I realise that the last couple of blogs I’ve written have been more on the negative side of things but I believe it’s been justified – after all we haven’t won a game yet in the Premier League. But, even my negativity has been nothing to what I have seen around me and there’s also a few things I want to get off my chest.
In Gary Rowell’s latest piece for the Sunderland Echo where he mentions that our best hope is that there is three worse teams than us. On that front, it’s hard to disagree with him because until Patrick van Aanholt came on against West Brom, everything looked like dog shit. Defensively we did improve but there’s still better to be seen there for me and going forward that was as poor as I’ve seen Sunderland in quite some time. However, the way we finished the game and the character we showed (for once) to come back and get a result at least shows there is a bit of fight in this team.
I refuse to believe there are not three worse teams in the Premier League than us. Burnley and Hull are two obvious examples for me. Middlesbrough even fall into that category, though I think they are probably the best equipped of the three promoted sides. Though their only win was against us, that was against a Sunderland side that had a lot of youngsters and reserves playing in it. Hardly a ringing endorsement.
Looking beyond those three teams, Swansea in theory have a decent squad but they’ve just sacked Francesco Guidolin and replaced him with Bob Bradley, whose main coaching experience in football came managing the USA national side. I think they'll struggle. Watford won't find it easy either, despite picking up some decent results early doors. I feel that Bournemouth will also have a period later this season where they will struggle although – as long as Sunderland stay up – I like to see them doing well, except when we play them. But I still don’t particularly rate them defensively. Yes, they have Jack Wilshere who I think is a good player, but we will see if they can keep him fit.
You get the idea. All of those teams have started better than we have but it’s a thirty-eight game season, not a seven game one. People can try their absolute hardest to if they wish, but you are not going to convince me that Burnley, Hull, Swansea, Middlesbrough and perhaps to a lesser extent Watford and Bournemouth are better teams than us.
As for our team apparently ‘lacking quality’, I respectfully disagree with that. Let me be clear - we haven’t got a good team, I’m not trying to say that - but I also don’t feel we have a poor one either. It’s not the first time I’m standing alone on this point but I honestly believe this team is good enough to stay up.
We ended last season with a pretty decent side there and left ourselves with something to genuinely build on. The likes of Whabi Khazri, Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff (I concede he’s been poor this season but you don’t turn into a bad player overnight), Jordan Pickford, Jermain Defoe etc are still here. Pickford has developed into a good goalkeeper so far, and Didier N’Dong has looked solid. Javier Manquillo hasn’t been too bad in my opinion and there’s a fair bit of promise there for me, albeit we need players to perform now.
But are you really telling me a team with all of those players in is poor? I don’t think it is. How did we all of a sudden go from having a promising side to being very poor? Losing Younes Kaboul, Yann M’Vila and to a lesser extent DeAndre Yedlin didn’t help but we still have the basis of a canny team - I guess our fitness issues are what are impacting us most at the minute.
The game this weekend away at Stoke is a bottom of the table clash with us both the only Premier League sides still chasing a first league win this season. I’m praying Sunderland win of course but one thing that will help us a little is Stoke, at home, will be expected to bomb forward and they will leave far more gaps in defence than what West Brom did. That could actually play into our hands.
I would go as far to say that Mark Hughes could lose his job if Stoke lose at the weekend. If that’s the case, let’s make it happen Sunderland.