THE positives outweighed the negatives for Sunderland on Sunday.
They took a creditable point from a tough Everton side. While certain parties would have us believe that this was entirely attributable to fortuitously poor refereeing, it isn’t true.
The back five performed admirably, even with two out-of-position players as full-backs. Steven Fletcher caused problems, Sebastian Larsson scored a fine goal in a hugely creditable display and Liam Bridcutt was excellent against some illustrious opposition.
Gus Poyet did most things right. Actually, even in the darker days of recent weeks he has done most things right. He certainly never instructed any of his players to go out and make a string of absurd individual errors against Southampton and Arsenal.
But you know this is leading up to a complaint. Why not? It’s easier than praise.
Why does Adam Johnson always get the hook?
Every player should know, whoever they are, that they can be dropped, rested or substituted. But in Johnson’s case we have to wonder why it happens so often.
On Sunday he was taken off with almost a third of the game remaining. He had been OK, not remarkable; and a few boos at the change notwithstanding, it was what the home crowd has come to expect. But why?
When Johnson is on form, he can be unplayable. Although notably inconsistent, even on a quiet day he can and regularly does produce something that gains points.
Last season he scored 10 goals from the wing and made a string of assists (we don’t know exactly how many and can’t be bothered to look at any website that is boring enough to tell us).
He did not feature at all at Crystal Palace, although this may be vindicated by the result. But he was replaced on 74 minutes against Arsenal with the score at 1-0. We will never know what he would have done had he remained on the pitch, but that is entirely the point.
He was replaced that day by Jozy Altidore. By way of contrast we knew exactly what he would do – and he did.
Johnson can play either wing, so when he is not on the field at the moment it means that a place is being taken at his expense by either Connor Wickham or Will Buckley.
Wickham is not a wide player. He really ought to occupy either the centre forward position – or the bench.
He played the full game against Everton and wasn’t bad. But he did concede the penalty and again did not show enough interest in retrieving the ball whenever he lost it. Against Southampton, Arsenal and Palace he was just awful.
Buckley has his uses and deserves a chance. But I can’t help but think that the best use of him is to appear as a sub with 20 or so minutes remaining to run against tired legs.
This was what Poyet tried to do with him against Everton and he won the free kick that led to Larsson’s goal. But, why did he have to replace Sunderland’s most naturally gifted player?
In reiteration, if the manager feels that Adam Johnson being substituted or not starting is what is best for the club, then he should do it.
But it isn’t a rule.
THERE have been worse weekends for Sunderland.
They earned a point against a club they have only beaten twice in the past 13 years. It was a solid performance and other results went mainly as hoped for. Four points from the two most recent fixtures is a return that most would have happily accepted before they were played.
It is pleasant to return home from a match in a decent mood. No one wants to resort yet again to watching Sweep singing Nessun Dorma on YouTube because it is the only thing that can cheer you up.
Sunderland have even had some good luck.
Crystal Palace should have had a penalty last Monday. On a day other than Sunday, Jordi Gomez might have been dismissed for a second yellow, while Connor Wickham should definitely have walked.
It is to be hoped, for the repose of their souls, that the Sunderland players are racked with guilt. They should at least feel as bad as Everton did three years ago when Howard Webb awarded them a penalty before the South Stand because Leon Osman had tripped over his own bunion.
So how did the insanely overpaid “experts” we pay for at the BBC see things?
The second yellow that James McCarthy might have collected for a cynical foul on Steven Fletcher was not up for discussion. So Alan Shearer took his turn to be wrong when he punditised upon Gomez’s challenge on Gareth Barry.
He said: “It should have been a red card. It’s reckless, it’s over the top, it’s late” (those of you who remember Shearer as a player may wish to lower your eyebrows).
Intent does not come into it, but for what it’s worth, there was none. Gomez was certainly clumsy and deserving of the yellow he received. Barry was most unfortunate and we wish him well (we shall even overlook his own misdemeanours from the past).
The previous week, Shearer saw Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko insert a proper old lunge on Liverpool’s Joe Allen at the Sports Direct Arena, which was more reckless, way, way over the top and even later. Alan gave a little titter at this, but seemed to imagine that the ensuing yellow card was about right.
Sitting next to Shearer on the Match of the Day Two was Martin Keown, who offered his opinion on Tim Howard, when the keeper protected the ball by performing what was known as a “belly flopper” in the heyday of High Street public baths.
Keown said: “He lies on the ball. For me that’s a free kick.”
So far so good, but why a free kick? The laws demand an indirect free kick against a player who “impedes the progress of an opponent” – commonly referred to as “obstruction.”
But Keown reckoned it was “ungentlemanly conduct” because “it’s not fair to do so.”
It’s a shame that the BBC can’t run competitions any more, because they could award a prize to the lucky viewer who could guess what on earth Martin was blithering about.
The Howard obstruction was no better covered by BBC Radio. Match commentator Conor McNamara lost the raffle and had to sit with the verbally incontinent Mark “Absolutely” Lawrenson for the afternoon. The two shared the following:
Conor McNamara: “If an outfield player, under pressure like that, dives on the ball and lies on it with his stomach; you can’t do that.”
Mark Lawrenson: “No that’s fine.”
ML: “Yeah, yeah.”
ML: “No. I actually think he’s all right. He’s just shielding the ball. That’s absolutely (what else) fine.”
I suspect even Lawrenson realised he was wrong. Absolutely wrong. Not that he was about to admit it.
We don’t expect pundits to be particularly good at their jobs. They were in especially bad form over the weekend, but these lazy errors are regular. At the very least they should know the laws of the game (more about that coming up).
We are also aware that the BBC is not the only medium to award silly salaries to people who – other than the fact that they used to play the game – are nonentities. Few of these people are articulate and rarely do they offer the viewers and listeners something that they had not thought of for themselves.
We pick on the BBC more because we are forced to pay the stupidly high wages of these easily replaceable burblers.
WE can hardly comment upon incompetent broadcasting at the Corporation without mentioning Alan Green. It would be like discussing highwaymen without mentioning Dick Turpin.
Regular readers of this column will be aware of the affectionate tributes we have paid over the years to the egomaniacal ranter and the sermons he passes off as commentaries.
Fortunately for the fat-headed Ulsterman, he is blessed with an inability to ever realise he is wrong.
During a 2012 FA Cup semi-final, he famously screamed that Chelsea’s Petr Cech should have been sent off for denying Tottenham’s Emanuel Adebayor a goalscoring opportunity. As Gareth Bale then followed in to score, the referee could not show a red card.
He said during the 2013 League Cup final that the referee should not have sent off Bradford’s goalkeeper – also for denying a goalscoring opportunity – because Swansea were already 3-0 up. This is not a joke.
Those are just a couple of highlights in Alan’s long and distinguished career in talking drivel. He struck again on Saturday near the end of the Liverpool-Chelsea game, when he decreed (wrongly) that the referee had added on too much time, but “explained” why.
He said: “Strictly speaking, all substitutions should lead to 30 minutes of added time.”
Overlooking the slip of the overused tongue, the statement only served to further prove the man’s ignorance.
Law seven of the game says simply: “The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee.”
Nowhere in the laws does it mention anything about 30 seconds being the mandatory plonk-on for a substitution. Someone made it up in the pub once and people believe it. One of those people is supposedly a professional football commentator who passes on this complete banana oil as fact.
Reader; he doesn’t know the rules.
No one is infallible. This very column has been wrong once or twice. Oh all right then, twice.
But we have never been wrong about the abysmal Alan Green.
WE do not criticise BBC pundits and commentators because we enjoy it. We do enjoy it, but that is incidental.
Limpet-like on this theme, on Monday evening Steve Claridge came out with something we all enjoy; myths about Tottenham Hotspur.
Every now and again, the deluded Londoners have a bad string of results that the rest of us are supposed to care about, but don’t. It is happening now with a home defeat to Stoke being the latest setback.
As usual, the club’s whingey fans have not helped and the striker Emmanuel Adabayor has criticised them, saying: “It might be better to play away at the moment.”
Steve was having none of that and told Five Live listeners: “They are fantastic fans. You look at the numbers they travel in.
“The difference with Tottenham (supporters) – and you can probably put them in the same category as West Ham – it isn’t just about winning. There’s a particular style, a particular way that they like to play.”
Oh dear. He really did say that too.
He did not then say: “Blah-de-blah, waffle, waffle, cliché, cliché, more waffle,” but it would have been a worthy addition.
At Tottenham and West Ham, they cheer when and because they have won; a bit like everyone else. So please spare us.