Calamity Capers: Sunderland 3-1 Imps

Courtesy Graham Burrell

All I could do after 30 minutes of yesterday’s game was shake my head in disbelief and fear. 3-0 down to a side with a much bigger ground, better resources and a stronger squad, but the deficit was nothing to do with any of that.

No, the deficit and ultimately the defeat was all of our own doing.

I wasn’t at the game and therefore the report will be left to Richard Godson on the next page, but I do have plenty of thoughts about it. Football is an odd beast in that sometimes, everything hinges on single moments, players or acts. It is pointless to talk about anything other than three stupid goals being given away in the first half yesterday because that was all the game had, signed, sealed and delivered.

Sure, we can talk about winning the second half, about the positives we can take from that, but the harsh truth is there are no positives that will comfort the travelling fans, nor those unable to make it such as me. I suppose the first issue some raised was Jason Shackell coming in for Cian Bolger. I called it in my piece for the Roker Report and I understood why Shackell came back in. Firstly, he’s a natural left footer who can play on the left hand side of the defence. Also, Bolger had been involved in two errors in as many games which led to goals; the corner for Ipswich’s second and the playing around at the back for Peterborough’s opener. Both had been mistakes that led to chances, but neither were directly responsible for the goals.

Other than that, I felt Bolger had been doing well but I could see why he got dropped, even if it was a contentious decision. Michael Appleton is paid to make those choices and he did, with reasons you either agree with or do not. Personally, I thought it was the right decision and I’ve since clearly been proven wrong.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

We actually had a decent chance to take the lead before their goal, playing some decent football to carve open a defence I really felt were there for the taking. Sunderland didn’t impress me a huge amount: I felt more threatened watching us against Posh than I did yesterday. The trouble is, when you gift-wrap goals like we did, any team looks decent.

The first goal was poor defending, not a mistake as such. It is criminal, at any level, to let a corner drop inside the six-yard box and on Monday morning the video analysis will doubtless highlight a couple of players who need their arses slapped. That ball should have been dealt with and even then, the header Tom Flanagan gets on it is weak to a point it’s laughable. He barely knows anything about the goal because he’s so utterly shocked that a League One side have defended a ball in so badly. It reeked of Port Vale’s defending last season when we beat them 6-2.

I went into December lamenting our ability to score and comforted only by our defensive qualities. Much of the talk around new signings was thinking of forward players and yet seven matches later, I’m hoping we keep the bulk of our forward line intact and look at sorting out a couple of key areas at the back. The salient point here is we play out from the back; that is our style now. It does work, no matter what John in the row behind you says. If you make the right decisions, it works. For instance, if you are a centre back and you play the ball out to the left, then get it back and see pressure coming, you do not decide to play a five-yard pass to your keeper, putting him under pressure.

Likewise, if you’re the keeper and you get that dangerous ball from an irresponsible teammate, you do not try to dink it back to him. On both occasions, the choice is to get rid, bang. Boom. Up the field, Punt.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

That’s not to say we should do it every time, I see the benefits of playing out from the back, but you have to be smart and savvy when you do. You cannot play each other into danger and sadly, Jason Shackell and Josh Vickers both had chances to get rid of the ball and keep the score at 1-0. Instead, we’re 2-0 down and the game has gone.

Everything you need to know about this goal can be summed up by Michael Bostwick’s reaction. Watch it again and look at his face.

If that was terrible, the next one was just as bad. A big wallop up the pitch by Jon McLaughlin was left in inexplicably bounce by Jason Shackell and their lad nipped in for a third. I’m not just blaming Shackell here, only 90% of the goal was his fault. The whole back four have watched believing he is going to get a head on it and, to my eyes at least, he ducks. 3-0, game over.

Now, you can say what you want about what happens next. Josh pulling off a super save to keep it at 3-0, Big John coming on and giving them something to think about in attack. The balance of the second half swinging in our favour, the goal being pulled back. Even the arrival of Zach Elbouzedi and his lively cameo. Those may well all be positives we can take away from the game, but what’s the point? I don’t want to sound too negative, you know that’s not my style, but we’re 3-0 down from three goals of our own doing, so what does all of that matter? I’d be doing you a disservice if I started to try and put some icing and a cherry on a cake made of mud and faeces, would I not?

Courtesy Graham Burrell

I suppose you could say that when those three calamitous and unacceptable goals are taken out of the game, we once again matched a side with a bigger squad and budget than us, because we did. Maybe they thought the game was won, but we were far better in the second half, but it amounted to nothing. If they are the benchmark for a top six spot, indeed if Ipswich, Coventry, Oxford and Peterborough are the benchmark by which we measure ourselves, we’re not too far away. However, it’s clear to me that the system is a good one and, when players such as Jorge Grant, Joe Morrell and Tyler Walker get up to speed with it, we’re a good side. The issue is that whilst we make bad decisions at the back, it makes the tactics look debatable and they’re not; the players are.

I’m going to hand over to Richard now, but I want to end my bit with two comments that really impressed me. Listening to Michael Appleton on the radio after the game, he said he didn’t give them a bollocking at half time. ‘They needed me’, that’s what he said. After a first half in which we’ve shot ourselves in both feet and then added a third shot to the temple, the manager didn’t get mad, he encouraged, motivated and remained calm. Then, once the game was done and we’d been beaten, he gave them the dressing down they deserved. That’s good management as far as I’m concerned, which may have contributed to a better second half. Also, fair play for apologising.

The second comment I liked came from Harry Toffolo. He was aked, despite the performance, how did he feel he had played personally and, without missing a beat, he replied; ‘It’s still too raw to start talking about how I played’. He played well, he wasn’t to blame for any of the goals and as usual, he looked committed, strong and focused. I love that lads humble attitude and his character and I still firmly believe we have the right men in place across much of the field to keep ourselves in this division and kick on next year.

However, defenders and the keeper have to make better decisions. That’s all we can take from yesterday as far as I’m concerned.

Courtesy Graham Burrell


  1. It was a game of if’s, but if John Akinde hadnt spent a couple of seconds thinking what foot to put the ball in the back of the net from a inch perfect cross for him we maybe could have clawed it back..roll on Saturday.

  2. Richard, I was puzzled by your son’s memory of his first game being an abandoned match against Blackpool. I wonder if he was perhaps recalling the game against Blackpool on 2nd May 1992 (the last game of that season). The ground was packed with Blackpool supporters and they invaded the pitch twice – just before and immediately after the final whistle. But the game was played to a finish and City won 2-0 with both goals being penalties scored by Matt Carmichael.

  3. Gary, big fan of your work so take this comment in the friendly spirit it’s meant in, but I feel that you quite regularly defend Akinde when he deserves some criticism (and I’m someone who always tried to defend John when people were being unfair about him last season). To only write, ‘Big John coming on and giving them something to think about in attack’ and to not even mention the big chance he missed, is a bit odd. If you’re going to call out Bolger, Shackell and Vickers for their mistakes then Akinde deserves some heat too.

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