Gary J sends us his views from China. He may be on the other side of the world, but that hasn’t stopped him watching the Lads. Read his thoughts below and if you have anything to say on all things SAFC yourself, send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 28th September
As the Autumnal Equinox is celebrated, the mid Autumn Festival, moon cakes and all, finally ends, and the full moon is shining bright down on a clear skied Wuhan, I find myself mulling over yet another season without a win before October (at least).
I’m touring China for two months work, and I find that there are certain home comforts that will keep me going since I arrived here on Transfer Deadline Day – one being Sports Report on 5 Live on a Saturday afternoon, and the other being keeping up to date with the lads, and trying to listen to and view as many games as possible, despite the current 7 hour time difference. For the first time since I arrived in Asia, Jiangsu Sports were playing The Lads vs Man Utd live. They are obsessed with the Red Devils over here, and even the commentary and half time analysis were incredibly biased towards their love for the red side of Manchester.
I found myself, whilst nibbling on Street Food, yet again disappointed by the overall lack of collaborative intelligence and quality shown in the side, as well as the passion and drive of certain individuals. Now I was, and I’m still trying to be, a big fan of Advocaat. I think he is an incredibly experienced manager who can clearly see the flaws and downsides of individuals, as well as being able to nurture and encourage players when they’re on the right track. But Saturday was yet another example of a starting XI who just didn’t turn up, and didn’t really seem to know where to go next. The rustiness they seem to have had since pre season doesn’t seem to have disappeared yet… and we’re almost three months into the campaign.
I was pleased to see the passion and control that Lee Cattermole showed at times (something he has been missing for the first part of the season) despite a few individual costly errors, and having John O’Shea in the back 4 seems crucial to maintaining any kind of composure in the defence at present. Fabio Borini has pace and caused the Manchester United defence some issues here and there, but it seems the team as a unit aren’t gelling as well as they should. Long balls missing targets and so many passes going astray. I’m a big fan of attacking football, and the 4-3-3 formation, but I feel that using this structure at Old Trafford against any United side is asking for punishment.
The goals were sloppy and yet again caused by a lack of concentration – we have to take the first two goals in particular as solely down to this – up until then, although nervy, the back four had been relatively solid, and there were good signs of intent from Lens, Tovionen and Borini in particular. However, after goal two, there was no coming back and as the second half went on, our substitutes left a lot to be desired. It felt like the team could sense the inevitable. Now as a Sunderland fan, particularly in the Roy Keane era, we learnt never to say die and late/comeback goals were often on the cards to spice up the ending of a game; this passion to get back into it seemed to fade pretty quickly, and although we went on the attack here and there, we were resigned to another failure. There’s no questioning the ability of the now top of the table Manchester United, but an old school Sunderland side were never intimidated by big name clubs.
Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones have come in for a lot of criticism as of late, and I can understand the criticism for the former in particular. I watched his movement again and again throughout the game, and even a friend watching it with me (a Sheff Wed Fan) commented on his apparent laziness and inability to track back. Yes, Paddy has pace, and he can really take on a defender well down the wing, but he is absolutely useless in terms of returning back to his place and position. There were even times where he would be switching his run down into the right flank – otherwise known as a cul-de-sac for PvA, with Borini and Kaboul having to clean up for him when he inevitably lost the ball. It’s crazy to think of the difference in him compared to last season – we can only hope that Dick can get a leash on him and he can start showing the fight that Fabio does bombing up and down the left. I mentioned on Twitter at the time, that Anthony Reveillere seems to be a big miss at the back – I was a big fan of him last season, and he had a lot of quality – I will never understand why they didn’t give a Champions league experienced player an extra 12 months, as I never really saw him play a bad game. Maybe it’s also time for Yedlin to be considered after such a woeful rate of conceding goals. Even Santi Vergini was mentioned by some members of the Tweeting universe which says something about our current plight.
I was impressed by our attacking signings this summer, but unconvinced by other decisions. I think we have clear talent in Toivonen, M’Vila, Borini and Lens in particular – and if they can get gelling well with Defoe, Johnson and Cattermole, we could really start motoring. I also would love to see Duncan Watmore get the chance he deserves – the lad has done nothing but positive things when given a chance in the first team – he has bags of energy and determination, as does Lyndon Gooch – and I think they would both be ideal fits for at least a consistent place on the bench. And what about Mika Mandron? A player who at the start of the season was scoring for fun in the development squad……
There is a lot of potential in this side – more than a lot of recent Sunderland first teams have had, but Dick needs to find the tactic or the magic formula to get kick started soon – or else its going to be yet another horrendous season to be a Sunderland fan. We all know how a bad run of form can affect confidence in both players and fans alike. I remember thinking last season that the quality of performance, and the lack of desire in one side wearing our glorious red and white stripes couldn’t get any worse…. then I saw the opening few games of this season and now the gloom has returned, albeit with some positive lights here and there. I hope Dick can weather the storm that has been the start to the season, and we can finally pick up our first 3 points in the league at the start of October. Otherwise, it could be another managerial merry-go-round that we seem to be quite famous and mocked by the media for at present. I know money shouldn’t be an idol of anyone, but if relegation was to occur, this season would probably be the worst timing with the new TV Deal, but knowing wor Sunderland, they like to encounter bad luck such as this.
Working out in China makes you appreciate all the little things in life in the UK that you’ve always taken for granted. From Tesco Express, to being able to see your family round the corner, to having a toilet that isn’t just a hole in the ground. Being away makes me appreciate the quality and strength of us Sunderland fans – the ability to laugh in the face of adversity and continue to follow our team with sell out crowds through thick and thin, and I still get excited everyday we play as it’s a chance to touch base with home and one of my biggest passions – but this new-found appreciation still doesn’t help alleviate any of the heartache that being a Sunderland fan can bring at times – Still we push on with masses of hope, pride in our support but increasingly little expectation – but I continue to wear my red and white stripes in cities across China with pride, wanting to share with them all that it’s not just 3 points which will make me take pride in my club – its our passion to see things put right.