41,586 fans assembled in hope at the SSOL, optimistic that Sunderland would end their terrible run and prevail against newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion, just like I was. The positives: we scored twice! The negatives: the defence was unsteady, not quite at a chocolate teapot level, but the team slipped to another morale-sapping defeat.
This was at best a mediocre performance, with a few patches of good play thrown in. Where do we go from here? I and other fans have been asking that question too often recently. The club has an injury-depleted squad, there are not enough leaders out there on the pitch driving the team on, and morale is clearly low. Psychology is so important at this level.
In a way I am relieved that Steve Bruce admitted we are in relegation scrap. Any team that has not reached 40 points at this stage is looking over their shoulders. OK, we survived on 36 points two years ago, but that was a much more polarised Premiership.
Bruce has to shoulder some of the blame, because he needs, as manager, to bring the team confidence…and he obviously calculated when selling Darren Bent that we would stay out of trouble, given our January league position. He was hoping for no nasty surprises until the summer transfer window opens.
As pointed out, you can’t just take a 25-goal a season man out of the team, with no cover, without serious disrupting things. I know that none of us bloggers are managers and it’s easy to criticise, It is very tough out there, but there was a level of comfort, if that is the right word, about having Bent in the side. The team knew he would put away those half-chances, and that we would be competing in most games. Gyan is a fine player, but nobody can do it all on their own, and this run has sapped the energy and drive from the whole team, not least the defence. Anyone who has been part of top-level sporting teams knows how critical self-confidence is, and how that winning mentality drains away after a run of defeats.
The team started well yesterday, and went forward confidently early on, with Gyan’s cross forcing the mistake of a cracking header from Nicky Shorey, which went in off the bar, but to be fair he was under pressure from Elmohamady. Odemwingie then pounced after a Onuoha mistake and a lay-off by Olsson, but “goal machine” Phil Bardsley produced an amazing shot, a free-kick screamer from 25 yards to restore the Cats’ lead just a couple of minutes later.
With just a third of the game gone I was confident the home side would drive home the advantage, but West Brom. are on a good run and obviously have the confidence that we are lacking, and the home defence cracked twice in the second half. They were all good goals, but we lost our shape and in some ways made the visitors look better than they really are. We had the chances to make amends, and this could easily have been a very different report, but it was just not to be.
Sunderland fans have endured rotten runs in each of the last 3 seasons, all ending with the team at the wrong end of the table, but eventually reaching safety. I honestly feel this current team will not fall into the bottom three, there are some experienced pros out there. With so many disastrous injuries though, Bruce’s options for bringing in hungry new players not traumatised by so many defeats is seriously limited. I for one do not like relying on other teams failing to perform to guarantee our survival.
Some nervy games ahead, then. As pointed out, we need a bit of luck and I don’t care how the next win comes. A 93rd. minute scuff from Gyan, like the one against Newcastle at the SSOL, would do nicely, thanks…
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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