Now that the striker shortages are easing, talk of late has moved over to some of Sunderland’s young prospects and whether some of them would begin getting the chance to start games. The answer came with the news before kick-off that Abdoullah Ba was being handed his full debut against Cardiff City, but for all the excitement at what looked like a promising team, things didn’t ever really get going.
I’ll be honest though and say I didn’t really see it coming – two good results on the road and that promising lineup had me confident about playing against a visiting side that have not been the best away from home.
For all the disappointment about what was about to unfold on the pitch however, it was the behaviour of some of our fans that have left me most frustrated, and it provided an early warning sign that the day was not going to go as I’d hoped.
After observing a very moving period of silence ahead of Remembrance Day that was wonderfully accompanied by another fan display, I cannot for the life of me get my head around the moments that followed – launching crumpled placards towards those in front of you is neither sombre nor respectful, whilst then booing those taking the knee completely undermines what many people serve their country for in the first place.
It is muddled thinking at best, but there is perhaps an argument sadly that it also points to a more worrying undercurrent in society.
Whatever the reason, it needs to stop. Things continued to be thrown during the game and there was even a laser pen being used seemingly, none of which does the club any favours and just spoils things for others.
Even if by some weird metric you think it increases Sunderland’s chances of winning, the behaviour in fact ends up costing them - the Lads were halted from taking a corner during one of the few periods where they seemed to be building a bit of momentum and at a time when away fans are already having increased measures imposed on them there are people in the home areas that need to engage their brains as well.
If we get back to actual football now though, there was little there to cheer my mood either. The main reason Tony Mowbray has been able to justify keeping the new lads on the bench until the second half of games is the number of areas in the squad where we are well-stocked with like-for-like options. It has meant things can regularly be freshened up during matches, but after a tough week it seemed as if Sunderland were feeling a bit leggy and disjointed even with the picks that were made.
Few ideas seemed to come off going forward, whilst at the back Patterson had to be on high alert throughout the first half. Time and time again Cardiff seemed to find themselves through on goal, and a more confident side could have easily gone in ahead by the break.
Unable to keep hold of the ball and stem the tide though, Sunderland looked just as uneasy in the second half and I bet the Bluebirds couldn’t believe their luck – desperate for points and in a poor run of form, they were not tested nearly enough.
It surprises me because so far this season the Lads have done quite well in games where the expectation was high.
Most of the other teams to beat us have been up amongst the stronger sides of the division, and even then, they had to work extremely hard for it, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday – not that the players need me to tell them this.
You could tell by the fractious end how frustrated they were and signing off at home ahead of the World Cup in such a manner will sting.
The break seems to have been looming for some time and is nearly upon us now. It is not something I have been looking to, but it does offer the chance to take stock and maybe does come at the right time after all. The performance could have been very different had one or two others been available, and for the first time in a while it all appeared to be a bit flat; the possession enjoyed in the second half didn’t translate into enough meaningful attacks, and too many players had uncharacteristic off days.
There is of course a lot to be positive about regarding how the team has started life back in the Championship, and we are all aware that the season is going to have its up days and down days. Huddersfield Town was one of those ups, and Cardiff City was undoubtedly one of those that wasn’t – I mention the Huddersfield game though because the clean sheet secured that night was Sunderland’s sixth of the campaign, the same amount as was earned across the full season the last time we were at this level.
It is clear that we are already miles ahead of that 2017-18 effort in pretty much every respect, but one aspect that does share a similarity is the split between home and away form. Once again we are doing better on the road than we are at the Stadium of Light, and whilst that record is skewed slightly by the Millwall postponement it is still a little perplexing; I would have expected us to have picked up a few more points on Wearside, so a week off and then a trip to Birmingham City might not be a bad thing.
Regardless of what happens in the second city during our final pre-World Cup game though I think Sunderland will be set for a strong return come December. If we ignore the standard of officiating, most of the negatives we have encountered can be explained by two main factors – a shocking run of injuries and the whole Alex Neil saga. We’ve had to make do without some important and talented players, and to transition under Tony Mowbray so seamlessly in those circumstances is encouraging. It is easy to forget as well sometimes that we have a new head coach that is still to spend any real length of time with his men, and the World Cup will allow him a real go at that.
Stopping for an international tournament means that the injury list will impact fewer games than it would normally. It also gives the chance of players like Dennis Cirkin, Ellis Simms and Patrick Roberts the chance to wrap up their rehabilitation after being dropped back into the thick of the slog of fixtures. Get some more bodies back and allow the staff to work with the team and I think we will be just fine. The Cardiff match was miserable both on and off the field, and I’m not feeling best pleased with some sections of our support, but all is not lost – the squad has it in them to keep improving, and the good in Sunderland’s fan base will always come through.
My Man of the Match: Anthony Patterson – had less and less to do as the game wore on, but his superb penalty save and general play in first half kept Sunderland in it. He is well ahead of what you would expect from a keeper of his age and experience right now.