From The Durham Times: Party With Marty Seems Distant Memory

Stu Forster

Every week we provide our views to tip-top local newspaper, The Durham Times. You can pick up a copy every week for just 50p from your local newsagents, so pop along next Friday and get one.

For the first time since his arrival and immediate impact on Sunderland's fortunes, this particular SAFC fan noticed a change in attitude towards the once lauded man at the helm. In the bars before Sunday's important game against Norwich the adopted White Stripes anthem was not recited with any real vigour and was in fact punctuated with retorts of "out" following the gaffer's name. Granted they were a small yet vocal minority, but still, the signs of unrest are becoming more and more apparent.

The atmosphere was edgy - a blend of nerves and sheer disbelief that Sunderland stood on the precipice of yet another relegation battle. Either that or many had struggled to shake off any persistent hangovers in time for kick-off.

Matters were not helped when the Canaries took the lead with the smallest man on the field nodding home from point blank range. In fact, having taken advantage of the break in play to relieve my bladder of the pre-match ale, I witnessed a group of around ten, middle aged blokes barge their way out of the SOL gates and trudge off into the distance, airing their dissatisfaction to no-one in particular.

The days of "Party with Marty" seem like a distant, rose-tinted memory, with uninspiring and disjointed performances now the norm.

The vast majority of sane Sunderland fans appreciated the sheer enormity of the task at hand for O'Neill and acknowledged that a rapid, almost meteoric rise up the table was never really on the cards given the limited and middling squad he was left with. However, having now spent a pretty penny or two, we seem to be no better off what-so-ever and in-fact look woefully ill-prepared for the fight ahead.

This is particularly disconcerting and a genuine concern.

One thing that has always been attributed to an O'Neill squad is a desire and a single-minded mentality across the squad to run themselves into the ground in a desperate pursuit of victory. I can't remember the last time I saw this particular Sunderland side work tirelessly, constantly closing down their opposite number and not give the opposition time to breathe let alone take a touch or two on the ball.

Instead we are treated to the woefully predictable mid-week "rallying cry" in the local press from John O'Shea, Jack Colback, Craig Gardner or Sebastian Larsson (delete as applicable) whose name was in all probability picked from a hat. We are regaled with the usual clichés and promise of improvement each and every day leading up to the inevitable drab performance at the weekend. It's no wonder fans are at the end of their tether.

The time has come for action not meaningless and tired clichés.

Unfortunately relegation battles are nothing new for Sunderland fans. We have endured more than our fair share of hurt, disappointment and more often than not embarrassment over the years. However at present there seems a real disconnect between the crowd and the squad.

At a time when Sunderland fans would usually roll up their sleeves, accept that we have a fight on our hands and get behind the side there would already seem to be a feeling of disillusionment and even disenchantment with the current eleven.

Make no mistake about it, a fight is what Sunderland are going to have to put up if we are to address this worrying run of form, especially if you have dared to cast an eye over the upcoming fixtures.

Do I believe SAFC have enough about them to avoid the drop this term? Yes, for sure, but in order to do so we are all going to have to pull together and adopt a "Wigan-esque" mentality. Each and every year the Lactics seem to mount an unlikely late run of form to secure their spot in the Premier League with the players and fans-alike pulling in the same direction.

It's not going to be pretty and it probably won't be very entertaining but for now it really is time to dig the trenches and defend our club's Premier League status as relegation this year would simply be unthinkable given the financial reward at stake.

DAVID BOYLE

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