Tottenham Hotspur vs. Sunderland: An interview with Roker Report

Matthew Lewis

Ahead of this weekend's all-or-nothing game for Tottenham, a little insight from the other side.

In a delicious twist of fate, the footballing Gods have deigned to make the two massive games to be played out this Sunday precisely as earth-shatteringly important for football in North London as they are are almost completely meaningless to their counterparts in the North East (monetary incentive to attain higher League places aside). For Sunderland, this weekend's tie will be all about merely applying the final seal to a season which has been far from satisfying, yet has mercifully not ended in collapse into their next tier down of British football. To get a handle on what that feels like, I had a chat with Simon Walsh of the excellent RokerReport.com about his views on the crunch match that awaits both his side and ours.

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EF: What is your view on how Sunderland's season has gone? Do you think the board were right to sack Martin O'Neill when they did? Do you feel Di Canio's appointment has brought on any appreciable changes in the squad's style and performances?

SW: If you look back at our thoughts pre-season for this season, this season has been an unmitigated disaster. Martin O'Neill couldn't get things going and all the warning's we'd had and sort of laughed off from Aston Villa fans proved to be true.

O'Neill was just out of touch and a little too far removed from the modern game. The board were absolutely right to get rid of him when they did, and to be honest they could have done it sooner.

As for Paolo Di Canio, well the jury remains out until he can bring in his own people and mould a team in his image. However, he got us two key results against Newcastle and Everton that have kept us up. I couldn't have envisaged O'Neill getting a single point from either of those games.

He hasn't changed too much really, but does seem to be able to inspire the players more and is a little more organised. He's also -- prior to suspension -- got the best out of Stephane Sessegnon.

EF: With the end of the term almost upon us, who has been Sunderland's Player of the Season, for you? And would you pick out any member of the squad as having had a disappointing season?

SW: Player of the Season will be a close contest between Simon Mignolet and your man Danny Rose. Outside of them perhaps Alfred N'Diaye would have a chance but it's more a case of picking the least crap rather than an outstanding player this season.

I'd go with Mignolet though. He's taken his game to another level and probably won us more points than any goalscorer.

There's been plenty of disappointments. I'd say the biggest though would be Adam Johnson. He's only shown in brief flashes what he can do and for the money we paid you'd like to see the scintillating for he sometimes shows a little more often.

EF: What do you think has been on-loan Tottenham left-back Danny Rose's impact on the side this season? Do you feel he has improved on the defensive side of his game, for which he was occasionally criticized while still at Spurs? How eager are you to have him back for good?

SW: If I was in charge of the purse-strings at Sunderland I'd tell Tottenham to name their price for Rose and pay it. Unfortunately I think he'll be back with you next season and whilst we'll have had the short-term benefit of having him, it's a little disappointing.

Defensively he's solid as a rock, attacking he gets himself plenty involved and he's just been absolute beast at the position. I don't think it's an over-estimation to say that Leighton Baines apart, he's in the conversation for the second/third best left-back in the league.
He's had a superb season. He's been dependable and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get an England call next season. He's brilliant, and we love him. As said, I'd pay whatever it takes to have him back.

EF: What is your favourite-ever memory from this particular tie in the past?

SW: I think the one that stands out was a rare victory in 1999 when Niall Quinn scored twice to send us temporarily into third position. Outside of that there's been so many defeats for us in this fixture that they've all just been filed away in my brain under the other mind-numbing losses we've had.

EF: Last time these two sides met, Tottenham managed to claw their way back to a victory after John O'Shea gave us a scare with his first-ever goal in a Sunderland shirt. Do you think that tie should have taught the team any lessons on how they should approach this weekend's game?

SW: It should have. Lots of games we've played should have taught us something but they never seem to learn.

We'll need to keep Gareth Bale quiet but that's easier said than done. I recall Nedum Onuoha doing it a couple of years ago but he's come on leaps and bounds since then and we're likely to have Phil Bardsley playing so it should be pretty easy for the Welshman.

Short of literally parking the bus in front of goal. I think we just have to thank the football Gods that we don't need anything from this game.

EF: Where do you think the key battles will be this weekend?

SW: Too many to mention. We're down to 12 available first team players so I expect to see some experimentation with youth players from Di Canio since they've been filling out the bench of late.

We can't offer much for you to worry about so whoever's in midfield will need to get a foothold in the game and likely stop Tom Huddlestone spraying it about. As I said, we could quite literally park the bus and find a way to lose.

EF: Who do you see as being Tottenham's dangerman, the player that you will have to keep quiet in order to achieve a favourable result?

SW: To pick just one? Well it's obviously going to be Bale isn't it? As much as I dislike his stupid celebration and his face he's an incredible player. Everything seems to start and finish with him so if we can take him out of the game (via marking, not injury) then it increases our chances about 20% I'd say. I've no data to back that up mind.

EF: Assuming Sunderland remain in the Premiership next season, how would you go about preparing/strengthening the side for another year in the competition?

SW: We've got a small squad, but unfortunately most that small squad are utter garbage. Build on the few good players we have such as Mignolet, O'Shea, Cattermole, Fletcher, Sessegnon and so forth and put more around them to work with. Pretty much the entire squad needs reshaping and I wouldn't feel too bad about any of them leaving outside of the afore mentioned.

Just more quality players are needed. I'm sure that's what every team wants but we need it too. Hopefully with the new Director of Football coming in we can explore wider avenues for players.

EF: Finally, what is your score prediction for this tie?

SW: I'd snap someone's arm off for a draw. You don't want to know what I'd do for a win. Thankfully I won't have to worry about this as we're probably going to get beaten in convincing fashion. I'll go for your lot winning 2-0 without getting out of first gear.

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