For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
New faces, but same failings
Match Analysis: Sunderland 0 Fulham 1
IT was billed as the dawn of Paolo Di Canio’s Wearside revolution, but it turned out to be little that we haven’t seen before.
New players, new mindset, new season. Yet so much of Sunderland’s opening-day defeat to Fulham harked back to the failings of the past.
Dominate the opposition, but lack the creative spark required to score. Concede a tame set-piece goal thanks to elementary defensive shortcomings.
Then limp through the closing stages without really threatening to get back on level terms.
It is a formula that is all too familiar, and for all that Di Canio has purchased ten senior players and overseen a radical overhaul of Sunderland’s training programme and disciplinary regime this summer, a number of enduring issues remain.
It is all very well banning tomato ketchup and cola drinks, but you still need a group of players good enough to succeed at Premier League level, and on that score, the jury must remain out until Saturday’s reverse can be proved to be nothing more than an opening- day blip.
“It’s the first game isn’t it, and there’s a long way to go,”
said Adam Johnson, who was one of only four survivors from the side that started at Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of last season. “I thought we dominated for long periods.
“We kept the ball well, without creating clear-cut chances, but at least we were having a go.
“Fulham didn’t look like they wanted to come at us and really want to win to be honest.
They were happy with sitting back and trying to nick something, which they did.”
In fairness, there were undoubtedly positive signs in Sunderland’s play, particularly during a first half which they dominated without really testing Maarten Stekelenburg, save for a Ondrej Celustka half-volley that the Fulham goalkeeper did well to turn over the crossbar.
Celustka was dynamic and robust at right-back, Cabral controlled the heart of midfield with aggression and assurance, Emanuele Giaccherini provided a sporadic threat on the lefthand side, and Jozy Altidore led the line with a physicality that was lacking in much of Sunderland’s forward play last season.
The Black Cats carved out a succession of long-range shooting opportunities, but as the game wore on, their failure to get behind the Fulham defence or thread balls between centrehalves Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes became increasingly apparent.
Stephane Sessegnon should have been the player providing a creative spark, but his impact on the game was negligible throughout. With speculation linking him with a potential move to Qatar refusing to go away, it was tempting to conclude that the Benin international was playing like a man whose head was elsewhere.
The key problem for Sunderland, however, is that when Sessegnon is not linking midfield and attack, no one else is likely to step in and do the job for him.
“I think we did well in the middle, but it is obvious we can do much better,” said Di Canio.
“The players that played there did well, but we can improve.
We need another player there that can feed my strikers and wingers quickly.
“It doesn’t always mean you have to be sharp in your legs, but you have to be quick in your head. It’s not a criticism of the players who played there because they did well. But we can improve this area of the field.
“I have told the club before pre-season that we need another player who can have the key to unlock a defence. A player with personality and physical presence because this is the heart of the game.”
Such players do not come cheap, but there is a clear need for a creative presence at the heart of midfield given that neither Cabral nor Seb Larsson are naturals for the role.
The lack of incision became a more pressing issue after Sunderland fell behind, and the manner of the visitors’ secondhalf winner clearly irked Di Canio.
Fulham’s Pajtim Kasami (8) scores the only goal of the game
Damien Duff swung over Fulham’s only corner of the game from the right-hand side, and Pajtim Kasami outjumped summer signing Valentin Roberge at the back post to power home a header.
“We have to be more nasty,”
said Di Canio. “My central defender lost a younger guy at the back post without jumping, and that can be a problem.
“You may think it is not fair to point the finger at the player who made a mistake. He did well before that, but if this helps him improve, that is good.
“It cost us one point minimum because I couldn’t see any chance for them to score in the game. If we don’t learn from it and think it was just an accident, we will have a problem in the future.”
Sunderland rarely looked like claiming an equaliser, although substitute Ji Dong-won should have equalised in the final minute.
Johnson beat his man to deliver a teasing cross from the right-hand side, but Ji somehow directed his six-yard header wide of the target despite being under little or no pressure at all.
It was a glaring miss, and it deprived Sunderland of a point they more than merited on the weight of their possession and territorial dominance.
“I think it was just one of those games,” said Johnson.
“How many times is this going to happen over the Premier League season with various teams, the smash and grab?
Teams come, don’t they, to do that.
“We’ll probably see another couple of examples next week.
That’s the reality of the Premier League, it’s tough. It’s that old saying, set-pieces win you games and that’s what’s happened.
“One set-piece and we’ve switched off, and it’s 1-0 and then it’s hard to get back from that with 11 men behind the ball.”
The Sunderland players leave the field after the final whistle
A neat summation, but hardly the rallying call for a radical new direction after a summer of major upheaval.
These are early days and it would be unfair to rush to judgement on Di Canio’s efforts given the lack of time his squad has spent together, and the fact that the Italian clearly wants to make further additions before the transfer window shuts.
However, one game in, and the revolution has undoubtedly stalled.
Changing training-ground rules is the easy part – changing the entire direction of a football club is a much tougher feat.
Comments are closed on this article.