View from the Bridge: Sunderland need to up their effort; mentally and physically

Dick Advocaat
Dick Advocaat
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LET’S not mess about here. Sunderland need to up their effort; mentally and physically.

Their season is coughing up blood and their last game was appalling; trounced by mediocre opposition. Crystal Palace may have been in good form, but they are in the bottom half of a mediocre league and have now lost 12 games.

Their mediocrity was emphasised when they were outplayed by an equally mediocre West Brom on Saturday.

The lack of trepidation that Sunderland show when they play Newcastle is otherwise uncharacteristic, but it proves they can do it. So why do they usually play with such timidity against unremarkable sides like Palace, Villa and Hull among others?

Dick Advocaat said that his side lacks muscle. I can’t agree. His squad is as strong and fit as any other. They were certainly not out-muscled the last time they played Stoke. The problems are not physical.

At the Britannia they need to play Jermain Defoe in his best position, Jack Rodwell to start looking like a £10m player, concentrate better, not capitulate if Stoke score first, not allow opponents to settle, be aggressive (without being silly), hassle defenders and above all, use every joule of energy. Then they might have a chance.

Get into it. Rrrrrrrrrrr (ooh, it’s a manly column this week).

There are reasons to be positive without being unrealistic. Sunderland have done the business a few times this season; just nowhere near as often as they should.

We are well aware of the innumerable negatives too. But really, what’s the point of dwelling on them? It won’t help.

If it all goes wrong, the pessimists will be no less disappointed than the optimists. And if it all goes right they won’t be any happier.

A FRAUGHT atmosphere is not the exclusive preserve of Sunderland supporters at the moment. There isn’t much of a jamboree going on at the Sports Direct Arena either.

During the home defeat to Tottenham on Sunday, there was only one conversational topic in the North East’s fourth best stadium and it concerned Newcastle’s current manager, Jim Charver.

Will they be able to hang on to him? Can they match his terms? What mechanisms are in place to prevent Real Madrid from headhunting him? It’s a worry.

Happily for Newcastle, Charver’s much-maligned predecessor cobbled 26 points together in the first half of the season. They won’t be relegated.

The person subjected to most opprobrium during this latest malaise is the club’s big-hearted owner, Mike Ashley (don’t miss Channel 4’s Dispatches, Monday at 9pm to see the extent of his generosity).

Ungrateful cynics are suggesting that his interest in football doesn’t go beyond making as much cash as possible from it.

This has given the fans an excuse to not watch the dross on the pitch, while still claiming to be loyal. They call it a boycott.

Undeterred by the fact that boycotts never achieve anything, they still insist on staging them regularly.

With Napoleonic organisation skills, Sunday’s boycott saw the attendance plummet to – let’s see now – slightly less than the same fixture last season. It was a drop of 837 or 1.7 percent. That’s almost a pub full.

No, that was naughty of me. Those calculations were made from NUFC’s official attendance figures, compiled by the same people who brought us the Russian election results.

Organisers of the boycott are claiming success, but it is difficult to see an achievement because it changes nothing.

The stay-outs would have been better advised to simply get behind their team. Had the support been rather less lukewarm when Newcastle equalised, then who knows?

The idea is that Mr Ashley will be frightened by the sight of rows of empty seats into mending his ways and lobbing some money around.

Ian Wright seems to think that is the way forward, but feels Mr Ashley is using “emotional blackmail,” relying on the loyalty of the fans to fill the stadium.

Putting aside Mr Wright’s overestimation of how loyal Newcastle’s fans are when things are really bad; he has really missed the point.

In rough figures, gate receipts account for 15-20 per cent of revenue at a Premier League club. Television revenue between 2016 and 2019 will be over £5bn; a rise of 71 percent from the current deal.

This means that gate receipts will soon account for only 5-10 percent of revenue. So how much does Mr Ashley cares whether those supporters turn up or not?

Even if the crowds were reduced to zero, the maths might still not make Mike Ashley want to part with the enormous cost of turning Newcastle into a top six side.

If that’s what it took to win back the fans, then he would just do without them.

So what can be done by supporters that would bring about change? The question is relevant to fans at any Premier League club, because it could be them next.

The brutal answer is nothing. Newcastle fans are stuck with the situation until Mike Ashley either sells up or decides to act differently.

They can rally as big and as long a boycott as they like, stage sit-ins, write protest songs or smash up their own town (again). It won’t change anything.

Non-attendance might actually have an effect in the Championship where gate receipts matter more, but waiting for relegation before acting doesn’t seem a viable option either.

A boycott in the moneyed Premier League is merely better than doing nothing.

Even then it’s a close-run thing.