With this weekend's Premier League game between Everton and Sunderland a massive one for both teams, I caught up with Simon Walsh of the excellent soon-to-be-SBNation Black Cats blog RokerReport.com to hear his thoughts on the game.
After spending big money in the summer you must have been confident of a successful year, what were your expectations at the start of the season and are the team still on course to meet them?
My expectations were to finish in the top ten this season, and we’re on course to do so. That said, after spending so much time around 6th/7th it will feel like an opportunity missed if we dropped to 8th or below. Not that I wouldn’t be happy with any top ten finish, but you know what I mean. I was hopeful of a decent cup run too, but once again, that never happened.
What is your opinion on the Darren Bent Villa transfer, I have to admit I was surprised! Do you think you have enough firepower to see you through to the end of the season?
When we first found out he was off I thought we were screwed, but it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He wasn’t playing well with Asamoah Gyan, and it’s allowed Kieran Richardson to flourish with the Ghanaian. Add to that Danny Welbeck & Fraizer Campbell are only a couple of weeks away from returning, I think we’ll be fine. Also many thanks to Aston Villa for the massive sack of money, he’s good, but not that good.
What are your thoughts on the recent comments by Niall Quinn regarding ‘stay away’ supporters?
We’ve blogged about it fairly extensively on RokerReport.com, not just myself but some of our other writers, and the general consensus is that we all appreciate he’s a God, on and off the pitch, but he needs to pipe down a bit. He’s been proven wrong on his stats a few times, whilst he should be looking at some revenue streams off the pitch (amongst the lowest sponsorship deals in the league). Sure, there’s a few people who prefer to go to the pub, but there’s a great deal more of the missing people who simply can’t afford it. We appreciate the effort Niall, and we know you care deeply, but you’re beginning to sound a bit like a broken record.
On a similar note what is your opinion of Ellis Short? From an outsiders point of view he seems like the perfect chairman who has absorbed the club’s losses in recent years. Following Quinn’s comments though do you fear he will tighten the purse strings?
Quinn’s mentioned that we may have to ‘sell stars’ to recoup money lost on the gate, however he also said a few weeks ago that he’s not interested in money. He’s also said that all the Darren Bent money (£24m+) will be available to spend. Quinn was here as a player when we hit 7th in the Premier League, we didn’t spend then and became a yo-yo club for years. I’m sure he more than anyone knows we need to spend this summer again.
As for Ellis Short, you don’t hear much from him, in fact, pretty much nothing. However we appreciate he’s allowed us to spend big, and off the field he seems like an astute businessman, so he knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t seem the type who’ll get bored after seeing a football club as a ‘play-thing’ akin to say Chelsea or Man City. He’ll be here a while, and doing good business while he is. We appreciate everything he’s done and brought to the club.
Sunderland are edging closer to that ‘glass ceiling’ Everton have repeatedly failed to break through, would you agree that the Premier League and in particular the Champions League places, are becoming a closed shop for those only with billions at their disposal?
Without doubt. It irks me when people say "It’s the most open and exciting title race in years!!" as they do every year. It’s not open, or exciting, it’s United, Chelsea, Arsenal once again. The Europa League places are more interesting with the league being tighter, but even a team ‘on the cusp’ like ourselves would need massive investment to crack the top four.
Sunderland have had their fair share of ups and downs in recent seasons, in your mind what are your best and worse scenarios for Sunderland from now until the end of the season?
Best – We go on a hell of a run and finish 5th/6th, however I think 6th is the highest we can hope for if you’re looking for any sort of realism.
Worst – We go on a run akin to last year, 14 without a win, and end up in the bottom half. Which is entirely possible, and a scary thought.
If you could sell three Sunderland players and bring in three replacements who would they be?
Hmmm, good question. We have the core of a very good team, and the only people I’d want rid of in particular are some of those on the fringes, or currently away on loan. I’d sell Marcos Angeleri, Cristian Riveros & Steed Malbranque. Nothing against those players, but they either don’t fit in, or are aging. I’d bring in Nedum Onuoha & Sulley Muntari permanently, and bring in another striker. Perhaps a Conor Wickham, or go all out for Danny Welbeck. Obviously to bring in those sort of players we’d need more cash than the £4-5m you’d get for Angeleri, Malbranque & Riveros combined!
Who do you think Everton should look out for on Saturday?
Stephane Sessegnon. He’s slowly getting into games more, very quick, very skilful, and there’s always an air of unpredictability and excitement when he’s on the ball. If anyone’s gonna do the damage on Saturday it will be him.
What’s your predicted line-up for Saturday?
Onuoha – Ferdinand – Bramble – Bardsley
Malbranque – Henderson – Muntari – Sessegnon
And a score prediction?
Goodison Park is never a nice trip for us, so I’ll take a draw to end our poor run. Two teams, not doing so well of late... I’m going for 0-0.
I have returned the favour and answered some of Simon's questions over at his site, you can read them by clicking here.