Keeping up with the Joneses

I’VE stressed so often this season that we need to put in good performances against the smaller clubs that I’m fed up of saying it now. Thankfully we put in an impressive shift at Upton Park on Sunday afternoon. Sadly, it still counted for nothing.

There’s an argument that, having had the better of Blackburn at the Stadium of Light and now West Ham in London, but losing both games, we’ve fared no better than our now famous gut-busting performances against the better sides. Ultimately, the signs are that we can fight it out with those at the bottom now, which is encouraging.

The worry, however, is that we’re still struggling to pick up points. The honeymoon period is almost certainly over and there’s no doubting now that in the short term at least we’re in for a dogfight.

Bolton, a team most had backed to struggle, have acted by parting company with Sammy Lee, and there’s little doubt that many of the sides around us (Birmingham, Wigan, Boro and Tottenham) will do the same if their results continue in the same vein.

Boardroom and managerial changes will obviously not happen at Sunderland. But we do need changes on the pitch. We’ve spent over £35m on new recruits over the summer, and if we’re to do anything other than struggle in the bottom third, then we’ll need to invest heavily again in the next transfer window.

By the time the window opens we’ll have the guile of Dean Whitehead and Kieran Richardson available again and the speed and skill of Carlos Edwards, so the midfield might be OK. However, two top quality full backs might help. Greg Halford has struggled since his arrival and continued his inconsistencies at Upton Park. Ian Harte is starting to feature at left back, but is he still good enough to excel at the top level?

In the centre of defence we have quantity and promise, but not quality and experience. We need a top class central defender to marshal and organise the defence. Someone who has been there, done it and almost worn out the t-shirt. It’s a waste of time investing £9m on a goalkeeper if there is nobody in front of him with Premiership knowhow to help out.

Dwight Yorke’s emergence as a calming head in midfield is proof of the need for leadership, as his absence meant we were scrappier in midfield than in recent weeks. We are conceding far too many soft goals and it needs to stop and with a leader at the back I believe it will.

Of course there is an argument that there’s very little to really complain about. I could point out that the first two goals we conceded on Sunday were flukes. A header courtesy of the back of Carlton Cole’s skull and the cruellest of cruel own goals gave West Ham an unfair advantage, with the game only being killed off with their third as we bombed forward in search of a second equaliser.

Looking forward to next weekend’s fixture at home to Fulham and it’s another chance to propel ourselves away from the relegation zone at the expense of a side down at the bottom themselves. How do we go about it? Hopefully by playing 4-4-2, not 4-5-1.

When Kenwyne Jones first arrived many questioned Keane. He appeared to have signed a forward for £6m with a very ordinary scoring record. It shows what we know, though, as the Trinidad and Tobago international has been nothing short of excellent and now looks like a bargain.

He’s quick, strong, and his ability in the air reminds me of a certain somebody sitting in the Stadium of Light boardroom nowadays. Imagine Niall Quinn but a million times faster and you’re just about getting there.

However, the youngster still has a long way to go before eclipses the overall class of Quinn, but he’s making strides in the right direction. Whether Andy Cole will eventually prove the perfect foil for him, or if it’ll need the enthusiasm of Chopra, remains to be seen.

One thing is for certain, keeping Kenwyne fit, happy and scoring goals will be major key to our survival.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up