It was not a defining moment in Sunderland’s season so far.
But the introduction of Billy Jones with four minutes remaining at West Ham was somehow symptomatic.
Jones, a defender, replaced Wahbi Khazri, a midfielder. This was to shore up the back line with the entirely reasonable aim of clasping to a goalless draw. I am unable to offer any further elucidation on the thinking behind the substitution.
The mystery? Billy Jones is a full-back, but neither full-back in Sunderland’s defence was withdrawn or relocated. Was Jones supposed to be a third centre-back? If so, why was he played ahead of Papy Djilobodji, a centre-back by trade who had played reasonably well the previous week?
This isn’t wisdom after the event (and Jones was not at fault for the goal). His introduction would have been no less puzzling had Sunderland won.
But this relatively trivial incident makes us think of a wider and more important question. Has David Moyes done anything right since arriving at Sunderland?
It grates to even ask the question. I have no intention of joining with the screamier element who think the man is a lost cause. And only the helplessly stupid would blame him for everything. Nevertheless, we can only fervently hope that his plans will somehow come good.
It was bewildering to hear him declare, after two games, that a relegation battle would ensue. Disregard the obvious truth of his statement; no one was deluding themselves; how could it boost morale for anyone except other clubs?
More important though are his signings. They may yet blossom, but this seems less likely by the week.
Djilobodji has been hit and miss. He can be a fine defender if he eradicates the lapses in concentration. However, as concentration has arguably been Sunderland’s biggest on-field failing this season, this is not what we want to hear. Furthermore, at almost 28 he is unlikely to notably improve.
Paddy McNair has done little of note. As for Donald Love... oh dear.
I don’t intend cruelty and it should be remembered before dismissing him that he has only played two full Premier League games in his career so far. However, on Saturday it was noticeable that he was unable to even make the bench at a club where the treatment room currently resembles something from the Book of Revelation.
Didier N’Dong hasn’t looked bad, but he hasn’t looked terrific either. He’s neat and tidy, but neatness and tidiness are not the foremost requirements if Sunderland are to shovel their way out of the clarts yet again. It appears that £13.6m has been spent on the new Paul Thirlwell.
Those four are Moyes’ only recruits with transfer fees attached to them and they total £27m. Not much of this was recouped in sales, so Sunderland’s net spend was the summer’s 10th highest in the Premier League.
As an aside, SAFC have a minimum £139m debt and this is only up to July 31, 2015. Other signings since then include Borini, Kirchhoff, Koné and Khazri; before we even contemplate the wage bill. So a bit less gibberish about “penny pinching” would be appreciated by those of us who have thought about it for more than eight seconds.
But back to Moyes. We couldn’t quibble too much about his recruitment of Mika, Pienaar or the three loan players. But the Victor Anichebe has, regrettably, all the attributes of a player whose time at the club will be considered a hoot – one day.
The Twitter Laureate was deemed unworthy of continued employment at West Brom and has not scored for 17 months. In a poll in the Birmingham Mail, 91 per cent did not want him to be offered a new contract (51 per cent wanted to keep Stephane Sessègnon, who was also released).
Anichebe’s signing was one of pure desperation and so far it has shown. Aside of his failure in the West Midlands, he has been at Sunderland for eight weeks now and looks no fitter than when he arrived.
Why was he so unfit in the first place? True, he was without a club, but as a professional athlete shouldn’t he have been training anyway? Where was he between leaving West Brom and joining Sunderland? Some of the less generous wags have suggested Greggs.
In Moyes’ defence his injury list is terrible and he had less than half a transfer window. He never instructs his players to not defend set-pieces, or to routinely squander possession. They must take responsibility for this.
Managers don’t suddenly become inept. Also note that Manchester United have failed to improve since he left them.
It took Sam Allardyce a while to turn Sunderland into a team and he made a few errors along the way. Dame N’Doye and Danny Graham on the wing spring to mind.
Other than that the most positive thing I can say is as follows.
You never know.