Soapbox: Paradise Regained


Pete Sixsmith comes over all poetic as he witnesses an important and impressive win over the Tigers

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the city of Kingston-upon-Hull could be described as paradise, but it was certainly not hell for the happy band of Red and Whites who trundled home along the M62/A1 on Saturday, celebrating a so impressive 4-1 away win.

We won by a similar score in 1976, thanks to the likes of Gary Rowell, Joe Bolton and Jimmy Montgomery. All three are local born legends whose names are uttered in reverential terms whenever Sunderland fans of a certain vintage meet to quaff a few pints. After Saturday, it may well be that 30 years on from now, we will not be thinking local, but thinking French and instead of reminiscing about Joe Bolton’s terriers and Gary Rowell’s impeccable credentials as a Seaham lad, we will be waxing lyrical about Steed’s thunderous shot and Djibril’s pace, power and green Mohican.

Ricky Sbragia (or Spragia as Tyne Tees Useless captioned him last Friday) could not have wished for a better start. This time, he and his co-workers showed exactly what they were capable of by preparing a team to win a game against opposition who were neither monumentally superior to us or so woeful that Shildon Railway would have given them a good game.

Look at the scenario; Hull are on a high after a good draw at Anfield, their manager – a self-confessed Sunderland fanatic – would be desperate to put one over his first and lasting love, they have a full house with kids dressed up as Tigers and men dressed up as Santa, and three more points could put them in a UEFA Cup place at Christmas. And what happens? Sunderland swing into town and give them a real going over.

The first half was even, except that we scored a great goal and they shinned one in. Maybe you should get points for the build up to the goal, because if we did, it would be a 9.7 for the move that involved Tainio, Collins and Malbranque, culminating in a crashing drive into the Hull net. On the other hand, Barmby would get 2.6 for a goal so scruffy that even Rab C. Nesbitt would have looked down his nose at it.

They play a narrow, pressing game do Hull and for the second quarter of the game they kept us under pressure without ever seriously threatening. King wore ridiculously long socks which made him look like a schoolgirl hockey player, Geovanni huffed and puffed and Barmby looked like a man who hadn’t scored at this level since Howard Wilkinson was in charge at the Stadium.

The second half was a tactical triumph for Sbragia, Bailey and Yorke. The midfield got hold of the ball and passed and ran Hull to death. It really was a matter of time before we scored again, although the management team showed their collective nous by sending Whitehead on to tighten it up. By this time Cisse was running riot and the Hull defenders were so concerned about him that they opened up to allow Richardson’s shot to take a big deflection and end up in the net. When the idiotic Ricketts got himself sent off, the game was over, and cracking finishes from the twin strike force finished it off.

Much discussion on that satisfying return journey home. Some were saying that Sbragia should be given the job now, while others wanted an experienced manager to work with the current coaching staff. Nobody was disappointed that Allardyce had taken the Blackburn job while I would assume that Phil Brown considers it to be the right job at the wrong time.

Ricky has expelled the atmosphere of fear that lingered around the dressing room by the simple method of talking to and listening to the players – not a skill that Roy appears to have had in abundance. But that does not make him a manager and he has said that he is a private man who enjoys working with players. Once you become a High Profile Premier League Manager, you can forget about both of these.

Where does Quinny go from here? He now has a little more breathing space which means that he need not rush into a decision before the transfer window opens. Whatever he does and whoever he brings in, it should be stipulated that Sbragia, Bailey and Yorke remain on the coaching staff at least until the end of the season. And why not think about appointing a Director of Football to oversee transfer policy with Ricky Sbragia coaching the players. After all, the current renaissance is all down to the players that Roy Keane brought in – it’s just that Sbragia has more opportunity to show his coaching skills than he had before.

Blackburn and Fat Sam on Friday, followed by Everton on Sunday. Dare we dream of a Christmas maximum?

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