Really, where do I start with this one? More importantly, where does the club finish with it? Holding the lead for barely sixty seconds following McGeady’s successful penalty conversion on nineteen minutes, we let in a second after the break to fall victim to a Burton side who simply cannot be described as anything but straightforward and effective.
We can moan all we want about their propensity for lying down when plainly not hurt, but they did that last season we knew they would do it again. There wasn’t even the pre-match peregrine flypast that we had before Saturday’s glorious (by comparison) draw, just… abysmal, atrocious, appalling. Spineless, soul-less, shapeless. Hapless, helpless, hopeless.
The teamsheet gave us a bit of hope, as there was energy in midfield (O’Nien) and pace in attack (Watmore), but…
McLaughlin Willis Lynch Hume
Watmore Grigg McGeady
Burton kicked off north, towards their coachload of fans, and for the opening quarter of an hour neither side looked particularly like breaking the deadlock, although we possibly had the most of the ball. Our right hand side had Watmore running onto forward balls from McLaughlin, but not putting in the cross when needed, and poking a shot straight at the keeper when McGeady clipped one over the top into the box. When O'Nien showed well just in their half, McLaughlin, for some reason, chose to try a dribble and took the first of several knocks as he was dispossessed. Then, following another speedy run from Hume down the left, it was passed between O’Nien, Grigg, and McGeady, and when it arrived at O’Nien’s feet in the box, he was brought down. McGeady put it away, Burton restarted, came down our right where McLaughlin dawdled, in came a shot from distance which Burge saved, and the loose ball was headed in at the back post. Defending? I didn’t see any.
There was plenty of pace from Watmore, and he managed to force a save, while O’Nien was buzzing about behind the front three and hoping to pick up some scraps, but too often the ball took way too long to get from the back to the front. Burge also got in the way of a dangerous effort, while McLaughlin was having a rotten time defensively, taking a couple of heavy knocks that had us wondering if Parky might cut his losses and put Luke, or even Flanagan at right back. Quite what our midfield would have looked like without O’Nien’s energy didn’t bear thinking about, so after the two added minutes we spent the break trying to work out what we could do with the players at our disposal to change things in a positive fashion. We couldn’t agree on a definitive re-shuffle.
There were no changes for the second half, and, to be fair, we started it quite well and got the crowd going. As an attack threatened to come to nothing, we laid it back from the edge of the area for McLaughlin to hit a proper blast a foot over the top. Bugger – the difference that would have made doesn’t bear thinking about. O’Nien came in from the left and saw his shot saved, and it really looked like we just had to score before long – but the malaise which has crept into our play this season surfaced again, and twenty minutes into a half that we’d been on top of, they broke again, and the low cross left our defence on the wrong foot, their man got there first popped it in from a couple of yards out. We were still wondering how we’d allowed that to happen when it should really have got even worse as we allowed them down our right again, but managed to clear. Things in the stands were getting decidedly fractious as players started to make silly mistakes and play loose passes, so Parky gave up on McLaughlin, with Maguire coming on to play behind the front three and O’Nien moving back. It didn’t work, and Kimpioka replaced Leadbitter on 78 to see if he could produce another last point-saver – I even shifted to the seat I’d occupied when he did it on Saturday, but it didn’t work. We needed a good save from Burge, tipping a strong shot onto the bar and way up into the air, to keep us within touching distance, but even in the four added minutes we couldn’t score, and the crowd turned. They joined in the Burton fans’ chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” and that’s a sure sign of deep problems.
I don’t particularly like having a go at players, and it the case of this game it would take more words than I’ve got the patience to write, but something has gone sadly amiss off the field and had made its way onto it. Perhaps they did really like Jack Ross – he is a very likeable bloke – but it’s not Parky’s fault that Ross is no longer with SAFC. We know that Parky’s preferred system isn’t the same as Ross’s, but the players should be good enough to cope with tactical changes. Why can’t we be like other teams – straightforward and effective? Power’s early booking means yet another change for the next game, and questions have to be asked about the apparent attitude of certain players in terms of general demeanour on the field. All of this culminated in players producing Sunday morning moments, like swinging a leg and missing the ball completely, passing straight out of play, and passing straight to an opponent. Just three examples from an Argos- catalogue-sized catalogue of basic mistakes. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the experience.
Man of the Match? Support for Grigg was minimal, again, despite a sort of promising start, and Watmore’s speed caused problems – but not as many as if he’d been able to find Grigg with a cross or two. I’ll probably give it to Willis, as it could have been a lot worse had it not been for him in the centre of a creaky defence. It’s not fun anymore, Sunderland. Please sort it out.