View from the Bridge: Improvement is a must for Sunderland

Adam Johnson in action for Sunderland against Liverpool.
Adam Johnson in action for Sunderland against Liverpool.
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IT’S been four days now and I’m still annoyed. Sunderland lost to Manchester City on New Year’s Day, but there were no reasonable complaints about the performance. Defeat to Liverpool can usually be similarly taken on the chin. But not this time.

IT’S been four days now and I’m still annoyed. Sunderland lost to Manchester City on New Year’s Day, but there were no reasonable complaints about the performance. Defeat to Liverpool can usually be similarly taken on the chin. But not this time.

Liverpool were no more than decent in the first 45 minutes and not half as good as that in the latter – but it was enough.

The first half from Sunderland was as bad as their second against Hull City. Nor can it be claimed that Liverpool enjoyed the deluge of dumb luck that Hull enjoyed.

Simple, accurate passes to someone wearing the same colour seemed beyond them. Not nearly enough was done to test a goalkeeper known to be short on confidence. There was very little passion or guile and certain players looked out of their depth against useful, but unremarkable opponents.

Perhaps provoked into a response by a sense of injustice following the erroneous dismissal of Liam Bridcutt, they burst into life in the second period. But they failed to score. Hoodathunkit?

Activity off the field did not help the cause either.

For the first time in 10 weeks, Sunderland had the opportunity to indulge in the rare luxury of playing a left-back at left-back and, imagine this, a right-back at right-back. For some reason, the right-back was confined to the bench to accommodate the third-choice and out-of-form centre-back.

Then there were the substitutions.

Everyone knows that even on a bad day, Adam Johnson might just score or create a goal (he is top scorer).

As it happens, Johnson was easily Sunderland’s most dangerous player on Saturday. Liverpool must have been delighted when he was replaced in the 86th minute by Mikael Mandron, whose previous league appearance was 10 months ago as a substitute for Fleetwood Town.

Jordi Gomez was an astute signing and has Premier League talent. But everyone has off-days and against Liverpool he had his worst game yet for Sunderland. He was just awful but was not substituted.

Among the unused substitutes was Ricky Álvarez; so far an enigmatic player in that he has failed to impress when he has started a game.

However, he has been a real handful when appearing as a substitute, not least in his previous league game when he gave Manchester City some problems. He never made the pitch against Liverpool, despite their well-documented defensive frailties.

Such is the much-of-a-muchness in the bottom half of the league, this Sunday evening could see Sunderland anywhere between 12th and rock bottom; right in the U-bend.

Stranger things have happened, but no one is diverting much hope into this weekend’s game at Tottenham. The fixture is nowhere near as important as any of Sunderland’s remaining home games, but a positive showing down there could be hugely beneficial.

The supporters would forgive a failure to win if the performance atoned; as it did at Manchester City. Against Liverpool and Hull, this was not the case.

Gus Poyet has, overall, done a good job at Sunderland and only the screamier, less rational type of fan would disagree.

But it’s hardly been perfect and days like Saturday can only siphon the good will. An already disappointing season is deteriorating further.

No one expects miracles, although we would be happy to see one. Improvement does not need to be spectacular – steady will suffice.

SINCE writing the opening section, I have had a cup of tea with several fig rolls – and I am still annoyed.

When Liverpool scored on Saturday, a number of people within my vicinity leapt for joy. This would honestly not have bothered me had the people in question been of a Scouse persuasion, but they were from Sunderland. Not only that, some of them were working class.

For the benefit of people who have betrayed their own team to “support” Liverpool, Manchester United and the like, here is a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to attach to your fridge door.

H You aren’t a proper football supporter.

H You don’t have the same passion for “your” team as a real fan.

H You free to “support” anyone and are entitled to your opinion; but no one respects it or is interested.

H When you sit with the home fans, you are there under false pretences as you have contravened the terms and conditions you agreed to when you purchased your tickets. You lied when you bought them.

H SAFC is more interested in safety and the law than your money.

H “Supporters” in the wrong section can be grassed up to a steward and chucked out; deservedly so. Regardless of how much you paid for your tickets or the ages of people in your party, the rest of us reserve the right to laugh and point at your ejection. It’s your own fault.

H You can’t stay in the stadium because “It’s only me and my seven-year-old son.” If you are allowed to stay, then what do the stewards say to the dozen beer-pigs who are also in the wrong part of the ground? Also remember that YOU put yourself and your child in danger.

H There is no acceptable excuse for “supporting” the team you claim as “yours.” You only “support” them because they’re good.

H There are Sunderland supporters who are not from this area. This is different as unlike you they are not glory hunters. Clearly.

H “I’ve supported Liverpool for 40 years” just means that you have been glory hunting for 40 years. It still doesn’t qualify you as a real fan.

H Liverpool fans from Liverpool, Manchester United fans from Manchester etc. are exempt from this criticism.

H We like peace and harmony, but when someone takes exception to your egregious presence in the home section, it is rather difficult for the rest of us to sympathise.

H It would be harsh to say that if you are a Sunderland fan, but your child follows another team, then you are a bad parent. But you are.

Hope this helps. There is no need to thank me.

I HAVE now had another cup of tea and finished off the fig rolls, so I feel infinitesimally less annoyed.

Another reason for my marginally improved mood is the comment of Liverpool’s bargain-buy striker Mario Balotelli.

The bone-idle Italian said of Sunderland: “This is the ******* coldest city I’ve ever ******* played in.” His English is really coming along.

The comment filled me with a peculiar sense of civic pride. Hours after he gave the quote, it had become colder and stormier, yet the taxi ranks of Wearside were infused with young ladies, disporting themselves in sparkly crop-tops, forgoing the recommended Inuit thermals in favour of merely folding their arms. Proper women.

Mario’s arrival at Anfield has possibly not been the unfettered success it had been hoped. He will have to come up with a better excuse than the shock news that Sunderland in January can become somewhat chilly. His Premier League goals tally for this season sees him level with Jozy Altidore, Costel Pantilimon and me.

When he signed for Liverpool in August, the club’s supporters could not believe that they had landed him for £16m.

They still can’t, but for entirely different reasons.

REGULAR readers will be aware that this column has kept an eye on the career of Andre Marriner, following his inexplicable decision some years ago to become a referee.

This week I glanced at a headline saying that the former official Keith Hackett, thinks four current Premier League refs should be sacked.

I never did get round to actually reading the article, but if anyone can tell us who the other three are, we would be grateful.

IT seems that everyone in the country has an opinion on Ched Evans.

There is no law preventing Roy of the Rapists from playing football again. The issue of whether or not a club should afford him the opportunity is one you will have your own view upon.

Separate from that is the – to be frank – ignorance and stupidity with which some people have spoken of the case.

About the only sphere in which newspapers cannot be accused of lying, twisting and opinionating is court reporting. Using something called absolute privilege and taking scrupulous care to report only what was said in court, they do just that. We’re talking about every UK newspaper here.

However, this does not prevent some extremely cavalier gossip in radio phone-ins, message boards and around pub tables regarding the actual crime and the actions of both victim and perpetrator.

You will have heard people say: “Well I don’t reckon he did it” and that the jury must have been a bit thick.

This would be the jury that listened to evidence for eight days, then deliberated for five hours before deciding – unanimously – upon a guilty verdict; a verdict that must be “beyond reasonable doubt” rather than the bloke in the dock looking a-bit-funny-if-you-ask-me.

Obviously, people whose hobby is spouting off on message boards are better informed.

An appeal against the verdict was refused by a single judge at the Court of Appeal, then again by a trio of judges. That makes it five judges and 12 jurors whose opinions are being dismissed by experts in pubs who “have their doubts” about the victim, who has been accused of “attention seeking.”

She has apparently sought attention by hiding, changing her identity and using her legal right to lifelong anonymity.

Knowing little does not necessarily stem opinion; particularly in football. Listening to the football community discussing a criminal trial and conviction has felt rather like watching Loose Women to keep up to speed on Islamic fundamentalism or quantitive easing.

Mark Lawrenson, who seems to think that the football authorities can lay down the law of the land as well as the laws of the game, was among those making the unwise decision to speak.

He said: “Sometimes you think ‘Is he (Evans) a victim as well?’” Speak for yourself Mark.

Gordon Taylor of the PFA and evidently a leading legal mind, compared the Evans “injustice” to that of the Hillsborough victims. Nice touch that.

Then there was Steve Bruce QC, who said: “When you look at the evidence, it is there for appeal.

“When you look at the case and the evidence then certainly Ched has got a case.”

Perhaps Steve formed his opinion by looking at the strictly impartial Ched Evans website, set up by his girlfriend’s rich father. Maybe he overheard someone on a bus saying that the jury was wrong.

How much credence you attach to the views of a man who has been claiming for years that he was sacked at Sunderland for being a Geordie, is entirely a matter for you dear reader.

Public debate is healthy but in this case, opinion based on supposition, hearsay and outright misinformation is being given an equal footing to that of eminently qualified and informed people.

The most relevant point is that, according to the law, Ched Evans is a convicted rapist and no amount of rank amateur debaters saying that it’s all wrong is any match for this.

A final hint to Lawrenson, Taylor, Bruce and the like comes from Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Next week, a discussion on binomial expansion – with Robbie Savage.