So the Christmas period got off to a wonderful start with a fairly predictable 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford, which featured an undeniably offside goal that was so brilliant it deserved to stand.
Fabio Borini’s late strike wasn’t to be sniffed at either but it was little consolation after sinking three goals to the Red Devils. Let’s be honest though, Man United are in fine fettle at the minute with a superstar like Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing out of his skin.
The real festive test is going to be Burnley away, a team whose past few months have been ropey at best, but who absolutely have the possibility to be a banana skin for Sunderland.
Recent months have been much more positive for Sunderland, however. Beating Bournemouth away at the beginning of November may not have been expected but it was certainly a welcome three points. That first win of the season had been a long time coming and wasn’t without its drama – a Sunderland sending off, a Jermain Defoe penalty and David Moyes enjoying the action from the stands dominated the headlines, but Sunderland won and three precious points accompanied the lads back to Wearside.
What a time for Victor Anichebe to come back to life. At a time where things were looking increasingly bleak and Moyes must have feared his P45 landing on his mat at any given moment.
As early as October, the manager had people calling for his head, saying he wasn’t up to the job despite the state the club and team had been left in when he took over in the summer.
As he’s publicly stated in the last couple of weeks, if he’d known then what he knows now, he might not have been so keen to sign on the dotted line and really, can you blame him?
Some have spoken out against his honesty when discussing the sorry state of the club’s finances but is this not better than the alternative?
At least we now have some insight into the monetary goings-on at the club. It turns out Sunderland are worse with money than Lindsay Lohan in Las Vegas and have absolutely nothing to show for it. Even loan players are beyond the budget and it seems that’s all there is to it.
Couple this with the ever-growing injury list and you wouldn’t want to be in Moyes’ shoes at the minute, would you? Sunderland seem to have the unique ability to be fighting a relegation battle in the middle of August, while the ink’s still drying on the last-minute contracts and before a ball’s actually been kicked for the season. Yes, Moyes must have always known the battle that he was going to face, but he clearly thought he was going to have at least some resources to sugar the pill.
His signings in the summer were never going to set the world alight. A few months down the line, however, and some of the players he’s signed are beginning to bed in and work well together. Djilobodji and Denayer have seen an improvement in recent weeks, with the back four starting to look a bit less shaky than they have previously. Donald Love, who was never bought with the intent of being the finished product, has been flung in at the deep end and done okay. Januzaj, the loanee with so much potential, may not currently be fulfilling it – but the flashes of what he could be are there if you look hard enough. Without a doubt though, Victor Anichebe has been the catalyst to our improvement to our form. From that game-changing goal at Bournemouth to the positive partnership that he’s formed with Defoe, we finally look like a team that can score goals. It took a while, but Moyes finally seemed to get the memo that two up front is the way forward. What a difference since it makes Defoe finally having a decent partner to feed off.
There have been some disappointments as well, but let’s not forget that Moyes had the sum total of six weeks to make signings in the summer after Sam toodle-pipped to the England job and Ellis Short had to once again dust down his little black book. The reason that Pienaar was available on a free seems to be all too clear – yet another player made of glass is the last thing we need. The less said about our record signing the better – £13.6 million for Ndong ,the man whose dodgy passing decisions come second only to those he makes when sat in the barber’s chair. His lack of experience at this level is all-too obvious.
In recent weeks though, the football has appeared more cohesive and more positive. There has been less sitting behind the ball and more of an urgency to get the ball up the field and actually play football. More of our players are actually looking as though they want to stand up and be counted – it’s also nice to see that Defoe is not our only player capable of scoring goals. Although let’s not get carried away – if we lost him for whatever reason, we wouldn’t be in a good position. He and Pickford have been the two beacons of light this season (and if we can manage to keep hold of Pickford for any longer than the end of this season, then that really will be a miracle).
There’s still the massive injury list to contend with – just about every week seems to see another player goosed for the majority of the season. Cattermole, Watmore, Kirchoff, Gooch, McNair, Rodwell – all players who won’t be featuring any time soon. Borini, Larsson and Jones haven’t long been back after spending time in the medic’s room and let’s not forget that we have four players likely due to jet off to the African Cup of Nations in Djilobodji, NDong, Khazri and Kone. More selection headaches for Moyes, totally unavoidable and absolutely out of his control.
Yet with all this turbulence, upheaval and downright bad luck, Moyes has put together some wins at last. Are we going to trouble Chelsea and Man City for the title race? Obviously not. Are we going to set the world alight with our silky passing and one-touch football? That’s about as likely as Balotelli winning a modesty contest. But at least we’re starting to look like there’s a bit of hope: we’re not dead yet. Teams like Swansea, Hull, Boro and even Leicester are getting dragged into the dogfight and unless Allardyce knows something that Pardew doesn’t, Palace aren’t looking too clever either. There are some winnable fixtures in the next month – let’s hope we’re finally on our way to mediocrity at last. We don’t ask for much more than that!