Sunderland view from the oppo: Defo, Adam Johnson & relegation

Jack Rodwell scores in the 1-1 draw against Manchester United last season

Following the 1-1 draw with Chelsea, United fans will be looking for much of the same as the performance was much better against the league champions than in the abysmal display against Southampton.

United travel to second from bottom Sunderland today six points adrift of Manchester City in fourth place. All the talk for the home side will be around the sacking of Adam Johnson, who pleaded guilty on one count of sexual activity with a child and was subsequently sacked by Sunderland, and the relegation battle ahead. The away fans will be looking to see if Will Keane can make an impact following his brilliant goal on Monday against Norwich.

We are joined today by Sunderland fan, David Boyle, who kindly answered a few questions ahead of the early kick off today. We caught up over the great form of Jermaine Defoe, where it all went wrong for Adam Johnson (please note – David’s answered this before the sacking midweek) and whether Louis van Gaal will last the season following speculation that the United hierarchy have been speaking with Jose Mourinho. You can follow David on Twitter @davidboyle1985

1) How would you sum up your season so far? Have you pushed on at all from last season?

As with most seasons as a Sunderland fan, this term has been a massive disappointment. Going into the summer the club were hell-bent on securing the services of Dick Advocaat for a further year following his stewardship of the club to an unlike stay of execution in the top flight. Back then, it seemed like a sensible move from the club’s hierarchy. The club had clearly got under the Dutchman’s skin, who enjoy a good relationship with the fan base in the North East, and he seemed to be the ideal candidate given his wealth of experience to stabilise this perpetually turbulent ship and leave it on an even keel ready for his successor the following season.

We should know better now than to expect things to go according to plan at the Stadium of Light however, and by October 2015, Advocaat had walked, with sources close to the former Sunderland manager attributing his departure was due to being “promised big players but, instead, he was left with bargains from Poundland” and given where the club currently finds itself, it’s hard to argue.

Make no mistake though, this is a predicament which has been growing and growing for numerous seasons now as the club stumbles from one poor managerial appointment to another, bringing with it an influx of below-average footballers which has ultimately resulted in a staggeringly dreadful squad, assembled for a relative fortune, that is more than likely set for Championship football next year.

Allardyce has provided a lift, Yann M’Vila has been a highlight, and the acquisitions of Jan Kirchhoff, who has redeemed himself since his nightmare debut having been a revelation in a holding midfield role, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Zhazri have all instantly improved our starting eleven – however it may very well be too little, too late.

You reap what you sow in this business, and unfortunately this is a football club that has a knack of harvesting crap.

2.Aston Villa are all but down – will Sunderland join them at the end of the season or will you survive once again?

I just can’t see us surviving this time around.

Sunderland are a club that has flirted with disaster for so many seasons now that I’ve lost count.

Sam Allardyce noted in the press the other day that we needed to win six of our remaining fixtures if we were to stand a chance – we’ve won five from twenty-five… the numbers just don’t add up.

I can see us picking up some points however as performances have certainly improved, especially of late, and there does seem to be some fighting spirit left in this squad, however, we ultimately need those above us to fall away, and whilst Norwich are currently in freefall, the likes of Newcastle, Swansea and Bournemouth all look capable of putting enough points on the table to steer themselves away from the relegation zone.

3. Jermaine Defoe has been a shining light in terms of goals scored (ten league goals) – has he an outside chance of making the England squad for the summer?

It’s impossible not to have been impressed with Defoe this season. Often asked to lead the line as a sole striker, starved of service, the diminutive striker’s work rate is exceptional, constantly looking to get in behind the opposition’s defence and feeding off scraps.

Many a striker may lose interest and concentration in such a situation, however Defoe possesses such great self-belief in his own ability that all it takes is one or two chances to fall his way and you back him to finish at least one of them – he runs himself into the ground each and every game in pursuit of that illusive, goalscoring opportunity, and you have to admire that.

That said, I’d be extremely surprised to see the former Spurs’ man make Hodgson’s squad. Call it a conspiracy if you like, but Sunderland supporters have long given up on any of their players making an England squad, regardless of merit.

Most recently, for example, Jack Colback was instantly called into the international fold following his move to St. James’ Park despite impressing for Sunderland on countless occasions before his mutiny.

4.Adam Johnson had the world at his feet once – what has happened?

Without wanting to tip-toe through the legal and moral minefield that is Johnson’s on-going court case, the winger is one of the most frustrating footballers I have seen in a red and white shirt in quite some time, from a football perspective.

Johnson, on his day, has the ability to be a match winner, especially for a club such as Sunderland, however we have very rarely seen his reach his potential or play consistently to the high standard, of which we know he is capable.

Quite why this is, one can only speculate, however recent off-the-field transgressions may well go a long way to explaining why Johnson has failed to consistently live up to his potential.

Actually the manager has took a lot of stick this season for some performances, it’s down to us, we’re players, we go on the pitch, we have to perform”

– Wayne Rooney on Louis van Gaal

5. Despite only scoring four goals all season, were you surprised that Steven Fletcher joined Marseilles on loan?

Unlike Edison Cavani, no, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest.

It was quite obvious that Sunderland, whilst looking to bring in some much needed quality to the starting eleven, were also keen to offload some of the club’s higher earners, namely Costel Pantilimon and the aforementioned Steven Fletcher were blatantly sacrificed to help balance the books.

The Scot is another that has struggled for form of late despite initially impressing following his arrival, with a succession of injuries blighting his Sunderland career, bagging twenty three goals in one-hundred and eight appearances for Sunderland – a total which sees him fifth in the club’s Premier League goal scoring charts.

It is also worth noting that Fletcher only had six months left on his Sunderland contract, so his time on Wearside was likely at an end anyway – another fine piece of business in the transfer market as the club fail to recoup any of the £12m outlay…

6. Are you a fan of Sam Allardyce and the way he sets his teams out?

Sam Allardyce will always have his critics, regardless of whether you buy into the stereotypes which persist or not.

Following Advocaat’s departure, Allardyce topped my own personal wish list and I have no reason to change my mind based on the time that has passed since.

However, I do believe there have been occasion where Allardyce has got things drastically wrong, be it with his elected system, the move to three at the back away at Everton for example, although Sam was quick to blame “kamikaze” defending on that occasion, and numerous half time substitutions effectively admitting his starting line-up was wrong to begin with.

Overall though, that would be super-critical, as it is hard to criticise Allardyce for the majority of these “mistakes” as he looked to try and fashion some kind of robust and resolute side from this shambles of a squad, tinkering and experimenting in a desperate bid to find that winning elusive winning formula.

Indeed, perhaps the most frustrating thing about this entire, torrid season is that, should we have had Big Sam from the get go, along with the January recruits, all of whom (with the exception of third choice ‘keeper cover, Steve Harper) have stepped into the starting eleven and made a marked difference, we very well may not have been in such a mess.

7. What have you made of Manchester United this season and in particular over the past two months?

Obviously, I have watched Manchester United’s struggles this season with interest, almost like some kind of science experiment, or car crash, just to see how exactly things would pan out.

Results have certainly improved since the turn of the year and I, personally, would attribute a lot of this success to van Gaal’s decision to move Wayne Rooney further forward as his most advanced attacker. Five goals and two assists from five Premier League appearances in this time certainly indicates a marked improvement on his 2015 achievements which resulted in just six goals and two assists from thirty-three appearances.

United also seem to be playing with a bit more freedom of late which has allowed the more dynamic players at your disposal to play with the shackles off somewhat, which can only be a good thing.

8. vHas Louis van Gaal be treated unfairly – as he claims – or are the criticisms justified? Do you think Jose Mourinho will succeed him at the end of the season?

I think it seems to be becoming increasingly apparent that LvG’s days are numbered, regardless of recent improvement in form/results, there just seems to be a lack of spark, excitement and enthusiasm around Old Trafford, something the United faithful seem keen to remind the Board at every given opportunity.

Please don’t take that as a criticism, Manchester United fans have come to expect their side to play a certain style of football and that has been lacking for quite some time now, I don’t blame them for demanding more.

I think that should Leicester win the league this year, which looks all the more likely every passing weekend, the traditional “top four” will embark on a massive summer to address the situation.

Manchester City have already acted, for example, and their addition of Guardiola will only have served to have added even further pressure on Manchester United, whether you care to admit it or not!

Despite Mourinho’s disappointing return to Stamford Bridge, there was clearly something amiss there behind the scenes, and Jose remains one of the top managers in the game today.

I think you’d be crazy not to appoint him if I’m being honest.

9. Both Jesse Lingard and Cameron Borthwick Jackson have impressed in recent matches – can you see them being regulars within the United first team?

I don’t see why not.

Manchester United have, traditionally, always been a side that has not been afraid to put trust in their youngsters, especially home-grown talent.

Whilst I can’t claim to have seen a huge amount of Lingard or Borthwick-Jackson, the pair certainly had a big impact on the recent win over Stoke City.

Lingard’s goal showed fantastic awareness, touch and killer instinct (his consistency in this area seemingly improving having scored from three of his last four shots on target) whilst Borthwick-Jackson claimed the assist for that opener, and looked to be a composed modern full-back, very happy to surge forward with a good cross in his repertoire.

10. Can Manchester United finish in the top four this season? Who will win the title? And who will go down?

It’s going to be tough for United to make top four I feel given the six point gap between the two Manchester clubs – tough, but not impossible.

Having watched City labour to a fairly fortunate victory at the Stadium of Light recently before being swept aside by Leicester, your rivals for that fourth spot don’t exactly look in great nick at the moment, so you wouldn’t bet against them dropping further points if they don’t improve soon.

As for the title, I, along with the majority of neutrals I would wager, am now hoping Leicester finish what would be an unbelievable achievement.

As for the bottom three, I don’t think the picture will change a great deal from how it currently stands. We may leapfrog Norwich, but I can’t see anyone else dropping into that drop zone, so unfortunately it will be Aston Villa, Norwich and Sunderland for the chop.

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