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.