Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss. The Who were never more right when it comes to Sunderland AFC. David Moyes, disgraced former England boss Sam Allardyce’s successor at the Stadium of Light, has amassed a near identical record to his predecessor at the same stage last season.
Bottom of the table, two points, and six goals scored. Moyes has tightened the defence at little with their goal difference three better than last season.
As with last season, Sunderland need to improve and fast. Three of their next four games are away with two of them at teams immediately above them in the table. Defeat in one or both of those fixtures will open a significant gap to safety.
What can Sunderland do about the problem?
It sounds so simple: tighten up at the back. But Sunderland don’t score a lot of goals and in that situation, they have to be defensively sound. Or more defensively sound than they have been.
Four of their five Premier League defeats have been by a single goal margin. In material terms, that’s four points which have gone down the swanee because of defensive lapses, including what would have been creditable points at Tottenham and Manchester City.
Supporters would certainly have been happier with a point in the Wear-Tees derby than the miserable defeat to Middlesbrough in this season’s opening home game.
Last season’s top scorer is this season’s top scorer. There’s nothing wrong with that as a concept, Defoe is Sunderland’s leading striker. So far, however, he has scored four of the six Premier League goals, with Patrick van Aanholt grabbing the other two.
There’s no sense however, that the rest of the side are going to score. Last year, despite only netting 48 goals, they had 13 different scorers. For such a low total of goals, they were well spread out among the squad. In the first seven games of last year, there were five different scorers.
Compare that to the two players who have scored this year; it’s grim reading.
Both points 1 & 2 can be improved by a settled team selection. Moyes has so far used twenty-four players in the Premier League. Only Defoe and Duncan Watmore have appeared in all seven matches. Moyes has to find the core of his best side quickly and bring some stability to the XI.
Defensively, that will be crucial to build the understandings between the centre backs and full backs. When Moyes gets them working in tandem, eradicating the silly mistakes, Sunderland have the chance to move up the table toward safety and more importantly, staying there.
Confidence is in short supply on Wearside. Sunderland have dropped five points from winning positions in just seven games. Losing to Crystal Palace was a particular blow; two-up with half-an-hour to go, they promptly conceded three goals, including a winner in the third minute of time added on.
Palace pulled one back within a minute of Jermaine Defoe getting Sunderland’s second and the collapse slowly became inevitable. Within fifteen minutes of taking what seemed a match-winning advantage, Sunderland had been pegged back to level terms.
They had lost their self-belief. Arguably though, they have a resilient streak. Four of their six goals have come in the last twenty minutes – three in the last ten – which tells a tale of durability. That’s reinforced by their two EFL wins with all three of their goals against QPR and Shrewsbury Town coming in the final twenty minutes.
Football supporters are simple creatures to understand. As long as there is hope, they will get behind the team. As long as they see effort, they will get behind the team. The absence of both invariably means that supporters don’t see the need to turn up in their masses.
Sunderland’s attendances for Premier League matches range from 38 – 43,500, with the crowd rising for the home game against West Bromwich Albion. Whilst there may have been more away fans for the most recent game, it suggests that the home support is holding up.
It’s a bit early to give up hope in any case but let’s not forget, the Wearsiders are old hands at relegation battles.
David Moyes and the Stadium of Light faithful can drop to their knees and beg the football gods for forgiveness, hoping redemption comes in the form of three other clubs fading into a tailspin.
West Ham are threatening to be this season’s Newcastle whilst Stoke aren’t convincing. Both have the resources to stay out of trouble eventually, particularly the Hammers who seem to suffering from poor investment in the transfer market and new stadium syndrome.
At Middlesbrough, Aitor Karanka’s men are struggling to take points and won just the once this season, at the Stadium of Light, of all places.
Hull City meanwhile have lost four of the last five but don’t read too much into losing to Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. How they respond is the answer Sunderland will need to know.
Sunderland’s biggest problem is that there is only one team who look certainties for relegation this season, and that’s Sunderland. David Moyes recently observed that his late arrival at the club this summer meant that they were playing ‘catch up’ with other teams in terms of new strategies and tactics.
The Black Cats need to start taking points soon otherwise they may get too far to catch up.