From The Durham Times: The Ghosts Of Christmas Visit Sunderland

Will Ellis Short be providing a "Ghost Of Christmas Future" in the form of new players, or some other tenuous Dickens link this January?

Every week we pen our thoughts for local newspaper "The Durham Times" and if you're too cheap to buy a copy, you can read it here a few days later. Call it a gift.

This week was the turn of David Boyle, and things have taken a Dickens-esque tuen over the festive period. To find out what the hell he's on about, you'll have to start heading over The Durham Times website on a Friday, you can do so by bookmarking this link - http://www.durhamtimes.co.uk/sport/rokerreport.

Or if you prefer, head to your local newsagents and get a copy for the princely sum of just 30p. You'll get our thoughts and a whole lot more!

Have I sold you? I hope so. In the meantime enjoy our latest offering to them...

With our belts straining under the pressure of Christmas excess, the usual suspects of Turkey, stuffing and alcohol of numerous varieties, we made the trip through gale force winds for the Boxing Day pilgrimage to witness further strides being made under the new Martin O'Neill regime. The newly found optimism was tangible in the air in the bars and concourses before kick-off and with good reason. Sunderland are a different animal under the new gaffer, a more resilient, organised and reinvigorated outfit, a fact that was apparent given the respect that David Moyes showed his counterpart with the gameplan he sent his Everton side out with on Monday afternoon.

Much like Charles Dickens' loved novel "A Christmas Carol", Martin O'Neill was met by three "ghosts" of Sunderland past, present and future whilst patrolling his technical area on Boxing Day. First of all, that pesky ghost of SAFC past - our toothless attack. Whilst O'Neill was quick to talk up Nicklas Bendtner's abilities and prospects in the build up to the game, surely nothing more than a confidence-boosting attempt, he would go on to let his manager down with another lackadaisical performance in-front of goal, wasting numerous opportunities to unleash a shot on target, deciding instead to try and cut onto his other foot, then back to the other and repeat until the chance was lost. Much has been made of SAFC's issues infront of goal since the departures of messrs Bent and Gyan not to mention Fraizer Campbell's long-term absence through injury and unfortunately not even the O'Neill effect can impact on our lack of bite infront of goal... yet.

However luckily for the popular man in charge the "ghost" of Sunderland present was waiting in the wings and made an instant impact following his introduction to the game. Of course I'm talking about the our very own Paul Scholes in the making, Jack Colback who was left with time and space following a superbly weighted ball into the eighteen yard box from the undoubted star of the show Stephane Sessegnon, to find the back of the net for his first goal for the club. Sunderland have a number of talented young players that O'Neill can be confident that he can call upon, Colback being the pick of the bunch for me, that give SAFC fans reasons to be hopeful for the club moving into the New Year.

With that said O'Neill must be wishing for a Christmas miracle in the shape of a cheque-shaped gift from Uncle Ellis, the "ghost" of Sunderland's future, in order to bolster his side if we are to make any real strides other than just recovering some pride following the dismal start to the season. The holes in the squad are painfully obvious and I'm sure Mr. Short can be convinced into parting with some cash in order to procure an actual left-back and a reliable goal-scorer, as seemingly hard as they are to come by. We all have our differing opinions on who to bring in and the rumour mill is already beginning to stir into life ahead of the January window. I doubt we will see great numbers come through the door, it is quality over quantity that we require but if O'Neill gets the right personnel in, someone to feed off Larsson's deliveries and Sessegnon's clever balls behind the opposition's defence and that final left sided piece of the defensive puzzle I'm sure we will all be delighted with the window's business.

So, tenuous links to Dickens aside, what can we take from the Everton stalemate? Contrary to how you may have felt leaving the Stadium, such was the ineptitude of Howard Webb, we didn't actually lose that game and the bald official's moment of madness aside perhaps a draw was the fair result given Everton's dogged and stubborn fight for their share of the spoils. Even Moyes was apologetic in his post-match press conference such was the appalling nature of an apparent International level referee who mistook Leon Osman's loss of control of both the ball and his own feet as a penalty kick. Webb even seemed to wait for his assistant to confirm his suspicions as play continued but when no clarification was given Howard took it upon himself to gift the Merseysiders a golden opportunity to level the game, one which the ever-reliable Leighton Baines wasn't going to pass up as he rifled the ball home. Cheers Howard.

C'est la vie and all that, we now look ahead to a seemingly impossible task in the shape of Manchester City on New Years Day. Or is it? Mancini's talented side stuttered at the Hawthornes as West Brom battled for an unlikely point. There are two ways you can look at this result. The more positive of Sunderland fans will see this as proof that City are not invincible and that it gives hope of SAFC replicating WBA's feat. The negative amongst us however will fear somewhat of a backlash. Myself? I imagine the outcome will fall somewhere in the middle. We have all been impressed with the "new look" Sunderland since Martin's appointment, however if we fail to take our chances when they crop up, I'm looking at you Bendtner, then we are already fighting an uphill battle as our opponents will surely not be so wasteful infront of goal.

Whatever the result there are enough reasons to be upbeat and confident for the club moving forward into the transfer window silly season. Let's just hope the Sky Sports cameras are camped outside the Academy's gates as we welcome a much needed injection of quality to the squad.

DAVID BOYLE.

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