Team Selection - Bare-bones
Chris Coleman made an emotional return to the Cardiff City Stadium for the first time since swapping Wales for the Stadium of Light and answering Martin Bain’s S.O.S.
However, there was nothing sweet in Cookie’s return as a limp second-half display, characterised once-again by unforced errors, made an industrious if unproductive first-half irrelevant.
Chris Coleman made four changes to the side which crashed out of the FA Cup last week at Boro with Jake Clarke-Salter making his debut in place of Donald Love as Billy Jones moved out to right wing-back. Didier Ndong, Lynden Gooch and Robbin Ruiter were all also recalled in place of Ethan Robson, Callum McManaman and Jason Steele.
The side lined up in our customary 3-4-3 formation with Honeyman and Gooch either side of Maja. Clarke-Salter came straight into defence, on John O’Shea’s left as Marc Wilson continued in central midfield.
Coleman has come under fire for starting Wilson again after such an underwhelming performance in said position both in the second half against Birmingham and during the full game at Boro. However, it is plain to see why the Welshman has persisted with Wilson in midfield. Although it would have been refreshing to see Ethan Robson play after his impressive turnout a week earlier, we would quite simply have been outmatched, outnumbered and physically dominated in the middle. As we were in the second half when a rampant Cardiff midfield took advantage of Wilson’s absence and Lee Cattermole’s continued physical and mental problems.
Robbin Ruiter made another glaring error, just as Jason Steele did last week. However, with Mika now shipped out and his only appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy resulting in more glaring errors, Coleman is literally between a rock and a hard place.
Clarke-Salter was bullied and outpaced by Kenneth Zohore in the second half, leading up to Cardiff’s second goal; however, this was not the error that lead to the goal. In my eyes, he should never have let Zohore turn in the first phase of attack. Preceding this, Lee Cattermole’s weak, dove-ish tackle was even more culpable and typifies more than any other his dramatic fall from grace in 2017.
On the topic of poor performances: Billy Jones should never start again for Sunderland. His defending is comical; positionally out of place, unaware to any threat, allowing players to get goal side at corners and free kicks incessantly and, more than any other, his sheer inability to communicate with the rest of his back line. It is no secret that he is our weak link. Boro singled him out, and both goals came from his side. Cardiff exploited this even more, with Zohore, Junior Hoilett, Joe Bennett, Liam Feeney, Anthony Pilkington and Yanic Wildschut all peeling out wide left in order to exploit Jones’ frailties.
Verdict: Many of the changes were directly at fault for the loss, but I sympathise with Coleman with such a injury plagued squad rife with unprofessional attitudes and weak mentalities.
Tactics - Players let the manager down
Another week, another loss, and the same tactic. We go into games and attempt to keep it solid, without breaking forward in huge numbers and rely upon the width of our wing-backs to fashion an opening. However, when your wing-backs are poor, this formation simply does not work. Donald Love has been heavily criticised, but his keen positioning and ability to stretch a defence is vital to our system.
Josh Maja is often simply outnumbered and overpowered in the middle on his own, and clearly needs support. We played the ball faster than against Boro, and at times had some nice passing moves - all of which fell apart as soon as we transitioned into the final third.
The current crop have the ability, as I have always claimed, but I have never seen a side lacking so severely in terms of both mental and physical toughness. The squad is littered with sick notes, payers who shirk responsibilities and others who are simply physically unsuited to one of the most physically-dominant divisions in the world.
This was evident against Cardiff, as we employed a much less direct approach due to the sheer size of the Cardiff side; six of their starting eleven were well over six feet tall. The first half was impressively industrious, if somewhat uninspiring, but the side had done their job. The aim in the second was to keep the same defensive solidity and attempt to grab a winner on the break, yet within 45 seconds of the restart we collapsed.
One can only really analyse the first half from a tactical standpoint, as 45 seconds into the second, the game as a contest was over.
A cacophony of errors cost us the game, and ultimately transformed the match into an embarrassment. In order, from first goal to fourth, the following players made errors that led straight to a goal (or decisive sending off);
- First goal: Jones, Ruiter.
- Sending off: Jones, Ndong.
- Second goal: Cattermole, Clarke-Salter, Oviedo.
- Third goal: Oviedo, O’Shea, Jones.
- Fourth goal: Clarke-Salter, Cattermole, O’Shea.
The sending off didn’t help matters, and I do feel Ndong was unfortunate. His foot was pointed, studs were away from the player and it wasn’t poorly timed. However, his foot bounced off the ball and unfortunately straight into Junior Holiett’s ankle. Unlucky.
That being said, one must question if a player who is so hellbent on moving and has that move on his mind at all times would hesitate into the tackle as he did. If his heart was in the game - would he have seen red?
Long gone are the excellent defensive performances against Wolves, Fulham and Nottingham Forest. Any side cannot afford to make so many costly mistakes and continue to hope to be successful.
I do not want to highlight each mistake, and I am a firm believer that any player can return from such to perform excellently a week later - such are the highs and lows of football. However, this week it must be said that we simply cannot continue any longer being the cause of our own downfall, otherwise we’ll be playing at home in front of ~10,000 fans, travelling to Plymouth Argyle and Accrington Stanley, and will more than likely be sitting in administration.
Verdict: Industrious if ineffective first-half, disastrous second. Coleman was irrevocably let down by a numbers of his players, again.
Substitutions - HT sub crucial
The two late substitutions came at a time when the game was over as a contest and was merely petering out, so what’s the point even analysing them? Maybe young Asoro should’ve been brought on earlier, but after conceding just 45 seconds into the second half, it really doesn’t matter.
I’m not Marc Wilson’s biggest fan, and he certainly isn’t a central midfielder, but it was the substitution at half-time in which he was replaced by Lee Cattermole that changed the entire course of the game.
Wilson played an important dual role in the first-half, he screened the defence and kept Hoilett quiet while nullifying the central physical threat of Paterson and Ralls, with the latter getting Cardiff’s best chances of the first half, but scuffing all but one in which Robbin Ruiter pulled off a decent save.
Oh, just as a quick note, guess who was marking Callum Paterson in corners in the first half? Marc Wilson. We may as well call this Barnsley 2.0.
Lee Cattermole just didn’t look up to speed, fit nor inspiring. He is simply a shadow of a player who spent the full half chasing shadows. His physicality has all but gone and he cannot read the game, by the time he spotted Pilkington’s run from deep for the fourth goal, it was all too late. I don’t want to chastise him too much, he as served the club admirably and effectively, but it just seems like one year too long. Rumours were abound of his possible retirement in the summer, and it seems like 14 years of constant football, injuries, injections and bone-crunching tackles has taken its toll.
Verdict: Cattermole for Wilson changed the game for the worse, I wonder if the Irishman picked up an injury?
Post-match Comments - Ha’way the Lads
We were defending a corner after 30 seconds after they had already had a shot on goal.
From the resulting corner we gift them a goal which isn’t what it’s about.
We can’t do that. For 45 minutes we came here, it was going to be tough. Cardiff go man for man and it wasn’t easy in the first 45.
But we gave them a goal and psychologically it killed us. We are bottom of the league and after 30 seconds of the restart we are 1-0 down. We can’t accept that.
Forget the sending off – sometimes they are given and sometimes they aren’t. We have given the referee the chance to make a decision.
We have got to be right at it from the start and we weren’t clearly. It was a defensive error that cost us the goal at the most vital time of the game.
That led to the downfall in the second half.
As usual, Cookie is absolutely spot on. Forgive me, but I’m absolutely done analysing this game back and talking about it. So let’s try and be a bit positive here. Look back at his post-match comments; it is abundantly clear Coleman knows exactly the task at hand, and how to solve it. His early moves in the transfer market are looking promising so far, and hopefully he’ll be given the backing to fulfill this potential at the midway stage of the window.
If we are going to dig our way out of this mire, Coleman and the players needs us. Maybe I have just spent 1000 words castigating those who under performed, but unfortunately the manner of the defeat necessitated it.
That being said, now more than ever, our club needs us. You may baulk at the names on the back of the shirt, at the sponsors on the front, and at those in offices in the annals of the Academy and SoL. But names come and go, this is our club, our pride.
A very close friend of mine travelled down to Cardiff City because he knew the Lads needed his support. He spent the last of his money for the week a few days before going, probably knowing we’d lose with an impending 18 hour journey ahead of him. He’d do it again tomorrow if he could. He’s probably a masochist, but he’s a Sunderland fan, and we’re all like it.
We all love our club. We, the fans, need to prove now why these players should not feel forced to be here, but that pulling on the red and white stripes is a privilege. We may be bottom of the Championship, but we’re still Sunderland AFC, and we’ve always been stronger together.
Let’s get behind the team, behind Coleman, and avert potentially the biggest ever plight this club has faced in a storied 139-year history.
Verdict: Coleman once again identified the problems honestly. He is the man to take us forward, that I have no doubt over.