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THINGS ARE WRONG, AND THINGS ARE GOING WRONG
BY EVE SAYERS

The all-expenses paid trip to New York received a host of criticism before the players even failed to show up to our 4-0 defeat at home to Southampton, so you can imagine the feelings of some following that horror show.

Still, it was a chance for the players to bond and come back feeling good, it could do no harm so long as they were training, right? They looked happy running and biking around Central Park and going to the gym daily so it certainly looked as if the bonding sessions were working and they even got to go to a hockey game and see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Last year, Sam took them to Dubai for warm weather training and the trip received similar criticism but clearly worked as we went on to survive the drop.

On the pitch, our circumstances are pretty much the same aside from the fact we’re somehow even worse whilst off the pitch things are going drastically wrong. It’s clear that Ellis Short no longer wishes to be at the club and is looking to sell the club but with mounting debts, there are few people out there who would consider touching us.

Financially, the club is Donald Ducked and now, what makes that trip to New York even worse, is that honest and hard working people at the club are being made redundant. In times of real uncertainty and a tough economic climate, that news is hard to take and it’s a PR disaster from the club. You have to feel for the people losing their jobs, knowing that day in, day out they work tirelessly and their work isn’t recognized whilst players who more than likely earn more in one week than what those earn in a year, continue to live a luxurious and pampered lifestyle not having to give a second thought about money, regardless of how well they do their job. And if we do go down, they’ll be the first to abandon ship.

It’s not the first time something like that this has happened as when it comes to handling things terribly, we’re as consistent as ever. Back in 2003 when we were relegated, 70 club staff were made redundant and then bizarrely, Michael Gray seemed to think it was a good idea to turn up to training in a brand new Ferrari. Mick McCarthy was furious at Gray’s thoughtlessness and fined the left-back two-weeks wages and stripped him of the captaincy, the least he deserved for such stupidity.

I’ve got no problems with the money footballers earn, yes, it is stupid amounts but it’s the norm now and something everyone has come to accept. The soldiers and nurses etc. should get footballer’s wages arguments are pretty fruitless. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who agrees with the wages footballers receive but it’s the way it is and it will continue to grow exponentially. Fans don’t really care about wages or the wages argument but what they do care about is their performances on the pitch and they are understandably going to become vexed when players fail to show any passion. When they save up all year to buy a season ticket and spend hundreds to thousands of pounds travelling around the country for away games, they expect to see some heart.

Now, we just have to hope and pray that the ‘bonding’ trip to New York pays off and we manage to survive in the league so even more hardworking people don’t find themselves out of a job.

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THE YOUTH OF TODAY…
JORDAN BACK

Lynden Gooch can’t wait to get back on the pitch and pitch in with our battle against the drop. He also thinks that he and George Honeyman have really come on under David Moyes. Gooch said: “The gaffer knows that he can trust me and George now, he’s played us and we’ve done our part to help the team and held our own, hopefully I’ll be able to play with George because we haven’t yet, which is funny. I think we’ve come in and lifted the group a bit, to know that these kids aren’t messing about, these kids want to take our place, the manager has shown we will if we’re good enough, I don’t think he’s scared to do that if people aren’t pulling their weight, he’ll change it and that’s how it is. I’ve been here on and off for around 11 years, I know what it means to everyone. I came into the U18s and had people like George look after me and show me the ropes, it’s amazing to be in the first team squad with him. Pickers and Duncan as well, we just want to do everything we can, we’ve been here long enough to know how much it means. That’s the way we’ve been brought up in the academy, to work hard, you need to have quality on the ball but if you’re not willing to run around and track back, defend, get up the pitch then you’re not going to play at the highest level. I got in the team and I was flying, playing well, and sometimes I think you do need a rest, I think the manager recognised that it was starting to catch up with me, the fast start, I played every minute for the first five or six games which was a bit crazy, there was a lot of things to deal with. I think he knew just to pull me back a bit. From the moment I did it [injury] the manager said don’t worry, you’ll come back, that obviously gave me a big boost to know that he was behind me and that I’d be back involved as soon as I was fit, that’s the way it has been straight away. I want to get back into the squad again and on the pitch.”

Meanwhile, George Honeyman has been discussing Jordan Pickford’s return. Pickford is odds on to return to the side at Everton on Saturday. “Pickford’s probably my best mate in the team so I’m really happy - he’s a nightmare when he’s not playing! Hopefully he’s back and available because competition in every place is what we want, we don’t want anybody’s place to be safe, he brings that. Just look at the way he trained on Monday - he’s shown what he can bring, his saves were incredible. The more competition for places we can get, the harder everyone is going to train and play, and that’s just natural, that happens in any team. When Catts gets back that will be a big boost too, I love being around him because he’s one of the ones that mentally drags people through. I like to think I go at it every training session, every match, and I think he’s probably the biggest one for that, I just love his competitive spirit and it’s something I can draw from. Under his wing is not a bad place to be. It’ll not be long until we have everyone back and we’ll be raring to go.”

Meanwhile, Under-23 coach Elliott Dickman has been chatting about his role at the club. Dickman said: “I think we have some very good players. To play in the Premier League now is very difficult. The standard of the league is massive and the quality of player within that league is huge. We have some good technical players and some players who are not bad physically but that is probably an area we need to develop and improve. I’m not talking about the fight, hustle and bustle; we have that within the group. I mean players who need to go box-to-box a bit more, players who can hold off huge players from a strength point of view. The programme is very strong here with a good individual programme for the players and we do stress the importance of the team too. You won’t get 11 through. We’d want that, of course we would, but the reality is you are looking at one player hopefully making his debut or playing in our first team, if we get two then that’s fantastic. There have been a number in and around the squad this season but it is very difficult. I do feel we have some good players, it is making sure they are ready from a physical point of view. Technically, they are tidy on the ball, it is just about making sure the other side is just as good.”

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KIRCHHOFF BACK…
BEAT THE DROP?

Jan Kirchhoff is back in training and is aiming to be back to full fitness in time to help us beat the drop! “It was a great feeling to get back onto the pitch and an even better feeling to do it in front of an incredible atmosphere,” said Kirchhoff. “It’s so nice that so many fans found their way to the Stadium of Light to watch us train and give us a real lift. It’s tough to be out because during you rehab you have to train on your own, so it’s good to be with the team again. I used last week as the next phase of my rehab schedule because I needed team training, so I worked with the under-23s instead of travelling to New York. It was better for my personal development if I stayed here and trained, and it was good for me as I’m now back with the team and I hope I can play my role and help the club. Our goal is to stay in the Premier League and we will all do our best to achieve that.”

All the talk is about avoiding relegation today, still it has been for the last five/ten seasons! George Honeyman was next up: “I’ve never known the dressing room so loud, I think it has had the perfect effect so far from what I can tell,” he said. “Training was the highest tempo I’ve seen it this season so, so far, so good, it is what the manager wanted I think. It was hard work, we knew it was going to be that. The first running session was harder than anything I’d done in pre-season, I was so taken aback. Obviously, through Central Park, not a bad place to run through is it? It was tough but obviously good, you can’t do much complaining can you? I think its tougher to get it (team spirit) in the first team because obviously with the under-23s we’re all quite local lads so it easier to get on, most of us have been together for several years. In the first team there is a lot more nationalities and stuff like that, so it does take a while to gel. Coming back from the trip though I’ve never known it as boisterous in the changing room, that can only be a good sign for me. As a local lad I think I can have a positive influence on the dressing room.  We know there’s winnable games there and we also know we’ve been here before, we can do it again. A lot of the players know what it takes to stay up. I’m fully confident that we’re going to do it again and I’m sure the rest of the lads are. I think a lot comes down to the mentality, we have a lot of strong characters in that dressing room and I’m sure they’ll pull the rest of the lads through. It is a lot to do with mental toughness, we’ve had plenty of experience of being in this position and that can only help us.”

After the player’s jolly to NYC the club have announce that they are sacking some staff. Great PR. SAFC chief executive Martin Bain said: “In recent months we have undertaken a detailed review of the club’s entire operation. It is clear that the business had lost its focus and we now have to ensure that we are better equipped to be able to concentrate on the areas that are key to taking Sunderland AFC forward. Our infrastructure provides a tremendous platform and it is important that we capitalise on this by channeling our efforts into those areas that will have an impact. We want to ensure that the football club is in the best possible position to grow stronger, both on and off the field. The decisions have not been taken lightly. The internal process required in order to undertake the changes has already commenced and club staff have been advised of the procedures and timescales involved.”

David Moyes is hoping we can rely on our counter-attacks while we wait for Victor Anichebe to get fit! Moyes said: “We may have to play a little bit on the counter-attack and play quite fast football. We spoke to the players about it and I think they understand. We’re trying to get more balls in the box, more people in the box. It’s the only way we’re going to score goals. As well as, say, Adnan or Fabio and Jermain, we’re trying to get some of the midfield players further up. Ndong got himself a goal [at Selhurst Park], albeit from outside the box. We’re having to really try and find a way. I think so [3-5-2 being a solution]. What I do think is it will change. It will change again because of what the opposition can do to you, maybe you’re chasing a game and you need to do it in a different way, you need to look at different things. But I think when we lost Victor, that was the key to it. We needed to keep looking for another way to get up the pitch, to have two forwards playing and not to be too exposed defensively. Because we had been making mistakes and conceding goals, I had to make sure we could shore it up a little bit as well.”

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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
BY SOBS

I'm not one to believe anything more than the date on certain newspapers, so when a story appeared in the Sun on Sunday concerning the future of our club I struggled to find enough salt to take it with. By the same token, it was about our club, so it had to be read. Just in case, like.

Basically, they've uncovered a "hush-hush" plan for our players to train in London during the week - we've already sounded out QPR's training facilities, apparently - in the hope that we'll appeal more to the better players if they can train under the bright lights of the capital. As Sunderland is "famed for its freezing weather", offering players, especially big softies, the chance to practice in the sub-tropical environs of West London would be an obvious attraction. I can see Messi and Ronaldo packing their bags in readiness for their imminent transfers. QPR are due to leave their training base, near Heathrow - handy for players based abroad, I suppose - sometime relatively soon, so we'd be able to take that over and set it up as our London base.

If that all sounds more than a bit mad, have another think. Do all of our players live within walking distance of the SoL? No they don't. Do any live in London? I don't know, but I'd bet that some have property down there. The distances some players travel when they get a free Saturday (pop across to Vegas and blow half a million on the roulette wheels) are a lot further than the 250 miles to London - where some of them go for an evening out anyway. Distance is really a thing of the past in this instance, and if the high-quality players this plan is aimed at only had to come to Wearside once a fortnight, perhaps they'd be swayed by it.

It's also reckoned that such a move would "make the Black Cats more attractive to foreign investment", although, as we'd still be playing half of our actual games in Sunderland, I fail to see how this would work - but investing in a football club is for madmen and dreamers with more money than sense anyway, so who knows what goes on in their heads.

OK, let's have a look at the pros and cons in an attempt to evaluate this "top secret" project.

FOR:
Brings in foreign investment.
Attracts better players.
Make the London Branch of SAFCSA feel good about themselves.
We play there four of five times a season anyway.
We'd have an airport.

AGAINST
Far less time for players to do their activities in the community.
It'd probably cost a fortune.
It'd require duplication of staff at a time when we're running out of money.
It's a daft idea.

...and finally, it was in the Sun, therefore it's nonsense, but they have to fill their pages with something. The trouble is, like all "fake news" and "post truths", that it's now out there. As an American chap said to me recently, you can't put the manure back in the horse.

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WHERE HAS FABIO GONE?
BY MATTHEW HICKS

As with most of our players over the years people’s opinions are often divided. As form and attitudes change, players are heroes one minute and then hounded the next.

Lamine Kone is the most obvious recent example, when he was smashing in goals against Everton last season and apparently playing 5 a side with local kids in the playgrounds around Sunderland on his days off he could do no wrong. A ridiculous attitude change led by greedy agents later and he became a villain overnight, something he has still yet to fully recover from.

Someone who I feel has had a similar rise and fall within the current squad is Fabio Borini. Borini’s history with Sunderland is an interesting one with him coming on loan and excelling, finding himself receiving serious admiration from the fans only to reject a permanent move in favour of trying to force his way into Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool squad. A decision which stung at the time but I feel most people respected, as he appeared to be motivated by purely footballing reasons.

When he returned to Sunderland, on a permanent basis, I was absolutely thrilled and he was treated like a long lost son coming back to the fold. I felt that again he excelled, scoring some crucial goals at crucial times. The coolest man alive on the penalty spot and his celebration is something I have found myself emulating when I occasionally bundle one in on the 5 a side pitch.

So my question is, where the hell is Fabio Borini? The man that oozed confidence and Italian attitude, the man who would make me feel sick as he stuttered his run up only to calmly smash home an absurdly important penalty like he was in his back garden. The man who scored THAT goal against City in the League Cup Final?

This season I saw him kick the floor in the worst free kick ever taken by man, injuring himself in the process and that’s been that. Since his return from injury he has looked bereft of all confidence and at times uninterested, which is always a worry. I appreciate there have been management changes, system changes, injuries and yet again we are fighting relegation but he just doesn't seem the same.

In our well fought draw against Spurs a few weeks ago he had a series of chances that the Borini I remember would have and should have easily buried. Failing to get a simple pass under control in the box one minute and then tamely rolling one back to the keeper while half complaining about a handball the next.

Perhaps he is still on the mend from his injury, perhaps he is struggling with the pressures of yet another relegation scrap or perhaps he's actually not as good as I think he is. But that worldy he scored after the game was lost at United earlier in the season to me at least shows that his quality is still there if he can just get his head sorted.

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OBVIOUS OR OBLIVIOUs...
BY LUKE HAKIN

Blindingly obvious statement #1 – SAFC have had an exceptionally high turnover of managers over the past decade.
 
Blindingly obvious statement #2 – Hiring and firing managers every year is damaging, we should build for the long term instead of seeking short term fixes.
 
I say blindingly obvious as we are all well-versed in the subject; the club’s failure to plan and implement any kind of long term strategy has been discussed and debated to death. The club has been hamstrung financially by the revolving door of players and managers, with transfer fees, wages and compensation pay-offs compounding our mounting debts.
 
Will Buckley, Alfred N’Diaye, Jeremain Lens - there are countless examples, although perhaps none as ridiculous as the South American own goal sensation Santiago Vergini. Signed initially on loan by Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat discarded Vergini before the ink had dried on his pre-arranged permanent transfer. So soon was he jettisoned by the new manager that, rather than the customary scarf picture, the club used the same press release to announce that not only had Vergini re-signed, he was also heading back out on loan with a view to a permanent departure.
 
Stability is something we all long-for and crave, even just a couple of seasons without constant upheaval would allow us the chance to rebuild on sturdier footing. I fully support and understand why Martin Bain made this his number one priority when he arrived last summer, but is stability for stability’s stake not equally as damaging?
 
I say that because each year we inevitably debate whether to sack the latest manager, and David Moyes’ negative demeanour and poor results have divided fans opinion all season. That’s fine, we’re all entitled to our views and there have been plenty of valid arguments and counter-arguments either way.
 
One of the most common, though, is the idea that we should stick by Moyes purely for the sake of stability, that the number of managers we’ve sacked in recent years somehow exonerates him from criticism or scrutiny.
 
I’ve heard countless arguments that we should “give Moyes / Poyet / Di Canio three years and see how they get on.” I’ve been told we should “just stick with the manager whatever happens, even if we go down.” Because of course, we “can’t keep sacking managers, we have to stick with one eventually.”
 
Which is perfectly reasonable of course, but I shudder to think where we’d be if we had given Di Canio three years to work his madness, regardless of if we went down or how far we fell. If David Moyes does relegate us, especially if the likes of Hull or Swansea survive at our expense, are we not entitled to question whether we have the right man in charge to lead us forward?
 
The stability argument was regularly used in defence of Steve Bruce, particularly during the long winless runs that plagued us every year. Bruce - ironically the last manager to survive more than one full season – was viewed by some as a steady hand. A safe pair of hands offering calm and cohesion after the chaos and reckless spending of previous years. The right man to stabilise the club and establish us in the league.
 
Rather than stabilise us though, Bruce brought in excess of 30 players to the club in two and a half years, including an abundance of loans and players signed with little or no tactical plan in mind. In one particular instance, Bruce extended the contract of Kieran Richardson on the condition that he became our regular left back, only to play him on the left wing, right wing, attacking midfield and even up front throughout the following season.
 
Pundits often point to the Mark Robins goal that allegedly saved Sir Alex Ferguson from the sack at Man United as evidence that patience pays, yet the same club were quick to recognise that they had the wrong man in charge in Moyes and acted quickly to replace him. It’s easy, of course, to draw conclusions based on one or two cases in isolation, particularly with the benefit of hindsight. The point being though, that persisting with a failing manager purely for the sake of stability is not always the best option, and stability comes from having the right people operating in the right environment, not just having one man in charge long term with little accountability.
 
I must stress that this is not necessarily a dig at Moyes, who for the record I think arrived in very difficult circumstances. Despite the many disappointments this season, I personally think Moyes’ track record at Everton and from the Bournemouth game onwards are enough to warrant more time. I do think, though, that the next time the manager comes under fire, we should ask ourselves “Is he still the right man for the job?” rather than worry how many managers we have sacked in the past. If the answer is no, the rest almost answers itself.

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REIDY RECKONS THAT DEFOE can KEEP US UP…
HE’S RIGHT!

Peter Reid reckons that Jermain Defoe can be the difference between Sunderland and the other teams at the bottom and help us survive. Let’s hope he’s right. The former Sunderland manager said: “It’s going to be tough,” he said. “But Defoe is a massive plus for them. If they can keep it tight at the back then they still have a great chance. If you look at the sides down there and who’s going to score goals, you look at Sunderland and they have got a guy who’ll get you goals. That will be their saving grace if they can keep it tight. I’ll be honest, I think it’s going to be difficult for them but it’s very tight down there. It just shows you what the Premier League is like (that they win 4-0 the go on to lose 4-0). You’ve got to be, what I like to call, at it all the time. Against Southampton they started really well but once the first goal went in it was poor and David Moyes said that himself. It’s difficult. He’s got to try and build them up. The biggest thing when you’re doing there is trying to keep clean sheets. Watching that though, the big thing I take from it is it was far too easy for Southampton. Defensively they were all over the place.”

In other news, Adnan Januzaj reckons we need to stick together! How imaginative. “It is never nice to lose but even more so because we started the game well,” he said. “It is important now we pick ourselves up and work harder in the next game. Anything can happen in the Premier League and it is important we learn that if we concede a goal we can comeback. We need everyone to stick together, stay together and hopefully we will go to Everton and try to get something from the game.”

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DEFOE CHARMs...
DUNC REHAB PROGRESS REPORT

Jermain Defoe always seems to say all the right things and today he reckons he loves to be compared to Sunderland goal scoring legends, like Kevin Phillips. “It is an incentive, you always want to do well,” said Defoe. “It doesn’t matter what position you play, you always want to do well and you look at the players who have played for the football club and if I can do that then great. You read things from the fans on social media and they say ‘you remind me of Kevin Phillips’. When you arrive at a new club you want to get off to a good start and it has been great how it has gone in terms of the goals I have scored. I am grateful for how the fans have taken to me. The fans took to me straight away. I scored 15 league goals last year, I am on 14 now. If I can beat that - and hopefully I will - then yes I can say I have improved on last season! At Spurs in the 2010 season I got 18 but I don’t have that in my mind. I just keep working hard. On a personal note this season has gone well in terms of the number of goals scored. There is no other feeling like it when you score - you feel confident and always look confident. The goals are needed. I realise that, it is helping the team, the club and my teammates - hopefully I can keep going. When you are playing well you can’t wait until the next game, after Palace we couldn’t wait,” added Defoe. “It was disappointing against Southampton, the first 20 minutes were good but disappointing after that and we cannot dwell on those results. We have a while before the next game but at least it gives us time to prepare in the right way.”

Elsewhere, Duncan Watmore’s cruciate knee ligament injury may have ruled him out for the rest of the season, but the youngster is working hard to make sure he’ll be good to go come the start of next season. He said: "It is frustrating when you are out for this amount of time, but in terms of the rehab it is going well. It is about getting the full extension, full range doing all the squats and building it up so the knee can tolerate it. The treatment we get here at Sunderland is fantastic, I am working hard and I am in good hands. Day-to-day you do a lot of treatment with the knee then a lot in the gym in terms of building your core, obviously your legs and building them up so your knees can tolerate the squats. A lot of swimming and bike work, build that up until you are in a position where you can do some running. The spirit is really good here, we all get on with each other. When you are injured you do miss out on things; you are in at different times, doing different things so it is good to see the lads at lunch and keep up with things, there is a strong team spirit. Experience is key, we have a lot of players here who have done it before. We are obviously not in the position we want to be but if we keep fighting there is no reason why we can’t stay up."

Meanwhile, Billy Jones reckons that arrival of Joleon Lescott, Bryan Oviedo and Darron Gibson have given us a boost. “It’s massive,” said Jones. “Everyone talks about January signings and it giving the players a boost in the dressing room, and it has. The lads who have come in have come in and hit the ground running. They’re all great, proven Premier League players, so it’s great to have that experience. They’ve settled in really well, and it’s great to have them.”

In other news, Sunderland U23s beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at the SOL to reach semi-finals of Premier League International Cup. Delighted academy coach, Elliott Dickman, said: “I’m really pleased because I thought it was a really good team performance. It was something especially after the Man City game we wanted to put right and I thought tonight the team did really, really well. After the first 10-15 minutes we settled down and played some nice football and in the second period we were terrific. Max (Stryjek) made a massive, massive save (on the stroke of half-time) I’m a really big fan of Max (Stryjek) and I think he has a really big future in the game at whatever level. Tonight he has done great, he has kept a clean sheet and that save on half-time was very, very good.”

Elsewhere, Didier Ndong reckons that he and his team mates need to pitch in with a few goals instead of leaving it all to Jermain Defoe. Too true: “There’s just a real collective effort now because we know what needs to be done. The manager has been trying a few things to try and get us working better tactically, with a back-three system and two wing-backs for example – which has really suited us. We understand we have to change and that we can do better as a collective group. The manager has been great as well, making us believe what we are capable of on the pitch. I think we need to score more goals as a team and not just one man. It needs to be collectively that we’re adding goals. So we have to believe in ourselves that we can do it and help the team.”

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DEFOE LOVES PICKFORD…
OPEN TRAINING

Jermain Defoe reckons that Jordan Pickford is as good young keeper as he’s ever seen! High praise indeed. “Jordan has been amazing and he has great potential,” he said. “I have been singing his praises since the first time I saw him. I’ve spoke about the modern game and how teams want goalkeepers to play out from the back and he is up there at being able to do that. He is one of the best goalkeepers I have seen in my career. It is special for him (to win the Young Player of the Year award), he still has a long way to go but for him the sky is the limit. It is nice because when your hard work has been appreciated and recognised it is always nice. To win any award is always nice. To be recognised by the local people and how I have taken to the fans and all the people is amazing. That’s why for me it’s all the more special. When you win awards like this it makes you want to work hard and hopefully I can continue to work hard and playing for the team.”

In other news, SAFC’s new New Zealand born youngster, Simon Brotherton, is delighted to have joined the U23 set up. He said: "“I’m happy to be here and I’ve enjoyed my first few days. The players are a good bunch of lads and I know Michael Woud from my time in New Zealand, so it’s nice to have a familiar face around. I’m an aggressive player, a good communicator and a good leader. I like to think I can read the game pretty well and I’m good in the air. I need to keep working on my range of passing, decision making and speed of play. I used to play centre midfield until I was about 16 or 17 then I moved backwards into the defence. It’s a high level here and I need to adapt to that. Every player wants to play games and I’ll be doing all I can to earn an opportunity like that.”

Meanwhile, there’s an open training session at the SoL, during half term, next Monday February 20th, starting at 1pm. An SAFC statement read: "There will be music and entertainment in and around the stadium prior to the session, including face-painting and football-themed activities for young supporters. Stadium concourse facilities will also be open, serving hot and cold drinks and a range of food items. Entry is free, however supporters aged 12 or under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian over the age of 18. Parking is available at the stadium on a first-come, first-served basis."

Elsewhere, Didier Ndong has praised the fans. “I can’t describe it really,” he said. “The fans here are the best supporters I have ever come across in my career. They’re just outstanding home and away, they follow us whatever and believe in us no matter what. Sometimes they carry us when we really need them. We just need to make sure that we give them back as much as we can, because they really deserve it. As I say, they are just outstanding.”

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IT'S UP TO YOU NEW YORK, NEW YORK
BY LIAM CARSON

The tirade of disapproval that has followed David Moyes’ decision to take the Sunderland squad away to New York is certainly needless and unwarranted.

Comments have been made by both fans and pundits, in the wake of Southampton's humbling of Sunderland last Saturday, which suggest that the trip to the ‘big apple’ is entirely and simply a treat for the squad.

This could perhaps have a hint of truth as it was reported by the media following the Sunderland's ludicrous theft of three points and £14 million from Big Sam’s Palace. Perhaps more ludicrously, we only had to drop Patrick Van Aanholt off in London to pull it off - A robbery nearly as slick as the Italian Job.

I think it would be wrong not to celebrate such a result.

Four goals ahead, away from home, before 4 o’clock on a Saturday – It was something that hadn’t happened since a time when there was no such thing as Leeds United or even, much more importantly, Greggs.

Pundits such as Paul Merson and Martin Keown have suggested that the trip is almost disrespectful to supporters, as the players, who massively let the fans down against Southampton, would now be going away on holiday to the States, to enjoy themselves.

In no way however, is the lads’ trip to New York a reward.

Firstly, it is the manager’s job to build and mould a squad, a squad that will be competitive. Currently, the squad Moyes has started to mould is not competitive, he should therefore, be allowed to make the executive decisions necessary to get the squad to a state which could be described as competitive. If this means the squad has to travel to the city that never sleeps to either become fitter, or to bond, then Moyes should not be criticised for his decision. The squad should be allowed to travel without fuss.

Secondly, it is important to realise that the trip was not cooked up by Moyes over a few pints of Boddingtons with Stockdale and Bracewell in Greens. This is a tried and tested plan from Moyes’ very successful reign at Everton.

Moyes apparently shocked the Everton squad with the news, that they would be heading to New York, the very next day, following a disappointing midweek 1-1 draw with the soon-to-be relegated Birmingham City, in March of 2011. Everton’s league position was not quite the same as our current standing however, at the time, even we were ahead of them, sitting pretty in 9th (Yeah, I know, the paradise of the Steve Bruce days). The trip paid off massively for Everton and Moyes as they lost just two out of their final nine games and went on to finish the season just outside the European places.

The trip significantly improved performances. That could be pivotal for our chances of staying up.

Thirdly, the trip is more than just sightseeing. Moyes has already stated in his interviews that the trip will primarily focus on training and fitness building therefore, this is not a holiday for the players. Of course there will be sightseeing - I mean who goes to New York and doesn’t visit the Statue of Liberty or climb the Empire State; it is ‘touristy’ sightseeing but it should be beneficial for team bonding.

The club has persistently been enforcing the slogan ‘Keep the Faith’ to really engage the fans and create an even stronger bond. Now the club are focusing on the bonds of the squad. They have even put it on the player’s tunnel at the SoL. Though, I’m not quite sure of the point of it. I mean, it is on the front of the tunnel so only supporters with a telescope in the East Stand might have a chance of seeing it and I can’t see how it would benefit the team’s performances, as only when leaving the pitch will the players be able to see it. It seems rather pointless, but then again, the club has plenty of money to splash about on sticking unnecessary and almost unnoticeable Twitter hashtags across the stadium.

I couldn’t even get enough signal to send my dad a text to let him know how we were getting on (not that he would have wanted to know of Gabbiadini's class), never mind send a tweet to show I was keeping the faith with the team, even when Moyes made the decision to blatantly look past both Khazri and Borini and instead decide Pienaar was the best attacking threat we had. He may as well have shoved O’Shea into central midfield; he probably would have been quicker and would have probably held the ball for more than two seconds. Moyes has so much faith in Pienaar that he probably will have asked him to fly the squad to New York himself.

I would imagine most supporters are not biased at all whether the New York trip is the morally right decision. Most probably don’t care in the slightest if they went out there and just went shopping and took selfies in Times Square. If it improves performances, fans will be happy, that’s all that matters. It would be like a fairy tale of New York. In fact, if there's not a banner of that at Everton, I'll be mightily disappointed.

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jordan: the comeback...
new AOL GAFFER

Jordan Pickford reckons he’ll be fit for Everton away in two weeks’ time., after being missing since picking up an injury against Manchester United on Boxing Day. “I have been fortunate really because the cruciate could have gone bang. It didn’t, it is still intact and I am now fit and ready to go against Everton. It was really frustrating being out but it happened and I have just been working hard with the physios and the staff at the Academy of Light. It is not just on my knee but all parts of my body, my core, upper body, arm and leg work. I have done everything to build my body even stronger and become better on the pitch. I feel fine now, we kept on time with the surgeon, we couldn’t go against him as he is one of the best in the business. You have to listen even though sometimes I didn’t want to! I am impatient, I want to play and help the team and be involved. You have to respect the manager’s decision at the end of the day. I will work hard in training and do my best to get picked for the side. What will be, will be but hopefully I get the spot because I want it and I feel like I am ready – I have showed I am worth the No 1 spot.”

Pickford was also named North East Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year last weekend. “I am delighted to win this award. I haven’t played that many games for Sunderland but I think my performances for the club have been good and I have been doing well. It is nice to get the award, all the hard work has paid off.”

In other news, we’ve brought in Jimmy Sinclair from Rangers to replace the departing academy boss, Ged McNamee. Chief Executive Martin Bain who worked with Sinclair at Rangers, said: “Having the right structures in place to ensure we can recruit, develop and nurture the best young talent possible is fundamental to spearheading our improvement as a football club. Developing an increased number of players through our own academy system, who are capable of playing for the first team, is a key aim. Jimmy brings with him a wealth of experience, which will be hugely beneficial to us as we look to build on the success of our academy and take things to the next level and we warmly welcome him to Sunderland.”

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SHOULD’VE SEEN IT COMING
BY MATTHEW HICKS

Disappointment is a feeling that by now, as Sunderland fans, we should be used to. It’s a feeling that we have experienced much more frequently as the seasons have played out, while the good stuff like joy, excitement or pride seem increasingly absent.

So much so that Saturdays horror show probably shouldn't have come as much of a shock however it caught me off guard and plunged me into a new level of disappointment I wasn't expecting.

Now although I am not going to sound like it here, I really try my hardest to be as positive as possible when it comes to SAFC, I mean you have to “Keep the faith” if you're going to support the club in its current situation as we limp from season to season. Following the resounding victory against Big Sam last week it was pretty easy to feel upbeat and dare I say excited about our chances against an out of form Southampton, who are in the midst of a centre back crisis, even we would be pushed to replicate.

So, as I sat there and watched the lads start on the front foot, play positive football, appear to control the game my optimism continued to rise. Especially knowing that with a little help we could end the weekend in 15th place due to the incredible nature of this season’s Premier League basement. Then the inevitable happened, we conceded after not making the most of being on top and then just as we had one eye on half time we conceded another due to slack defending.

As soon as that second goal went in it was over, a few weeks ago when we went 2-0 down against West Brom the exact same thing happened. Nobody looked interested, they acted as though it was a foregone conclusion. A stinking attitude of acceptance of defeat rang through the squad and it was just as painful to watch it happen again this weekend.

Had the match ended 2-0 I imagine the majority of Sunderland fans would have felt let down but in a way that we are all too used to, however the manner in which the team went about the second half, especially the final 20 minutes, is what has left me feeling new levels of disappointment I didn't even know existed.

So, now the lads jet off to New York for some bonding away from the pressure cooker of the North East and many fans are up in arms about the whole thing. Maybe it is ridiculous that the team stink out the Stadium Of Light on a Saturday and then trot off on a mini break but at this stage surely it’s not going to make things any worse!

There are glimmers of light in the Sunderland squad, the fact that we have Jermain Defoe (I still can’t believe we swapped him for Jozy Neverscores) as well the imminent return of the likes of Lee Cattermole and Jordon Pickford are sure to get some passion going.

Sometimes I like blame my Dad for making me into a Sunderland fan, but I wouldn't actually change the feeling, I've got now to support any other club. The lads will get my full support every time they put on their stripes and I will foolishly live in hope that we are going to pull off another one of our lovely great escapes. Maybe a week in New York will fill the players and Moyesy with some over the top American enthusiasm, I’d give anything to see Moyes have a crack at a Paulo Di Canio style knee slide at Goodison Park.

Hopefully they have a great time and come back and give Everton a game, however, should we get turned over I won’t be surprised, just once again disappointed.

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defoe the king
MOYES WANTS TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

Jermain Defoe has been doing some press after being named North East Football Writers' Player of 2016 over the weekend and it seems he wants to keep playing for as long as possible, but his mam has other plans! "My mum keeps asking me. ‘How long are you going to play for? When are you going to do your coaching badges?' I don't know to be honest. It's just like life, I take each day as it comes. Even my friends in football, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright, I always say to them 'do you miss it?' They miss not just the training and the games but just being around the lads in the changing room and stuff like that. I've always said that it's important that players try to play as long as they can. That's why I've always looked after myself, because I love it."

He also chatted about the inspirational Bradley Lowery, who he has formed a special bond with. "I get strength from him," Defoe said. "I could talk about football all day but certain things are difficult to talk about. To be at the hospital and see a little kid like that suffer, I've been there with my dad and people that are older than me, and even then it's hard to understand. All he wanted to do was just go to sleep and have a cuddle. Even that, on Saturday I was looking forward to the game because I wanted to win the game for him, obviously it wasn't meant to be. But [he is] an amazing young man, in my prayers every night."

Meanwhile, Darron Gibson reckons our performance against Southampton was poor, but that they are a good side. “It was disappointing. I thought we started well in the in the game though. First 25 minutes we were on top, and then obviously they scored and it changed the game really. It put us on the back foot a bit and I think we dropped too deep. We can take some positives out of the first 25 minutes but we weren’t good enough. It could be a confidence issue, but I know it’s no excuse but they’re a good team. If you give them space and time to play they’re very good, they know what they’re doing and they’re well organised. We weren’t good enough for a big period of the game but they were very good.”

In other news, David Moyes has defended his decision to take the players on a trip to New York after losing 4-0 to Southampton! “As a manager, you make decisions, you try and lead your team and football club and do the right things. You have to stand by the decisions. It won’t change [our plans]. Sometimes things like that help. Managers have to make decisions, prepare teams and lead. That’s part of doing the job. Sometimes doing something different helps. We’ve a really tough game, our next game. Obviously, it’s not a holiday, but the aim is to get everyone pulling in one direction. You need to get to know your players off the field – that’s really important at this stage.”

Having been on a similar trip while at Goodison Park under Moyes, Steven Pienaar thinks it’ll help team bonding. “It’s very important to be with your colleagues off the field as well, and get that bond because what you do off the field is very important to what you do on it,” said Pienaar. “Hopefully, it will benefit the group off the field. Everyone has their own interests so we’ll see what we do. It’s up to the manager what the schedule’s going to be like. I’m not a basketball fan myself, and there’s no rugby in America, but I’ll do whatever the other players do.”

We may be missing Lee Cattermole on the pitch, but Steven Pienaar reckons that he’s still a major influence off it. “You have players like Catts who is always talking even though he’s not involved,” said Pienaar. “He’s always the one coming in and pushing the players to give everything. It’s a battle every day. Every day you have to put everything in on the training ground to make sure you’re ready for Saturday. For me to be here and experience this is totally different from other clubs where you know you might end up in the middle of the table. It’s a great challenge for me and I like it. Every day you learn new things. Mentally it’s been tough but you come here for a reason and that’s to play and help the club stay in the Premier League. For me it’s really a great opportunity to experience this kind of a fight. I just want to give everything and help the team to stay in the Premier League. As players we also feel (Moyes’ frustration). We got a point against Spurs and a win against Palace and it was a good chance for us to get three points, especially playing at home. It was very disappointing to lose again and in the manner we did in the second half.”

Meanwhile, David Moyes reckons we need to be mentally stronger if we are to meet the fan’s expectations and pull ourselves out of the shit. “It’s probably when we’re winning and folk think that Sunderland are going to go and do it again, that’s the sort of expectation I’m talking about,” he said. “We will go and win games, I’ve no doubt about that. When you’re off the back of a 4-0 win and folk are saying that Southampton haven’t done that well, that’s the sort of game at the moment when we don’t seem to be able to do it in. I’m more a little bit worried that when the expectation comes on, you know, this is your game to win, we’ve not been able to live up to that. You know, we’ve had a good result away from home. Come on, can we pick it up again? We’ve not really been able to do that.”

“Beforehand I saw that the players were in a really good mood, really buoyant,” he added. “But I also knew that Southampton are probably, without the top four or five and Everton, one of the best footballing teams in the league, and I knew that if I was going to play in a cup final in my next game I’d want to play out of my skin to make sure the manager had no choice but to pick me, so I actually thought it was a really difficult game for us. But it was more disappointment because we couldn’t turn some decent stuff in the first 15-20 minutes into an opportunity or a goal, really. I think it was more disappointing (because) they had had one good chance before, it was a cross and came out to the edge of the box and the boy (Cedric) scuffed it high and wide. After that, they just grew into their game a little bit. We needed then to be able to defend as well as Southampton had defended for the opening 20 minutes, and we didn’t, albeit I think the first goal’s harsh on us in the end. I was disappointed that we couldn’t work the keeper. In our good 20 minutes, we threatened to create opportunities and chances but we didn’t really get any and in their bit, in the second part of the first half, when we were asked to defend a couple of times, we didn’t quite deal with it. I don’t think anybody goes out not to do their job. I think the players have given their all, it’s certainly not their effort. Maybe it’s quality, at times, whether it be on the ball, passing it or controlling it or defending and doing the right things. But I don’t think it’s their effort I could question, I don’t see that.”

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post southampton craic...
shit

Sunderland remain rooted to the foot of the Premier League table after being on the end of a four nil trouncing by Southampton at the SOL on Saturday. It was a miserable performance from David Moyes’ team on a miserable afternoon on Wearside with Sunderland comprehensively beat by Claude Powell’s side thanks to a brace either side of half time from Manolo Gabbiadini, a Jason Denayer own goal and a late Shane Long strike.

David Moyes had this to say afterwards: “I thought we started the game really well and I thought we played very, very well in the first 20-25 minutes,” he said. “We probably didn’t create enough opportunities to score but we played well and with confidence. Unfortunately, they scored a goal which was handball and sometimes these things change the game. It wasn’t an easy decision for the referee to see but it was definitely taken in by hand arm which makes a big difference in the game. I think the first goal for Southampton was important as well, if we had got it then it might have been different because they have lost quite a few games recently. I think whoever got the first goal was vital and now we have to hold our hands up and make sure we do things a lot better. We wanted to try and get back in the game but I didn’t think we deserved to be 2-0 down at half-time. The first goal went against us and unfortunately that made it difficult.” 

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ALS’ ITV BLOG
BY PAUL DOBSON

Most of this week has been spent watching MOTD on permanent repeat, just to confirm that last Saturday really did happen, and that we really were that good. Finding a player whose name fits the old “Santiago Baby” song was an added bonus, and hopefully “Oviedo Baby” will be heard plenty of times during our remaining games. You can’t do much with Gibson, but his debut, while from a comfortable position off the bench, looked composed to back up Oviedo’s solid defensive one. Also to relish was the Defoe/Januzaj combination. I’ll be amongst the first to admit that the young Belgian’s career on Wearside has been a bit on the disappointing side, but in the last couple of games he’s shown more of what he’s capable of – especially if he looks up to see where Defoe is. While neither of his passes at Selhurst were “worldies”, the first was to exactly where Jermain pointed, and the second, barley a minute later, was to exactly to where Jermain would have pointed had he felt pointing necessary. Promising stuff from a partnership that could prove vital in the remaining months of the season – let’s keep them both fit. It was also great to hear Defoe asking “why would I leave a club where I’m appreciated?”

It also has to be mentioned that Rob, who’d missed three goals by nipping down to get the beers in a couple of minutes before that break, got back to the car after the match to find that someone (no names, let’s just call him Mr Winks) had left the lights on and flattened the battery. “Hello, is that the AA?” What about our chances of staying up? Well, the mood amongst our fans seems positively celebratory compared to that on Teesside, with callers to radio phone-ins being of a decidedly angry “Karanka is clueless” nature. The mood of Palace fans is similar, with one confronting Delany at half time. Let’s hope, for our sake, that this mood continues. Away from the field of play, the Lads were doing their other duties, off their own bat, with O’Shea, Seb, Vito, and Defoe visiting Bradley Lowery in hospital. The photo of the little fella falling asleep while cuddling Defoe is one that restores faith in human nature – and football. If nothing else comes out of this season, the Bradley Lowery story has done an awful lot to bring football fans of all persuasions a lot closer.

There was sort of good news on the footballing front with the visitors being without Charlie Austin and Virgil van Dijk through injury and Fonte because they’ve sold him. So what? What sort of team wins 4-0 away then loses by the same score at home? Our sort of team, which just couldn't match the visitors' pace and movement in midfield, and so managed to make our mood at the end of the week the polar (to match today's temperature) the polar opposite of our mood at the beginning of it. Such is the life of a Sunderland fan.

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