Don't Worry, Be Happy - Karl Jones
Circumstances dictated that his return was sooner than anticipated, but Steven Fletcher still managed to breathe life into Sunderland attacks despite being anywhere close to match fit. Granted, that sharpness will still need fine-tuning over the coming weeks, but the international break came just at the right time for Fletcher; further fitness work has been achieved without the looming burden of a Premier League match, which will not only take the pressure off of new signing Jozy Altidore but give him an ally in attack.
We Have Full Backs!
Not only has Ondrej Celustka looked the part since his arrival on Wearside, but Jack Colback has added an overlapping element to his already fine left-back play. Already this season, we’ve seen the former surge forward to support his team-mates, with the stellar moment being his assist against MK Dons in the Capital One Cup. The days of Sunderland’s back four consisting of practically four central defenders are done.
The Foundations Of Revolution Have Been Laid
Over the summer we were linked with a lot of players. A LOT. In fact, we signed quite a lot. In theory, most of this fresh start is now in place – the recruitment and coaching staff, first-team additions, promising players for the future – allowing Roberto De Fanti and Valentino Angeloni time to do reportedly what they do best. Even the use of loan signings enables them to identify talent for next season without having to rush to judgements (admittedly Sunderland has rarely thought of that when loaning players in the past).
For as long as I can remember, a ‘creative’ midfielder has lusted after. So much so, that I began to think they were as mythological as the left-back. Yet, here we are, having just acquired a player that has an extensive range of passing with either foot and the conviction in his own ability to deliver defence-unlocking balls.
It Can Only Get Better, Can’t It?
From John O’Shea’s error, to the wafer-thin protection offered by the midfield, some aspects of Sunderland’s performance at Crystal Palace was terrifying. With the above factored in, things should improve despite a tricky run of games upcoming.
We're Doomed! - David Boyle
We’re doomed. Let’s face it. Just take a moment to think back how long you have been following this football club; decades, years… and when was the last time anything went as planned?
Seen It All Before
Take Martin O’Neill for example. Everything following his appointment seemed to indicate a marriage made in heaven between the club and the popular manager. What could go wrong? Well, following an initial, exciting honeymoon period, pretty much everything as it transpired. "Party with Marty" was swiftly nothing but a period of misplaced hope, yet another false dawn.
Step forward O’Neill’s replacement, the enigmatic, charismatic and compelling Paolo Di Canio, who brings with him passion and baggage in equal measures, according to the press at least. Before a ball was kicked this year, many pundits had backed Sunderland for the drop and also Di Canio as one of the favourites in the Premier League sack-race.
They took the Italian’s passion and flair for the dramatic as a major flaw, combined this with the mass overhaul of the club - orchestrated by Di Canio himself - and came up with only one outcome, an implosion, sooner rather than later. And to be fair, leaving all SAFC-allegiances aside for one moment, you can understand why a pundit, pushed for an opinion, would very well come to that conclusion. That is after all how the outside world perceives the summer goings on here one Wearside.
However, despite our objections, could they have been right? We have already seen Di Canio lose his rag with club captain John O’Shea in a post-match press conference, a player who looked to have established himself as the manager’s confidant over the summer, which seems to indicate, potentially at least, some cracks already beginning to emerge in the dressing room.
Transfer Market Flops
There was also the obvious frustration displayed by Di Canio as the club faltered at times in the transfer market and failed to address some key areas which urgently needed addressing. How long will it be before we see Paolo use this in his defence at future press conferences?
Some questionable decisions from the gaffer have also raised a few eyebrows. What has Cabral done to warrant being dropped from the starting eleven following an impressive pre-season and debut against Fulham, for example?
Return Of The Old Guard
Why have we in turn looked to the "old guard" including the likes of David Vaughan, Craig Gardner and Sebastian Larsson, who have continually proved inadequate in the middle of the park? Ji’s treatment in the Capital One Cup was also cause for concern. Rather than replacing the forward at half time, as every single person in attendance would have suggested, Di Canio threw the Korean to the lions by hauling him from the pitch just moments into the second half. The jeers from the stands at this point will hardly have done the lad any favours whatsoever and could indicate some weakness in the manager’s man-management skills. The defeat to Crystal Palace hardly inspired much confidence either as the newly promoted side brushed Di Canio’s Sunderland aside with consummate ease, barely breaking a sweat.
Now I hope to hell I am wrong, I truly do. In fact I am playing nothing more than devil’s advocate here, but, would it really, really, be that much of a surprise if things weren’t to go according to plan this year? There is no doubt that the fixture list has been incredibly unkind on Di Canio and while it is very much early days at the moment, how much longer will confidence remain if the club were to go say two, three, four or, bloody hell, even five more games without a win? With such a daunting run of home fixtures, picking up points on our travels has become more important than ever and having been played off the park at St. Marys and Selhurst Park so far this term, the initial signs aren’t particularly great.
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