I saw lots of tweets from Sunderland fans on Monday night joking ‘now you all know what it’s like to support Sunderland’. Except it wasn’t like that. It was so much worse.
I do not believe that it was entirely a mental issue for the England players. Hodgson’s tactics were an embarrassment to watch and his Plan B was a player who has played 141 minutes of football in twelve months.
However, every single member of this England squad has a loser’s mind-set and it is this that frustrates me the most whenever I see them "play".
The friend I watched this game with called it as soon as Iceland’s second goal squirmed under Hart’s crisp packet hands. Their heads have gone, he said. I didn’t want to believe him but you could see it in their eyes. They were frightened. They couldn’t handle the pressure. We had no superstars out there, ready to seize responsibility and wrestle back control of the game. Instead, we had eleven skittish horses. Actually, I’m doing a disservice to the equine community.
Ten skittish horses and Harry Kane: a man who delivered a performance so pathetic that it actually beggared belief.
Watching England play should be an entirely different experience for everyone used to watching Sunderland play. Watching these "superstars" should provide a respite. England should approach games like Monday night with a swagger, confident they can dismantle lesser nations with positive, high-tempo football.
I saw several journalists note in the build-up to the game that anything less than a convincing victory would be a huge disappointment. I couldn’t agree more. Yet we lacked that winning mind-set and the self-confidence necessary to succeed. When the pressure was on, when we were losing 2-1 to a nation with fewer inhabitants than your local Wetherspoons on a Friday night, the players crumbled.
This stands in stark contrast to our current Sunderland squad. When the pressure is on. When it truly matters. When results become crucial. That is when Sunderland deliver. From March to May, we turn into Madrid. This has been the case for the past four seasons and a huge part of that is down to the mental strength of the players. On numerous occasions they have looked dead and buried, only to strengthen their resolve and fight tooth and nail for survival.
You could argue: where is that mental strength at the start of every season? And you’d be right to do so. I’d obviously prefer they show the same desperate passion in every single game but that is impossible. We are not as deluded as Mag fans. We don’t see ourselves as a top four side. We can’t fight against the financial might of City, United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Chelsea. I don’t expect the players to win every game due to sheer will. Indeed, I have absolutely no problem when our players try to win and fail. It doesn’t bother me at all when they show hunger, desire, passion, and ultimately come up short.
Aside from the Chelsea game, my next favourite Sunderland performance last season was at home to City. Yes, we lost (damn you, Billy Jones and your concentration levels of a 6 year old with ADHD) but the team were clearly grafting for each other and fought hard to win. As Yaya Touré will testify, Lamine Koné fought very hard.
This is what you see from this Sunderland squad when results matter most. I don’t see the same fight amongst the England players. As a result, I have no respect for this crop of pretenders. I don’t doubt that they have the talent to challenge every other nation in the world. It’s just a shame they have all the backbone of a worm.
I hate myself for saying this but the England team was better when they had players like Shearer and Gascoigne, players who had no fear of the opposition and a winner’s mentality. Until we get that back, and marry it to an actual game-plan, we won’t improve.