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"Over the course of the season we might lack a lot of things - we lack real true ability in the team. We need an improvement in the ability in the squad. I think that's obvious" - Martin O'Neill, ahead of Sunday's clash with Norwich.
It's obvious to anybody with eyes that Sunderland lack 'real true ability'. It was certainly obvious against Norwich when they huffed, puffed and utterly failed to break down a Norwich side reduced to ten men after half an hour. They were gifted a controversial red card, gifted a penalty for a non-deliberate handball and gifted a let-off when Norwich should have had their own penalty. And yet they still conspired to draw 1-1 without ever carving open the Canaries.
Alternatively, it's obvious they lack something from a Premier League table that shows they have scored just 17 goals in 15 Premier League games at the Stadium of Light. And it's obvious from statistics that show they are in the bottom five teams in the division for shots per game, average possession and average pass completion.
Whether you choose to trust your own eyes, a series of numbers or the words of the manager himself, you have to conclude that they are rotten. What none of those things tell you is the money that has been spent to make them this rotten. There was talk on Sky Sports before the game that the manager has 'only' been allowed to spend money on four players. What they didn't say was that those four players have - according to local newspaper The Northern Echo - cost £30m in transfer fees alone.
Those four players - Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson, Alfred N'Diaye and Danny Graham - have been bought by the club in the last two transfer windows. Only eight clubs (the biggest six clubs in the country plus QPR and Southampton) have spent more than Sunderland in the last two transfer windows and yet only five clubs sit below them in the Premier League table.
On Sunday they played Norwich, who spent just £9m in the last two transfer windows after finishing last season two points ahead of the Black Cats. They now sit three points ahead. Those are not great maths for any Sunderland fan who has just sat through their seventh successive game without a victory in which right-back Craig Gardner looked their most dangerous player.
You have to feel for Sunderland fans. Can any set of fans in the country currently be at a lower ebb? QPR fans have long since grown accustomed to being a laughing stock, Reading fans never expected to survive, Wigan fans have been here too many times to worry and Villa fans are seeing a buoyant and bouncing young side. Sunderland fans are watching dire football from a team with an average age of 27 and there's little sign that things are going to get any better. They will probably scrape together enough points to survive but it will be hollow success.
If it's a terrible team to support, imagine being chairman Ellis Short. Last summer he said Sunderland were "not happy with 13th - not happy at all". Right now, 13th for Sunderland would require a dramatic improvement in their performances. And the manager is still saying they need an "improvement in the ability in the squad" to prevent a repeat next season.
@als_seaham - Weather's a bit grim, all told, thank you, but I don't support Man Utd. I do, however admire their ability to win titles through character, intelligent play and superb management (even though it's by a red-faced grouch-machine). I'm sorry you seem offended by the word 'phalanx' (unless you find it more a challenging word than you expected), and I'll choose smaller more simpler words in future. In fact, I don't think it was getting my sums wrong that irked you and more a case of it being that this thread didn't mention Arsenal, and so you felt wronged, as if you were left out of the conversation. All right, then, let's put that right, shall we? All together, now: Arsenal are a lovely club and their players - bought for an initial cost of a fiver and a packet of Werther's Originals - are nurtured to be world-beaters, managed by a genius who, let's face it, does look like a vulture in dread anticipation of a diahorrea attack. There. Simmered down, yet? Has that placated (ooh, another long word) you? Yours sincerely, someone enjoying his numptiness a great deal.- IanJames