I have to say, in a way, I have immense admiration for our fans that it has taken so long. I have never had any faith in David Moyes and - while I have continued to support the players, attend games and sing the staple chants - I have refused to offer Moyes any of my support or endorsement. Supporting my team is not synonymous with supporting David Moyes. Let’s make that abundantly clear.
For months I have heard David Moyes defended in print and on the airwaves, through reference to the away fans passionately chanting ‘David Moyes’ Red and White army’ at Everton. ‘He still has the fans backing, it’s just the keyboard warriors who want him out’. ‘The real fans who understand why we need stability want him to stay’.
Well on Wednesday night the real fans - if we are to legitimise the disgusting notion that journalists and ex-pros can tell us who is and isn’t a real fan - made it clear that they’d had enough. Up until that point, a view perpetuated by certain commentators, journalists and ex-pros contended that criticism of Moyes was very much an isolated phenomenon, largely confined to social media.
As for the game itself, there are no excuses. The personnel in that Sunderland team were more than experienced enough to, firstly, not concede such a sloppy goal - as they have done time and time again this season - and secondly, to not let it affect them as significantly as it did. O’Shea, Cattermole, Gibson, Jones, Anichebe, Khazri and Defoe are all seasoned professionals and experienced Premier League players. Even the likes of Manquillo and Denayer have experience of big games at big clubs. This is not a young squad, nor is it an inexperienced one.
It is, however, a disjointed, deflated and divided squad, who have been managed to an abject surrender that no one can or should excuse. Not only has Moyes overseen relegation, but he has done so with a sense of inevitability and arrogance that has decimated the attachment between the club and the fans. Give him all the money you want, this man hasn’t the stomach for the job, nor the balls to admit it.
The mistakes and the fear we see on the pitch have not come from nowhere. It is not entirely about quality, though that’s what every Moyes apologist would have you believe. This has been caused by a culture of tolerating failure and accepting inadequacy, which this manager has inculcated since the moment he walked through the door. These players expect to lose because they have a manager who - two games into the season - pre-emptively surrendered most of the points available in the remainder of the season by predicting a relegation fight. For the most part this season Moyes and the players have been allowed to lose with a whimper, as the media agreed to peddle the claim - as though it were proven - that nothing more could have been expected.
I simply do not accept that. I’m not going to say we have a squad brimming with quality and I don’t think we have any divine right to stay up. I can accept relegation and I accept the financial situation at the club is dire. But we are twelve points from safety with five games left to play, with Hull City - a crisis club if ever I saw one - being the ones to catch. Yet still the excuses come thick and fast.
Moyes wanted more money to spend? Well so do most managers. All the signings made this season are being paid for in installments? That has been true for years. Every manager since Bruce has lived under this reality, as do most managers in the league. These aren’t the players he would have signed in an ideal world? Limitations are a key part of football management. You operate within a budget, you manage the squad you have and you get the best you can. Moyes has not got the most out of this squad, because for most of the season he has spent his time and energy wishing he had a different one.
Just think about the manner of the defeats, the goals we’ve conceded and then question whether it was inevitable that these players should surrender so meekly to relegation. The woeful organisation, the capitulations, the mistakes, the rigid tactics and bizarre substitutions, the quality we have sold or sidelined and the dross we have brought in, some for decent money. Players like Van Aanholt, Lens, Khazri and Kone could have been vital to us this season, but Moyes has either moved them on without replacing their abilities, or has failed to manage them well enough to produce good or consistent form. Moyes has similarly failed to get anything from his star pupil Januzaj or expensive signing Djilobodji, while the defence, which has not been decimated by injuries this season, still look like strangers who have received no coaching.
In the second half of the game against Boro, we did improve, but we were facing an opponent who hadn’t won in 2017. What’s more, Boro were clearly aware of that statistic and were terrified of surrendering the lead. Every time Boro moved forward with the ball, they immediately looked nervous about what might happen if they pushed too far forward and lost the ball. They were hesitant, conservative and scared. We on the other hand, couldn’t put a team who were shitting themselves under any real pressure or create a clear chance in open play. It is simply not acceptable.
This season was always going to be tough. But to stand a chance we needed a manager who was willing to roll up his sleeves and wade into the mess with his players. Say what you like about Allardyce, he could never be accused of not wholeheartedly investing himself in a project and standing by his players. Moyes has proven that he is not that kind of man. He has steadfastly remained out of the shit, just close enough to be deemed a witness, but not an accessory.
Those with a personal or professional stake in defending David Moyes would have you believe this is all necessary pain. Like the sting of applying antiseptic on a wound, pain means the healing process has begun. While this argument is appealing, it neglects a rather obvious refutation. Pain is also a sign of an infection getting worse, because you have used the wrong medicine, or perhaps none at all. So how do we distinguish good pain from bad pain? It’s simple really: evidence and observation. Trial and error. And the ability to admit when we’re just plain wrong.
Of course football is not linear or predictable. It is not an exact science. No one knows where this journey will take us, but one thing we do know is that reputable managers do not guarantee rejuvenation or success, big clubs don’t always bounce back and falls from grace can be stark and brutal. Steve McClaren was England manager in 2008 and last season he spent £80m at a reasonably established Premier League side and almost made Newcastle implode.
Their logic in appointing McClaren was similar to ours for Moyes. Newcastle not only made McClaren their manager, they put him on the board, so committed were they to the principle of a long term appointment that could connect the boardroom, the pitch and the fans. They had the best intentions, but they - belatedly - recognised the folly in keeping a manager to pursue hopeful, theoretical success, when actual harm was being done at that very moment. Look at them now. They have a manager who the fans believe in, promotion secured and momentum behind them, despite suffering relegation.
I don’t know where this journey will end and nor do those who want Moyes to stay. All we have is evidence; evidence of terrible signings, an inability to manage some of our best players (and some of his favourite players), rigid tactics, turgid football, a fear of positive substitutions, inexplicable comments and a proclivity for putting himself first and leaving his players out to dry. Meanwhile, there is not a shred of evidence that he has started us on the path to success, nor that he has the stomach to do so at all.
Put it this way, if you are in a vehicle in an unfamiliar place and you have an unreliable, erratic, selfish egomaniac at the wheel, there is a slim chance that you could end up where you want to go. In all likelihood, however, you’ll probably end up lost in the wilderness and out of fuel.