Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no.41 – Sunderland at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, February 16th, 2020  

SUNDERLAND AT HOME

The visitors are up for sale

It was only back in May 2018 that Stuart Donald with his “business partner” Charlie Methven and some backing from Juan Sartori took over Sunderland AFC. There were a number of Oxford fans who were critical of Darryl Eales for not selling OUFC to this lot when instead he opted to take Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth’s offer.

We’ll never know what would have happened if SD had taken over. We know he’s an Oxford fan but that doesn’t guarantee success. We of course don’t know what state our club will be in when Tiger sells. They always do at some point.

Off the pitch all is not well at Sunderland and they are again up for sale.

Methven resigned from their board in early December citing personal reasons. An article in the Times from a month ago perhaps gives a clue: “Charlie Methven, an Eton-educated PR executive who stands to make millions from his 6 per cent stake in the club if the chairman Stewart Donald can find a buyer, sparked fury at a fans’ meeting in November when he made disparaging remarks”. Those remarks were that “people in the North East lack good business sense compared with southerners”.

Less than two months earlier Tony Davison, who at one time was Commercial Director at Oxford United, left his role as Managing Director at Sunderland and also stepped down from the board. Something isn’t right at all by the sounds of it.

Sartori owns 20% of Sunderland. He ran for presidency of his country, Uruguay and although he lost that contest has been elected to the senate. In theory that should take up most of his time but you know what these politicians can be like. I’ve heard it said that he is going to pull his support but I’ve also read a suggestion that he may actually be looking to increase his stake and become the majority owner.  Rokerreport.sbnation.com suggest he might make the club his “Trophy Asset” as this makes much appeal given the weakness of the pound.  Although not seen around the Stadium of Light for a while he posted a picture of himself about to watch a live stream of their recent 3-0 win against Rochdale on Tuesday and there was some excitement when he actually referred to Sunderland as “we”.

Pre-match thinking

When we’re playing well and winning football matches I’m much more inclined to spend time staring at the league table, looking in some detail at how rivals and immediate opponents in particular are doing and watching L1 highlights on TV or the web. After our drubbing at Peterborough I deleted EFL on Quest from our hard disk drive without so much as viewing a second of the programme.

I can’t keep my head partially buried in the sand though and decided to face reality and peruse the Black Cat’s current form. They’ve played a game more than us but are six points better off. They’ve got a better goal difference than us. I think we could boast the best GD in L1 not long ago. Not so now and unless we pull our fingers out it will just get worse. In their last twelve games they’ve won 7, drawn 4 and lost just one. That reverse was a 1-0 defeat at Fratton Park where Portsmouth remain unbeaten this season and tellingly that goal is the only one conceded by Sunderland in their last 7 league fixtures.

Add to this that we’re told we’ll be without without Marcus Browne and Storm Dennis has prompted yellow weather warnings for wind and rain with it being highly likely we won’t see much proper quality football in a three-sided ground that’s much more exposed to the elements than most.

So it would be fair to say that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this encounter and it is not often that’s the case.

They travelled in numbers from the north east

Oxford United 0 Sunderland 1

Then come late Saturday morning I got that pre-match buzz and the usual nerves and jitters kicked in. If we win then it’s all back on.

The game starts. Immediately reality kicks in. There’s nothing back on. Sunderland came down their right and we looked vulnerable. Then they had a corner. It was a dangerous one well whipped in by Chris Maguire taking advantage of yet more hideous weather conditions. It was irrelevant whether it was an own goal or not but it appeared that it was John Mousinho who got his head on the delivery. The relevant fact was that we were behind.

We nearly came unstuck again not long after and I have to state my annoyance that we’d let the visitors begin as if they were the home side and establish a degree of dominance. Yes we had quite a lot of the ball at times BUT…… It’s that old argument where there’s never going to be consensus amongst fans. Of course possession is important. Obviously if your team has the ball the opposition can’t score. Possession in different areas of the pitch and at different stages of the game will have greater or lesser value depending on the circumstances at the time.

Having gone in front so early on I would think Sunderland were really happy that we seemed quite intent playing the ball around at the back and at best nowhere near the “final third” particularly as they are so sound defensively. We just weren’t testing them at all and they were also pressing and closing intelligently meaning that even when we had the ball I thought they were more likely to suddenly have a chance on goal than we were.

I’ve never been an advocate of hit and hope but I get so effing pissed off when we have a free-kick that could be launched, hopefully with quality, into the penalty area but instead play it sideways and backwards and end up in trouble. If we only had midgets in the team I could understand but Elliott Moore is six foot five ffs. Why not give it a go, hey? My mate loves it when we don’t. He’s a “keep the football” type. If only. We had a free-kick on the half way line and ended up losing the ball on the opposite side of the field no nearer to the goal we were supposed to be attacking than when we started. Luckily Sunderland then cocked up themselves and knocked the ball out of play but it could have been worse.

Mid way through the first period we improved but although we now looked much less likely to ship another, didn’t ourselves trouble Jon McLaughlan in the Sunderland goal. He came and caught every cross or corner with ease, not that there were many of them, and was having nothing really testing to do although he did have to come out once to stop Matty Taylor getting on the end of a headed back pass.

A strong run from Dan Agyei having his first start didn’t end with an effort on goal. He got deep into the box before it appeared from my distant vantage point that there was a push to send him off the pitch. He didn’t have colleagues around to help out though which was pretty disappointing. At that stage his pace, which is quite deceptive, appeared to be our only real weapon which could actually cause damage.

At times there was a huge gap between our strike force, Agyei and Taylor, and the rest of the team who were either in defensive or fairly deep lying midfield positions.

In the second half we were much improved and supposedly by the end of the game were the better team and unlucky. I’d agree with that argument except for a couple of very important facts. To win football matches a team has to score goals. We didn’t score any. Nor could a strong case be made for any of our second half attempts being really deserving of going in. Josh Ruffels hit our best shot but McLaughlan was equal to it and also kept out a James Henry kick that the wind did weird things to. We’ve now not scored in three of our last six league games. Furthermore Sunderland were able to defend all eight corners we had but we failed to do the same when faced with the first of their five.

A big difference in those second 45 minutes was that we were playing many more forward passes, or at least that was how it seemed to me. Why only then and not from the outset? Was it the blowy conditions and driving precipitation helping when kicking towards the Jim Smith stand but not when going the other way? I’m not convinced. Or is it that our game plan is just to keep the ball early on, and perhaps throughout the entire first half and hope our opponents will get knackered chasing shadows before truly going for it later on? That’s often how it comes over to me at home games. We never come over as wanting to push visitors back from the start and really impose ourselves on them. It might help in that regard if the Kassam was an intimidating fortress. With a missing side and the home end too far back from the goal it most certainly is not that.

Here we surrendered the initiative and as it turned out all three points almost before the game had started.

We had 60% possession but so what? If we had 10% and won I would be happy.

The one big positive I take from yet another disappointing overall performance is the return to form of Cameron Brannagan. He was excellent. The most influential man in an Oxford shirt, looking for the ball, constantly involved and playing it around neatly, particularly after the break.

Rob Dickie too came away from this defeat with real credit. The way he brings the ball out from the back is something few L1 centre-halves can do. That said there’s always the worry that often as last man it could be a disaster waiting to happen and the playing surface on the day, whilst holding up well all things considered, did at times provide a drag on the ball preventing a true roll. Nothing bad materialised though. RD could easily go higher in the game than the level he is now performing at but the one thing that may hold him back is lack of pace. In most matches now he gets a bit exposed at least once. It happened here but nothing came of it.

Other than Brannagan and Dickie who performed well enough to be in a side in the promotion mix, the others, whilst not having bad games, were just putting on ordinary and average L1 displays. I’m not placing blame for not taking at least a point at the door of anyone in particular, it’s a collective thing.

Anthony Forde playing at right back was not a failure nor could it be said that such a move will fire us back up the table.

A Ruffels header goes just wide

The player who came closest to scoring for us was Ruffels. A defender. The player who I thought should have smacked the ball over the line in a crowd scene a few yards from goal very late on was another defender, Moore.

What were our strikers and attacking midfielders up to?

Because of the way we’re playing now and poor results game after game I’ve probably turned into a more irritable and argumentative individual borne out of frustration. There’s differing of opinion all round, with fellow fans, mates and even within family.  Take Taylor for example. I commented that he needs to do more and wasn’t sure whether I wanted him here next season. My good lady wife just doesn’t rate him. Just a goal hanger. (Well he would be if there wasn’t the offside rule). My son passionately turned on us. What are you talking about? Of course we want him. He’s a goal scorer. (NB: he has only scored one league goal since November). Then thrown into the debate is the question of “well how many chances are being made for him?”.  Admittedly that is a fair point. How often is he slotted through on goal? How often do we get players to the by-line who then knock the ball back for a striker to finish? Okay, fair point. But doesn’t he go down too easily?

Some around me thought Mark Sykes had a good game. I couldn’t agree with that. Yes he did some good things at times but also got brushed aside much too easily. We needed more battle hardness all over the place.

Anyone who was at the game may be curious as to how I’ve got this far without mentioning referee Kevin Johnson. The reason being that in no way do I want to pretend that if he’d been better than he was we would have won. We might have but we’ll never know and in no way should it be used as an excuse.

He might have started reasonably well but it was soon evident that he was another who was pretty crap. No, make that very crap. He only showed one yellow card and that was to Brannagan right near the end as we were pressing for an equaliser and our man committed a cynical professional foul to stop a break away. I was pleased CB did this but just as pleased that the card was shown. Johnson was apologetic as he waved the yellow as if to say “sorry I can’t let that one go”. It was as if he had been using the “allowing for the conditions” excuse up to then but thought I can’t keep doing this but it would be picked up if I don’t book anyone.

Much earlier in the game Henry had taken out Maguire in fairly similar circumstances. I honestly wanted a card shown then. That would demonstrate that the referee was in charge. He wasn’t. Lynden Gooch who was a little cheat got away with loads. There were huge inconsistencies in what was and wasn’t given as free-kicks with the beneficiaries not being us. His ability to ensure something like 90 minutes was played was non-existent. The time wasting was a joke as was the fact that only five added minutes were tacked on at the end. The substitution of Bailey Wright for Alim Ozturk in the 84th minute and the events leading up to it summed up how much Sunderland were taking the piss out of Johnson. Wright committed a foul and correctly was penalised. He stayed down genuinely injured or putting it on.  Team mates gathered round. After a short time Johnson signalled for the trainer to come on. The Sunderland players signalled otherwise and up Wright got. He moved back about 10 yards then collapsed to the floor. On came the trainer and then extensive on pitch physio took place. It seemed like this lasted for quite a few minutes but anger does tend to cause tricks of the mind. And I was now getting even angrier than I had been. It was then decided that the substitute needed to be brought on. The poor infirm Wright moved at snail’s pace to the touch line. Okay, not a problem if the appropriate minutes are added. Five. Fucking five. You incompetent prick. (Language Timothy) – Yes but that’s how I feel about having to put up with this week after week.

But believe it or not that probably wasn’t the most incompetent thing he did during the afternoon.

I don’t know why Taylor, or any forward, bothers to hassle a goalkeeper who is about to clear ball from hand. It just wastes time but per se isn’t illegal as far as I know as long as they don’t barge into them or stand immediately in front of them. Here Taylor got close to McLaughlan and I was thinking get away you fool you’re just playing into his hands and allowing him to waste time. Taylor then moved quite a way to McLaughlan’s right giving him ample room to boot the ball downfield. So what does their keeper do? Followed Taylor that’s what. Under no duress he then cleared. It was a poor one and fell to an Oxford player. We could be in I thought, that will serve him right. No, that wasn’t going to happen. Johnson blew for a free-kick. You sir are an utter tosser.

Some of our fans are coming up with a case that we will still be okay. We were playing really well in the 2019 part of the 19/20 season so can again, they reason. Teams that are now amongst the favourites for promotion, such as Peterborough, have had bad runs themselves but have come back to form so we can too they reason. I can’t see it. We have not got an Ivan Toney to turn things around for us. (It was no coincidence that the Posh lost on Saturday with Toney suspended). Teams have sussed us out and that “lack of plan b” which is so easy to throw about at such times cannot be dismissed lightly. I can’t see from the way we’re playing at present and what we’ve got in reserve that it is anywhere near enough to get back on track and force ourselves into the top six.

Have I given up completely? No not quite but the visit of AFC Wimbledon provides nothing more than the chance of final last orders in the last chance saloon. If we don’t deliver in this we’ve all but chucked away the good work we did up to the New Year.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 16th, 2020 at 7:23 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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