Tony Gillan column: I hope tales of Sunderland players refusing to play aren’t true

Sunderland's Javier Manquillo celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge.
Sunderland's Javier Manquillo celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge.
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Sunderland left-back Bryan Oviedo looks a good signing.

He is not equal to his predecessor Patrick van Aanholt in attack, but is clearly the better defender, which is the main job of a full-back. David Moyes deserves credit for buying him.

Moyes can also claim benefit of the doubt for signing Victor Anichebe. Anichebe was not a roaring success, but we can see why he was recruited. The transfer window was closed and he was the best that could be expected under the circumstances.

But from hereon I struggle to defend the erstwhile manager of Sunderland AFC. In all seriousness I ask: what else did he do right?

His final game was fairly representative and entirely congruous with the rest of 2016-17. Just because it was the last game of the season did not mean that standards would be allowed to rise.

As ever, team selection was rather difficult to explain. First there was the reintroduction of the discernibly uninterested Adnan Januzaj, whose “contribution” was precisely as expected and saw him oxtercogged after an hour.

Mercifully he will never be seen in a Sunderland shirt again. Based on his “efforts” since August, it isn’t obvious who else would want him.

The three centre-back formation worked reasonably well at Arsenal and was therefore continued. But one of them was a right-back while another was Joleon Lescott, who cemented the reputation he has among fans of Aston Villa and AEK Athens.

It got weirder. Late in the game Sunderland made their final substitution. They had the option of giving a short Premier League run-out to one of three teenagers on the bench; thereby giving a morale boost to somebody.

They opted instead to play Darron Gibson (????????); an inspired move that helped limit Chelsea to just the two goals in added time.

This column has regularly queried team selections and substitutions at Sunderland. Feel free to take issue with anything I have written; but be aware that the league table agrees with me.

So does Sunday’s result. It should be stressed that Chelsea have scudded better sides than Sunderland. But 5-1 to a team that wasn’t really trying tells its own story; however good Antonio Conte’s squad is.

Nevertheless, Stamford Bridge was the venue for the best moment of Sunderland’s season. Its end.

Bad decisions and bad signings, but also bad attitudes and some bad luck have all contributed to a disgraceful nine months at SAFC.

Sunderland were hamstrung as soon as Joe Hart spilled Iceland’s scruffy winner against England at last year’s Euros. You will all be familiar with the butterfly effects of that.

It led indirectly to a weakened Sunderland squad. But that excuse only goes so far – no matter how many times you make it.

It never explained the dross that WAS signed; or the eccentric team selections.

Six wins, no home wins since December, no cup run, only 14 goals not scored by people not called Defoe, unremarkable rivals miles ahead, the same mistakes made repeatedly, huge debt, incessant negativity and dreadful, dreadful football.

A succinct verdict of this column as to Sunderland’s season is as follows: “Room for improvement.”

There. Never let it be said that this newspaper is scared to court controversy.

The statement after a mere two games that his team was in a relegation battle is likely to be Moyes’ defining moment at Sunderland.

No one was under any illusions. But Sunderland had ended the previous season with just one defeat in 11 games. The atmosphere at the home win over Chelsea last year was as passionate, loud and exhilarating as any in world football.

A lethal injection of negativity, just 106 days later, consigned it to memory.

The sarcastic suggestion of: “Oh, so he should have said he was going to win the league” is almost too stupid to respond to. Let’s just say that realism and maudlin pessimism are not interchangeable terms.

Still, there is no need for any personal animus towards Moyes.

Last week I said that his resignation “would be the honourable, responsible course and one that even his most ardent critic should respect; admire even.”

I stand by that, particularly in light of his departure without apparently a penny in pay-off, when he could have manipulated the sack and the presumed millions that would have accompanied it.

And never let it be said that everything is his fault. He inherited many difficulties and to blame him for everything is as ludicrous as blaming him for nothing.

The list of the culpable is a protracted one and the story behind it long, complex and for another day.

Moyes has gone now, so let us turn our attention to the players. Even the least talented member of any squad is wholly exonerated if he has truly done his best.

However, stories circulate from Micky Gray among others of feigned injuries or blank refusal to play; hence the selection of Lescott.

If true, then Sunderland fans, not to mention the people recently made redundant by the club, are entitled to be sickened to the pits of their stomachs.

Refusing to play is beneath contempt; whatever the (perceived) grievance.

I hope the tales aren’t true. If they are then the club’s bowels should be divested of such people as soon as possible. Ghastly little men.

The problem these “professionals” now face is that successful clubs tend to eschew players whose only motivations appear to be greed and undiluted self-interest. Who would need them?

I wanted David Moyes to leave but am able to wish him well. I am unable to do the same for spineless, cash-worshipping charlatans. What they did will not be forgotten.