Alan Pardew took a lot of deserved stick for making excuses at the weekend, but he wasn’t the only North East manager trying to deflect the blame.
The Sunday Sun’s brilliant back page last week summed up Pardew’s cheek.
He is blaming everyone but himself for the shambles at Newcastle United. But I don’t buy Gus Poyet’s post-match comments either.
“I think there’s something wrong in the football club,” he said after Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat to Everton. “It’s not an excuse.”
Sorry, Gus, but it sounds like one to me.
We’re not talking about a manager who’s been given ten games to save his club from relegation.
Gus has been in the Sunderland job since October. In January the club let him make five signings.
He ought to have got more points out of the squad he was given.
The Black Cats are seven points adrift of safety, with only six games to play. That might be two more than their rivals, but one of those games in hand is at Manchester City tomorrow, and you would be a brave man to bet on them taking anything from the Eastlands, especially in their current form.
They have not won a league game since the Tyne-Wear derby on February 1, and have taken one point from a possible last 24.
How can they beat Newcastle twice, and knock the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United out of the League Cup, but not get up for the league games?
That’s poor. And it’s the coach’s responsibility to make sure his players are up for every game.
I’ve played for Sunderland, and it’s just not true to say there’s something about the club holding it back.
I know because we finished seventh in 2000-01 – just as they did the season before I arrived at the Stadium of Light.
The manager was Peter Reid, one of the best motivators ever.
Within ten minutes of it kicking off, Reidy could smell a game. He could just tell who was not at it, and he would do something about it.
It’s not easy to make changes so early in the game but there’s no point leaving it too late. With the exception of Norwich City, where he hauled Jack Colback and Ki Sung-Yeung off in the first half, the game is too often gone before Poyet makes changes.
Liverpool have shown all season the importance of getting off to a good start in games. That’s how they beat Manchester City at the weekend – that and showing a bit of character when City came back at them in the second half.
The problem with Sunderland is not the club, it’s the players.
They are too weak. There is a lack of character.
They have only got two points this season from games where the opposition have scored first. All six of their league wins have come after getting the first goal.
It’s a little bit cowardly if you are not at it right from the start of games. The Black Cats’ home form has not been what it should be for years now but it’s the players’ responsibility to relax the fans, rather than the other way around. The brave managers are not afraid of the big decisions.
I remember Sunderland going to Stamford Bridge without Niall Quinn. The easy option would have been to bring Danny Dichio into the side, but Reidy pushed me up front with Kevin Phillips. I scored twice, and we won 4-2.
Contrast that with Poyet, who has seemed afraid to use Adam Johnson up front until the last couple of weeks.
It was the logical thing to do. Fabio Borini is not a natural goalscorer, Jozy Altidore’s confidence is shot and Steven Fletcher is injured.
A braver manager should have told Johnson he was getting a run of 10 games in that position, and stood by him. The confidence to make decisions like that comes a little bit easier to experienced managers.
Poyet and Paolo Di Canio were both Premier League rookies when they joined Sunderland – and now they are bottom of the Premier League.
What really killed Sunderland’s survival chances was the January transfer window.
It’s not rocket science working out what they needed to do.
Spending £10m on a proven goalscorer who could guarantee you five to ten goals in the second half of the season would have saved the club £50m-60m by keeping them in the top-flight.
As I’ve said in this column before, Sunderland should have bought Shane Long from West Bromwich Albion, who would have done just that for them.
Instead they paid around £3m for Ignacio Scocco – one of three Argentinians they signed this winter with no experience of English football.
Scocco had not played since November because it was out of season in Brazil, where he was playing at the time.
It was always going to be hard for him to adjust quickly to the pace of English football, but in the position Sunderland were in, they did not have time for him to find his feet.
When Steve Bruce saw his Hull City side needed a proven goalscorer, he went out and bought Long and Nikita Jelavic. Their goals will keep Hull in the division.
Likewise, Tony Pulis made a clutch of signings at Crystal Palace.
Tom Ince has not really come off for them, but Joe Ledley and Scott Dann certainly have.
Now Palace and Hull are sitting pretty in mid-table. It just shows the value of an experienced manager.