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?