Moyes on the Attack
After a dismal opening month of the season, Saturday’s clash with Crystal Palace already feels like a ‘must-win’ fixture.
Sunderland players, including Paddy McNair and Jan Kirchhoff, have been busy this week proclaiming the boost that the third round league cup victory has provided. Even David Moyes looked cheerier today, saying "we feel much better" and his positivity this week is perhaps a nod to those who have questioned his early season demeanour.
However, it is a measure of just how bad it’s been, when a win against a side in the bottom half of the Championship, is being hailed as a boost and a prelude to some much needed momentum. If the achievement has been over-egged, it is perhaps understandable for a team without a win in the first five Premier League games of the campaign.
Confirmation that Jermain Defoe is almost certainly fit is, of course, the biggest boost as far as team news goes. But, can we really tolerate another three months of panicking each time that the man who turns 34, exactly two weeks today, gets a niggle?
On that score, and with the morning news suggesting Sunderland have been offered Emmanuel Adebayor again, David Moyes confirmed he turned down the chance to sign him during the latter stages of the transfer window, and has said that is "unlikely to change".
Moyes has confirmed that Victor Anichebe is still nowhere near the first team for tomorrow’s game, so the return of Whabi Khazri, from an illness which ruled him out of the QPR tie, would ordinarily be welcome news. The sorry fact that he has looked a million miles from the player who made such an impact last season has added to the attacking impotence of Sunderland in the opening games.
So it was clear from his press conference this afternoon, that attack has pre-occupied David Moyes in his thoughts about the Palace game. With a continuing lack of viable alternatives up front, it is again how he lines up the midfield that will be the key to unlocking the barren goals-for column in Saturday’s 3pm kick-off.
Pardew Previews Sunderland With A Lecture About Himself
With Sunderland boasting an emptying injury room, Palace have been dealt a blow with the loss of skipper Scott Dann. Previewing the game, Palace boss Alan Pardew said:
"We're going there to win a game of professional football and we're going to do the best possible job we can with a team at the moment which looks in good form."
One of the more ludicrous figures of north east football in recent years, the self styled 'Pards' has been pondering the situation his counterpart, David Moyes, has found himself in at Sunderland. In true ‘Pards’ fashion though, his assessment of the situation came with subtle undertones about his favourite topic – himself.
"You can have sympathy for that situation David Moyes and his team find themselves. The media can make it ten times worse, of course."
Alan, bless him; and if his side are currently in a decent run, ‘Pards’ was quick to remind everyone of his own consistent brilliance with a clear dig at the doubters who cast aspersions about his team’s earlier poor start to the season:
"Are we judged on three or four games? Nothing beforehand seems to get a mention…of course; the pressure heaped on managers when they haven't got a win is becoming bigger and more intense every season."
Two defeats and a draw from his side's opening fixtures had Palace fans daring to doubt the man who had grooved on the touchline at Wembley three months earlier. Results since have improved, but Crystal Palace remain beatable and getting a result is an absolute must for Sunderland.
The referee for tomorrow’s game is Anthony Taylor; officially listed as an ‘Altrincham fan’, he was also in charge the last time Alan Pardew brought his side to the Stadium of Light. Many will recall that game being billed as a ‘must win’ too as Sunderland salvaged a point with a last gasp Fabio Borini equaliser.
Taylor was recently in the news for being out late (10pm) the night before a Saturday fixture at a gala dinner entitled "An Evening with Premiership Referees". At £27-a-head, the charity bash must have been a thrilling way to spend a Friday night.
Paddy McNair at Number 10? Who Knows What He Is.
Following his two goals against QPR, Paddy McNair has forced himself back on to the radar. Hardly a great start to life on Wearside, he had been a little unfairly written off prior to his match-winning performance on Wednesday night.
The doubters have been out in force since the double-signature of McNair and his Manchester United colleague, Donald Love, during the summer. Indeed ‘McNair and Love’ have become a much derided double act which is a little unmerited considering the differences in their position, career and development.
Admittedly, denying us a point with his own goal in the season opener at Manchester City, and being the worst of a bad bunch in his home debut against Middlesbrough, McNair’s Wednesday boost was timely. But, he has hardly been alone in starting the season cold. Speaking about his favoured position, he said:
"Until I was 18 I played midfield and then Louis van Gaal played me centre back, so a lot of people think I am a defender but I have never really been a defender. "Midfield, No 10, I will play wherever."
Certainly his international team boss, Michael O'Neill, identified midfield as his "best position" in the build up to Euro2016; and David Moyes described him today as "more of an attacking midfield player at this time of his career".
Once hailed as the pinnacle of youth development, Manchester United's record in developing young players has been more hit-and-miss than Fergie-factory of late. In a recent Times interview, head of United's academy, Nicky Butt, described those products of the Old Trafford youth system who had moved on in the summer, including McNair and Donald Love as:
"They’re really good lads and will have a good life, nice houses but they weren’t at the level for United."
Nevertheless, some Man U fans considered McNair as one of the cream of the prospects who have emerged in recent years and had identified him as the one who, with some additional development, could have made the grade.
Where he would fit in to Sunderland’s midfield on a regular basis is another question, with David Moyes having plenty of options in the middle and certainly a glut of defensive, holding bodies to pick from. Competition for fellow young gun Lynden Gooch for number ten then?