Obstructed View – Reflections on the Sunderland (H) Game

By this stage of a much-maligned season, it is getting hard to write original stuff about a lack-lustre performance where dominant possession failed to yield a victory. In this latest example, it didn’t even yield a goal.

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The possession stats are even more in our favour than ‘normal’, the 22 shots quite impressive (although I’m not sure I witnessed 10 Sunderland shots, so perhaps I don’t believe the Everton stat either), the corners (or pass-to-opposition-defender as we now call them) look great, but the fact we could only manage 4 shots on target and not a goal to our name, is a source of frustration once again.

The fact that we didn’t was down to a resolute and determined Sunderland defence, the like of which we have seen before from visitors keen to keep a clean sheet, but this time it was allied to two huge slices of good fortune for a side battling relegation – 3 chances, 2 goals, and of course one of those to a striker hopelessly out of form who chooses the fixture against Everton to break a barren spell; in the case of Graham, not so much barren as non-existent. Graham now joins the get-back-in-to-form-against-Everton club with luminaries like Zamora, Ulloa, Moses (the Stoke player not the sea parter), Soldado and God knows how Balotelli didn’t join it. But at least in Van Aarnholt they had the best player on the pitch, whose mazy run from deep nearly converted the other chance that Sunderland had.

For us, another tale of woe in front of goal, when a profusion of chances were wasted time and time again, confounded by the Giant Pantilimon, the post, or an outstuck leg. Even the deflection from a header narrowly grazed the post on the wrong side as Sunderland’s fortune in front of goal was matched only by our ineptitude.

But let’s not be bitter. No, really,  let’s not. We’ve seen enough of this season to know we have a fine defence when it isn’t trying to be too intricate taking the ball out of defence (yes John Stones, I mean you), with an amazing talent who will be an England mainstay for years to come (yes John Stones, you again), and still two of the best attacking full backs in the League. In Coleman we’ve also seen more of his defensive qualities too, witness fewer crosses coming in from his side, and his pace outwitting most tricky wingers or overlapping full backs. Baines is showing signs that age is not his friend, so let’s hope to God that Garbutt signs. And Jags is never happier than with his trusty young steed alongside him (yes John Stones, still you), witness yesterday’s anxious looks to the bench to see if Alcaraz was warming up when Stones turned his ankle. He wasn’t either on it, or warming up near it, so we’d perhaps have had a Barry stop gap measure.

Anyway, I’m rambling, this isn’t yet an end of season review, although not much is likely to happen in the last two games that will alter the end of term report, which is likely to be summed up as “Must Try Harder”, a phrase I frankly got a bit tired of when I was (*wasn’t*) revising for my GCSEs and A levels (I’m a liar, I’m so old, GCSEs were O levels in my day….). The only change is hopefully a report on a full end to end pitch invasion by both Everton and West Ham fans anxious to avoid the poisoned chalice of an entry in to the Europa League via the Fair Play League. Even Barry hasn’t done enough to get that ‘trophy’ snatched from our grasp.

Yesterday was one of those games when it was hard to find a player who stood out from the morass of mediocrity, I’d probably agree that McCarthy was MotM because he’s added quite a new dimension to his play as he has now started shooting, as well as trying interplay through the massed ranks of the defence to emerge 1 on 1 with the keeper (less successfully than against United), and as well as his determined harrying and nagging of the oppo midfield, and Cattermole never got a sniff. Coleman was strong, Lennon strangely muted, Lukaku disinterested (but he’ll still get 20 goals in the season), Osman fitful (good when he was good, horrid when he was awful), and Barkley was actually pretty useful, but he’s got to work out what to do when he gets surrounded the way he was yesterday, and the answer isn’t to try and beat every one of them.

And so to West Ham. Maybe we’ll see Garbutt in for the injured Baines, maybe Mo Besic will get a run out for Barry, and frankly I wouldn’t be averse to seeing Galloway in for Jags – when better to get experience when it just doesn’t matter any more? Would be good to see a bench of U21s at the very least.

Onwards and sadly unlikely to be upwards this season. Mid table mediocrity yee-hah.

Ross Crombie

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