Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.4 – Sunderland at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, September 20th, 2020  

SEASON 2020/21 – FAN’S VIEW No.4 – SUNDERLAND AT HOME

But first back to the Carabao Cup

What an opportunity I missed and I have to thank Andy McCormac for pointing it out. After reading the Watford FV he came up with this, “Can I just add that one of the Watford goalkeeper’s saves, when Bachmann turned over a drive, led me to think that we ain’t seen nothin yet… ” And indeed we hadn’t.

In these hard times the only income from these games is the ten quid a time people pay to watch them on iFollow. I’d be interested to know how many but suspect not a lot. There will still be some expenses so I assume they will be deducted which means we might even be losing money and if there was a tiny profit left over that would rightly be split with our opponents.

The value of the EFL Cup is set to diminish even further in the very near future. Not that we’re likely to ever win it again, so from an OUFC point of view it is all academic. It is still hurtful though thinking back to what should have been a European adventure of undetermined length back in 1986 after we’d won this trophy which was then branded the Milk Cup. I don’t think there were any qualifying rounds back then so we would have been playing in round one of the UEFA Cup. It was a straight knockout. We could have drawn Inter, Athletico Madrid or Barcelona. There’s so much of “what could have been” in life.

Presently the winner of the Carabao gets a sum of money not worth the paper the cheque is written on but also a place in the Europa League. That of course only applies if the winner has not qualified for the Champions League (we’re all champions now, well four of our big boys are). But for some a Europa place may be a bit special. From the 2021/22 season UEFA are planning to introduce the UEFA Europa Conference League. The contestants in this League will be 10 teams that have been eliminated in the Europa League play-offs and those getting through Europa Conference League Qualifiers. I could be wrong but I think the reward for winning our League Cup is soon to start a European campaign by being given one of those Europa Conference League qualifier slots. The carrot has shrunk to miniscule.

Whilst I’m on an “Against Modern Football” type rant I might as well keep going. So what we’re going to end up with is a three tier European set up. Tier 1: Champions League 32 clubs. Tier 2: Europa League 32 clubs. Tier 3: Europa Conference League 32 clubs. Coming soon, relegation and promotion? The European League some of the biggest of the biggies have wanted for years?

Anyone want to buy Sunderland – Stuart & Charlie did.  

Going back a couple of years I had a go at looking into the accounts of our opponents before each game but as a non-accountant think I only managed to make the tiniest of surface scratches. Think I got a few things right though, but if anyone wants to get to the heart of such matters, and ownership issues too, there’s nothing better around than the “Price of Football” podcast where University of Liverpool football finance lecturer Kieran Maguire and comedian Kevin Day follow the money to find out what’s really going on behind the scenes of the beautiful game.

They’ve picked up on something not being tickety-boo in Black Cat land which got me wondering if OUFC had dodged a bullet when Daryl Eales sold to Tiger and not to Oxford fans Stuart Donald and Charlie Methven along with Juan Sartori. Here’s a quote from The Mag, as a Newcastle United fanzine. They may be a tiny bit biased but here goes:

“The tide though had began (sic) to turn as Sunderland fans began to finally see through the pair’s transparently obvious behaviour, with Charlie Methven quick to hit back when criticised, slagging the mackems off for their ‘unrealistic expectations’… Things have now come a full circle with the Eton educated PR chancer now doing a runner from Sunderland and it emerging that at a recent club meeting with Sunderland fans he had basically called them thick. Saying that people in the south would have better understood the business moves he had made at the club as opposed to the mackems who had supposedly struggled to understand just what a genius (he) had been.

The Charlie Methven comments about the lack of Sunderland fans understanding, centred around the £10m investment by the American backed FPP Sunderland group which Methven had organised. Sunderland fans having challenged the then Sunderland Director on the positives and negatives of the deal.”

CM is no longer there and SD is and is trying to sell the club.

From the Sunderland Echo in early May,

“A leaked draft set of accounts for the year ending July 2019 have been seen by the Daily Mail and the Times, who have revealed the staggering eight-figure shortfall in the club’s coffers.

And as per the national reports, a number of investors who have looked at purchasing or investing in the club have been deterred by this significant hole.

The Mail and Times claim that the £20.5million gap in the balance sheet represents one of the parachute payments to the Black Cats, which were due following their relegation to (I think they mean “from” – can’t trust what you read anywhere) the Premier League. This sum has previously been reported to have been used to facilitate Donald’s purchase of the club for a sum of £40million.

The purchase was facilitated through a holding company – Madrox Partners – and the national reports suggest that this £20.5million sum was used to help fund the deal.

It was previously suggested that this money would be repaid by the shareholders, but the report claims that the money has now been written-off by Donald and his fellow shareholders by way of an ‘exceptional operating expense’ – which removes their legal obligation to repay the money.”

As with every football club it is all very complicated and real experts are needed to fully explain what is what and even then it is sometimes almost impossible to find clarity.

I’m going to leave it there and not spend time trying to dig further. I don’t know whether Sartori is still involved with Sunderland. Nor truthfully do I have much of a grasp on the soundness of Oxford United’s financial well-being anyway.

Back in the day when OUFC had the Ultras and the town of Macclesfield had a football team

What I do know is that football clubs are disappearing because of “wrong ‘un” owners and that’s without the financial impact of Covid-19. Bury disappeared and Macclesfield Town were sadly wound up on Wednesday with debts of over half a million pounds. They had been given plenty of stays of execution so there was an inevitability about it all. Strangely there’s a feature on the MTFC website dated Tuesday 15 Sept, “Macclesfield Town are delighted to welcome attacking midfielder Ben Stephens back to the Moss Rose, after the 23-year-old put pen to paper on a one-year deal. A graduate of Jamie Vardy’s illustrious V9 Academy, Ben is a clever player with good vision, ball control and a very clean strike from either foot. Ben becomes our ninth signing of the summer and we would like to wish him every success as he arrives back here at the Moss Rose.”

I feel really sorry for the lad, and all the others supposedly employed by the club, but ffs that’s like deciding to board the Titanic when it is already nine tenths underwater.

Unlike the Shakers and the Silkmen, Oxford United and AFC Sunderland are still living breathing entities although it wouldn’t be a total surprise to me if someday soon a really big club will follow them into the football graveyard. The dominoes are teetering. The sympathy I have for the followers of these no more football clubs is huge.

So best to appreciate what we’ve got even if we can’t get close to it at present.

OXFORD UNITED 0 SUNDERLAND 2

This was from the comfort of our sofa. Sometimes these things can go wrong but the purchase for nothing using the distributed full discount code sent out was incredibly easy.

The EFL had allowed clubs to run pilot events this weekend with up to 1,000 supporters in grounds. OUFC felt the timescale was too short to get everything properly organised on safety/social distancing grounds etc. So instead they are going to request a pilot when our next home game comes along – Crewe on October 3rd in two weeks’ time.  At one time I was thinking that we’d have three or four thousand in by then. However with the large continual increase in the number of Covid-19 cases I’d say the chances are more than 50:50 against there being any fans in attendance when the Railwaymen visit. I also think there is a low, but not negligible risk that football could be suspended, again, for a period. I believe that Sunderland are now in local lockdown with the rate of new infections there being at its highest level since spring.

Gloomy as that may sound that’s the way I see it. But the sun is shining and I’m looking forward to more football in an hour and a half’s time. The performance against Watford had perked me up a bit after being rather down after Lincoln. However our defence worried me somewhat and I feared what someone of Chris Maguire’s experience could do to it. But other than that come on be positive. Will Grigg was never worth £4m. Charlie Wyke doesn’t seem to be as much of a handful for his current team as he was when wearing a Bradford City shirt and Danny Graham is getting on a bit.

With a couple of minutes left I was thinking how painful to watch this is. Mrs FV then actually said it. There were some games last season when we weren’t great but I can’t recall thinking it was ever this dire. My son then said, “I don’t know if this is how good (bad) we are now. Is this really it, or is it the injuries? We’ve lost Ruffels and Gorrin and we’ve not got proper replacements”. Yes, excellently put.

We’ve got players clearly in positions that don’t really suit. We absolutely lack experience. The contrast with the Sunderland side was staggering. Add to that a number of other factors and we were totally screwed. Many of those that were picked are playing well below what we’ve seen them produce in the past. We don’t seem to have inspirational talent that can go past players with real pace or trickery (I dream of Marcus Browne, Gavin Whyte, Shandon Baptiste, and Tariq Fosu). And we played with a shape – diamond or was it a lump of coal – that didn’t work.

Absolutely crazily early to be saying so but I think the target now, unless there are some new proper “wow” signings to come, should realistically be to avoid the bottom four. Or should it more sensibly be signings to steady the ship?

Sunderland fully deserved this win. A score line more fairly reflecting the play would have been something more like 0-3 or 1-4. Some might argue that the wind, and there was some as seems to be the case as often as not, was a factor and didn’t help flowing football. That’s silly talk because it didn’t stop Sunderland bossing matters for about 85% of the 90 minutes and even when they were not in control, neither were we. If either team was better equipped to be able to cope with the conditions it should have been us as most of our players should by now know a bit about playing in a three sider with a low garden fence as a feature.

The start was similar to that against the Hornets in that we looked really flimsy at the back.  The visitors hit the bar in the fifth minute when a Maguire free-kick of quality found an unmarked Bailey Wright who from some way out arrowed an accurate header that probably deserved better. We got away with that but the evidence is really stacking up that we need to defend set-pieces very much better than we are doing.

It wasn’t that we didn’t produce a few fleeting moments here and there and having had our best spell for a few minutes just before the break it tricked me into thinking we’d possibly at last got to grips with the game. That it had mostly been scrappy and of very poor quality would have mattered not one jot if we’d gone on to win and as we had not conceded before the interval that gave some hope.

Our best effort in that first half had been a Taylor header back across goal which lacked an inch or two of accuracy. That chance was created by Mark Sykes but there was precious little else for our goal machine to feed off and with Derick Osei Yaw playing forward too we had two players not effectively involved at all for long periods. Never once did we get a man to the by-line and pull the ball back. Do that and the chances of scoring are increased somewhat.

The only other two efforts I can recall as we attacked the fence end were a shot from Cameron Brannagan that had me shouting, “At bloody last” and a James Henry effort where he just stabbed it straight at keeper Lee Burge. That chance had been set up by Rob Atkinson who had gone on a marauding run deep into Sunderland territory. This was very much Rob Dickie stuff only Atkinson travelled further than our departed one used to do before releasing the ball. Atkinson did this twice more and for that alone he was my man of the match. That’s indicative of how little else of true value we produced on the day.

Two minutes into the second half we didn’t even have the “at least we’ve not conceded” to hang on to. It was the type of goal teams playing poorly let in. As if we’re not suffering enough injuries, two of those that were doubts before the start had required treatment in the first half. Sean Clare carried on after a quite lengthy stoppage but something didn’t seem quite right thereafter. He’d attempted to go forward but lost the ball which meant he was out of position leaving Denver Hume with more than enough space to do what he wanted. Hume was able to get the ball into the box without being subjected to a proper challenge, Liam Kelly getting there just too late. Luck was then totally against us but you make your own luck. If we’d been playing at the other end of the field, as a home side should be doing more than we did, fans in the ground or not, this would not have happened. There was a lay-off but the shot that followed from Max Power was just a slice which hit Maguire on the knee and fell kindly for Luke O’Nein who slid it beyond Simon Eastwood.

Aiden O’Brien then missed a chance that was so easy I assumed he’d scored and had decided that was it. They were walking through us, we weren’t getting tackles in or forming much of a barrier.

Not one player was doing anything to even hint at getting a point so when changes came on the hour mark that could only be a good thing. For a few minutes it appeared that Dan Agyei’s presence might make a difference. His strength told and he won a bit in the air. After he’d come out on top in one aerial challenge Taylor was then able to set up Mark Sykes who put an angled shot just wide. But soon it was back to normal which was nothing much. The other sub was Joel Cooper and Radio Oxford were trying to remain polite when they said something like we’d forgotten he’d come on. All I can recall him doing is running with the ball straight into trouble. But he wasn’t the only one. For once James Henry, who looked like the handicappers had given him something to slow him down, was sent away down the middle. He kind of got his scampering style going but instead of looking up and playing a pass he eventually ran into traffic.

There was so much wrong with this display the concern is greater than it should be at this stage of the season even with a league table reading no goals, no points and BOTTOM.

The second Sunderland goal was almost academic but I loved the quality of what Lynden Gooch produced, or would have if it hadn’t been against us. Same goes for what Maguire showed. Our lot didn’t come up with any of this quality. Gooch was fed by a colleague who’d won a challenge and in midfield had space to run into. He easily brushed Atkinson aside, sold the most subtle of dummies which had Elliot Moore hurdling through the air and falling to the floor and Clare momentarily turning his back before finishing low past Eastwood.

Our game is based on possession so when the stats show we had 47% that’s not great. I don’t think we kept the ball even once in a really assured way and can’t recall us ever knocking it square at the back in a patient fashion. Truthfully, I’m not sure what we actually did or were trying to do to win the game.

The stats that hurt as much as anything are these. Oxford shots 8, on target 1. Sunderland shots 18, on target 5.

As Nick Harris said we’re already playing catch up. Looking at what we had at the start of last season and this leaves me concluding that the quality is not as it was. We had Chris Cadden, Tariq Fosu and Rob Dickie playing a year ago. Catching up could be difficult. To do that many players need to find their form because we’re now coming across as a shadow of the team that did so well last season.

Macclesfield and Bury supporters will be thinking stop bloody moaning, at least you’ve got a team to be pissed off about, and so for now that’s what I’m going to attempt to do. Can’t guarantee I won’t be back at it after the Accrington game though.

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