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Harrogate v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly

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Playing the gamesmanship

After our stunning win away at Wigan, are we happy to use every trick in the book to see games out?

gaming the system
| Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Whichever way you look at it, last Saturday was a cracking performance from front to back of the team.

To score three but and keep a clean sheet against a form side away from home was so typically Sunderland after the performances in the previous five games but it also threw up another challenge.

When the lads are winning just how far should they go to see out the closing minutes? I only say this because how many times have we been frustrated this season by the antics of the opposition when they want to hear the final whistle.

You know what I mean. Not the gamesmanship that we would expect. The slow walk to collect the ball for a goal kick and then the sudden decisions to move the ball from one side of the six yard box to the other.

The inability to catch a football thrown back to them for the throw in or the decision that now might be the time for the right back to stroll 50 yards to take it.

No, if you’re winning you don’t need to be rushing around to speed the game up.

Wycombe Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

What I know from the reactions of many of the supporters around me never fails to generate real and genuine anger is the decision by a player to roll around like they have been in a 50-50 with Joe Bolton or John Kay (sorry to our younger fans), when they brushed past a Sunderland player in the final 10 minutes.

Or (my personal bugbear) a player suddenly collapsing after running 20 yards and shooting wide having developed a mystery leg injury which necessitates two physios on the pitch before the player is helped off then sprints back into the action.

I suppose the question I want to ask is when does good game management turn into unsportsmanlike behaviour?

To be clear I desperately want Sunderland to see games out, there have been too many times when we have concede at the death - Wycombe being a case in point – to throw away points. But I don’t want those efforts to be such that I leave thinking that the win was marred by some of the gamesmanship used to achieve it.

Defenders know that if there is contact in the penalty area the likelihood is that the forward will hit the deck, it is part of the game. What isn’t is the forward who throws themselves to the floor with a defender no closer than two feet away – it’s quite simply cheating.

Yes very sadly, and through gritted teeth, I will admit I would now be classed as an older fan, and yes I appreciate that we can’t go back to the good old days. In fact, I would not want to. I love the way football has developed although thankfully we have yet to have VAR week in week out.

But I just hope that as we build on the momentum of our win last weekend we can see games out and run down the clock without resorting to the amateur dramatics.


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