John McCormick: We're not bottom, so is it a Happy Christmas?

John McCormick: been here before

Colin Randall writes: I commend this epic piece from our associate editor John McCormick, his superbly argued but also entertaining contribution to our series of end-of-season reviews ….

 

You might be telling people

“ it’s a chance to rebuild”.

You might be saying

“Now we can bring the young’ns through”

Or you might just be thinking

“at least we won’t have to watch that rubbish next season”.

And maybe you’re forcing a smile as you say it.

Recent events might even have made it a genuine smile. But are you really happy? How do you really feel?

Jake: ‘I did think a pile of manure might be the right image’

“I’m smilin’ like I’m happy”…

…sang Duster Bennett…

“…but you don’t know how I feel.

I feel like I’ve been cheated, and you gave me a dirty deal”.

Well, like most readers, I suppose, I’m feeling cheated by this relegation. Not just the Sam thing, without which we would have stayed up, but also the manner of the capitulation and the whole, long drawn-out, stranded on the bottom misery that epitomised our season.

Yet, I still have mixed feelings about both David Moyes (at least, I had them until Chelsea) and Ellis Short.

I have no difficulty in criticising Mr Moyes for his demeanour; with only a slight tweak Bob Dylan would have captured it perfectly in “Just like Tom Thumb’s blues”:

When you’re lost on the bottom, and you’re worried and it’s Easter time, too
And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through
Don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there and they’ll really make a mess outta you

It’s a bit harder for me to criticise his tactics and team selection because I don’t think TV gives a true picture and I made it to only three games. In November we held Liverpool at bay for three quarters of the game and looked like a team, though not one able to push for a win. Then I did see a win, not long before Christmas. It was against Watford – our last home win as it happens – and it was brought about by one goal from a now-departed full back and the second of only six clean sheets we managed all season. It was nothing to get ecstatic about but surely there’d be more, we thought.

Then came the third game, at Goodison in February, and hope began to die. We appeared to have no system and couldn’t compete. Everton finished easy winners; basically, their game plan was to run us round until we tired and then finish us off clinically. Watching this game in the flesh and seeing how poor we really were was when I began to realise relegation was a reality.

So, David, why’s he had so little playing time?

Was Moyes to blame? Ostensibly, yes. He was the manager. He was in charge, he was therefore responsible. And when it came to team selection, strategy and tactics Moyes certainly had some questions to answer, especially, in my opinion, about Khazri.

In those three games Moyes used 22 players. However, only four of them started all three matches and only six appeared in all three. By the end of the season some 31 players had had playing time, with 28 making an appearance in Premiership games. Of those 28, only three played in 30 or more games. Chelsea won the premiership using 22 players, of whom 12 played in 30+ games.

But perhaps there were extenuating circumstances.

As Ray Charles said,

Give the poor man a break (“he’s had more than he can take”).

Watmore and Pienaar appeared in my first game before disappearing due to injury. Anichebe made my first two games before his difference-making came to an end. But how many others had been injured by the time I got to that first game at Anfield, at the back end of November? How many more were injured before I went to Goodison at the end of February?

Just think of the players from that long list who never made it back before May. How badly we missed them.

And what of those who did make it back?

Fabio Borini – boom? Or bust?

Borini was in his second comeback game at Watford; when the Everton game came round Larsson was in a similar position. Both players looked shadows of their former selves and I wonder how match fit they were.

Were their and other returns too early because of necessity? Yes or no, I’ve no doubts injuries – and I share Bob Chapman’s views on Cattermole (and what about Kirchhoff, Bob?) – cost us not only points but also momentum at crucial times.

Seb came back but something was lacking

“..that’s the quality I want to bring here..”

Putting all that to one side, there is an argument that Moyes recruited badly and it’s a difficult one to refute. He brought in players I’d happily let go. Even so, we have to accept he arrived late and in difficult circumstances – there’s no shortage of other players I’d be happy to let go, too – and then had his ability to manoeuvre limited by Ellis Short.

In addition, I lived in Liverpool throughout Moyes’s tenure at Goodison and appreciate what a good job he did. I’m minded – or was minded, until that last game – to cut him some slack. So while I’m not shedding tears now Moyes has gone (especially if he left in a no-further-cost agreement), I was never baying for his sacking, although games like that season-ender at Chelsea did suggest he’d lost the players. Overall, however, I’m inclined to believe that it wasn’t just him that caused this season’s debacle and that Ellis Short has to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

But nor does that mean I’m desperate for Ellis Short to leave.

Image: Rob Hutchison

We need to remember that Ellis Short pumped money in and that he did keep us up for a good few seasons, even if he did it badly, and threw in a Wembley trip and all those derby wins for good measure.

A dozen clubs, maybe more, have been sold and subsequently ruined during Ellis Short’s time here

it wasn’t all bad

Some of these clubs, like Morecambe, might be thought of as minnows, not that it matters, but we should be counting Bolton, Blackburn and Nottingham Forest as rivals and we’ve battled with the likes of Charlton and Swindon for Premier League status. I suggest you look those five up and see what they’ve all been doing recently. It’s clubs like that which make it very much a case of be careful what you ask for when it comes to a change of ownership, and in that respect I recommend Jon Keen’s excellent post for close-season reading.

Personally I’m not asking for much, just that Mr Ellis, whom I’m sure is no Venky or Bechetti, ensures no harm comes to our football club. If he does sell he has to pick the right people. And he does have to get it right about the manager, and support whoever he chooses. With that in mind I’ll remind him, and you, of some words made famous by Jefferson Airplane:

When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love
Don’t you need somebody to love
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love

And I’ll leave you with a clip of Duster Bennett, 1946 – 1976, RIP.

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

4 Responses to “End of season reviews: (3) smilin’ like I’m happy, seeking extenuating circumstances” Subscribe

  1. Phil D May 24, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    A very good read. I had never heard of Duster Bennett, so a musical education too.
    Thanks!

    • John Mac May 24, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

      I think the thumbs down was me on my handheld.

      I saw Duster Bennett supporting John Mayall in Newcastle City Hall in about 1970. He jammed with Mayall and his band and, if I remember correctly, Zoot Money in the second half of the concert. Best gig I ever went to.

      Killed in a car crash

  2. Jake May 24, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    Weird coincidence, I just looked up the chords to Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues today and have spent a couple of hours crudely banging out the tune on my guitar….

    Second verse:-

    Now, if you see Ellis Short, please tell him thanks a lot.
    You’ve spent so much, but the club is still in a knot.
    Some games we don’t even see the lads take a shot.
    So the next man you choose, has really gotta stop the rot.

    • John Mac May 24, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

      Brill!.
      Anyone for a third verse?

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