Blogs & Opinion


Struggling Sunderland could be deep in the mire come January, says Jeff Stelling

Jeff Stelling - Jeff Stelling Posted 29th November 2012 view comments

After a fourth successive defeat, a lot of people in the North East are talking about Newcastle's plight and understandably so because they are seemingly in free-fall.

But the team I really fear for right now - especially after the week they've had - is Sunderland.

When people list their relegation candidates they tend to go with any three of QPR, Reading, Southampton, Wigan and maybe Aston Villa, yet on present form Sunderland surely have to fall into that category.

Simon Mignolet: Sunderland's player of the season so far, says Jeff - West Brom game aside

Simon Mignolet: Sunderland's player of the season so far, says Jeff - West Brom game aside

They looked devoid of ideas (and hence chances) in the 0-0 draw against QPR and I thought it was quite telling that afterwards Martin O'Neill was pretty much lost for words when he was asked if he was confident that the team could come through its current blip.

The record shows they've only won twice at home in the league since March - against QPR last season and against Wigan in September - and now there are fears that Lee Cattermole could be out for months rather than weeks. Everything suggests they are in trouble.

Struggling

People will say Sunderland's biggest problem is that they can't score enough goals. To my mind the truth is they're not creating enough chances.

It says a lot that Sunderland's outstanding player of the season so far has been Simon Mignolet; that's if you discount the West Brom game, of course

Jeff Stelling
Quotes of the week

The only time they've significantly dominated possession was against Newcastle - but that, of course, was against 10 men. In essence, they're struggling to get the ball, keep it and use it effectively.

It says a lot that their outstanding player of the season so far has been Simon Mignolet; that's if you discount the West Brom game, of course!

Sunderland are not a big side - they are not physically powerful either in midfield or defence - and that's definitely an issue, as is Adam Johnson's lack of form.

I also find the lack of depth in their squad a bit scary. On Monday they had Frazer Campbell, Louis Saha, Jack Colback and David Vaughan amongst the substitutes. On current form - in particular with Campbell and Saha - I'd suggest these are players who aren't really going to change a game.

Difficult

The other concern, for Ellis Short in particular, is that crowds have tumbled at the Stadium of Light: a total of 36,513 watched the Rangers game.

Now I know that these are difficult times on Wearside and it's not cheap to go to a match - I absolutely understand that - but that means the ground is well over 10,000 down on capacity.

When you consider that they got 42,000 for the first home game of the season against Liverpool, I'd call that a significant drop.

Are things going to pick up soon? Looking at their upcoming fixtures it's fair to say I've got my doubts!

Of their seven Premier League fixtures in December, three are against Chelsea, Man City and Spurs, while they also have to go away to Old Trafford. There's a very good chance that come the January transfer window they could find themselves deep in the mire.

The best signing for Martin O'Neill at the moment would be John Robertson, who has been his sidekick for so much of his career. That might just be the winning partnership Sunderland need.

There's no question in my mind that Martin is a top manager but Short is simply going to have to back him with some money in January.

Spot on

I went along to another struggling club last night - Southampton - where Mark Clattenberg made his refereeing return.

The first thing to say is that I thought he had a fine game even though he got a fair bit of stick! I'm sure the two managers will both disagree with me, but I thought he got all of the big decisions right.

Under the circumstances it might have been easy for him to bend a little bit towards the home crowd but I thought he was spot on.

It was certainly good to see him back but I was surprised to read in at least one report that he received a standing ovation from fans. If he did, then I didn't see it!

Voting

On the subject of performances, I went along to the X-Factor this week. Let me explain...

I popped along after receiving an invitation to be a guest on the Xtra Factor and while I was there I learnt that one of the downsides of appearing on the X-Factor is how much weekend football the contestants miss because they are either rehearsing or performing.

To be honest, I was surprised at how many football fans there are on the show.

Dermot O'Leary, the host, is a massive Arsenal fan; Olly Murs, one of Xtra Factor hosts, has a box at Manchester United; James Arthur, who is my favourite to win it, is a huge Middlesbrough fan; Josh, from the boy band Union J, is a Chelsea fan.

When I turned up one of the first things they all wanted to know was how their team was doing because they hadn't seen them for so long!

So if you support any of the teams above, you know who you should be voting for...

Jeff's Gem of the Week

I'm not messing about this week - it's Swansea beating West Brom. All of the stories we heard about disharmony under Michael Laudrup have disappeared as quickly as they emerged. His signings, pretty much without exception, looks as though they are coming off, in particular Pablo Hernandez, who has been a revelation in the past few weeks.

Swansea were impressive against Liverpool last week but they destroyed West Brom in that first half with some fantastic football. They've got some exciting players and aren't going to be a soft touch for anybody. I can certainly see them finishing in the top half.

Comments (1)

  • Page 1 of 1
  • 1

Cave Cats (Sunderland fan) says...

Everything you have said about Sunderland is 100% correct, apart from maybe one thing. Martin O'Neill WAS a top manager. The fans have been calling out for him to get John Robertson for a while as O'Neil looks lost without him, both tactically and motivational too. But Robertson has turned us down numerous times now. The signing of Adam Johnson was considered by every Sunderland fan to be a major coup, but all we have learned about him is that his place on the Man City bench was maybe not warranted as thus far he has looked like a terrible football player. Sadly James McClean has been found out too and is not intelligent enough to progress. The biggest issue seems to be the tactics which are always negative, especially when playing at home against the bottom club, 4 - 5 - 1!! O'Neil seems incapable of making the changes needed to turn it around and opinion is split on Wearside as to whether we should stick or twist. Whilst every Sunderland fan would prefer it to be O'Neill who get us out of this, it just doesn't look likely. We are being subjected to the worst football we have seen since the Howard Wilkinson days, even the Mick McCarthy team that sank showed more character than this current team. This Sunderland team hasn't been thrown together on a budget either, there has been a lot of money spent and we need O'Neill to get the best out of this squad. Nobody up here understands why we play for a draw at home or why Connor Wickham can't even get on the bench, never mind the starting 11. To be honest, the more you analyse the current situation, there is only one person to be held accountable.

Posted 16:55 29th November 2012

  • Page 1 of 1
  • 1

Add Comment*

Send us your views

Are you a Sky Sports subscriber?

*All fields required, your email address will be kept private

back to top

Other Football Experts:

Latest Posts in Football:

Paul Merson

Still in the frame

Paul Merson says Everton's top-four bid and Man City's title hopes won't be derailed on Wednesday....

Guillem Balague

Making it for Messi

Barca and Madrid are in it but the best side in Spain isn't in the Copa del Rey final, says Guillem Balague....

Chris Kamara

Twists and turns

Kammy rounds-up the weekend talking points and says nothing is decided at the top or bottom....

Latest News RSS feeds

Wenger hails important win

Arsene Wenger hailed the importance of Arsenal's victory over West Ham as his side came from behind to win 3-1.

Allardyce frustrated by loss

West Ham boss Sam Allardyce admitted his frustration at his side's inability to hold their lead in the loss at Arsenal.

Gundogan signs new deal

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has signed a new deal which ties him to the Bundesliga club until June 2016.

Villa suspend backroom duo

Aston Villa suspend assistant boss Ian Culverhouse and head of football operations Gary Karsa pending investigation.

Podolksi: We must shift focus

Arsenal's Lukas Podolski hopes his side will qualify for the UEFA Champions League - but is wary of their fixture list.

Features

Sky Sports Scout, in association with Wyscout, reports on Swiss striker Josip Drmic

Sky Sports Scout, in association with Wyscout, reports on Swiss striker Josip Drmic

Sky Sports Scout is our exciting feature where we scour the globe, in partnership with Wyscout, looking out for the best talent and bring you a report on what we find.

Hillsborough tragedy: What they said

Hillsborough tragedy: What they said

Football across the country will today remember the Hillsborough tragedy. We recall the reflections of some of those affected by the disaster at the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest 25 years ago.

Whelan remembers

Whelan remembers

Former Liverpool player Ronnie Whelan talks to Geoff Shreeves about the Hillsborough Disaster.