A sickening winner in a sickening season.
Tim Cahill. It always seemed to be Tim Cahill.
Sunderland had played well, they had dominated David Moyes’ Everton, but it was a season much like this one. Even when they played relatively well they were beaten, too short of quality. They ended in a miserable relegation just as this one will.
Everton had lost four in a row and played like it. At the last, however, a corner poorly defender, and there was Cahill, he was always there, to head home a winner via Gary Breen.
Cahill whose resilience, power, and quality reflected that plucky Goodison outfit, who always got the better of the Black Cats.
Cahill is Australian but one of those who you sense would be a prime role model for David Moyes’ brief for an influx of ‘British-type’ players who he wants to rebuild the club next season.
Sunderland fans are quite tired of hearing about the past when it comes to Moyes, and you can understand why. There has been barely a modicum of that Everton’s consistency, toughness, speed and creativity served up in 31 largely wretched games so far this season.
Such is the disillusionment with selection and signings this season that many have no faith anything will change this summer.
Those who are not yet advocating a change will be watching on with a raised eyebrow. More than ever, Sunderland’s transfer business must be coherent, encouraging, decisive and swift. It is at least something, in what feels like the worst of times, that a manager is likely to be able to attack the summer transfer window off a long run, rather than fighting fires and scrambling at the last.
On the face of it, ‘british-type players’ does not inspire much excitement.
After all, it comes just weeks after ‘Britishness’ was presented as a reason for going with a midfield three of Larsson, Gibson and Rodwell against Burnley. That was a clumsy turn of phrase that clouded the intended meaning, but it is quite clear that such a one-paced midfield must become a thing of the past this summer.
Needless to say, a club under pressure from fans lurching between boredom and anger cannot go back into the well of players on the cheap who have worked with the manager before. That would serve only to underline the perception of a regime stuck in the past, reaching for former glories no longer attainable.
There is something, unquestionably, in what Moyes is saying.
Jeremain Lens’ comments earlier in the season highlighted that too many players have passed through Wearside either unwilling or unable to settle. It is high time for that to come to an end.
The current squad has been too lethargic and an injection of young talent, particularly players who see landing a move to Sunderland as a coup for their career, would be most welcome.
Perhaps, too, Moyes feels he will have a greater chance of getting a response out of that profile of player.
Players who understand this region are critical. Even in this most tiresome campaign to watch the relationship between Jordan Pickford and the support blossom has been a joy. 11 of his ilk on the Stadium turf would transform the mood. The quality of passing would probably go up, too.
It all comes with a caveat, however.
The underlying assumption that the Championship remains the league of blood and thunder is probably misguided.
Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham, Reading, currently the league’s play-off contenders, are all sides who seek to control possession, dominate the game. When Sunderland have gone for stature, height, experience in their team this season, the result has been negative. It would not necessarily be different one tier below.
‘British-type’ players will only end the Black Cats malaise if they also correct the dearth of speed and creativity in the squad.
If David Moyes stays, as seems to be the case, this summer is the vital moment for him to show in his recruitment that he is not last year’s man.
If his side next season are resilient, battles, are Cahill-esque in their determination, the kind opposition fans hate to play, he can yet salvage his reputation on Wearside.
Sunderland’s last real ‘british-type’ side, that which finished seventh in the high watermark of Peter Reid’s reign, remain revered. A side not too disimilar to Moyes’ Everton in their power and pace.
It is always worth remembering, however, that Sunderland is a home not just for honesty, blood and thunder, but for flair and craft, too. The Clown Prince Shackleton, The King Charlie Hurley.
Sunderland must find that this summer. It is essential not just to make going to the game a pleasure again, but to actually succeed in the new look Championship.