Malcolm Dawson writes: to me yesterday was a microcosm of life as a Sunderland supporter. The mood around the ground was one of excitement and anticipation of a new season ahead. The early signs were positive. It was apparent that the new players had qualities their replacements lacked and the attack minded approach was refreshing after the dross of recent seasons. As the half time whistle blew there was nothing to dampen the optimism, except perhaps that despite the pressure and dominance the Fulham goal was rarely threatened. That those hopes were dashed by an opposition snatch and grab and that the subsequent resignation of those around me that defeat was on the cards summed up my 49 years of following The Lads. But I was encouraged by the approach and what is undoubtedly a stronger squad than the one that finished last season. Peter Sixsmith can appreciate my view but asks the readership whether this is justified or just more false optimism …

SoapboxFULHAM

FALSE DAWN OR JUST A BLIP ON THE WAY TO A NEW ERA?

Matches are won by putting the ball in the opposition net. Matches are lost when you fail to stop the opposition doing the same to you. And that, in a nutshell, sums up the opening game of the season.

It’s the first season opener we have lost since 2006 when we went down 1-2 at the currently empty Ricoh Arena, with Darryl Murphy scoring for a team that was made up of the likes of Ben Alnwick, Rory Delap, Kenny Cunningham and Stephen Elliott.

It is obvious that the team we turned out on Saturday was far superior to that one. We did play some good football at times and looked as if we could do well. But, when the chips were down, we fluffed it.
The general consensus was that the manager had picked the correct side. Westwood deserved a start in goal and Roberge was probably a better bet than Cuellar. The midfield and forwards were easy to sort out – two wingers and Sessegnon playing behind Altidore. It was to be hoped that that would give us sufficient pace and guile to penetrate what was expected to be a resolute Fulham defence.

We worked hard and there were promising signs. We looked to pass the ball and we did and it was, by and large, accurate. We dominated the middle of the field with the impressive Cabral pushing Sidwell out of the way with ease.

Fulham’s job was made all the more difficult by the idiotic Boateng, who committed three fouls under the nose of the referee in the space of eight minutes and was booked leaving more opportunities for Larsson to push forward.

Jake takes inspiration from the revolution

Jake takes inspiration from the revolution

There was good passing and movement, there was solid defending, but what there wasn’t was a finish. Celustka, who made a sound debut, came closest with a thundering shot that Stekelenberg did well to tip over the bar.
Cabral had a couple of shots that went wide, Altidore poked one into the keeper’s arms after he had wriggled away from the ever impressive Hangeland but we never really opened them up in the box. And then, we fell for a sucker punch. A corner from Duff found an unmarked Kasami and we were 1-0 down and chasing the game. And we do not do “chasing the game”.  At least we didn’t disappoint in that respect.
The longer the game went on, the more comfortable Fulham became and the more we were inclined to knock the ball up the field or cross from deep. As usual, it didn’t work as Hangeland and his colleagues held firm against our rather limited pressure.

The crowd began to drift away and the new recruits may well have begun to realise that playing for Sunderland can be a bit like having the life sucked out of you.

To look for positives – well, all of the new players looked comfortable. Celustka has pace and can tackle and reads the game well. Roberge looked very comfortable on the ball and Cabral snapped into the tackle and is not afraid to shoot. Giaccherini had some lovely touches and can cross the ball well and should provide Altidore with some excellent service. The American looks a very good player – he is strong, brings others into the game and will be a handful for most central defenders if he continues in this vein.

On the other hand, Roberge missed Kasami and that proved to be crucial. Cabral needs a more skilful partner in midfield to give the ball to when he has won it, Giaccherini faded in the second half and Altidore lacked that final touch in front of goal.

Of the old guard, there was a disappointing performance from Sessegnon and rumours abound that he is off to Qatar in the next few days. He did very little in this game and has shown that he is an enigma. Three managers have shown that they do not know what to do with him. He was the first one to be substituted and was replaced by Ji, a decision which puzzled me. The Korean has not figured in pre-season and was away for most of last year. He has never impressed this writer and he did little to make me change my mind as he missed a straightforward header with six minutes to go.

It is a very disappointing result against a side who had little ambition beyond a goalless draw and who got lucky. These are games that we need to win and although it is the opener and there are 37 left, it is the kind of defeat that chips away at the confidence of players, management and fans alike. Had we had a similar game against Manchester City, Everton or Spurs we could have taken much more heart from it. But we lost three points to one of those teams that are in our league and who we need to beat.

Not the result we wanted and there was a feeling of “Here we go again” as the whistle went and the 250 Fulham fans celebrated. We now go to Southampton (winners at West Brom) knowing that we need to be more clinical in defence and attack. So, nothing new there then.

Finally, a word about the referee. It is usually a critical one but step forward Neil Swarbrick, who had an excellent game. He booked Boateng at the right time and also refused to let Berbatov and Duff run the clock down. If only his Assistants had been Carthy and Thompson.



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Born in Hetton le Hole, deputy editor Malcolm Dawson's first game at Roker Park was the three all draw with Leicester City at the beginning of the 64-65 season. Having spent more than thirty years living in the East Midlands, he was Chairman and Information Officer of the Heart of England Branch of the Supporters' Association but has now returned to live in County Durham.

22 Responses to “Sixer’s Fulham Soapbox: false dawn or just a blip? Let the readers decide” Subscribe

  1. malcolm August 18, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    Although it won’t be counted in the goal attempt statistics, Altidore had a good chance when he made a great run in the box and lost his marker but was just unable to get on the end of Colback’s low cross. However, it is fair to say that apart from that and Ji’s header we were restricted to long range efforts.

    Johnson and Larsson had decent games but their free kick attempts were both atrocious. But there was a well worked corner played to Giaccharini on the edge of the area which could easily have resulted in a goal.

    There were plenty of positives but the fixture list means that the next few weeks won’t be easy and we need some decent results quickly. David Moyes take note.

  2. Plan B August 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    We weren’t bad, but were wasteful. Johnson was a culprit, shooting wildly when they were players in better positions. I was surprised to see him stay on, and was also a little baffled as to why Ji and not Whickham.

    Overall you’d have to question wether playing just 3 pre-season friendlies was wise regardless of how many new signings.we’ve made, on this evidence it has to be an emphatic no as our final third play was inventionless and Sess never got going. There were positives though and we shouldn’t be worried, the new lads look comfortable and there is a lot to work with.

  3. Michael August 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    False dawn or just a blip? Too early to say ,but we do need to get four points from the next two games, because after that the points will be hard to come by for a month or so.
    The fixtures computer hasn’t done us any favours.

    I always thought that it would take time for the fruits of the revolution to show through…..so we might have to wait for the second half of the season by when we will daily be in yet another relegation battle.

    PDC knows we need two more players at least….CM and LB.If we get them and when Fletcher is fit we should be OK.

    Personally if we get a good offer for Sess which enables us to bring in three really good players I’ d take it . On his day he is good, but those days are too few and far between.

    McCarthy or MacArthur from Wigan could fill the CM role.Anybody else agree?

  4. tom August 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    The work-rate was extremely high and our ball retention was better than I can remember, in what was a cohesive team performance.

    I think even Sessegnon would agree that he never got going in the game, and Larsson, though an extremely hard-working player, is largely ineffective in central midfield where he looks to me to be permanently lost.

    The remainder of the team played well in my view, with Cabral and Colback outstanding, and the others more than acceptable.

    We lost our way after 70 minutes when O’Shea started to play longer balls, cutting out midfield, and generally resulting in a loss of possession; perhaps this was on instruction as the midfield tired.

    We created a number of good shooting opportunities, but rarely hit the target, something I am sure will be worked on next week.

    So why did we not win?

    Yes, the goal should have been avoided, Roberge will get more opportunities in the future to learn about defending set pieces in the EPL.

    But the glaring gap in our performance was the total absence of someone in the middle of the park with the ability to BEAT A PLAYER THEN MAKE A TELLING PASS.

    This responsibility falls totally on Sessegnon’s shoulders and when he is not on-song or marked out of the game, we will always struggle. Our wing play was very good, but Altidore was always outnumbered when the crosses came in. A creative, attacking midfielder would add to numbers in the box.

    I did not think I would say this, but Gardner looks like the best short term solution to the attacking midfield role, unless PDC is prepared to give Ji the opportunity. Certainly, without the acquisition of a player in that position within the next 2 weeks, we are in for a more-than-challenging time leading up to Christmas.

    Here’s hoping.

  5. Jeremy August 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    I agree with a lot of the comments that we’ve heard so far. My major frustration was with Sessegnon. What is he exactly? He’s been here for years and remains an enigma. I don’t know what he is, other than largely ineffectual but that’s a description of his performances (same again yesterday(, rather than a definition of his role.

    Cabral is a load better than Cattermole or the headless chicken that has gone back to Turkey. I was tempted to say headless Turkey but that didn’t quite sound right.

    Alridore is strong and determined but appears to lack composure in front of goal. At least he got some shots (albeit poor ones) at goal. He is better than Graham already (who wouldn’t be? Ed).

    Giacherinni is a bag of tricks who will deliver the goods this season. Johnson needs to learn how to deliver a cross into the box and not to the far corner flag. I live in hope rather than expectation with that.

    As for Roberge, I wonder what a “centre back” is doing on the field if that’s what he considers to be an appropriate way to defend at a corner kick.

    I liked the look of the Czech lad who was steady. If he turns out to be half as good as our last Eastern European right back he will do for me.

    Colback; well nothing changes. Easily forced to pass backwards and sideways for me. We need a left back. How many times have we said that since Micky Gray left. A proper one that is ours not somebody else’s please Paolo.

  6. Drummer August 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    Plus points in our performance but they count for nought if we can’t win the game. To use a very rough analogy we were like a skill full boxer with the fatal flaws of both a weak punch and a glass chin, ie we outboxed them, couldn’t hurt them and when we took one ourselves we ” went” .Sess was hopeless and maybe it’s time he went, Altidore played the target man to a tee with no one helping him, Fletcher can’t return soon enough. The goal we conceded was schoolyard stuff and it must be our first and last of that type. We never stopped trying , never stopped pressing and Ji fluffed he’s lines at the death. We should have got a point at least and even that wouldn’t have been enough, with the impending fixtures we’re playing catch up already …… again.

  7. A T Hedley August 18, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    In reality it would have taken a miracle for a team with so many new players to slip into a synchromeshed performance on day one and all the posters know this in their heart of hearts.

    It is more likely to take 4- 6 weeks before they start to gel properly . Ji was I believe playing in a mid field position which impressed his then club and it is rumoured that PDC has been impressed since his return.

    This won’t be an easy start to the season but there is more reason to have hope for the future than we have seen for may a long year

  8. Kev S August 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    I thought all the new players looked decent, although disappointed with Giaccherini in the second half. Our biggest problem is those left from last season. Sessegnon, Larsson and Johnson offered nothing for 90% of last season – I saw nothing yesterday to make me think they can offer any more now.

    A creative central midfielder has been our number one priority for years. Can’t understand why PDC suddenly seems to be talking about this now. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has been giving it priority but just nothing doing yet.

  9. KenG August 18, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    Despite the result I was heartened by a performance far superior to what we have become used to in the last few seasons.I remain optimistic and as an aside one of my mates in the East Stand told me a bloke behind him said ‘I wish McClean was playing then I’d have something to complain about’. Keep the Faith

  10. Jeremy August 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Good post Ken. You’re right, and so is Alan with his comments. Far more assertive and determined and the new lads are a huge improvement on those departed. It the remainder of the old guard who need to go.

    I rarely comment on Larsson and Sess, not because there’s nothing to say, and I realise that its because I simply expect nothing from either of them any more.

  11. Geoff Bethell August 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    We haven’t even come far enough to call it a dawn let alone a false one. Di Canio is easy enough to pick. He wants to play attacking fotball but he’s dead scared that he’s ended up with a team of uncaring cowardly mercenaries. Frankly so am I. I hope we don’t get into the position where supporters are going to hang themselves after the 3rd game. It will be VERY interesting indeed to see how many games Bardsley plays this season.

    • malcolm August 19, 2013 at 6:28 am #

      Bardsley won’t play for us again – ever. His pathetic tweet shows that he knows that too. Had he not been injured he would have been at a new club, with SAFC meeting some of his inflated wage demands, before the current window closed.

      As it is he will sit with his feet up, while his broken bones heal, raking in best part of half a million quid and the club will seek to offload him in January.

      I used to have time for Bardsley as he seemed a limited but whole hearted player, but he obviously doesn’t buy into PDC’s idea of professionalism.

  12. Ian_SAfc August 18, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    After one match we simply can’t judge. 5 new players thrust in , we have to have a little patience.
    There were enough good signs to tell me that we’re going to have no trouble scoring (unlike last season when we just had one man in the box all the time).

    When Fletch comes back we’ll be even better.
    Altodore looked very, very good. Strong and created chances for himself.

    We might need a replacement for the position LArsson occupies presently: creative midfielder.
    What happens when Gardner comes back? Would you play him RB? I’d be tempted to stick with Celustka.

  13. Tim August 18, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    It will be Celutska after doing well yesterday. PDC will probably want to see Gardner in his natural position in the middle. His goals will come in pretty handy as well I think Ian.

  14. Drummer August 19, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    Agree, think Gardner should take Sess’ role till Fletcher returns and after that he should replace Larsson, assuming we don’t sign anyone else.

  15. Geoff Mangan August 19, 2013 at 5:57 am #

    Great first half but when you play so well and spend so much time in their half without scoring – you kinda know they are going to nick a soft goal. Particularly when defenders haven’t had to defend much under any pressure.
    Altidore looked promising (couple of times turning his defender and cracking in a shot + some tidy lay-offs, all with his back to goal) along with the other new lads in a cracking start that perhaps, ultimately, flattered to deceive.
    If we had scored just once in that 1st half, it would have been ‘game over’ and a very different story.
    I remain positive. My head told me not to expect too much from a newly assembled squad with no Premiership experience. My heart thought a PDC inspired team would stuff them. Early days.
    Unfortunately, Fulham et al at home should be 3 points if we are going to avoid a relegation battle. 3 points lost therefore, which could well prove expensive next May.
    We were only 5 rows behind the dug-out – should I read anything into the fact that after the game as players trooped off, no-one gave PDC any eye contact at all? Without exception. Was this fear, embarrassment, disappointment – or does it say something about the PDC crack down that didn’t produce a result??
    I still believe!!

    • malcolm August 19, 2013 at 6:34 am #

      I was on the opposite side of the ground but it was noticeable that the players trooped straight off with little or no acknowledgement to the crowd. Di Canio however applauded the fans after his team had all gone down the tunnel. Any significance in that I wonder?

  16. Keith Hutton Africa August 19, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    A disappointing start but not the end of the world. A new team which has spent much time getting fit and not enough time playing together. This was obvious from a very fresh and high energy performance which failed through a slight lack of cohesion which will develop over the coming weeks I just think more could have been done in pre-season, lack of experience fro PDC? We have a difficult run up to December but these games will be a real watershed and show if we have progressed as we all hope. I swallow doth not a summer make nor a cold morning a winter. Bear this in mind and be positive the signs are still good and more positive than last season.

  17. CSB August 19, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Fulham. I thought were incredibly negative all game, if this had been the 10th game of the season they would have also been down to 10 men, the fact that it was the opening game should make no diffrence to the refree applying the rules of the game, yet more weak officiating.

    Positives were good ball retention for 70mins and passing. What is very apparent is that Larsson is not the answer to the creative midfield role and we desperately need to source someone for this role, even a loan signing will do at this juncture.

    Sess remains an enigma and if he wasn’t up for this game then when is he going to be? He is like Johnston a luxury at times and they both need to display some degree of consistency in their performances.

    That was probably my only attendance at the Sol for this year so I was very downhearted at the result. We need to take our chances and not let our heads go down so easily when we concede. I am still optimistic for the season and it will be interesting to see the response and team selection for the next fixture at Southampton. This is likely to be a much different game as they will attack us and allow us a little bit more space for expression.

    Hopefully Roberge will learn from his error and we can move on.

    • michael August 20, 2013 at 10:36 am #

      I think we can all agree that Fulham got lucky . It happens

  18. Davey August 19, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I;m pleased the comments are on the whole well balanced and not too negative I was really impressed first half – one goal then we could have had a few , Cabral was excellent as was the new fb – However as everyone has said a creative cm is essential

  19. William C August 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Very good, reasoned comments on this topic. IMO patience must be the order of the day. Anyone who has played knows that it takes time to bed in to a team, and to have so many at once will, I think, take 8/10 games before we see real cohesion.
    I hope that PDC will rapidly drop the idea that Sessegnon can operate effectively as a support striker. He simply does not possess the mind set to play that position. Until Fletch is fit, I would try Ji or Gardner. [ To my mind, Sessegnon should be on the bench – might make an occasional impact – but I think he is strictly a luxury player ]

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