Look, I know, I know, you’re erupting like a batted hive, just how bad do you want it birdbrain, I can hear you squawking. Beaten by three clear goals by the Premier League’s perennial comedy club? Sunk deeper into the relegation mire? Surrenders all over the pitch by the end of the game? Several players not good enough and, worse, dragging down those that might be good enough though want of effort? Just how bad do you want it grebofeatures?
I know, I know. It was bad, I’m not denying it. And it was super-bad for our poor disabled fans, who, as a result of a loss of power were hauled bodily down from the lofty upper reaches of the Stadium of Light to ground level in the absence of a functioning lift … in the world’s richest sports league, in the year 2016. Disgraceful disrespect, and I am here to tell you exactly who will be held accountable – nobody.
No, no, all this is bad, and I am not here to tell you this morning that relegation is escapable because, on all available evidence, it is not. I am telling you only that we’ve played worse this season and we will likely play worse again this season, quite possibly on several occasions. For 35 minutes we looked hugely superior to Sunderland, a truly woeful side hewn in the charmless, lumpen grimly brutalist image of their dog-faced manager. This was a Hull City of poise, pace and invention. Sure, it got washed away by subsequent collapse and ultimate resignation. And shockingly dull though Sunderland were (are), they still cuffed us 3-0. But for 35 minutes we looked a proper Premiership side (and they did not) and me, I’m in the market for finding shiny positives among the filth, because we’ve got 26 Leagues games to trudge through between now and May, and there’s plenty of filth a-coming, whole avalanches of it in fact.
We lined up:
Elmo Dawson Davies Tymon
Snodgrass Livermore Mason Henriksen
The Prem debut of Josh Tymon counts as the obvious standout, and a genuinely warming moment. Local lad who, on this evidence, will do good, very good, though quite probably not for his home-town club. Meanwhile, Mr Phelan has reinstated the 4-1-4-1 formation that gave us such an excellent start to the season, with Sam Clucas back to protecting the back four, and stroking passes around with the unhurried air of Jim Baxter blended with a bit of Socrates, a smidgeon of Iniesta and a large carrot for colouring. What a talent: Clucas will play a great many Premier League games before his career is done, though quite probably not for his adopted-town club.
When this 4-1-4-1 formation works, it works because we get hold of possession and pass our way round and through the opposition – and it works because it’s fluid. If Clucas brings the ball out ahead of the central midfield, one of them – Livermore usually – tucks in to cover. Dieumerci Mbokani is being asked to put in a solo shift up front, but when we get the ball he’s joined by an advancing midfielder to provide support – Robert Snodgrass usually. It’s easy on the eye when it functions smoothly and for 35 enjoyable minutes, it did just that.
First minute, Mbokani works some space for himself and fires in a low left foot shot which Pickford shovels away for a corner. On 5, a ball in from the right, Ryan Mason misses it, clumsily rather than intentionally, but the ball runs on to Clucas, driving forward with power and totally ignored by hapless Sunderland, but he shoots a couple of feet too high. The home side is truly dreadful: sluggish, disjointed – only pony-tailed Belgian Jason Denayer, offspring of Edgar Davids and Carol Decker, looks remotely up for a scrap.
It’s quarter of an hour in before Sunderland have a sight of our goal, a shot which is deflected for a corner. A couple of minutes later a mess involving David Marshall, Ahmed Elmohamady and Watmore leads to furious shouts for a penalty. Not given, and who can say from our vantage point well over a hundred yards away. Looked a bit suspicious, though, I’ll concede that.
Back down the right end of the pitch, and on 18 sloppy defending tees up Clucas for a left foot shot which is well stopped by Pickford, diving to his left. 26, Mbokani shoots, blocked, corner.
Brazil 1970 it is not. Hull City outplaying Sunderland with impressive energy and focus it definitely is. We score, home heads drop, crowd gets angry, heads for the exits. We score. That’s all it needs. That’s all. Yeah, that’s all.
And then it all goes wrong.
It all goes wrong because Sunderland possess one genuine international quality footballer, and we do not. It goes wrong because our defensive shape is brittle, as plenty of other opponents have discovered to their glee already this season.
Jermain Defoe – for it is he, no Klaus Fischer, nor even Tostao, but a perfectly decent top flight striker – breaks hard down the middle, Curtis Davies shies away, letting Defoe shift left where an amiably ineffectual Egyptian chap who appears to have wandered onto the playing area in error invites Defoe to continue unattended deep into the penalty area where, despite the late despairing lunging arrival of Michael Dawson, he is able to ram a left foot shot low past the exposed Marshall.
Of all our injury woes so far this season, it is Moses Odubajo who has been the most costly miss.
The game is not over: this is a poor Sunderland side, and one goal should not be enough to settle this match. And yet … Confidence is low. On the pitch. Not so much off it, where although the word before the match was that we had come not even close to shifting our full allocation of tickets, and so it proved, with plenty of gaps in the seats high up in the remote recesses of the Stadium, our fans were in good voice throughout. Making the best of it? I suppose we’re gradually whittling down to the bitter hardcore now, still going despite the indignities heaped upon us serially by the ghastly Allams, and all of us excepting only the most junior of juniors have seen much worse from our years of enduring Hull City than a freefall tumble out of The Richest League In The World.
One down, City heads don’t drop (yet), but Sunderland come close to adding a second goal shortly after the re-start. That’s survived and on 36 a decent move sets up Mason for a shot, which he punts tamely at the ‘keeper. Of all our new acquisitions so far this season, it is Ryan Mason who has been the most costly miss.
Half time looms, three minutes added. Enough.
The second half was bleakly horrible. Can I leave it at that?
Almost, but read on only if inescapable fate-driven dismay and bitter torment is your preferred genre. Second half at Sunderland yesterday, that was the footballing equivalent of Jude the Obscure.
A minute in, and Marshall is forced into a superb back post save to thwart Watmore. Then the lights go out.
Literally. On our season, they went off quite some time ago, when the realisation dawned that the Allams are treating sale of our club as a petty self-preening game rather than serious commercial endeavour. At Sunderland the lights actually went off, and the pitch was plunged into an eerie netherworld of low-beam emergency lighting coupled to i-phone screens flashing here and there in the way that matches lighting cigarettes would briefly illuminate Kempton when seen from Bunkers or Best Stand back in the 1960s. The game is halted. The Stadium of No Light.
Information is slow to trickle out, but the players, warming up, behave as if they expect only a short delay. So it proves. Ten or so minutes later we’re back playing.
Well, I say ‘playing’. Use that term loosely, as the game softens up like tissue paper doused in sewage.
We have a chance soon after the resumption, when creative play by Snodgrass sets up Mason, who shoots wide under no pressure. Snodgrass turned in an adequate performance yesterday, Jake Livermore, all movement and power, was rather better than that. Both the other two midfielders, Mason and Markus Henriksen, looked miles adrift of the standard required for this level and, worse, neither looked remotely bothered that the game was passing them by. You’d have no confidence whatsoever in this pair offering us anything useful when we line up against Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham, Wolves and so on come next August.
Sunderland score their second just after the hour. Anichebe is granted far too much time and space down the right, and, deftly set up by a pass from Defoe, hammers a low shot that beats Marshall far too easily at his near post. 2 down, and no rescuing this now.
Snodgrass’s splendid overhead kick is tipped over the bar by Pickford. Youth for youth, Jarrod Bowen replaces Tymon and goes up front, while the diamond that is Sam Clucas, asked yet again to do multiple jobs and doing so (to our eyes at least) without complaint, is shifted across to left back, from where a marauding run has him hurtling deep into the Sunderland box where he seems to be halted illegally. But no penalty is given. Referee Lee Mason was consistently indulgent all afternoon long. There are glimpses of good football here. Yes, there are. But we are two down. To Sunderland.
Mason is removed in favour of David Meyler, and if one change emerges from the smouldering wreckage of this result, then it must surely be the immediate reinstatement of Meyler to the starting eleven. Flawed? Yes. Meyler is wasteful in possession, inescapably so. But he will bring us total commitment, and that is a starting point that Mason isn’t even getting close to.
We win a corner. The ball’s cleared off the line by them. Twice.
Then they score again, a sweeping attack which leaves our defence looking ragged, and Anichebe, a clumsy bull-in-a-china-shop style of player who’d make Bob Latchford look like Gerson, is gifted far too much space and he thumps a shot past Marshall.
Four pointless minutes are added, which, given the earlier stoppage in play for light failure, takes us past 5 o clock before the final whistle blows on our latest calamity. I learn later they had a man sent off near the end. I didn’t notice.
The indignity is not done as stewards giggle at the distress of some fans physically unable to descend eight flights of steps in the dark. Pitiful. Disgraceful.
It was a long drive home.
It looks a long way through to next May.
Steve Weatherill (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)