“Haha, I telt yer they wouldn’t wait until the morning!” was the first call I received after the match. Of course, you all know what has happened in the wake of our comical draw with the team previously the worst in the division. I mean, Simon Grayson is a person who I’ve never met, but who came across as a sort of nice bloke – but the world is full of nice blokes, nasty blokes, and stupid blokes who have all failed to make it as a half-decent Sunderland manager. We can score goals, but we simply can’t stop them going in at the other end, and tonight was a perfect example of why we’re in the crap and Mr Grayson is on Jobseekers’ allowance. Three absolutely preventable goals, several players looking like they’d rather be playing something that didn’t involve a crowd of people watching them, and a crowd who were, quite justifiably, alternately heartbroken or screaming support. 3-3, in case you’d missed it, and the game actually contained the two or three minutes of 2017 when we’d been leading a league game at home. There were moments to cheer, moments to wail in desperation, and a finale that was, in a way befitting a very cheap music hall, sort of exciting. Ultimately, though, the night was a perfect storm - Bolton were bottom, we were second bottom, they’d scored a solitary away goal, and a win for them would have seen us swap places, In a bizarre twist of fate, we actually moved up a place, above Burton Albion – a place closer to safety –while the visitors stayed at the bottom. Unbelievable, Jeff!
There was a sigh of disappointment as our bus turned up - from 45 to 30 to 17 seats in consecutive games - then the murmur of anticipation when there was a person too many and 18 volunteered to stay at home. Many were calling for the manager's head, but that would lead to the eternal Catch 22 question - would you employ anyone mad enough to want the job? There was more atmosphere outside the Colliery Tavern than at Saturday's match, which sort of boded well for the atmosphere in the ground. I chose my seat from the six available in the vicinity, and waited for the (almost) inevitable. Please prove me wrong, Lads.
Matthews O'Shea Wilson Oviedo
Ndong Williams Gibson
McManaman Grabban McGeady
Ben Alnwick was in goal for the Trotters, but as a goal keeper there was little chance of him doing the former player thing and scoring. We kicked South, as is apparently the favoured option these days. There was, as we’ve come to expect, a fair bit of what looked like effort, but could well have been putting a show on, as we won a few corners and did some decent things in midfield without getting the ball into the box. McGeady and McManaman looked to have been given free roles, as both seemed to turn up in unexpected places in the middle of the field, or, in McGeady’s case, the other side of the field. Being cynics, we were relieved when we passed the magic twenty, then thirty, minute marls without conceding, but then watched as the central defence stood back and allowed Sammy Bloody Ameobi to fire in a daisy-cutter from 25 yards that the keeper should really have tipped past his left hand post, if not simply got both hands on the ball. Desolation in the seats.
McManaman tried to turn in from the right, but didn’t have the strength to hold off his marker when trying for the final, decisive, run into the box.
There followed fifteen minutes of erratic play from both sides, which explained why we’re filing the bottom two places in the division, then Williams eventually decided he could reach a ball down towards the north west corner, did a little stepover and fed McGeady. The cross into the box was decent, but Bolton managed to get in the way. As in our last game, 44 minutes were on the clock when Grabban did the decent thing. He ran onto Ndong's excellent pass, ran into the box down the inside-left channel, and clipped it across the keeper – it seemed to take forever to reach the far corner, but it duly bounced in. A very well-taken goal, and it gave us something to talk about over the half-time interval after the one added minute.
We started the second half with Vaughan on for Jonny Williams, who’d run about a lot but looked a bit lightweight and hadn’t provided the front line with much to work on. Vaughan was straight into the thick of things, putting and overhead kick off-target, then, after McGeady did really well to set Grabban through, looked to be pulled to the ground as his partner crossed low into the box. Not for the first, or last time, the ref was not in the mood to give us a decision. Not to worry, as Ndong found the perfect pass to Oviedo, and his cross was even perfecter, with Grabban and Vaughan both on the end of it but our number 11 making the decisive contact. Hell’s Bells, we’re actually leading in a game at home in 2017! Is this the corner turned?
Ah, give awwa.
The decision to award a free against O’Shea, way out on our right, was a tad harsh, but our man should have been more careful. When the free came in, Grabban skied the clearance, then attacked the dropping ball in the same manner he attacks any ball above head height – by looking at it and watching the opposition win it. Which they did, and were left with a chance every bit as simple as the one he’d put away a couple of minutes earlier. We’d barely stopped swearing at each other when Ndong played a dopey ball well short of Ruiter and onto the toe-end of a Bolton player, who crossed it to the back stick where it was laid onto a plate for Henry to smash in it. At this point, some of the crowd were debating which comedy writing partnership would be best suited to producing a work featuring SAFC, but we all agreed that none that we knew of could come up with anything ridiculous enough.
Watmore came on for McManaman, who’d tried one twisty turny trick in the wrong place too often, and he brought hope, chasing down several passes on our right. When McNair replaced Gibson, there was a little more urgency to our play, and young Paddy was the fulcrum of a decent period of play. When he picked his spot and fired in a beautiful left-footer, we were on the up, and for a few minutes, had the crowd going as we won a few corners and put Bolton under pressure. Ultimately, though, it was not good enough. We can complain that the ref didn’t like us, and with offside given against Vaughan when his marker was behind him and with both arms around our man, you have to wonder. There were four added minutes, which many missed as they left when McNair’s tame effort was saved at the near post, but many had already gone by then. Vaughan spent the last ten minutes hobbling about on one leg, but still put in more effort than some. Of course, when the whistle went, many of those still in attendance expressed their displeasure, and as Grayson approached the Manager’s Office, Bain shouted “where d’ye think ye’re gannin’?” and that was the end of his days at the SOL.
Inevitable? Too bloody right it was, but now comes the question we’ve been asked so many (too many) times over the last decade – who next? To be blunt, who in their right minds would employ anybody who wants to work for us? As poison chalices go, ours is a beauty. I know our last three left of their own accord, but in reality Moyes deserved to be sacked, Advocaat showed cowardice in the face of a challenge that many football mangers would have relished, and Sam had bigger fish to fry, and bugger up. Man of the Match? Are you really bothered? I thought McNair built on his positive but brief comeback and showed that he can be really important to us, and while Grabban scored twice, he gave one away. Sorry, but tonight, with other things on my mind, I really can’t decide. Look, while the three goals we conceded undoubtedly down to errors, by the players, which is arguably something the manager can’t be blamed for, he did bring in ten of them over the summer.
Apparently, the German consortium - aye, remember them, with their lack of money and their lack of real desire to take over the club - were in the crowd. Let’s hope they’ve saved up a few bob and got themselves a few rich friends in tow. Why not get in touch, and partner up with, the musical Wearsiders who were a rival consortium a not so long ago? And anyone else with not quite enough money to take on SAFC single-handed. Hey, I can come up with a five-figure sum if I try really hard, but, seriously, we need some people to get together and agree that single ownership isn’t the way forward – certainly not in our case.
As for our next manager, there’ll almost inevitably be the caretaker from within. Is Bally up for another stint, or will he choose another sap to take the flak? Cookie the kitman seems immune to most things, so perhaps it’s time to give him a go. Robbie Stockdale is perhaps the sensible choice, given that we’re playing his old team at the weekend. Longer term? I should be good at this prediction business, as we’ve been through it so many times, but who’s around and who’s interested?
Aitor Karanka has been mentioned, as he lives locally. A big “no thanks” from me, as he appears to be a moody bugger who can’t cope with conflict – which we specialise in. Peter Reid – well, we still like him, but he managed to relegate subsequent clubs. Then there’s the Kevin Phillips argument, but surely he’d have been here before now if he’d been up for the sort of fight that we’re in. Many have also suggested that John O’Shea would be a good fit, but despite his playing experience, there’s no management there. One thing football isn’t short of is available managers, but they’re available for a reason – somebody, somewhere, thought they were bad at their job, and we need somebody good (very good) at their job. Whoever it is, it needs to be somebody who can break the cycle of failure at Sunderland. As a good mate (a mag, but still a mate) commented tonight, we’re just not funny anymore, a bit like watching a drunk that won’t/can’t stop falling over. He wants us to still fail, but fail despite showing passion for our shirt. I sort of agree.
As I said before they sacked Simon – Catch 22. Who’s mad enough, but not mad enough to be discounted.
ALS T Shirts click here