Footballs’ joy is it’s ability to take people to levels of joy and frustration rarely experienced in other walks of life. Today we received the latter….not for the first time….but a rarer occurrence than us long timers will remember.
A Sunderland side bereft of confidence and form, with 2 points from 10 games and a growing injury crisis arrived at Bournemouth, went one nil down, went down to ten men………..and won. I know – you have to read it back to comprehend the levels of frustration that kicks in. Still it’s done and gone now and a team that started this four game inter England sequence with a thumping of Hull and a honourable draw with Spurs have ended it with two defeats to relegation candidates. Two wins and they would have been top seven, two defeats and now it’s time again to look nervously over the shoulder…
Eddie was forced into two changes, Surman and Wilson succumbing to dodgy hamstrings to allow in Gosling and Stanislas. King returning to his preferred centre forward role.
It all started well, with precious little sign of what was to follow. Bournemouth weaving magical patterns around a statuesque Sunderland defence. The first saw Ibe released but his dreadful touch ruined the move and was a prelude for his 45 minute contribution. There was little to bother Bournemouth although a needless crunching tackle by Arter left him on a yellow for 88 minutes and was quite crucial in the lack of passion that followed. His old nemesis Mike Dean relishing winding up the home crowd with some erratic decision making, not for the first time.
Often it’s a lack of an early sapping goal that does for Bournemouth with these bottom table visitors but even that wasn’t the case today, another great move across the pitch saw Smith released in behind to square for GOSLING to chest home.
Bournemouth were now moving through the gears, King impressive up top and Wilshere pulling the strings in midfield. Stanislas thumped into the side netting from a good position, Pickford made a very impressive stop to deny King when clean through and Gosling curled over as the red and black tap was turned on full.
The lack of a second goal started to weigh heavily though and Bournemouth started to return to the stuttering passes and over-hit through balls that had dogged the visit to Middlesbrough the week before. This allowed Sunderland back into the game – Ibe was particularly profligate his performance gradually becoming more excruciating to watch as the half wore on. To veteran Bournemouth watchers it was little surprise that Sunderland scored with their first attack, nor the fact that our super porous defence handed it them on a plate. Francis sat down and Smith and Cook waved a foot in the way of ANICHEBE who managed his own surprise well enough to fire in from a tight angle.
HT Bournemouth 1 Sunderland 1
Eddie hauled off Ibe at half time and gave Afobe a run-out up front unfortunately putting King away from the two centre halfs he was petrifying for pace. This played into the visitors hands and they enjoyed a ten minute purple patch of possession and dominance without threatening.
Bournemouth wrestled there way back in gradually and Sunderland were indebted to Pickford for stopping Wilshere’s drive. When Pienaar recieved his marching orders for a second yellow with half an hour to go it looked like only a matter of time before the lead was restored.
This was the prelude for an incredible wave of attacking football that rocked Sunderland to the core. Unfortunately it also paved the way for some finishing that wouldn’t have looked out of place in any Sunday pub league as Howe looked on dumfounded. A great move saw Stanislas hit the post from six yards out then Wilshere only had to sidefoot home but delayed and allowed a crucial touch to deflect the ball inches wide. Afobe then had the first of three gilt edged chances that he sidefooted badly wrong.
It was an attack and defence training exercise and a period of unbelievable pressure but with no end result. Worse was to come. Sunderland thought it about time they ambled back up the pitch and for the second time Anichebe got ahead of Smith and was tripped. Smith was lucky to stay on but DEFOE smacked home the penalty.
That was it for Mackem attacking intent and they ran the clock down in true Moyes style, sub after sub, injury after injury, corner flag runs – the whole shebang.
Bournemouth were not without chances though, Mousset and Fraser had joined the fray, although neither added much other than confusion with the sheer amount of forwards on the pitch. Afobe missed his other two sitters and Pickford’s piece de la resistance came with an unbelievable one handed save to keep out King’s volley. The rest of the game became frustrating series of failed one twos and flicks with the crowd screaming for someone to shoot…….
FT Bournemouth 1 Sunderland 2
Boruc 6 – Beaten at near post but otherwise solid.
Smith 6 – Kept cutting in when we needed width but pick of defence.
Cook 6 – Not much to do but both goals came through middle.
Francis 5 – Poor for the first goal and bullied by Anichebe
Daniels 5 – Poor link up play and wide open down left at times.
Ibe 4 – Shame – now totally played out of form. Woeful today.
Arter 5 – Early booking meant shadow of normal self.
Gosling 7 – Kept trying, moved it well, good run for his goal.
Wilshere 6 – Creative but facing a wall and with poor options ahead.
Stanislas 5 – Not back to form he left with – the Stan of old not new!
King 6 – Looking sharp up front, shame he moved to wing.
(Afobe 4) – Bang out of form in front of goal.
MOM – Not much to choose from but Gosling to me kept going and looked the most hungry on pitch as well as scoring.
Eddie will be head scratching tonight. For me, and it’s not often you can say this, the blame lies totally at his door.
His persistence with Ibe is very odd for a number of reasons. We have now not protected a precocious young talent and caused him an issue with several sections of the crowd, something that could have been avoided with his continual dropping levels of performance, confidence and stamina. We have also sent a strange message to the team that how you play in a match is unimportant for some personnel, while others get dropped on one poor game.
Effectively we played the first half with ten men, the players stopped giving him the ball and most of the play had to go central or right as a result. On the eight times he had the ball in significant positions he lost it seven times. It also meant a total change of game plan for the second half – bringing on a bulky tall striker against bulky tall centre halfs who then felt comfortable whereas King had them nervous. All of this could have been avoided had he rested Ibe – something that was blindingly obvious needed to happen.
On top of this Eddie has a problem against teams that sit deep. Both Boro and Sunderland have taken maximum points against us doing this. Without space for our speedsters to run into we lack the guile to conjure up much and when we do, without Wilson, we have no natural goalscorers in the team. This means a lot of passing in shooting positions and endless attempts at flicked one twos at pace that don’t work. We overplayed hugely again today when in key positions and missed many opportunities to get behind a creaking defence.
The subs were poor. Why throw as many forwards on a pitch as you can, give them no role and shape and hope for the best. Too many waiting and not enough creating. Mousset was a prime example of this, never sure what his role was and touched the ball twice despite a considerable time on the pitch. He looked confused at all times and even engineered a positional swap with Afobe himself by asking him. Lots of players stood up front trying to get out of each other’s way and a nice congested area to defend as a result.
The final issue is the defence. We chose not to strengthen it with a first teamer for reasons only Eddie will know – you get the result you get. Four errors out of four against relegation candidates. Not a strongman natural defender amongst them and as a result a very average target man was hero-worshipped off the pitch by an exultant away following.
My fear of or transfer dealings is well documented. Get the first team on the pitch and we have enough to survive. We didn’t push it on though, and we certainly didn’t add strong replacements in key areas so very little competition for places. At the same time though, we squandered millions and millions of pounds on bang average players that either contribute nothing from the bench or can’t make the bench even.
Very poor today. We spent a fortune to have three wins out of eleven….. Eddie and JT got some real work in the break to fashion a strong unit out of a mini form slump.