Writer: Mike Field
Date:Thursday November 1 2012
Who'll take their Cup form into this weekend's game at the Stadium of Light? An interview with our friends from Sunderland!
With thanks to safc123 of Vital Sunderland.
1) What are you expecting from the season and how are you finding life under Martin O'Neill?
I was expecting, perhaps hoping is realistic, that we'd improve on last season's finish of 13th place. However, after the start we've had - one win and five of our six league goals coming from Steven Fletcher (the other Demba Ba's O.G) - I'm slightly less optimistic. There's always one side that looks to have too much quality on paper everybody expects to get their act together sooner rather than later before eventually succumbing to relegation. I'm not saying it will be us, but I see few reasons why it shouldn't be us.
Martin O'Neill. Hmmm. Last season, quite clearly the messiah. A terrific start to life on Wearside, but the present run of form - one win in 16 league games is relegation from, however you dress it up. Whilst most fans won't want to admit it/allow themselves to think it, there are certainly some drawbacks to O'Neill, and a lot of things that (at the time, bitter!) Villa supporters said about O'Neill seem to be ringing true.
One of the great criticisms was his business in the transfer market. On the basis he's only paid a fee for Adam Johnson and Fletcher, there's no complaints in that department. However, he does have his favourites and when Stephane Sessegnon was dropped on Saturday at Stoke it was the first time this season. Talisman? Yes. Undroppable? No. O'Neill's willingness to change the system, style of play or any of the personnel is zero, and that's frustrating when most right-minded supporters can see the issues a mile off.
2) Were there any highlights or lowlights from your pre season?
Pre-season was, in a word, abysmal. You can't read too much into results and performances but at the same time, you want to be able to have something to build on. Defeats by Hartlepool United (now bottom of League One), Helsingborgs, Leicester City and Seongnam Chunma were far from inspiring, nor was the 1-1 draw at Derby County. If anything, pre-season highlighted our biggest weakness before the real business began - a lack of goals.
3) How do you feel your club did in the transfer window?
Very well, but. I can't say anything more about Fletcher that hasn't been said. The boy is a goalscorer and darn good one too, so no complaints. Johnson should come good, but he needs to be played on the left rather than the right (see question one!) if we are to see the best of him. Playing on the right exacerbates the fact he is so left-footed.
Carlos Cuellar and Louis Saha seem decent enough for free transfer pick-ups. I saw Saha for a substantial period for the first time this season against Newcastle and he made a big difference. We were desperately missing someone who could link the midfield and forward and he filled that role well.
4) Has anybody left who you think has seriously weakened the team?
5) Who is going to be your main dangerman when we play?
Fletcher. It's boring to say but with five of our six goals coming from him, who else was it going to be?
Seb Larsson, James McClean and the aforementioned Sessegnon and Johnson will provide a stupendous supplementary attacking quartet, once they remember where they left their form!
6) What are your weaknesses, any clues for the game will be appreciated :-)
An over reliance on Fletcher basically. With Larsson, McClean, Sessegnon & Johnson all struggling, it heaps all the pressure on the big man. Whilst he's got the ability to cope for now, he can't do it all season and God forbid he gets injured or suspended for any great length of time.
In midfield Jack Colback and Lee Cattermole are tidy ball-players but little else. Neither will play that defence-splitting pass, and although that's the difference between a lot of mid-table and top-seven teams, we are really crying out for the kind of deep-lying playmaker who can open up a game in one pass.
7) Will you have anyone out who would otherwise play?
Phil Bardsley is fit enough to resume & could make his first start since ankle surgery. That shrinking violet Cattermole is back in the side following suspension and having signed a new contract this week, I fully expect him to celebrate that in his customary fashion, picking up a straight red for a diabolical 'challenge'.
Now with a slightly more Claret and Blue angle...
8) Are you surprised to see how Villa struggled last season and do you think we will again this time round?
I wasn't surprised. You hired Alex McLeish - enough said.
Will you struggle this season? Clearly.
Darren Bent is a good striker, but like Fletcher (and any forward) he needs service. The fact that he's not getting any service means he isn't scoring & has seen him dropped. On the basis he is by far & away the best forward at the football club, that's an aberration as decisions go - that said Christian Benteke looks like he knows how to find the back of the net.
Paul Lambert has signed bang-average footballers and players for the future. That's more to do with Randy Lerner reigning in the horns than anything else, but you can't as an average side bung a load of kids in at a higher level than they're used to and expect to succeed.
A relegation scrap awaits.
9) Do you have any thoughts on Paul Lambert?
Aside from being the most dour man on the face of the planet?!
Did a fantastic job with Norwich City and clearly has something. I hope he gets time and the backing of Lerner because there's no point in hiring a fairly youthful manager and looking to change the DNA of a club if you're not going to give that person time.
10) What have you made of our youth promotions last/this season, anybody caught the eye for you?
Chris Herd looks like someone who's robbing a living & indicative of the lack of depth & genuine ability within the squad.
11) Who has stood out most from our recent acquisitions for you?
The aforementioned Benteke looks decent. I have to admit to knowing very little of him, but he's looked lively so far and scored a decent goal against Norwich City on Saturday.
12) If you could take one of our players, who would it be and why?
Bent - then we could have two good strikers entirely dependent on non-existent service!
13) Who do you see as our main threat in the game?
Benteke could be a handful, but I reckon big John O'Shea and Cuellar should be able to handle him.
14) Where would you say our current weaknesses are in terms of how you will approach the match?
Your midfield is there to be got at. Stephen Ireland is a million miles away from being the player he was a few seasons ago, whilst Fabian Delph has never really kicked on from the prodigy he was at Leeds. Brett Holman and Karim El-Ahmadi - who?!
15) Finally, a prediction please kind person...
2-0 Sunderland. We have to win.
Sunderland Forum Thread.
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Date:Thursday November 1 2012
Pre Season Takes Shape (Friday May 17 2013)
Something For The Weekend (424) (Friday May 17 2013)
Lambert Sticking To His Policy - No Big Signings (Friday May 17 2013)
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