We stand one point closer to safety than we did last week, but the reality of our situation has long been clear. A monumental surge in form needs to happen for the club to remain in the Premier League and long-term planning has to begin to ensure that if the seemingly inevitable does happen, we can compete in a difficult league below us.
After the win against Manchester City I predicted how the season under Gus Poyet would look. We'd keep it tight with a simple passing game starting from the back, making the team difficult to break down and therefore prone to the odd break forward against top teams who'd press forward in desperation. Against sides who prioritise a defensive game, our frailties in attack would look more prominent. With Steven Fletcher struggling to regain form following a long absence, and Jozy Altidore still looking unlikely to score, this is exactly how the last couple of months have played out.
The most galling thing, however, is I am convinced that this is the best we could possibly be playing. Behind the attackers, we don't have the players to turn defensive play into decisive attacking moves. A long spell on the ball would come with cohesive forward movement to create opportunities if there was someone in the centre dictating play and seeking out the final pass to a forward, or if we had some pace through the channels to unlock defences. As we don't have players of those types, defensive possession needed to be the focus to ensure a certain return of results until the January transfer window. A direct game with players hoofing and running forward at every opportunity wouldn't improve things offensively, especially as the wings seem just as poor as the centre, and would leave gaps at the back to exploit.
For everyone involved at the top of the club's hierarchy this is a very important January transfer window. Roberto De Fanti needs to redeem himself and work with Poyet to ensure we bring in the best transfers available to suit his system. There has to be planning for a relegation, and with it there has to be an assurance that Poyet will remain in place. It may be hopeful naivety on my part, but in the midst of a crisis at the club we could have what we have been needing for years – a talented young manager with a cohesive football philosophy to make his mark on the club. Give him all the backing he needs, and if it means a relegation in the process then so be it.
However right it was at the time to sack Steve Bruce, Martin O'Neill and Paolo Di Canio, it is clear now that the problem Poyet has is the players he has inherited, the majority of whom have been at the club for a long time now and have seen various managers leave without taking the consequences of their own poor performances. It is also true that throughout our spell in the Premier League we have been a selling club and in the majority of our transfers we have failed to replace players well, which we are now paying the price for. If Poyet didn't realise the full extent of the problems on his arrival he surely does now, but from this horrendous first half of a season the seeds of a long-term project could be taking shape to give Sunderland a fresh identity and footballing philosophy. If Poyet wants to take it, that is.
Finally, despite our club's predicament, have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year from all at We Are Wearside.