The magic of the cup? 30,000 empty seats and the fact that the prospect of an extra game that neither team wanted wasn’t enough for either to bust a gut and actually win the game indicates that the magic is wearing thin. Our thoughts this last week have been on the age-old (well, the last five years for sure) Sunderland conundrum – why play well against the top teams and like muppets against those around us? If we’d played like we did against Chelsea and Liverpool when we played Swansea and Burnley, we’d have six more points. Mebbe that’s the “thing” that’s wrong with us that people just can’t put their fingers on.
Of course, we’ve also been thinking about who we don't want to leave rather than who we'd like to bring in. As there's to be little or no money to spend, the latter is a bit of a fruitless exercise anyway, but the West Ham supporting London media seemed determined to unsettle our star striker and have him "make up" for the manner of his leaving the Hammers. If staying in the Prem is worth £100 million, then that's what the starting price should be in any transfer talks.
Thankfully, they've been told to go away, Defoe himself has made no noises about wanting to leave and seems happy to enforce the status he already has on Wearside, and it was announced on Friday that the Eastenders had given up. My sources (Ken Lawson, if you must know) reveal that they’ve switched their attention to Neymar, offering £2 million up front, plus a signed James Corden shirt and a second-hand Russel Brand DVD. To think that there was a time when I used to think that if I’d been born in London (perish the thought) West Ham would probably have been my team of choice – ‘cos they won the World Cup, y’knaa. Their attitude in recent seasons, their obnoxious Vice-Chairman who is actually a woman who writes for the Sun, and the scandalously inefficient management of games at their new ground has meant that I wasn’t alone in rooting for the overdog in last night’s game. I had a reet good laugh as the ‘Appy ‘Ammers took a reet battering by City, not one of my favourite clubs, but there you go.
We're also losing the summer concerts and the Ladies are going part-time, which is a shame but the first team comes...well, first. There are obvious shades of the fire-sale of the early years of the century as we cashed in all of our assets and just saved the club, but I think we’re better placed now than we were then. If only the financial fair play rules were applied properly to every club, then we’d look relatively much better off.
On the field, our awful showing at Burnley was followed by a very good performance against Liverpool, and the comments from Moyes afterwards were accurate. "If I was a German manager and my team had played like that, I'd be getting praise for my tactics." Speaking of German managers, Klopp went down in many Wearsiders' estimation with his post-match whining, especially when he'd spent 90 minutes in the linesman's ear. With our injury list showing no signs of shortening, and our Africans heading to the ACN, several of our younger players have been looking at the FA Cup with hopes of a starting place. The big decision personally was concerning my matchday clothes – would it be the nice soft cotton replica “FA Cup Final 1973” shirt, or the original, jaggy nylon job that threatens to saw through your oxters while doing nothing to keep out the cold.
Instead of hoying some youngsters in, Moyes put out a fairly strong side, with the bench, O’Shea apart, having only a handful of appearances between them.
Manquillo Denayer Papy PVA
Rodders Love Seb
Borini Defoe Januzaj
Kicking south, we started with Seb on the left and Borini on the right, while Rodders and Love filled the middle and Januzaj sort of drifted across behind Defoe. After a brief period of bright play when Borini and Januzaj gave the visiting defence a few things to think about without actually getting through, Burnley imposed themselves. After Rodders shot went close, their big forwards got amongst us, but didn’t give Denayer and Papy as hard a time in the air as we feared. Having said that, things looked bad when Vokes was played through the middle, but Vito pulled off an excellent stop as he raced off his line at just the right time and got his hand to the shot. Relief all round, apart from the large Burnley contingent. Once that, on the quarter hour, was out of our system, we began to play a bit, and most of it went through Rodders. He’d already played a few useful balls before he unleashed an effort from distance, but it was several yards wide of the right hand post. If it’s not on target, it doesn’t really matter how far off it is, I suppose, and at least he had a go.
The presence of the delightfully podgy Joey Barton gave us something to vent our frustrations on as we tried to find a way through.
PVA had been doing a lot of overlapping, as you’d expect, but Burnley worked that one out and we thought a switch of wings between Seb and Borini might have helped, with the Italian’s extra pace giving PVA more help, but it stayed as it was. Seb seemed reluctant to make a pass he wasn’t 100% sure of completing, which meant that there were a few occasions where forward runs came to nothing. Borini played Manquillo in down the right and we were out of our seats as he burst into the box. A shot looked the better option, but he decided to cross. That wouldn’t have been too bad if he hadn’t absolutely walloped it –had it not been too high anyway it would have probably have taken the head off anyone mad enough to get their head to it. A good chance gone, and the best one we had in the first half. The single added minute brought nothing of note, and we headed into the dressing room level. It hadn’t been much of a game in terms of actual quality and chances created, but there had been a fair amount of effort and after that spell of Burnley pressure, Rodders had controlled the midfield for large parts of the half. What we were missing was the killer pass into the box – but that’s been the story for a while. If we could have found Defoe, he’d have had the chance to do what he does.
No changes for the second half, although we shifted Januzaj across to the left and Seb more to the middle. Burnley were the more positive side in the opening exchanges, but we worked our way back into the game and Rodders won a corner when he outpaced his marker to get to the byline on the left side of the box, but his cross was cut out at the front post. He was looking like a proper footballer and put in a good shot from outside the box that was tipped over. Arfield limped off on the hour, with Kightly replacing him, and Januzaj decided it was his turn to get into the game but couldn’t engineer any clear-cut chances. When Burnley got forward, as they did on several occasions, it was either Papy with a header or, more often, Denayer flying across to intercept. He might not be that good in the air, but he has the pace to pick up the pieces in the box. There as a scary moment when Papy fluffed a clearance, and thankfully Denayer did the mopping up. Defoe, helped by Januzaj, got to the left side of the box and looked to be about get in but he and his marker went down in a heap. Some optimists shouted for a penalty, but it was outside the box and Defoe was penalised for handball.
With about twenty to go, they replaced Gray and Gudmundsson with Hendricks and Ashleigh Barnes – he who’d given Papy such a hard time on New Year’s Eve.
We were expecting the substitutions that would give us a new edge – perhaps Asoro alongside Defoe to try a few of his tricks, or Honeyman to replace a tiring Rodders – but, with about ten to go, on came O’Shea for Seb. We expected Denayer to pile forward, but for a while we looked to be playing three at the back – but with the fullbacks deciding not to push forwards, we ended up for a while with five. Hardly the stuff you want to see when the threat of a replay looms large, and it did nothing to dispel the feeling we’d had since about the hour that a daft tenner on 0-0 would have paid for Sunday club in the Bay Hoss. We nearly threw it away when we allowed them to get in a cross that was met by somebody’s head, and Vito was rooted to the spot as it hit his left-hand post and the rebound ended with a free to us.
That seemed to give them a bit of hope, and Hendricks in particular upped his game to give us a bit of grief. Barnes looked like he was about to do us some damage but Denayer flung himself in the way. It was a bit frantic for a while in front of Vito.Three added minutes ticked away to the inevitable replay. Another visit to Turf Moor –marvellous. A pox on replays!
Man of the Match? A decent afternoon for Vito with one outstanding save and a number of good takes. Manquillo was OK but for that awful cross, and PVA had a funny day at the office. Piling forward, as he does, for the first half hour, having half an hour off, then trying the same again but getting caught out defensively. Denayer showed he can be a good sweeping defender, while Papy was generally good, carrying the ball out of trouble at times, but managed to put in a couple of daft passes that went nowhere. Love was steady away without doing anything spectacular, while Seb seemed to be lacking a bit of confidence when it mattered. Rodwell, before he ran out of steam, showed that he can command a game and be a physical presence. Januzaj was a mixture of getting boxed in when out wide and leaving people for dead when playing more central. Borini ran about a lot but never really looked like being the player to change the game, while Defoe suffered from a lack of service for large parts of the game. O’Shea’s ten minute cameo was just O’Shea.
Rodders it is, then. Mebbe second and third to our central defenders, although Brian nominated my Christmas jelly babies.
Keep the Faith.
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