It was a hunch and as hunches go, I find them rarely come true. After so many decades following Sunderland and seeing, I have no idea, 1,000 plus matches, I should have known better. The belief at the back of my mind was that the team would be enthused with the arrival of a new head coach, raring to go as they had shown under the interim management of Kevin Ball, but even more so. Getting a result at Swansea seemed far from being an impossible task, followed by defeating the Mags and Steve Bruce's Hull. It would be as it were: 'What crisis!'
As we all know, it couldn't have been further from the truth. The first-half was fair, not that pretty but effective in holding a high defence line and pressing, while Lee Cattermole, not exactly my cup of tea as a player, was quite masterful, if not the most appropriate word. I did however notice a bit of bickering at times among some of Sunderland's players when a pass or two went astray. The body language just felt a little off key, although after such a disastrous start to the season. It was to be expected.
It all changed after the break. It seemed Michael Laudrup's pep-talk had an effect, it probably included a rocket to make more use of the wings. Swansea's performance had been below par. From their recent result their morale was not all that it should have been. For Gus Poyet, I suppose it was more of the same as the first-half. Suffice to say, they scored an early goal, heads went down and play became even more disjointed and ragged. The team in a slightly different style and tempo seemed like strangers to one another.
Much was made of Martin O'Neill's impressive honeymoon period, winning 10 of his first 15 games. The debut under Paolo Di Canio at Chelsea was a reasonable performance followed by two epic wins, including one to long savour and even perhaps tell the grandkids. But with our new Uruguayan, he seemed out of his depth, shaking his head midway through the second-half as if he was at a loss what to do. He did not seem to get the team even to the alter in his preparations. They were lambs to the slaughter. The marriage is not even yet consummated.
In line with great traditions, there had to be a scapegoat and one was readily made by Poyet's brave if foolhardy decision to reincarnate Phil Bardsley. It seemed in the script that he would be yellow carded, almost get Valentin Roberge sent off due to a wayward back pass and score an own goal. But my view of the performance by full back, cast as the willing villain, was no better nor worse than the majority of his colleagues.
The timing of his attempted rebirth is particularly divisive, which is something Sunderland can well do without. But the fact on the ground is that Bardsley remains on the payroll, having failed to sell him during the summer. My description would be to call him a functional player, caught out occasionally through a lack of pace and positional sense yet always showing commitment. His versatility at both right and left back is useful to the squad but his inclusion should be based only on merit.
We should not see the wood for the trees and there are much more important issues at stake than fans falling out over Sunderland's relapsed player of the year in 2010/11. To me, the atmosphere at the club must already be toxic for many other reasons. Somehow players must start to earn their keep but one crucial ingredient is confidence. Next up is the game of the season for the majority. More positive communication is needed all around, including from the board to set the right tone for players and fans alike. My suggestion to Ellis Short is to bring a football legend onto the board for guidance.
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