I don’t really want to dwell on the Everton FA Cup quarter final on Tuesday night. Everton arrived late for the game, and were more up for it than we were. They started the match a storm, and outplayed us, dominating in most areas. While we were 1-0 down there was still a chance of scoring against the run of play, but after the rush of blood to the head that Vaughan experienced in front of our goal when the ball was about to roll harmlessly wide, gifting the Toffees a second goal, there was no way back.
Not that we would not have deserved one anyway. Everton are a fine footballing side, and one can see why we have struggled against them in recent years – what is it now, 15 games since our last win? It shows what a creditable performance we put in at Goodison a couple of weeks back to earn this replay. The semi-final against Liverpool will be a good game for the neutrals.
The only positives that came out of this match was the desire for more big nights like this at the Stadium of Light, and the chance for Martin O’Neill to assess how some of the less proven players in his squad perform on such occasions. The Northern Irishman will make changes in the summer, despite inheriting some good players from his predecessor, Steve Bruce.
Which brings neatly us to another topic of the month – Steve Bruce’s interviews. He is a good talker, he sounds honest, but there was some of the “wild west of spin” in his interview. “Exclusive coverage” from the Daily Mail, can be seen at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2115065/Steve-Bruce-interview-Im-managerial-failure.html - but something that sounded very similar was available on my iTunes podcast of Radio 5Live’s Football Daily on March 9th.
It seems like Bruce’s main regret was that he did not get more than 12 games this season to prove himself. This conveniently ignores months of underperformance, masked by a couple of late wins last season which meant that we finished 10th in the league, building on the previous season’s 13th. He spent £70 million, “balanced he books” (while expanding the wage bill hugely) and explained how it took a while for even a really talented player like Stephane Sessègnon to find his feet in the Premiership, as a reason why a whole new team took a while to gel.
Well, Brucie, the team gelled pretty rapidly under Martin O’Neill. And that line about why you had not selected James McClean did not really convince. As our club owner Ellis Short owner said, Steve Bruce was sacked for a long period of underperformance, from late January until early December 2011. I do give Bruce credit for taking us to 6th in the league after our win at Chelsea in November 2010, and for building the current squad, but he does seem to be in denial. I’d like to know Wolves’ verdict after his interview, but to be honest, they would be better with our former boss at the moment.
On to the next topic, our run-in, which is not easy. We have to go to Everton, we play both Manchester clubs and also entertain Spurs. There are no easy games in this league and this will test the squad, and I will be happy to see O’Shea, Richardson and Cattermole back in the side and staying fit.
So after losing to one set of Blues, we face the lighter “moneybags” Blues tomorrow. They lie 30 points ahead of us in the table: Yes, we are on 40 points, and City will be looking to avenge their defeat on 1 January at the SSOL.
The stats are not in our favour; the last time Sunderland won at Manchester City was in Division One (now the Championship) in 1998. There will be goals, there has not been a goalless draw between these sides in league football since 1938. Manchester City have won 11 of their 15 Premier League meetings with Sunderland, but have only won 1 of the last 4. City have won all seven of their Premier League matches with Sunderland in Manchester, scoring 20 goals to our 6, and they won last season's encounter 5-0.
A gritty performance required, come on you Lads!
©Lars J.S. Knutsen