Thursday 22 March 2018

Comment: This season could be even tougher for David Moyes than his year from hell at Man United

Sunderland manager David Moyes
Sunderland manager David Moyes

Michael Walker

He appeared without fanfare, was booed off at half-time, met sullen silence at full-time and saw his new lightweight, inexperienced and depleted team beaten by their nearest Premier League rivals, who are hardly Real Madrid: it’s fair to say David Moyes’s first home game as Sunderland manager could not have gone much worse.

This was flat, so flat. Moyes had called for ferocity but what he got was indifference. “Things Can Only Get Better” is a chant locals have adopted in the past few seasons, but they need to and fast.

Moyes had used the word “difficulties” more than once in his pre-match press conference on Friday, as well as the analogy of Sunderland as a “tanker” requiring turning around and re-pointing.

Two games in those difficulties were exposed brutally by Middlesbrough’s second goal, the one real moment of coherent quality in the match.

Having lost Younes Kaboul to Watford and Lamine Kone to that “bad back” he turned up with on Friday, Moyes saw his centre-half replacement John O’Shea depart before the interval, injured, and then watched as Alvaro Negredo twisted inside O’Shea’s stand-in, Jack Rodwell, to tee up Boro’s second for Cristhian Stuani.

There was a recovery of sorts in the second half, when Patrick van Aanholt scored with 20 minutes left, but Moyes has evidence to display to the board that the squad must have further investment if this season is not to be another of toil.

“Gruelling” was the description owner Ellis Short used a few years ago, and it still applies. This is a place now associated with dramatically underwhelming openings to the season – and hasty managerial changes – but even by the standards of a club that has not won a league game in August since 2010, this was unconvincing.

To think Sunderland’s last Premier League game here had been the raucous 3-0 victory over Everton in May which kept them in the division. Then the Stadium of Light rocked, Sunderland played effective and powerful football and Sam Allardyce beat his chest in celebration.

Wearside was animated. There was some optimism around then, at the very least a sense that the club had bottomed out. Or, to put it another way, Allardyce had turned the tanker.

Three months on and Allardyce has gone along with Kaboul and the sense of hope is diminished. Only three of those who started against Everton that night played here - there are mitigating factors.

Even so, this was a new beginning. Yet in terms of theatre, as introductions go, this was the opposite of Paul Pogba at Manchester United. There was no groovy video for the kids.

Moyes walked up the Stadium of Light tunnel, shook a few hands, took his seat briefly in the home dugout, then moved to the technical area on the touchline. There was nothing over the Tannoy, no broad Wearside welcome, no wave to the crowd.

In the age of celebrity, this was old-school, understated.

What Moyes wanted on the pitch of course, was something rather more demonstrative. On Friday he had spoken of creating “a real ferocious crowd here at Sunderland, a crowd that can influence, that gets behind the team.”

Twenty minutes in, with Sunderland 1-0 down, the travelling fans from Teesside launched a chant of: “Cheer up David Moyes.”

It was a tune once aimed at Peter Reid, one of Moyes’s predecessors here.

It was safe to say the atmosphere by then was far from ferocious. It was subdued, empty seats were prominent. Sunderland were not actually playing that badly but Brad Guzan, making his Middlesbrough debut, had been quiet if not untroubled. 

Then Stauni scored with a 20-yard shot that came from nowhere and what hubbub there was dropped a level. When Stuani then finished off the clever work of Negredo and Adam Forshaw, the decibel level rose but it was not the noise Moyes wants to hear. 

Van Aanholt’s goal roused the crowd temporarily but Moyes’s opinion that this is a long-term job looked correct. It’s just long-term rarely exists in football and certainly not at Sunderland.

All in all, a day that was meant to be a start had the feeling of an end.

Independent News Service

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport