The Diary

14 December 2008: Sunderland 4, Albion 0 - How Much More Can Loyal Supporters Take?

Sunderland 4, Albion 0? Proof, if any were needed by now, that for both our football team and its hardy band of travelling followers, that it truly is ?Grim Up North.?, so just to make absolutely sure you haven?t misunderstood, allow me to run that opening line past you once more, but with a couple of embellishments added. There it goes again, so let?s grab it by the short and curlies before it slips from our grasp for good.

Ready? OK. here?s the case for the prosecution, M?Lud. Here we have Sunderland, manager-less, fourth from bottom of the table, and recently trashed by a Bolton side somewhat less than awesome in composition, and until yesterday?s result, having to face the unmitigated wrath of long-standing supporters, who justifiably expect a whole lot better of their heroes. But despite the aforementioned multiplicity of shortcomings, despite a background of continual inarticulate baying for blood from a home crowd dubiously blessed with a surfeit of unreasonable expectation, The Black Cats can still successfully put away quadruple strikes when faced with our powder-puff lot. Is it really so unreasonable for long-time Baggies to start asking why this has to be so?

Theirs was not a difficult achievement, really, when faced with a na?ve Albion side that means well, and tries so very hard to please, but because of various predictable and entirely preventable shortcomings in their ranks, serially fails to deliver the seasonal goods. And with increasing frequency, too, so this, their most recent failure to counter even simple and unsophisticated attacking manoeuvres, didn?t come as any great surprise to regular followers of this latest episode in Albion?s currently dire dope opera. If I were Dave Holloway, organiser of Baggies Travel, my next block coach booking would be for a one-way trip to Zurich, and the Dignitas euthanasia facility they have there. Yes, I am acutely aware that it?s illegal to assist any suicide, let alone a multiple one, but given the ghastly way our lot are playing, right now, when presented with the incontrovertible facts I?ve outlined above, would any jury in this green and pleasant land of ours find it in their hearts to convict?

It?s The Fart I feel really sorry for. He?s just one of a multiplicity of Baggie masochists who made the arduous journey up the M1, yesterday, poor misguided sod that he is. He?d asked me if I wanted to go last week, but ? thankfully, as it turned out ? I demurred. There?s only so much torment a reasonable person can watch, and with this one coming towards the wrong end of a twenty-odd quid touch, plus travel, this was one Albion away trip I wasn?t going to attempt for anybody. Add to that the current cold spell ? up there, around this time of year, the mercury plummets at a relentless pace towards ?zero? with unceasing regularity ? so you?ll readily understand my reluctance to play, won?t you?

With my other half disappeared down the M5 to Hereford United?s home fixture versus Hartlepool United (at least they drew 1-1), and having finished some tidying-up work on my OU stuff, ?twas high time for me to grab the TV remote and tune in to Sky?s ?latest score? service. As I was in the kitchen busily drumming up a small snack for myself when kick-off time came and went, I largely missed the opening few minutes preamble from their reporter there ? but what I DID hear on several occasions were strong intimations that thus far, our finest had escaped conceding by the tiniest of whiskers.

News of ominous portent indeed, and no sooner had I sat down to munch my nosh, I wasn?t too surprised to hear strangled screams of ?GOOOALLL!? coming from elsewhere in the studio, swiftly followed by the depressing sight of said commentator bravely trying to keep a straight face while conveying the equally-unsurprising news that Albion had indeed conceded. The news of an opposition goal I can take with relative ease; what I do find difficult to stomach, however, is the sheer impotence of both our main armament and something laughingly termed a ?defence?, these days.

The guy sat in front of the screen showing Sky?s live ?feed? from the game was clearly having a whale of a time, at our expense, and that?s what really hurt. Well, for me it did; with laughs currently coming at credit-crunch prices from wherever Albion are scheduled to play, these days, but even so, cutting through my hurt and anger was the underlying feeling that putting our players up for big-time ridicule might be a teensy bit justifiable, given the horrid circumstances surrounding those Sunderland strikes. Yes, just like buses, there?d be another one in a minute, of that I was sure ? and I was right!

The events that started the rot in the first place? According to assorted hacks, we tried having a go at the Sunderland goal early doors (but with none other than Luke Moore being handed the poisoned chalice supporters call ?attacking flag-carrier?, you?ll readily understand the mother of all bouts of tear-streaked mirth constituting my sole response upon reading such things!), but the writing was well and truly on the wall when Black Cat Jones let rip with one that apparently gave Carson something to think about, with just a few minutes of the game gone.

All things considered, it was a complete source of astonishment to me that Sunderland only managed to find the net after 20 minutes of the game had elapsed. But cave in we did, yet again, and through the simple expedient of being caught on the break, too. You?d have thought that after conceding so many in such slipshod fashion thus far, we?d have at least learned something, by now ? but nope. Apparently, blame lay at the uncertain feet of Zuiverloon, who didn?t react to opponent Jones with quite the same urgency expected of him at this level. Fatal, that ? if you make basic mistakes like that at this level, you?ll get punished for it, end of, and just as surely as B follows A, that?s precisely what happened.

Their second? Yes, and both literally and metaphorically, too. No sooner had we restarted, we again lost out to a shit-hot home side running on a surfeit of gas, so much so, they could probably have met this country?s energy needs for the next twenty years on the back of that devastating first half showing alone. The perpetrator of the damage was Cisse, who overtook Olsson with the ease of an Aston Martin taking on a Citroen 2CV happily bumbling along in the slow lane, then let fly. As good as our current shot-stopper is, there was sod-all he could do about that one. It flew out of his grasp, but then pinged over to the predatory Jones, who sank his effort as sweet as a nut.

Had the score stayed at two, reducing the deficit might not have been such a hopeless proposition, but given the utter uselessness of both attack and defence to do their Baggie duty, Sunderland always looked likely to increase their vice-like grip on the game. And, so it was that with about five to go to the break, the Mackems did it again. This time, ex-Cottager Malbranque was the principal architect of the damage when his cross from the right met the all-too eager nut of Reid. Now we were three down, and going by Sky?s graphic portrayal of our multitudinous deficiencies, the second half was set to bring forth yet more pointing to the centre circle from the referee.

That Sunderland rampage? A bit like mugging your granny for drug money from her meagre purse, really, but now they?d well and truly tasted blood, the only thing guaranteed to stop the home side, by then, would have been a large nuclear explosion over the city. Jeremy Peace might like to think his money can help achieve a good many things, but even he would balk at trying that one for size.

With the home side now riding upon a silky, well-upholstered three-goal lead, damage limitation now became our prime concern, it would seem. Certainly, only one further effort from us was to look even remotely dangerous, that half. Compare and contrast our feeble efforts with those of the home side, who positively dripped danger every single time they ventured into our half. Not too surprising, then, that our old friend, the bloke from Sky with the screen, was heard to expostulate somewhat louder than usual (don?t worry, folks; he?s got a valid licence!), as our finest danced with the Devil yet again, with Carson slithering to make the stop just ahead of the pursuing attacker.

The interval brought a brief respite, but the truth was there plain for all to see: Albion had their cards well and truly marked by those rampaging Wearsiders, who must have not believed their complete and utter three-cornered luck at finding such easy pickings in a visiting side. How very appropriate, given the close proximity of Christmas, the season of goodwill to all mankind, of generosity, of the sheer pleasure of giving, and all the rest of it.

But there certainly wasn?t any pleasure incumbent upon our more-than-stoic away support, that was for sure. Despite a double-subbing, with Bednar and Kim replacing Messrs. Morrison and Brunt, the second helping started just as disastrously as the first; within a matter of seconds, firing-range-target imitator Carson found himself on the wrong end of a penalty decision. From what I can gather, the entire thing sounded a tad harsh ? Bednar handled, sure, but it seems it was very much a case of ?ball to hand?, than the illegal opposite ? but the referee said otherwise. Moments later, The Mackems were four goals to the good.

And that?s about all you can say about it, really. There was much said by Sky about our woeful defending, but that?s old hat to regular Baggie-watchers, isn?t it? To be perfectly honest, after the game ended, I didn?t particularly want to hear what Mogga had to say about this latest embarrassment of ours. Nor did I want to watch Match Of The Day, either. There?s only so much of this type of thing a reasonable person can take without hurting ? and I?m feeling very much hurt, way too often, these days.

And it shows: this afternoon, ?Im Indoors and I were chewing the metaphorical fat over whether to attend Villa v Albion, scheduled for Boxing Day. Normally, my motivation for what I regard as Albion?s ?proper? local derby knows no bounds, but not this time. Yes, I could go on my own, but where?s the festive fun in watching the club you love endure the latest in a long series of humiliations courtesy the fish-stinking flippers of Martin O?Neill?s blubbery mob? It?s bad enough them saddling us with their rejects (i.e. Luke Moore), but when you add to that the strong likelihood of a complete and utter pasting ? no, it?s more than I can bear, to watch the thing I love most suffer. Better it were that someone reached for the lethal solution before the pain became unbearable.

Let?s face it, we might just as well throw the towel in right now. January?s transfer dealing resumption will simply pile on misery upon misery. Just who, pray, will want to come to a side that?s as good as dead in the water? True, a bitter and twisted few has-beens, or bumfluffed-face wanabees might fancy a go at being plucked from the obscurity of some Baltic state side, or whatever, to grab a bit of British football for themselves, but you most certainly won?t find the sort of quality that changes seasons immeasurably, out there. If they were any good at all, they?d have been snapped up by the big boys years ago.

And yet amongst it all, Mogga is still trying to convince the assembled hacks that we can finish halfway up the table! What, with no strike-force worth talking about, no depth of squad worth talking about, and a defence with more than enough holes in it to outdo my old dad?s string vest by a country mile? Can I have a bit of what you?re on, mate?

Well, there you have it: a vision laden with pessimism, admittedly, but what you see written on your screen, right now, is me, pure and simple. And I suspect that?s only the beginning. Now, hang on a minute, where did I put the telephone number of that euthanasia place in Zurich?

 - Glynis Wright

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