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KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU...Sunderland Q&A with The Roker Report

While tickets, travel and pubs seem to dominate the thinking at the moment, at the end of the tunnel is a game of football on Sunday. Quite an important one at that. Tom Walsh from the popular Sunderland website, community and podcast Roker Report gives us the lowdown from the North East ahead of their trip to that there London...


Tom, there were huge expectations around Sunderland to bounce back at the start and first half of the season. Has there been disappointment that automatic promotion wasn’t achieved?

Automatic promotion was the goal from outset this season and when George Honeyman swept home a last-minute winner at Rochdale in early-April it looked like it would be on the cards. However, our love affair with drawing matches has caught up with us. We missed a glorious chance to cement a spot in the top two but a 1-1 at home to Burton Albion and then a bizarre 5-4 defeat to Coventry City, knackered that.

We have struggled to kill off teams when really should have. A lot of our games this season have followed a similar pattern - dominate the first half, fail to build on a one goal advantage, sit back in the second half, concede, drink in that creamy 1-1 draw. You even got a rendition of this tripe at The Valley, you lucky things.

Naturally there is disappointment we haven’t managed to get over the line but considering where we started at the beginning of the campaign with coaches having to make up the numbers in training sessions, Jack Ross has done a great job.

There were not many Sunderland fans coming into the play-offs with any sort of confidence but the two games against Portsmouth have shown a resilience. This is a team that is hard to beat and has the smattering of quality that can get us to the Championship.


From the outside, the Josh Maja saga seemed to have a bit of a destabilising effect around the turn of the year (coinciding with 7 draws in 9 games). Was it a factor? How did the fans take that and has he been missed?

In true Sunderland fashion, the Josh Maja situation was handled abysmally. As soon as the owners arrived they knew this was an issue but it was left to drag on and on and on until the point we lost our top scorer at a pivotal stage of the season.

Maja was the focal point of the team and could create a goal out of nothing. There were countless times during the season he bailed us out of tricky predicaments to gain valuable points. His departure left us in the embarrassing position of enquiring about every League One striker that ever scored a goal on deadline day.

We proceeded to blow £4 million (FOUR MILLION) on Will Grigg who, despite having an incredible record at this level, doesn’t seem to fit our system.

While some supporters claimed that “all Maja does is score”, the same criticism of last season’s top goalscorer Lewis Grabban, his departure left us floundering through January and February. It wasn’t until Aiden McGeady picked up form that Ross found a solution for the gaping Maja-sized hole in our team.

How has the Netflix stuff generally been received? Have fans benefited from having a greater insight behind the scenes?

It’s always fun to see the worst season in your entire history being played out to a national audience. I think it gave fans an insight as to just how utterly knackered we were as a club from top to bottom.

Personally, I think the likes of Martin Bain and Chris Coleman were portrayed in a far too positive light. For Bain, it looked like a man trying his darndest under challenges circumstances without highlighting the catastrophic errors he made as a CEO. As for Coleman, I maintain that that squad, no matter how bad they were, could have stayed up.

Aiden McGeady’s cutting assessment of his managerial style was probably the most honest thing through the whole series. While Coleman had his hands tied to an extent, he failed to get the best out of that squad and his recent sacking from a Chinese club probably highlights that he’s not so hot when he hasn’t got Gareth Bale and Adam Ramsey to call upon.

What the documentary did do was shine a light on the region. The personal stories of supporters, staff at the stadium and the people around the city highlighted just how much this club plays a massive part in their lives. No matter how bad we have been, there is always that lingering sense that it might get better. It’s the hope that kills you and all that.

And Bryan Oviedo’s dog was dead cool.

Has there been much of a culture change surrounding the club over the last year? Are you expecting the next series to portray the club differently?

One of the main prerogatives the new owners had when they arrived last summer was rebuilding a fractured fanbase. These efforts have made going to the football a fun experience. The stadium has been renovated, supporters have been given a lot more control on the matchday experience with the Red & White Army fan group organising banners and flag displays, which have made a huge impact on the atmosphere.

However, the main difference is simply winning football matches. For the past decade, we are used to losing the majority of weeks. Even when we were doing ‘well’ in the Premier League, you would win, at most, 12 games a year, so losing just once at home and five times all year has been really refreshing.

Is it true McGeady won’t make it? He’s looked a class above anything in this league from what I’ve seen. Big loss if so?

McGeady’s been playing with a broken foot for the past month and while I have never played football with a broken foot I’m sure it hurts. He’s not played since our win over Doncaster on Easter Monday and I’d imagine Ross is hoping to have him fit.

It will be a blow if he misses out but it will give a chance for Chris Maguire to step up to the plate. As a man who seems to revel in being a complete dickhead on the pitch, Maguire will be chomping at the bit to get a Wembley start and instantly rile up the Charlton players. And, as his volley against Portsmouth demonstrated, he’s got a canny strike on him.

Strengths / Weaknesses, If Sunderland win on Sunday, it will be largely down to…

Taking our chances. We have the ability to dominate most teams in the midfield with Lee “The Boy” Cattermole likely to be instrumental so if we can get our wide players on the ball we will create openings. Just finishing them is a different story.

And if you lose, its likely to be because…

We can’t resist the allure of a 1-1 draw. That or our centre halves can’t control Lyle Taylor.


For those around at the time (we're all getting older!), is this seen as a chance to get revenge for 1998? Or has that occasion not been getting much focus?

I’m sure Clive Mendonca is already raking in his media appearance fees this week but I wouldn’t say a win would be “revenge” for 1998. I guess it's an easy narrative for TV, and I bet Netflix can’t believe their luck, but I don’t think Sunderland fans have any feeling on Charlton either way.

I would prefer to get the monkey off our back of not winning at Wembley since 1973. If you didn’t know already Sunderland will be going for the clean sweep on Sunday. Yep, that’s right. Should we lose against Charlton we’ll have lost an FA Cup final, two League Cup finals, Checkatrade Trophy final, Championship play-off final and a League One play-off final.

Down here, we generally feel there are a lot of similarities between the highs and lows shared between our two clubs over the years and, mainly stemming from that 98 final, a mutual respect for Sunderland fans. Probably easier for us as we won that day, but is that a sentiment shared at your end?

Yeh, we’ve both been through the wringer a little bit, haven’t we. The play-off final in 1998 was among the first memories I have watching Sunderland. The chaotic madness of the whole occasion made you feel like you’d been playing yourself and I think once you have gone through something like that you do have a respect for your adversary.

For the absolute turmoil Charlton have gone through in recent years, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge you a win on Sunday. The collective action your supporters have taken against Roland Duchatelet and his bunch of cronies is something other clubs can use as a blueprint when some shyster ruins them as well.

Lee Bowyer has also done an incredible job this season, especially since you rocked up to the Stadium of Light on the opening day without a full bench. So, if you are celebrating come Sunday teatime, the fairest of fair plays.

However, in reality I hope we leather you 6-0, all your trains are cancelled and you go home to find that you’ve left your freezer door open and your tea has effectively melted.

All the best for Sunday. Cards on table Tom, how will the game go and end?

Heart says 3-1 Sunderland but head says 1-1 and Sunderland to lose on penalties with, I dunno, George Honeyman missing a penalty.

———

Many thanks to Tom for giving up his time

Comments

  • oh he didn't just mention the trains did he??? 

     
  • Yep, I’m in the same mindset of you @PragueAddick


  • Great piece. If we have to lose, rather to them than Portsmouth. 

    What I learn from it is that it is so finely balanced, there are many similarities, they lost Maja, we lost Karlan, they sweat on McGeedy, we on Igor. Both of us think midfield is our strength. They are in a better place, owner-wise, but Lee has managed to push RD to the sidelines for this. Too tight to call. And forget about 98. Albie Morgan wasn't even born then. 
    Have you missed the story coming out of Sunderland today?  Appears there owner is no modern day Saint either.

    Great interview @AFKABartram :-) 
  • Are Netflix still following them around then?

    Good piece by the way.
  • "Respect for your adversary" i liked. I too have a lot of respect for them after hearing all the stories from 98.
    At least their owners are trying to rebuild a fractured fan base. If we dont win on Sunday and they go up, i hope they do well. We will win tho.
  • Cafc43v3r said:
    Great piece. If we have to lose, rather to them than Portsmouth. 

    What I learn from it is that it is so finely balanced, there are many similarities, they lost Maja, we lost Karlan, they sweat on McGeedy, we on Igor. Both of us think midfield is our strength. They are in a better place, owner-wise, but Lee has managed to push RD to the sidelines for this. Too tight to call. And forget about 98. Albie Morgan wasn't even born then. 
    Have you missed the story coming out of Sunderland today?  Appears there owner is no modern day Saint either.

    Great interview @AFKABartram :-) 
    I just read it. It doesn't look good, I agree. 
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  • Nice interview. The pain for them of losing in 1998 for them I imagine was largely overcome by the stunning year they had the following season (winning the league with 105 points) and the storming period in the PL which followed.

    If we had lost in 1998, I doubt the same would have happened, financially I think we would have had to sell players in the summer, and would probably have lost some momentum.

    Curbs said in his autobiography and also a recent podcast that we simply couldn't afford to lose that game whereas Sunderland could. We would have lost a lot of players and who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to a playoff final again.

    I just feel we are in a very similar situation now. If we failed to win on Sunday, I dread to think what kind of squad we would be left with come August...
    This 100%
  • Nice interview. The pain for them of losing in 1998 for them I imagine was largely overcome by the stunning year they had the following season (winning the league with 105 points) and the storming period in the PL which followed.

    If we had lost in 1998, I doubt the same would have happened, financially I think we would have had to sell players in the summer, and would probably have lost some momentum.

    Curbs said in his autobiography and also a recent podcast that we simply couldn't afford to lose that game whereas Sunderland could. We would have lost a lot of players and who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to a playoff final again.

    I just feel we are in a very similar situation now. If we failed to win on Sunday, I dread to think what kind of squad we would be left with come August...
    That might be true, but it can't be used to explain the outcome. Michael Gray didn't scuff a penalty because we needed it more. 
  • Nice interview. The pain for them of losing in 1998 for them I imagine was largely overcome by the stunning year they had the following season (winning the league with 105 points) and the storming period in the PL which followed.

    If we had lost in 1998, I doubt the same would have happened, financially I think we would have had to sell players in the summer, and would probably have lost some momentum.

    Curbs said in his autobiography and also a recent podcast that we simply couldn't afford to lose that game whereas Sunderland could. We would have lost a lot of players and who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to a playoff final again.

    I just feel we are in a very similar situation now. If we failed to win on Sunday, I dread to think what kind of squad we would be left with come August...
    Frightening isn't it.
  • Nice interview. The pain for them of losing in 1998 for them I imagine was largely overcome by the stunning year they had the following season (winning the league with 105 points) and the storming period in the PL which followed.

    If we had lost in 1998, I doubt the same would have happened, financially I think we would have had to sell players in the summer, and would probably have lost some momentum.

    Curbs said in his autobiography and also a recent podcast that we simply couldn't afford to lose that game whereas Sunderland could. We would have lost a lot of players and who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to a playoff final again.

    I just feel we are in a very similar situation now. If we failed to win on Sunday, I dread to think what kind of squad we would be left with come August...
    Exactly this, I think Sunderland would win League 1 at a canter next season, the relegated Championship sides look very poor compared to this season. Where-as we will be stripped for parts in the summer (still think we could be even if we get promoted)
  • Nice interview. The pain for them of losing in 1998 for them I imagine was largely overcome by the stunning year they had the following season (winning the league with 105 points) and the storming period in the PL which followed.

    If we had lost in 1998, I doubt the same would have happened, financially I think we would have had to sell players in the summer, and would probably have lost some momentum.

    Curbs said in his autobiography and also a recent podcast that we simply couldn't afford to lose that game whereas Sunderland could. We would have lost a lot of players and who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to a playoff final again.

    I just feel we are in a very similar situation now. If we failed to win on Sunday, I dread to think what kind of squad we would be left with come August...
    Exactly this, I think Sunderland would win League 1 at a canter next season, the relegated Championship sides look very poor compared to this season. Where-as we will be stripped for parts in the summer (still think we could be even if we get promoted)
    I understand why people fear this may happen, but why would he choose now? What's changed? He hasn't done it before, why would he do it now?  I agree we won't be spending significantly in the window, either way, but I don't think there will be a fire sale or a massive reduction in playing budget either. 
  • Cafc43v3r said:
    Nice interview. The pain for them of losing in 1998 for them I imagine was largely overcome by the stunning year they had the following season (winning the league with 105 points) and the storming period in the PL which followed.

    If we had lost in 1998, I doubt the same would have happened, financially I think we would have had to sell players in the summer, and would probably have lost some momentum.

    Curbs said in his autobiography and also a recent podcast that we simply couldn't afford to lose that game whereas Sunderland could. We would have lost a lot of players and who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to a playoff final again.

    I just feel we are in a very similar situation now. If we failed to win on Sunday, I dread to think what kind of squad we would be left with come August...
    Exactly this, I think Sunderland would win League 1 at a canter next season, the relegated Championship sides look very poor compared to this season. Where-as we will be stripped for parts in the summer (still think we could be even if we get promoted)
    I understand why people fear this may happen, but why would he choose now? What's changed? He hasn't done it before, why would he do it now?  I agree we won't be spending significantly in the window, either way, but I don't think there will be a fire sale or a massive reduction in playing budget either. 
    We've got about seven players under contract!!...

    We had about sixteen under contract last summer so wasnt that big a worry but can you really see Bowyer being allowed to sign that many players this summer, regardless if we can challenge or not
  • The budget has been reduced every year in the last few seasons which makes the job Bowyer has done all the more impressive
  • Cafc43v3r said:
    Nice interview. The pain for them of losing in 1998 for them I imagine was largely overcome by the stunning year they had the following season (winning the league with 105 points) and the storming period in the PL which followed.

    If we had lost in 1998, I doubt the same would have happened, financially I think we would have had to sell players in the summer, and would probably have lost some momentum.

    Curbs said in his autobiography and also a recent podcast that we simply couldn't afford to lose that game whereas Sunderland could. We would have lost a lot of players and who knows how long it would have taken for us to get to a playoff final again.

    I just feel we are in a very similar situation now. If we failed to win on Sunday, I dread to think what kind of squad we would be left with come August...
    Exactly this, I think Sunderland would win League 1 at a canter next season, the relegated Championship sides look very poor compared to this season. Where-as we will be stripped for parts in the summer (still think we could be even if we get promoted)
    I understand why people fear this may happen, but why would he choose now? What's changed? He hasn't done it before, why would he do it now?  I agree we won't be spending significantly in the window, either way, but I don't think there will be a fire sale or a massive reduction in playing budget either. 
    It's not just about the fire sale. It's the number of players out of contract and the lack of backing to fund replacements...
  • edited May 24
    January sales, Maja v Grant. 

    They spent 4m on Grigg, we brought in Parker on loan. Never have impressed, they were probably more impacted by losing Maja than us Grant. Will be interesting to see if either replacement has an impact on the result 
  • January sales, Maja v Grant. 

    They spent 4m on Grigg, we brought in Taylor on loan. Never have impressed, they were probably more impacted by losing Maja than us Grant. Will be interesting to see if either replacement has an impact on the result 
    I think you mean Parker not Taylor boss.
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  • Josh Taylor certainly would have brought a bit of punch with him!
  • January sales, Maja v Grant. 

    They spent 4m on Grigg, we brought in Taylor on loan. Never have impressed, they were probably more impacted by losing Maja than us Grant. Will be interesting to see if either replacement has an impact on the result 
    I think you mean Parker not Taylor boss.
    And Parker was actually a short term permanent signing too  :)
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