Blazed over the Ba!
The Under 21s lined up against Arsenal earlier in the week with Beale, Speakman et al in attendance to see Mayenda, Rusyn, Hemir and Burstow all starting! We followed with more intrigue than normal for academy football thinking it might give us a bit of insight as to the approach the new Head Coach might take.
By 2pm it was clear he must have absolutely hated what he saw as the team sheet came out with Hemir ruled out through illness and the other three on the bench.
Abdoullah Ba was the man to lead the line which in itself is not an “eyebrow-raiser”. Ba played in that position many times for Mowbray, and ironically it wasn't the first time this season we have seen him blaze the ball over the bar when it’s harder to miss... but why have four strikers out on the pitch for the academy just to afford them a total of 19 minutes combined on Saturday?
The striker question is not a new one, it's been repeated every week since Ross Stewart went down injured against Fulham. It’s now the responsibility of a new man to try and answer the impossible conundrum.
Injury Krampus strikes again
Regardless of your opinion on the match, spare a thought and some Christmas goodwill to Luke O’Nien and in particular Niall Huggins. At the time of writing it remains to be seen what is up with the captain, or indeed how whatever happened, happened.
Huggins’ injury on the other hand looked a horrific one. Watching it on the TV it looked like it could have been a dislocated ankle, a broken leg, an ACL tear, or a combination of the three. Having just been fortunate to have a run in the team following injury to Dennis Cirkin, we were starting to see just how much of an asset he can be to the Sunderland side and it’s a damn shame to see him forced back out of the fold.
No player goes off in a stretcher and oxygen and returns in a few weeks so it’ll be a long time until we see Huggins in a Sunderland shirt again. I’m sure you’d all join me in wishing him a speedy full recovery.
Some of the reaction has been perhaps a little over the top. All the stats point to a game we controlled in large parts and should have won. Possession... Chances Created... xG... all points to a game that should not have ended in a 3-0 defeat.
But alas, football is not played on paper and results are not determined by stats (aside from ‘goals scored’ of course), but it wasn't the abject performance many are putting it up to be.
For the first 20 minutes of both halves we dominated but ended up with nothing to show for it - and not for the first time this season.
The game was about those sliding doors moments that I believe would have seen a more positive result if they had gone the other way. If Ba scores... if O’Nien had managed to stay on his feet... if Clarke hadn’t gone straight at the keeper... if Patto hadn’t spilled that low cross... this was a match of moments, not 90 minutes of abysmal performance.
And yet some would lead you to believe this was one of the worst performances of the last 5 years... that in itself is nonsense, but with the context of a week where we saw an unpopular managerial appointment, and Newcastle perceived to be allowed to take over the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup, it’s become a perfect storm.
What that doesn’t excuse is the embarrassing behaviour of some of our fans. I would never do it personally, but I’ve no problem with fans leaving early. They’ve paid for their ticket and are entitled to watch as much or as little of the game as they wish. However, what I cannot condone is the embarrassing behaviour of some of those as they left, and some of those who chose to stay.
And while we are on the subject...
Some fans have quite a bit of growing up to do
If you booed before the game, if you ironically cheered as Ba was substituted off, if you sang “There’s only one Tony Mowbray” with the Coventry fans... I’m addressing you specifically.
I do wonder at times whether small sections of our local support forget just how much of an impact we can have on the players. It sounded as negative as I’ve heard the Stadium of Light since we were mid-table in League One. We should pride ourselves on being able to lift the players and drag them off their knees when times are tough. Instead, many chose the opposite attitude because they have yet to pick up their toys.
Some choose to live in an alternative universe, booing before the game in “protest” to Beale’s appointment, booing at half time after a half we largely were in control of, booing again as the second goal went in against the run in play. Your boos again rang around when he came out of the dugout to make the substitutions, and your ironic cheers will live long in the memory of a young man constantly moved from pillar to post position-wise and struggling to find form... So, shame on you.
What on earth are these people hoping to achieve? When Coventry’s second goal went in I saw something I haven’t seen in a long time. Amongst the boos and the 1000’s leaving the ground, I didn’t see a group of players looking to pick each other up and keep going in the face of adversity. I saw a group of players with their hands on their knees, heads down, dejected and giving up, and whilst some of that may be down to the scoreline, make no mistake about it - the toxicity will have played a large part in it.
The young lads in this squad have largely had things go right for them the last 18 months and have seen the very best of the Sunderland fans. At our best, there is no better place to play football than the Stadium of Light and they will have reveled and grown in every moment of it. However, at our worst, we are shambolic and they will likely be questioning their motivation after experiencing what they have.
We laugh and mock Newcastle fans at their protests against Mike Ashley, their meltdowns over Steve Bruce and the catastrophic reactions the moment the slightest thing goes wrong but in truth, some of our lot are no different.