A Cosy Chat with Vital Sunderland
Firstly, without wishing to appear blunt. All we want to know about is Danny Rose? What do you think?
Danny Rose has been fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. I hope Andre Villas-Boas has had his favourite blinkers on since August because he'd be a tremendous addition in January! I saw him a few times when he was on-loan at Watford & he played left midfield and looked like he would never cut it as a winger. As much as I like to bash 'Arry, he obviously saw something in the lad and moving him to left-back has been inspired.
Beating Man City! That was a fluke result, right?
Ummm...in the grand scheme of things, probably not. We have a brilliant record against them at the Stadium of Light recently - three consecutive 1-0 wins and a draw prior to that. Roberto Mancini has said that he won't waste any money coming up here next year, he'll just surrender the points in advance!
In all seriousness, City look very fallible this season & although we've been far from brilliant, there is quality in our side.
Three wins out of four. Has the tide turned, or is it right opposition at the right time?
Hard to say. Four games isn't a big enough sample of results, but certainly we look a lot brighter; we're creating more chances & confidence breeds further confidence. The City win was good, but we probably won't beat another top-four side this season. Southampton are hardly the strongest side in the division and nor are Reading. With all that in mind, probably the right opposition at the right time, but hopefully the knock-on effect will be a turn in the tide. Fingers crossed!
In fairness, when I look at your squad, I see some real quality and a decent squad. For most of this season, why have you so badly under-performed?
It's a very good question, and if Martin O'Neill knew the answer I'm sure we wouldn't have done so badly up until now. I think there are a few smaller things which haven't helped us. The biggest issue is that we're reliant on Steven Fletcher for goals, he in turn is reliant on the service of Stephane Sessegnon, Seb Larsson, Adam Johnson and James McClean. Those four have failed to find their own form this season which has affected Fletcher's productivity. One or two can afford to be off-form, but all four at once is disastrous.
Though the squad is stronger in terms of depth than it was last season, it's still not the strongest. With Lee Cattermole out and Phil Bardsley having missed long chunks of the season O'Neill has put square pegs in round holes for much of the campaign. That means winger Larsson is filling in in central midfield whilst centre-back John O'Shea & central midfielder Craig Gardner have both had a go at right-back. Indeed, until Rose signed, Bardsley was constantly filling in at left-back!
On top of all that, O'Neill has his 12 or 13 players and assuming they're all fit & available, the starting XI comes from those players every week. He stated in pre-season that O'Shea and Carlos Cuellar would be his first-choice central defensive pairing. Whilst few would disagree with that assessment, how can you know in pre-season? And what sort of chance does that give other players? It's indicative of O'Neill's policy.
With the transfer window about to open, where do you need to strengthen most?
We need Rose to sign permanently for starters! An alternative to Fletcher would be good in the sense that his backup are youngster Connor Wickham, perennial crock & flash in the pan Frazier Campbell and veteran Louis Saha. We really need somebody else who can lead the line and do Fletcher's job when Fletcher is injured, suspended, knackered or short of form.
I'd also, like most Premier League fans, like to see a creative central midfielder. Cattermole, Gardner, David Vaughan and Jack Colback are all very similar: happy enough on the ball, but chiefly try to keep it simple and keep it moving. We need someone in a deeper position than Sessegnon to grab hold of the ball, dribble and drive with the ball for a few yards to make things happen. Those players don't come cheap so I don't anticipate anything happening in that department.
Prior to your recent upturn, Martin O'Neill, seemed to be losing support and even his own belief. Is everything good now?
I'll make no secret of the fact I thought he'd be off sooner or later. He said himself that he'd leave if he felt the club would be better off without him and each post-match interview was becoming more and more downbeat, more and more hopeless. Is everything good now? I'm not sure that everything is. The mood has certainly been lifted and a couple more good results would certainly put a bit of substance behind that school of thought.
Though I accept you have some good players, I don't see any of them definitely getting in a Best Spurs/Sunderland XI. What would your team be?
4-2-3-1 - Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Rose; Dembele, Parker; Johnson, Dempsey, Bale; Defoe.
I have to say, I feel pretty confident of three points for Spurs tomorrow. Am I simply delusional or does my belief have justification?
If we were at the Lane, I'd say it was almost a banker. At the Stadium of Light - who knows? I expect City planned to wander in, bamboozle us with their array of talent and walk away again with three comfortable points and a few goals to boot. I think, I hope, it will be tighter than you think!
So what is your prediction for the game?
An ever-optimistic 2-1 to Sunderland!