A great advert for walking football!
The cold? The crowd? The opposition? The lineup? The manager?
Regardless of what it lands on when you roll “The Excuse Dice”, there is no real justification for how flat everything about last night was. We spend the first 40 minutes walking around, playing sideways and backwards, only venturing forward to give the ball away and invite a counter-attack against us.
Aside from fleeting, isolated moments in the second half, Sunderland largely sauntered in possession like a team that had already won the league and were seeing off the “dead-rubbers”.
On the occasions this has happened in the past, it has largely been down to an apparent inferior opposition that has had no interest in taking part in a game of football. However, Huddersfield pressed us relatively high, offering us gaps to exploit - we just chose not to use it. Only when they went 2-1 up did they decide to sit in and hold out and when they did, we reverted to type in dominating possession but never really threatening.
Danny Collins mentioned a number of times in commentary that Tony Mowbray will be on the sides scratching his head. Some innovation and motivation had better appear under those fingernails because there are at least 12 points this season dropped as a result of our inability to break down teams we really should be beating.
Defenders were the best, and the worst for us...
Worryingly, our defenders were better at attacking than defending. Defensively we were fragile and not just from set pieces where we have been notoriously weak. A miscommunication between O’Nien and Patterson in the opening minutes should have seen Huddersfield ahead early doors, and there were another two good chances for the visitors on the first half highlights before Clarke’s free-kick. Both away goals could and should have been dealt with and whilst it is rare that our defenders come in for criticism, let's hope last night was an anomaly rather than a loss of confidence.
Perhaps a worse omen for our prospects is that the back four were also our best players in attack. The equaliser saw the ball travel from Hume, to Ballard, to Seelt and finally finished off by O’Nien with not a forward player in sight. Seelt, Ballard and Hume all had half-chances in the second half, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the midfield or forward lines - Jobe being the only possible exception.
Of course this season there has been a 3-1 victory for each of the nights like this, but those seem very far away today!
Stop Jack, Stop Sunderland
It’s clear that teams have worked us out now. Last year we were a bit of a surprise package, Clarke and Roberts were unplayable and just when teams thought they had it sussed a certain Amad Diallo would pop up and terrorise you all over again.
Roberts clearly has an Amad-shaped hole in his game currently that he needs to fill with something else equally as potent. Our inability currently to keep teams guessing has in turn given them something to focus on - Jack Clarke.
I’ve written previously about how much we rely on him and wondered just what trouble we would be in without him, and sadly those fears have come to fruition.
In preparing to line up against us, even the most novice of data analysts and coaches wouldn't need to dig particularly deep to notice just how much Clarke is our crutch and if you stop him, you can pretty much stop Sunderland. Every team now starts their game plan by doubling up on Jack, then building around that.
Only in those few moments of unplayable brilliance has he been able to turn our fortunes, and we should in no way expect him to be able to be able to do it week-in, week-out. The task for the manager is to find another way... More head-scratching to come no doubt.
November - Not the fireworks we were hoping for!
Five weeks ago I wrote the Talking Points following the Norwich win...
So ends a frustrating October for the Lads.
As we enter November back to winning ways, we can look forward to hosting Birmingham and Huddersfield, as well as trips to Swansea and Plymouth.
We have the opportunity to try and put another good run of results together as we look to become a little more wedded to a playoff spot. At the time of writing, we’ll be playing 13th, 14th, 19th and 21st respectively in November. For me that should be an undefeated run of games and 10 points to add to the tally, but with every other team outside of the top two so hit and miss with results, what would be an acceptable return for November?
It’s all a bit Groundhog Day isn't it?! In fact I take it back, as suggesting that implies that November hasn’t been worse than October, which it most certainly has. We looked forward following a tough run of fixtures to a month of fixtures to be optimistic about. Even the most pessimistic Sunderland fan would have anticipated a greater return than the meagre four points we managed to accrue.
The lads have left me, and many Sunderland fans, entering the Christmas period with egg(nog) on our faces and once again I’m asking myself “what’s next?”. Somehow we have managed to find ourselves still only four points off the playoffs despite having lost consecutive matches to relegation contenders (crazy right?!) With seven games to play in December, I dare not try and predict how many points we’ll get, from who, or where we will find ourselves in the league.