Marco Silva’s impressive unbeaten home record stretching back to March 2014 was shattered in 90 disappointingly tepid minutes at the KCOM – pressure on the players finally told as they bottled it and undid all the good work since Silva’s arrival.
City could have finished the day five points clear of Swansea but now find ourselves potentially four points (five, considering goal difference) behind by the time we kick off at Palace. The Swans have hit a patch of form at the right time, and we can’t win away. Selhurst could have been a party next week, but it now feels like a grim day out to a funeral. It’s a whole new magnitude of TypicalCity-ness.
But lest we forget our impending relegation can’t and should not be blamed on yesterday’s result alone, but squarely on the Allams’ incompetent, idiotic and downright vindictive refusal to sanction summer recruitment which ultimately saw Steve Bruce walk in disgust.
In front of a nowhere near full KCOM (slow handclap, Ehab) for this crucial penultimate home game saw Silva plump for two up-front:
Elmohamady Ranocchia Maguire Robertson
Marković N’Diaye Clucas Grosicki
It was a bold attacking selection – in truth one called for by many home supporters this season – and probably with an eye on the ponderous and porous nature of Sunderland’s back line. No doubt the pace and guile of both Oumar Niasse and Abel Hernández were sent out to give the beleaguered Wearsiders a thoroughly torrid afternoon.
Sunderland had an early chance as young Mackster Honeyman headed a Jones cross just wide following good work by Defoe.
Not for the first time this season City looked far more menacing down our left wing than our right; Andy Robertson and Kamel Grosicki combined well and had a real understanding; their attacks largely had some sort of end product. But it’s hopelessly unbalanced on the right as Ahmed Elmohamady and Lazar Marković fail to combine with any degree of fluency. Marković undoubtedly has ability, but is sometimes undisciplined and goes hunting for the ball around the pitch leaving us oft exposed.
Sam Clucas was once again pivotal to City’s play, and on 19 mins he was unlucky to see his fine low volley being palmed away by Pickford at full stretch.
City had a penalty shout waved away by ref Swarbrick as Niasse’s overhead kick hit O’Shea’s arm, raised high above his head but hardly deliberate.
But a largely turgid first half was exactly what our visitors wanted. Our recently fluidity had completely drained as the dullest of first halves passed without many incidents of note. City had plenty of possession and obviously the first goal would be key – if we could net it, there was confidence we’d win – but the longer the game went on the more nervous the players, and the crowd, got. For the first time since Silva’s arrival the City players seemingly appeared aware of the enormity of their precarious league position – several froze or didn’t put in anywhere near an acceptable shift (Elmo, I’m looking at you mate).
Goalless at the break, and we reassured ourselves that City are a second-half team….
Jakupović did well to block Defoe’s effort after a fast Sunderland breakaway, and Pickford saved Alfred N’Diaye’s header from a fine Grosicki cross.
Marković saw his header saved acrobatically by Pickford (again) following Elmo’s cross. Jordan Pickford had a fine match as Sunlan leather custodian and surely one of the few visiting players to be still plying his trade in the Big League next season.
A turning-point as Marković limped-off to be replaced by Tom Huddlestone, switching Grosicki from left to right in a move that appeared to suit Sunderland more than it did El Tigres. Pickford was again the hero, superbly pushing the ball away one-handed as Hernández shot sweetly from eight yards.
But on 69 minutes Sunderland score. O’Shea flicked on Honeyman’s corner, and Billy Jones powered a diving header in off the post. He was only six yards out, utterly weak defending from City. Zonal marking my arse, as Joe Royle used to say.
And if the players were nervous before, the goal increased arse twitching all round. Silva threw on Dieumerci Mbokani in place of N’Diaye and the side increasingly had a whiff of desperation about it. Evandro came on for Elmo (to a chorus of boos from both sets of fans).
In added time Harry Maguire gave away a soft foul wide on our left, and Larsson swung round a low free-kick and bundled home by Defoe, who looked at least a yard offside. Maguire’s positioning to defend the free kick was utterly odd – standing yards away from the potential flight on the ball, nearer to the touchline. Final twist of the knife, and the KCOM understandably empties.
So the math is now simple enough. If Swansea win at Sunderland (more than likely) and we fail at Selhurst (again, probable) we can all look forward to that tasty Burton Albion groundtick next season, and save Sky the trouble of having one of those tortuously-hyped “Relegation Showdown Sunday” shows the following week.
Clucas put in another impressive shift (I suspect next week will be his last away match in a City shirt – and he won’t be the only one – final-whistle shirt-collectors note). Robertson and Grosicki generally looking connected and bright. But Elmo stank out the KCOM, and a fresh start with Moses Odubajo next season is long yearned. The Niasse/Hernández forward partnership wasn’t that – they appeared total strangers; forwards generally hunt in pairs, building a relationship, but yesterday ours looked miles apart – making totally the wrong runs, with virtually no-linkup between them during the entire ninety minutes.
The post-match news the Allams sacked the volunteer pitch divot-replacers (mid-shift!) after 20 years dedicated service gives Ehab another final negative PR pop on a season which was ultimately destroyed by him before it even began. The tit.
Andy Medcalf (report first appeared on the Tiger C