I was out celebrating my step-son’s birthday as the lads were (eventually) battling their way to a point on our very first visit to the Cardiff City Stadium. Checking my Twitter feed for updates I decided it was a lost cause at 2-0 down after around 75mins. A final check getting in the car home brought the surprising news that somehow we had managed to haul ourselves level for a vital point. Very un-Sunderland like this; first passing, now comebacks? What on earth is going on Gus?
After the much welcomed novelty of winning at Goodison Park – in this of all seasons – we head for our first ever league match at the Cardiff City Stadium in good cheer for once. The same can’t be said for the Bluebirds (or is that Red Dragons?). Bonkers, despot leader sacked manager Malky Mackay on Friday in the least surprising managerial axing ever. Scant reward for ending Cardiff’s 50 year plus exile for England’s top division last year. Often when a team change manager there’s a big response from the players due to a sense of relief, being able to draw a line under past performances and move on. You can’t quite see it the same way this time though, with players and fans lining up beside Mackay rather than Bond-esque villain and owner Vincent Tan. So a possible chance to capitalise on a club in chaos perhaps?
We stand one point closer to safety than we did last week, but the reality of our predicament 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.
It was always going to be a difficult task to pick up the pieces at Sunderland after the devastation caused by Paolo Di Canio at the club. The size of task for Gus Poyet was a steep one with demoralised players and not the slightest semblance of a team being built. This was not only due to the exodus of three of the stars, a mixed influx of replacements and a third of the squad in the last year of their contracts.
With a new system in place at the club focusing on passing, the area of the first XI which holds the key to success is our midfield. With an accurate, sharp and technically astute core - winning games through knocking the ball about would be much easier. There is, however, an ongoing debate as to what that midfield should contain in terms of personnel. It is one of the few areas in which Gus Poyet has some depth and the right group of players must be selected in ‘the engine room’ in order to accentuate the team’s pedigree. We have already seen most of our midfielders take on this style - but what is our best midfield combination?
Chelsea’s ninth away victory in a row at the SoL (equalling their own top flight record) was perhaps no surprise. It made it a staggering 17 Chelsea wins (home & away) from the last 18 games against Sunderland. The 3-0 win at The Bridge just over 3 years ago looks ever more anomalous. Chelsea scoring four goals against the team propping up all others in the Premier League would also not cause the startled spilling of too many cups of tea in the Match of the Day green room. However, not all was par for the course at the SoL.
I've been watching Steven Fletcher with some interest over the last few weeks, trying to fathom whether he is unfit or something a little more serious. I feel like I'm treading on thin ice questioning a player so rightly held in high regard by us fans - but is he a victim or part of our problems?
There was something canny significant about Crystal Palace’s away victory with ten men which seemed to draw out our road to recovery to what feels a never ending length. I don’t necessarily think the result has made our survival any less palpable, perhaps it was better they did win, however seeing us slip back to the Premier League basement does hack away at the weary, old optimistic side of me. I hear a lot of people talk to me about how much easier we have things at home over the second half of the year which surely blind sights the difficulties we will face away from home.
It is rather ironic that the difference between Stoke City and Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium was largely Charlie Adam. Yes it is true that his over-the-top reaction helped to convince referee Kevin Friend to send off Wes Brown unjustifiably. Perhaps he deserves to be described as a cheat or much worse. But he was also arguably man-of-the-match for the victors and all but illustrates the calibre of a player the Black Cats are sadly lacking.
Sunderland tend not to turn loan deals into permanent ones, usually because the player is tosh or they play their way into the first team of their parent club via us. In fact, other than Ahmed Elmohammady, I am struggling to think of any players since our arrival back in the Premier League who have had their loan deal made permanent. Help me out if you can think of any!