Barracking Hasn't Helped Altidore, Now Try Backing Him

Chris Brunskill

Jozy Altidore isn't that bad. There, I said it. I'm not ashamed of it either...

We love our centre forwards up here in the north east, eh? Don't we? Our famous number nines and all that jazz. I don't think there are any football supporters of any team that don't like 'their centre forwards', well, the goalscoring ones. That's where the love tends to begin and end. Players who score the most goals are the best ones, because they win you matches and let's be honest - we bloody love winning.

That's a pretty simplistic and sarcastic viewpoint I've put across there, but there are elements of truth in it. Strikers are a bit of a hot topic at the moment at Sunderland and it mainly centres around two men - Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore. Then if you want to drag others into it there are honourable mentions for Danny Graham and Connor Wickham.

Our forwards have a paltry seven goals between them this season whilst competing in Sunderland colours. They cost a combined fee of approximately £31m. Two of them are currently on loan at other clubs. It's really not pretty reading. Whose fault is it, though?

The man shouldering most of the blame at the moment seems to be Jozy Altidore. Unfortunately for him, he was a relatively expensive purchase which brings its own problems. Then you've got the fact he's only scored twice in all competitions this season. That is rubbish, to be fair. A number of elements have combined to make Jozy's life on Wearside an absolute nightmare. But, as unpopular as it may be, I do believe he has something to offer.

I don't think he's the most intelligent or technically gifted footballer there has ever been. That is going to apply to many people at our football club. The reason - if they were better than Sunderland, the likelihood is they wouldn't be here. It's important to focus on how to get the best out what we've got.

It took two lads who've spent most of their season in the U21s to show this. El Hadji Ba and Duncan Watmore utilised Altidore's ability to create opportunities with clever touches and passes during the cup victory over Carlisle. If you get the ball into Altidore's feet and get close to him he's effective.

Jozy's best moments of the season have come in situations where he's created important goals for others and this shouldn't be forgotten. At the moment though, he is totally bereft of confidence. The player being on Twitter, and being a massive name in US Sport, really isn't helping his cause. He's been the direct target of some pretty unsavoury abuse. On the pitch it looks like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He's just not happy with himself.

In my opinion this was reflected in his reaction to Adam Johnson's equaliser against Southampton on Saturday. He turned away and trudged back to the half way line whilst his team mates celebrated. I don't think it means that he doesn't care, I genuinely think the total opposite.

He looks so frustrated with his own performance's that I get the impression he just doesn't feel he deserves to celebrate with the rest of the team. He's done nothing to contribute to the cause and he feels he's letting himself and his team down - in my opinion.

The abuse that he gets at the ground is something that's really starting to grate. It was probably best displayed by a gentleman caught by the NBC cameras, which spread the internet in .GIF format after the game. It seems that Jozy is the cause of all of our problems.

Sarcastic cheering of his every touch and jeering of pretty much everything he did was standard fair at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. When you look at it though, he was no better or worse than anyone else that first half. I'd argue he was actually okay in that first half.

He won 66% of the aerial challenges he participated in. Maybe that dispels the myth that he 'never wins a header'. What is it with this supporter obsession about forwards winning headers, anyway? The issue in this case was that there we no people getting around him to utilise the flicked headers. Borini in particular was guilty of being reactive rather than proactive in this instances.

It begs the question - why knock it up to Altidore's head if you're not getting bodies around him to win the knock downs? What else can he do with the ball in that situation?

He did bad things too, obviously. His control let him down on more than one occasion and he doesn't get in the box anywhere near enough for a forward. He's really struggling now and it's going to take a monumental turnaround for him to get his confidence back and win over the vast majority of Sunderland fans who have totally written him off already.

He's missed good chances in recent games, too. Carlisle, West Ham and Cardiff in particular came and went with people chuntering about Altidore's inability to finish clear cut opportunities. It just smacks of a player who currently displays no self belief.

I do think that the more 'vocal' people, who go out of their way to dismantle a players' confidence, take it too far. I can't imagine how taking to the internet to personally criticise somebody is going to fix anything. Neither will focusing all of your abuse on one man, when there are ten others on the pitch trying to win a game for Sunderland.

So where do we go from here? Steven Fletcher, when in form, is obviously our best option. But he hasn't been in said form for a long while now. He's also struggling for fitness, and is a doubt for the Capital One Cup Semi Final. That probably means Altidore will be ploughing the lone furrow once more.

Wickham is 'banging them in in The Championship', apparently. Well when I've seen him, some of the mistakes he's made regularly in games would have even the most ardent Altidore hater switching targets at the SoL.

Graham, personally, I'd bring him back. We need options at the moment and he is one. He played in a similar system to Poyet's at Swansea and did pretty well. Before he moved to us a year ago, he was off the back of a similar situation to Steven Fletcher. A mixture of form and injuries saw him struggling. He didn't get going during a stuttering Martin O'Neill stewardship, and marginally improved under Paolo Di Canio.

It might be the case that none of these forwards are suited to Gus Poyet's Sunderland and I'd be inclined to go along with that. Until he gets a replacement it'll be Altidore and Fletcher running the Sunderland striking gauntlet. I'd just implore you to be kind to them, especially the former. He could probably do with a boost. If that happens we might start to see the best of him, whatever that best may be.

It certainly wouldn't hurt, right?

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