Let’s not beat around the bush, that was absolutely pathetic, wasn’t it?
I like Chris Coleman. He talks a good game and is still undoubtedly the man for the job, but he’s not immune from criticism. Why are we persisting with this 5-4-1 formation when its clearly not working? Whatever minimal advantage it might have given us at the start has long worn off.
I don’t have the low level stats on our points per game or goals conceded per game when playing with a back four compared to a back five, but I do have eyes and can see we are still conceding the same horrific goals regardless of how many defenders we play. In fact, we more or less had all 11 players back for Villa’s second yet not one thought to pick up Chester or challenge for the header.
You know you’re in trouble when you’re an injury to a knackered old John O’Shea or Browning away from playing Billy Jones at centre back. Adding an extra defender makes no difference if none of them can actually defend.
But it’s the effect on the rest of the team that frustrates me. Let’s look at the midfield. For a supposed ‘leader’, Cattermole can barely run and has become one of the biggest shirkers in the squad. It’s as if he is petrified of his own physical and technical limitations but is still desperate to maintain his image as the midfield ‘hardman’, pointing and shouting at others but never actually wanting the ball.
Then we have McManaman and McGeady, two wingers with a little bit of talent but next to no heart or discipline. Was it at 2-0 or 3-0 last night when McGeady lost the ball trying to pirouette on the edge of his own box? Coleman can dress it up as a ‘box midfield’ all he likes, but their natural inclination is to drift out wide and both drift in and out of games anyway, leaving Ejaria – the only player to start and emerge with any credit – and the lone striker completely isolated in the middle. Our midfield isn’t good enough to play with two midfielders, nevermind effectively one.
And then there’s Fletcher. Sorry, I know he has only played about 5 games, but the kid is gash. Only Sunderland could sell James Vaughan – at a loss, no less – and replace him with a striker even more rubbish.
Why start someone so immobile up on his own against John Terry when we have two young, hungry, hard-working strikers on the bench? Asoro’s pace would have given Terry nightmares even at the peak of his career, nevermind at the age of 37. Strange, baffling decisions.
Our attacking play is so disjointed that we genuinely look as though we’re playing with nine men most of the time. With five defenders we’re generally ok (in the loosest sense) at knocking the ball across the back but have no options up the pitch, so resort to lumping long balls to no-one in particular. The wingbacks don’t know whether to stick or twist and are far too slow getting up the pitch, but leave space behind them when they do, hence the number of goals conceded from the channels. We don’t have the ability to play through the middle so inevitably knock the ball out wide, but don’t have the support getting forward from midfield to get on the end of crosses.
But it’s irrelevant how the manager sets the team up if the players show as little fight and desire as they have all season. It’s only when you see performances like against Boro, where they genuinely did put in a shift for once, that you realise how gutless they really are the rest of the time. Against Boro we still embarrassed ourselves with hopeless defending but at least battled and pressed. Pressing and closing down should be the absolute minimum requirements of any team but we have a team of players who swan around as if that is above them.
I noticed after the Bolton game that somebody had tweeted Vaughan along the lines of “come back, all is forgiven” after watching Fletcher spoon a number of chances harmlessly wide, to which Vaughan replied along the lines of “no way”. The cheek. I realise though that most of our players probably hate playing for us. They’ll see the half-empty stadium, hear the moans, groans and ironic cheers during games and think “no thanks”. Or “I’m just a loan / free transfer from Boro / Blackburn / Brighton, don’t expect anything better”.
But that’s their loss. Coleman alluded to the fact the rewards for playing for and succeeding at a club or Sunderland are enormous, but if they're so wrapped up in their own self-entitlement that they need everything on a plate for them before they start playing, they probably shouldn't be playing for us anyway. I do get the argument that we should all just get behind the team and try and inspire them on to scrape survival, but they don’t really deserve our support, I don’t think. It’s rewarding their lack of guts. Saunter through 36 games barely trying a leg and we’ll still treat you like heroes just to try and get you to put a bit of effort in and save us from the mess you’ve created.
Back in October, Martin Bain tried to claim we’d had a successful transfer window and targeted hungry, hard-working players with determination and desire.
If this is his idea of hard-working, I’d hate to see the players further down on the shortlist.