Dodgy refs and low-cunning opposition aren't all to blame - Sunderland are too cautious and timid
Ah, we remember Lee Probert.
In April 2010, he refereed Sunderland’s 1-0 win at Hull City. In the 50th minute, Sunderland full-back Alan Hutton mischievously bounced the ball off the back of the head of Jozy Altidore; Hull’s emerging superstar of the day.
For more than one reason, there was no chance that Hutton had inflicted brain damage on Altidore. Yet he was sent off anyway for supposed violent conduct (no law in football makes specific reference to “acting the goat”).
Mr Probert had done nothing particularly wrong in Sunderland games since, but made up for lost time during their draw with Luton Town on Saturday; not least with the Chris Maguire red card for an imaginary stamp on the “combative” Alan McCormack.
The opposition also failed to endear. Of the corresponding fixture at Kenilworth Road last August, this column said: “They (Luton) weren’t sublimely skilful, but played to their mainly physical strengths.”
This opinion was ratified four days ago by Danny Hylton’s assault on Jack Baldwin; which was missed by the cameras. Not so by everyone in the East Stand and at least Mr Probert called that one correctly.
The last we had heard of penalty scorer James Collins was when he was photographed at the Cheltenham Festival, urinating into a glass before pouring out the contents from a balcony.
This urbane charm is yet to desert him. Having converted his ill-gotten spot kick, he was far more interested in antagonising the home supporters than in celebrating with his own. Luton’s impressive following deserved better.
But it’s done. Sunderland must forget it all and concentrate on themselves. Annoying though it is to see what the likes of Luton get away with (they certainly aren’t alone in wasting time with complete impunity), as well as bad officials, sometimes it has to be endured.
It isn’t as though Sunderland haven’t benefitted from dodgy decisions themselves; such as that disallowed effort from Bradford City that clearly crossed the line on Boxing Day.
Referees and low cunning from the opposition aren’t to blame for everything. Sunderland invite trouble by being unadventurous.
They sit third in the league with only two defeats. The obvious problem is the 10 draws: the most in the league. This stems from too few goals – despite their having scored in every game – and over-cautiousness when taking the lead.
They have only taken that all-important two-goal lead once in their last 10 league games.
Over-caution cost two points against Luton. The move for the equaliser began when Maguire won the ball. He then looked up to see which team mates were ahead of him. Despite being in the centre of his own half, there were none.
He consequently held the ball for too long and was dispossessed/fouled by McCormack, which led to Collins’ fall being rewarded with the penalty.
No shortage of misfortune there. However, had Sunderland left someone upfield, not only would they have been more likely to score a second, they would also have an outlet when trying to defend.
It’s the same flawed thinking that leads all 11 players back to defend set-pieces. It makes no sense either defensively or offensively.
So please lads. Play on the front foot. This doesn’t mean throwing everyone and his wife into the opposition half. It just means a little more derring do, keeping the ball on the ground and less timidity.
In a league where Luton Town are about as good as it gets; why are Sunderland so nervous?