Sunday, 11 March 2012

How expectations have changed

When O'Neill took over most Sunderland fans expected an improvement and a lift, but I bet there wasn't a single person that thought he would have the impact he has done. I, personally, would have took tenth position again and wrote the season off as one to forget however O'Neill has the lads playing with confidence, playing good football and most importantly picking up points.

With the 1-1 draw in the Tyne & Wear derby and Saturday's smash and grab win over Liverpool it now looks as if the lads will far exceed that expectation of mid-table. With just one game left to play which won't affect us, we've finished gameweek twenty-eight in eighth place on thirty-seven points. Everton who are level on points and behind on goal difference have a game in hand over us however both teams will be relieved of Premier League duties this weekend as they meet at Goodison Park for the FA Cup quarter-final.

That brings me on to the cup run that we're currently enjoying. O'Neill is renowned for taking cup competitions seriously and this has so far proven correct as he's guided us to the last eight of the FA Cup. We face a tough fixture against out achilles heel on Saturday and it would take a brave man to predict the outcome. Sunderland haven't enjoyed much success when visting the blue half of Merseyside, or whenever they've come up here for that matter, with the Toffees unbeaten in their last fifteen games against us. You get the sense that records don't mean a lot under the new regime though, that's been shown by our much improved away form and cup run!

The game will no doubt be a very difficult one and Everton are hitting form, add the fact we'll be without Sessegnon and Cattermole and now possibly Bendtner and it doesn't look too good. Under Steve Bruce you could more or less definitely assume a defeat was on the cards, not that we'd be in the quarter-finals in the first place but that's not what I'm getting at. I'm getting at his successors superiority in football management. Anything seems to be possible under the new gaffer.

It's amazing how within three months Sunderland have gone from mid-table fodder and outside relegation candidates to FA Cup quarter-finalists sitting in eighth with an outside chance of Europe, having lost just four out of the last fourteen games.

We've got a gem in Marty.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Martin O'Neill and January

January is just around the corner and that, of course, means the English transfer window is reopening and teams can trade players once again. It's the perfect chance for managers to freshen up their squads after observing half of the season. Teams will be looking to strengthen for different reasons, whether that be to launch a second half revival and secure Premier League status for another year, or whether it's to have one final push for the title. Martin O'Neill's Sunderland, however, will be looking to get their season back on track and try to salvage another top ten finish.

O'Neill has inherited a squad that hasn't lived up to early expectations to say the least, and January is now his chance to bring in a few of his own players and with a bit of luck, strengthen the areas his predecessor failed to do so. Most Sunderland fans will know this is the left hand-side in particular. We have players that 'can do a job' or are 'solid', but to push on and achieve our short and long term ambitions, we need to have players in every position that can be better than just mediocre. Unfortunately, at times, our fans seem to settle for hard working players with little skill. That isn't a criticism of this type of player, either, however effort doesn't bring success on its own I'm afraid.

That said, I think we need a minimum of three players in January. First off, I think the first half of the season has taught us many things, one being that we can't score for toffee and this will need to be addressed with a new frontman, someone, dare I say it, like our mate Darren Bent; the man that left us a year this month. Despite having four forwards at the club, there isn't anyone that screams 'clinical finisher' at you. A recognised left-back should be on Mr. O'Neill's shopping list, too. Someone who you can look down your squad list at and know exactly where he'll be playing. Not a Richardson, a Bardsley or an O'Shea (and most certainly not a George McCartney), these players all have natural positions and left-back isn't it. Least importantly I still think we need an extra centre half just to make sure, having said that though, O'Neill's comments this week suggest he may not have ruled out forgotten boy Matt Kilgallon and Sunderland veteran Nyron Nosworthy. We know these players aren't good enough, though, and another centre-half would be a welcome addition. I mentioned before that the whole left side needed sorting, and although that is true to an extent I think Richardson is more than capable of playing left-wing with McClean looking like a promising prospect too. I'd still like to see a natural left sided midfielder through the door come January 31st.

In the meantime though, Sunderland have started recovering already. O'Neill is now four games into his reign on Wearside and seven points from a possible twelve is a decent return, especially when you take into account an away game at third placed Spurs, a trip to Loftus Road and a tough fixture against our nemesis (Everton, of course). There's still plenty more hard work to do but faith has been restored around the Stadium of Light and things are looking up for once, in Martin we trust.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Season so far

It's a football cliché that fans around the country probably always say about their team, however I can honestly say there's never a dull moment supporting Sunderland. Unfortunately, though, it's not always for the right reasons. The season started full of promise for the lads and Steve Bruce, even before the first game away to Liverpool kicked off. We'd signed nine new first team players and it was a new look Sunderland, hopefully one that could progress further up the league and keep us moving on up as a club. There was also the added excitement of the derby being so early on in the season, the first home game in fact.

The point at Liverpool was a point gained in many fans' eyes, we weren't expecting anything nor would we have been disheartened with a defeat, but Sebastien Larsson had other ideas when the Swede struck a sweet scissor kick into the far corner past Pepe Reina. The game ended 1-1 and the lads headed back to home territory with something to build on and confidence heading into the all important Derby the following week. Although this was a good away point, we had to keep our feet firmly on the ground and approach the Newcastle game no differently to any other. Newcastle also gained a creditable draw at home to Arsenal on the opening week. 

Derby day came round and everybody was in a positive and expectant mood. We knew that we were capable of beating the unwashed comfortably, although we were also capable of beating them on Halloween the year before. Now, I think we all know what happened. We lost. We deserved to lose. We absolutely battered them first half, Sessegnon was uncontrollable and the mags couldn't cope. However the second half was a stark contrast to what we saw in the first forty-five minutes. There was no passion, no commitment, no willing, no heart and no care. The performance was frankly embarrassing and arguably as frustrating and depressing as the 5-1 drubbing the year before. Not one of those players looked as if they cared, this was the hardest thing to digest, not the 0-1 result. It was a strange feeling after the match, I'd already accepted the defeat as soon as their goal went in. I knew there was no way back from then, we simply didn't have the team spirit and never looked like scoring. So by the time we came out of the ground and all my mates were suicidal looking, all I wanted to do was drown my sorrows with several pints. 

A week of constant taunts and mickey-taking (read: hell) over, then, and the next fixture was around the corner. Normally I'd talk about the cup tie at Brighton on the Tuesday night here, however that performance isn't worth any words. New boys Swansea at their place were up next in the league and the lads were looking to get more points on the board and try to kick-start our season, putting last week's defeat behind us. We could only 0-0 draw though, despite having enough chances to win the game. 

There had been rumours that £13m striker Asamoah Gyan was on the verge of leaving, however they were rubbished by himself and his manager via twitter. So with our minds at rest on the matter, it was a massive shock to hear the club announce he had signed for UAE side Al-Ain on a season long loan. I mean, Al-who? Exactly. I highly doubt Gyan knew who either. It was the most obvious financial influenced transfer since the last top striker to leave Sunderland. It was later revealed that Gyan would be earning £250k at his new club who had an average attendance of circa 400. There was a lot of confusion and anger expressed on the back of this deal, but we had no choice but to get on with it. Hell, we're used to 'getting on with it'. This left us without a proven striker, and just 18-year-old Connor Wickham and 19-year-old Ji Dong-Won in the striker area. We had to get someone in and fast, and we eventually did on the last day of the window, bringing in the Danish international Nicklas Bendtner on loan from Arsenal. 

I'm not going to talk about the Chelsea game much, not because we disgraced ourselves, but because there isn't a lot to say. We got beat 1-2, with Ji scoring a last minute consolation goal. That's about it really, beaten by a better team and no complaints from anybody. It just meant that the following game became even more important. So Stoke arrived on Wearside with their new forward Peter Crouch in their ranks, a man who had turned us down just a week earlier. He had little effect though, and the lads dished out a 4-0 hammering and their first really good performance of the season. We had luck along the way, with a deflected goal and an own goal, but we showed class too; particularly that of Larsson's right boot as he struck a free kick into the bottom corner. There was a sigh of relief after this game, and the feeling that we could really start to kick on now and get more points on the board. 

That obviously wouldn't be the case. Norwich awaited us next as the lads travelled to Carrow Road on a Monday night full of confidence, however so were the Canaries following a good win over Bolton a week earlier. We got off to a terrible start, going 1-0 down after half an hour to a Leon Barnett tap-in. We were unable to get an equaliser before half-time and went in 1-0 down at the break. Three minutes into the second half and it got inevitably worse, 2-0 to the home side now and Morison the scorer. Richardson pulled one back with 5 minutes to go, but it finished 2-1 and another shocking performance ended in a very poor result. These performances were becoming all too familiar. 

The week after brought another fixture the lads should be winning, West Brom at home. We started awfully. How awfully? Well we were 2-0 down after 5 minutes. That's how awful it was. At least this time we showed a bit of fight and twenty minutes later we were level. Two goals in two minutes pulled us level, first a goal from new lad Bendtner followed by a powerful header from Egyptian right-winger Elmohamady, to record his first goal in red and white. With an hour left on the clock we could have gone on to win it, we were comfortable and should have won, we created enough chances to but it wasn't to be. Despite the comeback, it was another poor result. Pressure began to mount on Bruce. 

It was International weekend now and several of the squad jetted off to join up with their country, but it gave us the fans a chance to reflect on a bad start to the season. It also gave us a week off! During this break though, something big happened regarding the club. A few half expected it, some knew nothing about it. Of course I'm talking about the resignation of chairman Niall Quinn. The big Irishman had been at the helm for five years now, and his 'magic carpet' ride was over. It had been a blast, an absolute pleasure to be a part of and the pride had been restored back in Sunderland. Wearside could be happy again, everyone had found their smile. Ellis Short was now in charge of club affairs, with Niall moving over to 'International Development'. Now some thought he'd been pushed out, but this was all very much his doing and his all along intention. Whatever the circumstances though, the man will always be a legend up here.

Back to footballing matters and Bruce's men faced a difficult challenge in North London. Arsenal had found their feet again are were back to winning ways, unfortunately it continued. We put in a decent performance, though, and only lost 2-1. Bearing in mind we were 1-0 down within 30 seconds, we did well to get back into the game courtesy of another Seb Larsson free kick. We were unable to withstand the pressure from the Gunners though, and Van Persie netted his second ten minutes from time. An expected defeat, but another one nonetheless. 

We were on the road again the following week, with Bolton the opponent. Owen Coyle's men had suffered a worse start to the season than us believe it or not, but had somehow managed to win a game more. The first half was very dull and boring, both teams scared to attack almost. The second half was a lot different though, we came out fired up and a bit more energetic. We had chance after chance towards the end of the game, I began to think it wouldn't be our day. Sessegnon made sure that wouldn't be the case in the 82nd minute as the ball eventually landed to the jinky Benin man's feet to stab home on the turn. 1-0. We had our hearts in our mouths again though as Darren Pratley went one-on-one with Mignolet, who stood up till the last minute and denied the Bolton midfielder an equaliser. Bolton began to commit more men forward, and with this the lads were able to attack on the break. A quick move from one end of the pitch to the other saw Sess with the ball again, he selfishly slipped the ball to Bendtner who converted to make it 2-0. Game over. 

 Anyway, that brings us up to where we are now. A little bit of faith restored, but with Bruce far from redeemed himself. A win against Aston Villa on Saturday though will help a hell of a lot, and maybe we can finally start to climb the table. Who knows, though?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Why this has been neglected

As you're probably aware if you've read my blog recently, there hasn't been a post since derby day, and that was somewhat short. Anyway, I'm not just being a lazy sod and decided to give up on it (not that there has been anything to shout about), but I've had my mind focused on a more serious project of mine.

For those of you that follow me on twitter, which I assume is most of you, or else you'd probably be not reading this otherwise, you may know that I'm in the process of launching a new Sunderland related website, which focuses on legends, cult heroes, past matches, interviews with ex players and many more features. I first had the idea to start The Roker Light in February 2010, and I got straight to work with the other lad I'm doing this with, Nathan. We hit a few glitches along the way and sort of neglected it for a few month, but I'm pleased to say we're back on track and it's coming along nicely. Hopefully we'll launch in Winter this year, all going to plan.

At the moment, we're in the process of recruiting a full time article team. We have three members currently, but ideally we'd like a couple more. If you're interested in writing for us, please email with a few details about yourself and we'll consider you. As we're focusing on the history of the club, people of an older age would be specifically good to have, however we're open to look at anyone interested.

Please follow @ on twitter for more information and updates about how we're getting on, and after launch, that will be the place we plug our articles and interviews.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The big one, Mackems v Geordies.

So as I type this, two days before Sunderland take to the field at the Stadium of Light for the first time this season, I'm bricking it. This isn't a normal fixture, far from it, this is the most important 90 minutes of football all season, just a tad more important than the away fixture. Yep, it's the Wear-Tyne Derby; a fixture that brings out the hatred between the two clubs and the two sets of supporters more than any other time of the year. There aren't many teams in the world that have the power to make people hate each other for their allegiances, however Sunderland and Newcastle are two of them.

The importance of the game, in the grand scheme of things, is just the same as any other. The same amount of points are at stake as an away tie at Stoke. It's not the points that matter though, it's the bragging rights that the winner will hold until the two teams meet again and fight for those rights once more. Obviously, as it stands, it's the Tynesiders that have the edge on Sunderland in that sense, what with the mauling at St. James' last season and then being thirty seconds away from a win on Wearside soil.

That's in the past, though, and as Sunderland fans, we know that we have to deal with the constant grief for probably the rest of our lives, the only thing that will overrule that is for us to better the scoreline. Unlikely, in my lifetime. For now, though, the best thing for us to do is set the record straight by proving that we're far superior to them lot, first of all by winning the game on Saturday, followed by earning at least a draw on March 3rd. In addition to those, we need to finish above them for the fourth season in a row. Once we have done those three things, maybe people will start to realise that we really are top dogs, and we're here to stay.

We're the favourites going into the game in 48 hours time, but we all know that once the whistle is blown anything can happen. Despite being quietly confident myself about the game, I'm also wary and I'm definitely not underestimating them again. As long as we play to our strengths and repeat the second half performance from Anfield last Saturday, we'll be fine and we'll win. That's a big 'if', however, and it depends what Sunderland turn up. I'm sure Bruce doesn't need to motivate his players any further, the results from last season should do that on their own. Having said that, I hope the longer serving players have told the nine new recruits that this really is a battle, pride is at stake, and that counts for a lot more than any points on offer.

All that's left to say is;

Ha'way the lads.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

James McClean: An Irish point of view.

1) Do you think James McClean can cut it in the Premier League?
The short answer would be no, at least not right away. Very few players have come from the League of Ireland and slotted straight into the top level of English football. James McClean will leave Derry City as one of their most prized sons but will arrive at Sunderland as a prospect rather than a sure and quick answer to a defensive gap. Then again, Sunderland aren't flush with quality out wide, at least not to my eyes. Steve Bruce said that, upon confirmation of the transfer, McClean has "every chance to come here and make the next step in his career [and he] is an outstanding young talent." Bruce appears to like him, so with a little space in the squad, there's no reason to believe that James McClean won't have an opportunity to develop, but it shouldn't be expected straight away.

2) What's the general feeling amongst Derry fans, looking forward to seeing how he does, or annoyed with him for going?
There's no financial security for these players, they're all on fragile deals at any given time, so very few fans would begrudge a player a contract at an English side. A move to a good side in England is massive for any League of Ireland player; most supporters' best wishes will be with him. Sunderland are a big side, and they're the receptacle of a lot of Irish support from both sides of the Northern/Republic divide. Significant dissent from the Derry fans would be difficult to justify as, realistically, this is the opportunity that every kid dreams of. He'll be missed, of course.

3) What type of player is McClean; strengths, weaknesses, attitude?
Links with Blackpool, West Ham, Everton and Reading over the past year - and now his move to Sunderland - would indicate that these big clubs see something serious in him. He's naturally a good athlete, quick off the mark, full of energy. The best thing about him, or the most endearing thing perhaps, is that he has constantly improved since he broke into the Derry City team. He works really hard at the different aspects of his game. For example, game after game, his deliveries from the wing seem to get more dangerous. He's has been a big factor in Derry striker Eamon Zayed's goal tally this year.

4) If you could liken him to a well known player, who would it be?
Any time I see him I always think of Barcelona's Pedro. They're both built similarly; they're quick, energetic. They've also got a great mentality, really likable players.

5) There's been some controversy lately about James turning Northern Ireland's national team down, can you shed some light on the situation?
This is one of a number of defections over recent years. It really is about a lot more than seeing more success with the Republic of Ireland. It is is his own personal desire, his dream, to play for the Republic of Ireland. That comes from a sense of national pride. McClean's heart is shamrock green, so for him and for some others, the idea of Northern Ireland is probably tinged with a little British blue. He plays for Derry City, the only club from Northern Ireland that play in the League of Ireland. That in itself says a lot, as there is a very competitive domestic league in that county which, I'm sure, would have been an option were he that way inclined.

I would also add that, despite what some people are saying, it isn't as if Northern Ireland have been developing him for years. Derry manager Steven Kenny has said that he had to recommend McClean for selection to the Northern Ireland squad, so they haven't exactly been all over him since his youth; they haven't been robbed of an asset that they have been zealously guarding.

6) Will he be a big miss to Derry or is the £350k more valuable?
He will be a big loss to Derry, but they do have a good squad that will hopefully continue their good form. The money will be a comfort though. That's absolutely HUGE money for a League of Ireland side. He is one of their own products, so that's pure profit too. Money is really tight in our domestic leagues so you can't refuse that kind of offer.

7) Do you think he can emulate the success that David Meyler and Daryl Murphy have had at Sunderland; having been signed from the Irish league?
A good number of players have gone onto England from the League of Ireland and been successful. Circumstances are right for James McClean to be another. There is a good Irish contingent at Sunderland at the moment so I'm sure he'll feel very welcome there. I think I'm right in saying that there isn't exactly a lot of competition wide on the left at Sunderland, so he'll probably get some game time quite quickly. He'll be playing with quality players, so responsibility won't just be heaped upon him. I really wouldn't be surprised if that £350,000 turned out to be a great value investent for Steve Bruce.

8) Do you think losing players from the Irish league is showing a lack of ambition, or do you think it shows the quality of it?
It definitely shows that there's quality in the league. There's more there if any other English sides want some of it too. Financially, there's no way for Irish teams to even think of resisting offers like this one though. Our domestic game just doesn't create the revenue that would enable clubs to say no when their James McClean or Kevin Doyle are wanted by a bigger English side. We're miles off having big television deals, sponsorship contracts or anything like that. My local side, Bray Wanderers, only get a few hundred at every game despite the fact that they're playing in the top flight.

9) Are there any other players in the Irish league that you think can make the step up?
Considering how cheap these players can be bought for, I do find it a little curious that we don't export more men over to England. Championship clubs are really missing a trick, I think, as they could get real quality if they just sent a few scouts over with a checkbook. I'd love to see Adam Mitchell from Bray go over and be given a go. He's a great centre half, still young, albeit with a bit of a temper.

10) Finally, any stand-out memories of McClean?
James McClean scored an absolute screamer a few months ago when Derry beat Galway United 6-0. He took possession in central midfield and glided past three men before firing a low one home past the Galway 'keeper. If that can happen in Sunderland's stripes, he'll become very popular, very quickly.

Thanks to Cathal for this interview, you can follow him on twitter at @

Monday, 8 August 2011

Bruce in or Bruce out? Poll results.

The results of the poll are as follows;

In - 26 votes, 72%
Out - 6 votes, 16%
Undecided - 2 votes, 5%
Not bothered - 2 votes, 5%

That only adds up to 98%, I know, but that's what the poll says!

I suspect a few have changed their mind on this after the summer signings, in fact, I know they have. You cheeky swines!

 You can vote on my latest poll now; Who is the most exciting Summer signing?

Progression has hiccups

A few times last season I found myself asking myself 'Why do I do this?', particularly after Halloween and the home defeats to Fulham and West Brom. But then there are the other times, like Chelsea away, where you realise the answer to that question is for games like that - and at the time, it's easy to think that you'd happily have a few dodgy results for a result like that. On the flipside, though, at the time of uninspiring and embarrassing defeat, you'd rather you had won that game and lost to a top side.

Gyan and Henderson celebrate the second goal at Stamford Bridge.
Despite a few downs last season, probably more downs than ups in fact, it was a decent season for Sunderland, achieving our aim of finishing in the top 10 on the final day as the lads ran out 3-0 winners at Upton Park against already relegated West Ham. Despite the win, though, we had to rely on the result at St. James Park where Newcastle played host to West Brom. The home side were 3-0 up at half time and our game suddenly became irrelevant. Step up Somen Tchoyi. A second half hat-trick from the Baggies' forward meant that we had leap frogged them in them the league and secured 10th position by the skin of our teeth. That was one of the better points of the season.

In his final game for Sunderland, Zenden scores the first at Upton Park.
My point is; if ever you're unhappy with the team's performance then at least you can be safe in the knowledge that our club is going in the right direction, and with an owner we can trust and a Chairman that is a legend on Wearside, we're definitely in the best position off the pitch we've ever been in. As for on it, Steve Bruce is building a very good side and it really looks like we're going to kick on this season. Realistically, another top 10 finish would show stability and prove that last season wasn't just a fluke, but there's the tiny part of every Sunderland fan that, deep down, knows that Europe is a real possibility. We're used to being let down however, and for me, and your average fan would realise that 9th is a good finish and still progression. Baby steps is the key, we're not ready for Europe just yet. Give it another year or two.

Niall Quinn and Ellis Short. We're in safe hands.
It's a massive cliché, 'Rome wasn't built in a day', but at the same time it's true. Just remember that 6 years ago, we would have already started our season in the Championship, and we would already have lost. When the 'Magic Carpet ride' started, there was a 5 year plan in place. The 5 year plan was to get us back to the Premier League, in that 5 year, we've been promoted, survived, survived, survived comfortably, and finished in the top 10. We're way ahead of schedule and although we've earned the right to be where we are, we still have to be grateful to everyone involved that we are here. Back to my point; progression takes time in football, we have to be patient and accept that progression may be slow. Also, it'll not be plain-sailing and straightforward, there will be hiccups along the way. Back the lads, though, and we'll get there in the end.

Sunderland win the Championship, 4 year ahead of Schedule.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Pre-Season Tour of Germany 2011

Sorry for neglecting you lot and this blog for a while, but I do have a genuine reason. I've been in Germany for 10 days supporting the lads in their games against Arminia Bielefeld, Hannover 96 and Borussia Monchengladbach. Anyway, here's a few images from the trip, I'll not bore you with too much text as there's nothing worse than other people telling you about their holiday!

At the Bielfelder Alm before kick off of the first game v Arminia Bielefeld. Sessegnon grabbed a late equaliser to prevent us from losing embarrassingly to the 3rd division outfit. Final score; 1-1.

We based ourselves in Dusseldorf, above is me and two of the other lads at the River Rhein.

Also in Dusseldorf was the 24 hour bar, this picture was taken at the time we left, 7am. Daylight!

We also went to a couple of other grounds whilst there, there's me at Bay Arena - Leverkusen's ground.

We also became regulars at the off license, 1.30 euro for a pint sized bottle is not to be turned down! 

Although I became slightly suspicious of it when they gave me a free shot of this... I drank it though, was nice!

Andy fell in the bushes.

During the match at Hameln v Hannover 96. We lost the game 3-1.
Me and my dad flying the flag in Germany for Chester-le-Street.

Lads in the bar at Hameln.

He couldn't resist licking the breast of a statue.

We called in at Borussia Dortmund's ground and snuck past the security guard.

Andy made a friend in the form of a Polish tramp.

Leaving our mark in the Irish Bar. FTM

My dad ended up adopting a dog for an hour. Some woman came in and handed him the lead and said she'd be 30 seconds. It was an hour later she turned up to collect Henry.

Borussia Park. Borussia Monchengladbach 0-0 Sunderland.

On the way back to Dusseldorf square after going to Fortuna Dusseldorf's ground for their match against Bochum, we got there at half time and they wanted 20 euro to get in. We hit the bars instead.

Err, erm, don't ask.