Well that’s another ninety minutes wasted and gone, as SAFC went down 2-0 at Goodison, but it could have been so much better – mind, only if your mojo is correctly aligned and your luck is in. Actually, luck had nowt to do with it as the home side did the necessary things to take the three points from us – BUT, and it’s a great big but, we were only a lick of paint away from drawing level and…
Our rendezvous with Burnsy the Mag was spoilt some unpleasant social interaction in the park on Friday night which involved a knife and his son and time at the police station, so we had to make our own entertainment at the Thomas Frost as the folks of Wearside gathered. It was a pleasant enough encounter, as we acknowledged them and they acknowledged us as trays of Jaegerbombs passed across the room.
Needless to say, I didn’t partake. Enough stuff comes in pint glasses to do for me and the rest of the old codgers.
As we’d suspected/hoped, Pickers was back in goal but there was no sign of Vito on the bench, but there was the sound of a spat-out dummy flying overhead. Also, no sign of Denayer, apparently poorly, but it gave Moyes an excuse to revert to four at the back. Shame, as the five had been doing sort of OK, but even we aren’t (yet) desperate enough to give Papy another go. Again, Everton showed a lot of class in their continuing support of Bradley Lowery, with the bairn being mascot again.
Jones O’Shea Kone Oviedo
Seb Gibson Ndong
We weren’t even on the field, kicking right, for the first five or ten minutes as Everton won corner after corner and generally forced us back. That we defended all of those dead balls was down to O’Shea telling folks where to be and Kone giving Lukaku no chance of winning anything in the air – or on the ground. Pickford made a bit of a mess of stopping a shot from Lookman (great name – there he is, look man!) but had taken enough sting out of the effort to gather the ball as it rolled towards the line. Once that nonsense was dealt with we sort of faced them up in midfield and stopped them giving O’Shea so much bother at the back. Basically, what I’m saying is that once we’d weathered the potential storm of the opening minutes, we sort of put our foot on the ball and sort of got a little bit of, well, not control, but prevention of the home side running riot. Oviedo hit what looked like a decent effort that deflected for a corner, but Pickford’s foot was the next vital block. He was looking like he’d never been away as his distribution matched his shot-stopping and general command of his area.
We actually weren’t that bad, but as blunt as an instrument frequently used in the dispatching of victims in an average Agatha Christie mystery. Everton were by no means on their best form, but as the half time whistle approached (well, with five to go, as it happens) one of our attacks broke down, they burst down their right, left us for dead, and when the cross came in from their right, Gueye’s shot was more than enough to beat Pickford, Monty, and Barry Siddall combined. Let’s just say that even Steve Matthews, a Sunday morning Bitterman of exceptional shot-stopping quality, would have just murmured under his breath “bugger” as he watched it fly past.
Such is life, and that’s the way it goes. An awkward effort from Barkley was dealt with by Pickford as Everton tried to press home their advantage but we kept them out, and Davies could only hit the foot of the post to help our cause. We’d been far from clever, we’d wasted many passes with Larsson in particular pinging the ball to a Toffee-flavoured boot more than once, but we were still only a goal away from being back in the game. The single added minute brought us nothing of note, and we went into the break a goal down.
We started the second half with a lot more energy and determination, as you’d expect, and forced the home side into some defending. I was going to say desperate defending, but, while it was a job they had to do, it never got desperate from their point of view. Well, not yet. Oviedo got forward and slung in a few hopeful crosses, but, for all his ability, Defoe aint the sort of player who relishes an aerial challenge. There were a couple of attacks where the ball stotted around the home penalty box and we screamed for a couple of penalties as the ball seemed to be stopped by a couple of Everton hands, but we couldn’t force the keeper into a save – or better still fire past him. When we did win a corner, I was a tad disappointed to see Gibson, who’s quite a big lad, hanging back as the defensive midfielder and not making his presence felt in the box.
You could sense the home fans getting a bit frustrated at their team’s inability to kill the game off, and this gave us visitors a sense that we could get something, resulting in some impressive noise. When Defoe found himself on the receiving end of a cracking pass from Borini after good work from Januzaj with eleven to go, he did 99% of it right, holding off his marker, working space, and hitting a thunderous shot - off the underside of the bar. It bounced down a foot the wrong side of the line, went up too high and too wide for Larsson to do the decent thing, and when Borini knocked it back in it was headed away for a corner. Eleven to go, and that would have got us right back into the game and knocked the stuffing out of the home side. But this is Sunderland, and remember one of the basic rules of football? That you don’t make a change when you’re taking or defending a corner or free-kick? Well, we got that one all wrong, as Moyes brought on Honeyman and Khazri for Gibson and Borini, and they were still fitting themselves into our formation when Everton cleared the corner, we tried to attack again, and Barkley intercepted and played it along the deck. That clearance resulted in a chase between Oviedo and Lukaku from halfway, and no matter if you can keep pace with your opponent, if he’s four stone heavier and a foot taller, he’s going to win any sort of physical battle. Which he did, and slotted the ball past Pickford as the tackle came in to end the contest. Jones picked up an injury and was replaced by Manquillo as we played out the last ten – perhaps Moyes could have given Gooch a few minutes to do something different, but he went for maintaining the status quo in terms of formation. With all of those substitutions, and Januzaj having spent a while on the ground holding his head, there were four minutes added. As in the first half, that added time was of no use to us and that was it.
We left the ground dejected, with Everton gave us their condolences and patted us on the back. “See you in two years” they said, and it was hard to argue. For some reason, there are now no burger vans on the way back to our buses, only a couple of skanky Mr Whippy ice-cream vans dispensing chemical squirty stuff – blue as well, honest. So no chance of any comfort offal-based food, just to round the day off.
When you look at the game in the cold, hard, light of day, the stats will show 2-0 to Everton, that we only had one shot on target – well it wasn’t, otherwise it’d have gone in, but you get my drift – and that our pass completion was pretty poor. Having said all that, a team on the up would have seen Defoe’s effort go either straight in or drop nicely to be successfully followed up, and been successful with at least one penalty appeal– but we’re Sunderland, and while we’re not on the up, that’s the only way to go. It simply has to be. For forty minutes we were only a goal away from getting something, but the lack of attacking back-up to Defoe, with Januzaj and Borini seemingly content to hang too deep, is almost as worrying as the lack of creativity from midfield – which is why chances are so few and far between.
The daft thing is, that while we’re bottom of the league, and have only two games in March, we can identify games – and there are a few of them – that we can target as winnable. Yes, I might be getting a bit optimistic, but it’s more fun than the alternative. Look at games against Leicester, Hull, Boro, Watford, Bournemouth, West Ham as all potentially winnable and something is achievable. Forget Arsenal, Man U, Man City, and Chelsea - If we can get the odd point from them, however unlikely that may seem, it would be a bonus Unlikely, I know, but we have to maintain some sort of hope otherwise we might as well give up and spend our weekends on the beach.
Man of the Match? Had Defoe seen more of the ball, it would probably have been him, but for his organisational contribution, and despite the goals, I’d give it to O’Shea. I’d love for a midfielder to have a stormer and get my vote, but that’s just not happening.
You know the last bit.
ALS T Shirts click here