SUNDERLAND need to do two things to remain in the Premier League – and neither is asking very much.
The first is to play reasonably well; not brilliantly or spectacularly well, just reasonably well.
It would be splendid if all the players performed at their best. But based on what we have seen this season, “reasonably well” is the limit of our aspirations between now and May 24.Tony Gillan
It is unlikely that in years to come you and your friends will indulge in dewy-eyed reminiscences, along the lines of: “Eeee, do you remember the time we played reasonably well? What a day that was.”
But the current reality is that nothing better should be expected in the last 10 games.
It would be splendid if all the players performed at their best. But based on what we have seen this season, “reasonably well” is the limit of our aspirations between now and May 24.
Sunderland played reasonably well in recent fixtures against Burnley, Swansea and West Brom. All three were forgettable games, but they yielded five points.
They only played reasonably well for 20 minutes at Hull, but it was enough to secure a very useful away point.
Something rather more eye-catching will be required at Arsenal and Chelsea, but the other eight remaining games are against decent, but not invincible opposition.
Playing reasonably well amounts to little more than desisting from repeatedly and needlessly presenting the ball to the other team.
But too often that has looked beyond Sunderland; the first three quarters of their last game being only the latest example. Had Sunderland been just adequate in certain games, they would be nestled among unremarkable but completely safe teams in the league table. They would also be in an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal at Wembley.
The second thing (we said there were two, pay attention) aside of a welcome leap from “dire” to “okay” is the retention of marbles when picking the team; starting with Aston Villa on Saturday.
I happen to think that Sunderland’s best back five is better than at least half of the back fives in the Premier League. This is Pantilimon in goal, Réveillère at right-back, Van Aanholt at left-back with O’Shea and Brown in the middle.
It is a defence that really ought to pick itself. But this was not the case in Sunderland’s last game and it had supporters in despair – an hour before the game had even kicked off.
Against Hull, they fielded centre-back at right back, with a right-back at left back (their only left-back was a sub). Also selected were two central midfielders to play on the wings with, for some reason, two defensive midfielders, then a striker who has never scored for the club since joining two years ago. At least it gave us something to talk about.
It wasn’t the first time that Gus Poyet made a bewildering team selection. He did it last season at home to West Ham, away to Norwich and Liverpool and at Hull in the FA Cup. All of those games were lost.
He got away with it last week, but in January his choices landed him with an unwanted cup replay at Fulham.
Incomprehensible team selections, substitutions and non-substitutions have cost Sunderland dearly. We beseech him to pack it in.
How was the line-up at Hull decided? Some of the more facetious gossip mongers have suggested it was by a domino card on the team bus, but this can’t be true because ... er ...
Well it just can’t.
HOWEVER peculiar Gus’ thought process may be at times, he will never compete with the FA for unfathomable decisions.
Poyet was charged by the FA with improper conduct after throwing a wobbler at whatever Hull City’s ground is called. He denied the charge.
The FA were uninterested in Poyet striding into the opposition technical area to goad Steve Bruce. Bruce himself was “formally reminded of his responsibilities” by the association for waddling with intent and manhandling a linesman as he tried to get to Poyet; but that was it.
Of primary interest to the FA was that Poyet had booted a bucket containing bottles of water in a moment of frustration. After speaking with survivors of this outrage, the FA collared the Sunderland manager.
English football’s governing body shows rather less interest in players being wrongly sent off, or not being sent off for committing potentially career ending fouls. If a referee has dealt with the matter – incompetently – then it’s fine.
The manager of Leicester City can do what he wants to the Crystal Palace player of his choice, but Palace fans can console themselves by lobbing coins at Newcastle players; with complete impunity.
But at the FA there is skulduggery up with which they will not put – and toe-ending a plastic bucket is evidently one such cause célèbre.
Also heading the FA’s list of disciplinary priorities are nose picking, pint snecking and elbows on the table.
If such depravity is not dealt with head on, then who knows where it will all end.
The moral is; break someone’s leg by all means, but for God’s sake don’t flick towels at him.