfield”, “He works hard, never hides and is capable of the odd killer pass”, “He’s not the greatest but gives his all and gets forward.”

“Honeyman was like a dog with a balloon at Cardiff.” He was singled out for criticism in the team’s recent heavy defeat. “He gave it his best but he was too small, weak and slow and he took too many touches”, “He needs to simplify it more. He makes a great effort but lacks a bit of genuine quality.”

Lee Cattermole

“There is no way Cattermole will be belting up and down the box. The young lads will do this.” The 29-year-old ex-Wigan man “has to sit. He hasn’t the legs to play box-to-box”, “He has never been the most mobile but has been a disaster at times, letting players run off him into dangerous positions.”

Lee Cattermole imageLee Cattermole fouls Middlesbrough's Marcus Tavernier

“Bloody hell, if Cattermole has a shot we must be dominating.” He was praised for his display against Hull. “It was the Cattermole of old, half-a-dozen crunching tackles, plenty of work rate and a cynical booking at just the right time”, “He may have been poor lately but he can actually pass a ball well.”

Wingers

“Kazenga LuaLua is not average. He is sensational or abysmal.” The 27-year-old free signing from Brighton and one-time Newcastle man “is a dynamo with a burst of confidence when he plays well, but he can get frustrated with himself if he plays badly”, “He is decent with both feet and he gets plenty of assists.”

Kazenga LuaLua imageKazenga LuaLua at Brighton

“As soon as LuaLua came on at Birmingham, we bossed the game”, “He will give us pace in the final third. Having someone unpredictable and quick could be a huge advantage for us in tight games”, “I think Coleman will play him through the middle. His main trick is to skin defenders with either foot.”

“Callum McManaman has been living off his Wigan FA Cup final display for his entire career.” The 26-year-old August signing “looks as though he has talent but doesn’t put in the effort”, “The most memorable thing he has done is a daft sending off for trying to score with his hand against Reading.”

Aiden McGeady

“We need to find a place for McGeady. He’s the only one in the squad with creativity.” The 31-year-old former Everton winger “will definitely play his part. He has that bit of quality but it’s about using him at the right time”, “He has contributed to eight goals in a midfield utterly devoid of talent.”

Aidan McGeady imageAidan McGeady v David McGoldrick

“McGeady won us the game at Forest in December, he still has a big part to play”, “He does his ‘beat the same man three times and lose it’ trick and the odd Hollywood shot but he’s useful off the bench in the last 20 minutes when opponents tire”, “He’s frustrating but he’s a match-winner on his day.”

Strikers

“Josh Maja has superb touch and excellent ball control.” The 19-year-old youth product “is young and inexperienced and he struggles physically, but his touch and composure are really good and he has enormous potential”, “He is better with the ball to his feet rather than challenging in the air.”

“Maja was very easily knocked off the ball every time at Cardiff. He was a boy in a man’s world”, “He is not used to playing with his back to goal and big physical defenders around him”, “He has good feet and a footballing brain. He needs to toughen up but that will come with time and experience.”

Josh Maja and Joel Asoro imageJosh Maja (R) celebrates with Joel Asoro

“Joel Asoro scored a good goal against Hull, he was very good throughout the game with his link-up play and dribbles on top of his lovely finish.” The 18-year-old youth product “has great spring for a little lad and win some great headers. He has improved physically and his pace causes problems”.

“Asoro is direct and will drive into the box, but he is raw and has a tendency to be hit and miss”, “He is a real threat in behind and does well in the air”, “He moves effortlessly and has come on in leaps and bounds physically”, “He’s a threat with his speed and movement, he’s becoming a real handful.”

Ashley Fletcher

“West Ham must have had to stifle their laughs when we threw £6.5 million on the table for Fletcher.” Boro fans have welcomed his move with many feeling that 22-year-old struggled to establish himself in a side which had Rudy Gestede and Britt Assombalonga as more experienced options in attack.

Ashley Fletcher imageAshley Fletcher playing for former club West Ham

“Fletcher was a like-for-like replacement for Assombalonga, but he was a statue against Brighton in the FA Cup last Saturday, hardly jumping against defenders and looking sluggish”, “He looks like he can win headers and bring the ball down, but his confidence is zero and he’s so hesitant and weak.”

Wearsiders’ Views on ITFC and the Game

“Would a draw against Ipswich at the weekend not be the end of the world? Looking at other relegation rivals’ fixtures it would be a point gained as they all have difficult games this weekend”, “Hopefully a win but a defeat wouldn’t surprise me”, “Head says 1-2, heart says 1-0. Misery.”

“Are people targeting this as one of our more winnable games remaining?”, “We have Bristol City away the week after Ipswich which we’re pretty much nailed on to lose. We need to beat Ipswich or it puts huge pressure on the Middlesbrough and Bolton games which follow.”

“Will our new loan signings be match fit to jump straight into the team?”, “It depends if Coleman sets us up for a win which he hasn’t done recently. If he plays his strongest side we can win, but we will lose if he goes for a draw or only brings on players who make a difference when we are 2-0 down.”

“We desperately need to win home games.” Wearsiders are evenly split in their prediction polls for Saturday’s game with an identical number predicting a Sunderland and Town win. A 2-1 score the most popular forecast home win, whereas 3-0 is the most popular score forecast for a Town win.

“All that way on a Tuesday, mind you it was worth it for McGeady’s goal.” They haven’t forgotten our 5-2 win in September. “A win would be sweet revenge for the battering we took down there. The win one, lose one strategy should see us safe so three points will be most welcome.”

“Ipswich are one of the few teams even more out of form than what we are. They have won one in about eight games or something like that. The players need to go out and right that shocking defeat down there”, “Well, if they have one win in eight you should lump all you have on an away win.”

“Mick brings in seasoned professionals and not kids. They will be too physical and win 2-0. I hope I'm wrong but for the bulk of the squad, which are U23s, we have to avoid these physical battles and try to play football. This is not always possible and it is something which Mick will not allow.”

Wearsiders have had little else to say about Mick but they are nervous of one returning player. “I recall most (including me) slagging off the Martyn Waghorn links earlier this year and he now has 10 goals this season for Ipswich that we could probably use in our position.”

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vanmunt added 11:37 - Feb 2
Always a great read Harry. I take my hat off to anyone going up to Sunderland to watch this one, a good game it will not be.
2

Northstandveteran added 11:51 - Feb 2
When will this downward spiral ever end?

Probably tomorrow about ten to five.

And mentioning inconsistency, we are consistently inconsistent.

I just hope that all you fans making the ridiculous journey to the North East are rewarded with more than a point seeking performance and 2 or 3 hopeful pot shots from long range.

This game has a draw written all over it
4

itsonlyme added 15:01 - Feb 2
I predict 0-0
1

BobbyBell added 15:47 - Feb 2
If only I could think that we would go all out for a win up there but no we'll play for a point as always. That's probably what we'll get too as it will need a goal from them to get us to go forward with any conviction.
3

Oldsmoker added 16:47 - Feb 2
A comment on their last game against Birmingham which they lost 3-1.
“Three balls lumped up and three goals...."
I'm confident we can "lump up" a ball or two and lets hope we can score from that.
5

scunnyblue added 19:20 - Feb 2
You just made my day oldsmoker.. Funny comment
2

KiwiTractor added 20:55 - Feb 2
Crikey they sound in a right mess. Unfortunately I still can't see us winning this one - McCarthy will no doubt be happy with a point.

Hope I'm wrong, come on lads.
2


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