Traditionally, teams tend to have better home form than they do away.
That’s especially the case when you are Sunderland, and you’re averaging over 30,000 per game - it makes the occasion all the more important to sides visiting the Stadium of Light, and players who haven’t often played in front of big crowds can get overawed during moments of sustained pressure, when we are on top and turning the screw.
However, away from home the exact opposite tends to happen.
Teams still treat it like a big occasion when Sunderland rock up, but siege mentality can kick in - they see it as us turning up on their patch, and we have to play by their rules.
I was at Hillsborough and The New York Stadium for the recent away games against Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham, and despite the fact we took big away followings, I never felt like we were the dominant voice inside the ground - to their credit, the fans of both their sides backed their teams and gave them the early lift they needed to grab the goals needed to take advantage.
That aside, we just don’t play with the same swagger that we often do at home.
Teams have worked out that they can play high against us, and if they double up down the wings, we’ll let crosses into the box. That’s not all, though - we’re weak as piss in the air, and if you’ve got a centre forward that’s good in the air, we’re buggered.
Ultimately, we haven’t made the occasions work to our advantage.
We’ve not done to teams what those visiting the SOL often do to us - we’ve not set out to outwork our opposition, frustrate them, and then take advantage when the crowd enthusiasm drops and the atmosphere in the ground grows more frustrated.
That’s largely a symptom of one or two things.
One, I reckon the youthfulness of our team and lack of experience sometimes shows.
We aren’t streetwise enough and we aren’t managing games properly. We need to be shithouses more often if we’re going to battle out of this league.
Two, Johnson’s pigheadedness with his tactics is costing us.
It was a disaster playing Dajaku and McGeady on the wings against a Rotherham side that like to create from their full backs, and they destroyed us.
He’s also dead set on keeping the same central midfield pairings together, and whilst the style of play has been great all season, sometimes he has to remember that it’s okay to play to negate our opponents - we are a League One side and not Manchester City, and as such there will be occasions, particularly away from home, when we can’t get away with simply outplaying the opposition.
Thankfully, these are all things we can fix.
Let’s just hope LJ has taken note of his recent failings by the time the next handful of games roll around, because picking up maximum points will be important if we are going to head into a busy period chasing the leaders at the top of the table.
Damian Brown says...
I’m not sure I wholly believe in the notion that home games are easier or that crowd noise has a huge impact on the performance of a team. I’ll concede that perhaps in the dying moments of a game that’s equally contested, a handful of players could borrow some potency from a crowd cheering them on but it’s all a bit of a pseudoscience when I boil it down. Because of that, I feel that if a team underperforms away from home they have to look inward for the answer rather than be spurred on by chants of how much of a wanker Alan Shearer is.
I think the problem is internal and only hard graft, careful attention to the (good) game plan laid down by the backroom, and a willingness to fight for every ball can fix that.
I also don’t think cup games reasonably distract from league games, though there will always be some fatigue that comes from fixture congestion. I’m hoping that’s the reason the players struggled before the break and that rest brings rewards.
Beyond that, I’m not sure what can be done. I don’t want to see LJ laying down new laws and methods because of a dip in form, because it implies that the old ones were faulty in the first place. It would also put massive pressure on the gaffer in terms of his tenure, because trying and failing in multiple ways is systemic of a plan gone awry, and that won’t help us in this whole pursuit of steady growth thing.
The only thing I think is proven to make a difference in football is the fitness and mentality of the people playing it. Only they can decide to put in that extra 10% that carries the team over the line. If they want it enough they’ll recapture their form. If they can’t do that I won’t be blaming the location of the football pitch.