As kids, we were all taught that actions speak louder than words and that we should judge people according to the way they treat other people. As we go through life the saying becomes increasingly valid.
We all have those mates who make grand promises on a regular basis only to continually fail to deliver on them. Their long-winded assertions that they will give you that £20 back as soon as they get paid might be a comfort to you at the time, but three weeks down the line their empty words only infuriate you more as you find yourself still without the money, your trust betrayed.
This is how I’m feeling with Sunderland AFC right now. Except they didn’t just promise to give the £20 back, they promised to give us £40 for the inconvenience and cover our next night out. Week in, week out we are subjected to a series of smoke and mirror statements designed to make us feel slightly better about our lives, and our lack of return on our continued investment, until the inevitable battering comes around at the weekend.
It usually starts the Monday after a defeat, Seb Larsson, John O’Shea or Jack Rodwell are wheeled out and speak about letting the fans down whilst expressing their determination to bounce back. Aye lads, Alan Partridge made a better job of bouncing back than we are at present - it’s old news now.
With each passing game as we continue to edge closer to the drop whilst everyone from David Moyes to the kit man pledges to keep fighting until we are mathematically relegated. Personally, I would be delighted if they did start fighting.
While I don’t doubt that they are running around as much as possible and in their own way give 100% every week, it’s not enough. I don’t see anyone take responsibility by demanding the ball and actively taking the game to the opposition. This time last season after a late tackle on De Andre Yedlin, the whole backroom staff and remainder of the Sunderland squad piled out of the dugout to defend their man and show they wouldn’t be shoved around (quite literally). After Lee Cattermole made a vital goal line clearance, he was snarling at his fellow players and pulling them into tight, passionate embraces. Can you honestly tell me that the same fighting spirit is evident this season?
Towards the back end of our last campaign we were so united as a fan base and as a club because we could see how much it meant to the players. Fast forward to our most recent game vs Man United and I could barely register a shout at the referee when Larsson got sent off, and merely laughed in bemused disbelief as the visitors walked through our defence to go 2-0 up. Apathy doesn’t come naturally to 40,000 passionate supporters - it comes from what we see on the pitch.
Before the Watford game, Moyes spoke about having to take risks to get back into the hunt for survival. Again, the sentiment is great, but have we seen a more adventurous set-up in recent games? Have we seen a fresh mentality on the pitch? No. Other than bringing Victor Anichebe back into the side, we have largely seen him select the same players in the same positions and hoped for the best. Yes, we started well against Watford and Leicester yet both games were evenly balanced, and cried out for an injection of creativity through Khazri, or sheer force with Anichebe. Moyes, however, decided against making proactive changes and waited until we went behind to make the necessary substitutions.
Off the pitch, we have also been subjected to a barrage of meaningless language relating to our supposed long-term strategy. We are told that we cannot simply keep sacking managers and hope to be a stable football club. Of course, this is an entirely fair comment, but is this really stability? If we were going down fighting with a clear plan in place I would be wholly supportive of the club’s plans. But at the minute it seems to be no more than a comforting buzz word. If stability is what we desire then show us an example of this. Have a coherent transfer policy, identify a desirable system on the pitch and give us a reason to be optimistic going into next season.
Although, I don’t blame the club’s PR department for our plight it can be irritating as supporters to see constant #unityisstrength and #keepthefaith slogans when all we are seeing is disjointed and fractured thinking on and off the pitch.
In the short term the players must show that they are indeed still fighting by really trying to take the game to West Ham on Saturday. At this stage of the season there is literally nothing to lose with regard to our position in the table, but we must also go for the win because of our impending doom - we need to give a good performance in order to reconnect with dispirited fans. We might not escape relegation this season, but the season’s close is just as important as ever because after all: actions speak louder than words.