Soapbox: stok(e(ing the fires


Salut! Sunderland is fair-minded. We’ve had our go at Rob Styles – how could we have avoided it? – and it’s time to move on. We could praise the much-maligned Dean Whitehead for his outstanding game on Saturday. Pete Sixsmith sticks up in turn for Cisse and Collins. He is also beginning to sense safety despite tough games to come (or at least he would if only it got warm enough to restore the use of his senses)…

A friend of mine said a couple of weeks ago that he would be happy with seven points out of the Fulham, Mags and Stoke games. He would have been a happy man on Saturday night as we clambered up the league table to the giddy heights of 11th – almost on to that elusive first page of Ceefax.

To say that Saturday’s win was workmanlike would be a little uncharitable to those who profess to be workmen. The word brings connotations of people going about their jobs in a steady and efficient manner, doing what they were told to do and making sure the task was completed on time.

I suppose we did that. Two goals in the final quarter wrapped up three important but not very interesting points against opponents who were hampered by injuries and a Styles sending off. I won’t dwell on the penalty that wasn’t given – Colin has done a superb job on that.

My brother had arrived that morning from his home in Thessaloniki in northern Greece. He left a temperature of 18C and got off the plane at Manchester to be greeted by a big fat zero.

He is the active member of the Sixsmith family, having participated in sport rather than watching it. For many years he pounded the roads around Southport as a highly competent long distance runner, his loneliness becoming magnified when a new life, and a new wife beckoned in Salonica.

After a series of injuries to rival those of Matthew Piper, he returned to his first love of competitive cycling and now whizzes around the roads of Macedonia (that’s the region, not the country.) on two wheels, occasionally going over the handlebars and breaking his collar bone.

He’s always taken an interest in SAFC, usually because it was an excuse for lengthy drinking sessions in Preston, Southport, Liverpool, Leeds, London etc, and he follows the scores on radio and the internet and by courtesy of newspapers sent out from the old country at considerable expense by his ever loving Big Brother.

The last game he saw was also Mick McCarthy’s last, at Manchester City, where we turned in yet another dismal performance in the season from hell. The only surviving players from that debacle were Danny Collins and Dean Whitehead, the likes of Breen, Lawrence and Kyle having been replaced by Ferdinand, Richardson and Cisse.

He quite enjoyed Saturday’s game, despite the temperature refusing to go above the zero mark. He could see what we were trying to do and was complimentary about the majority of players and the fact that Stoke were obdurate if limited opponents

His observations on Cisse were particularly interesting. It wasn’t one of his better days, but as Phil observed, here is a player who needs the ball put in front of him so he can use his speed to run on to it. A tight Stoke defence means that he does not have a lot of opportunities, so, on a day like Saturday, he gets cold. As a result, the muscles don’t work as well, the messages from the brain are a tad slower and if the ball doesn’t come quickly enough, less enlightened fans see him as lazy and disinterested.

Having thought about this, I agree with Phil’s observations. This in itself is unusual as we will always seek to disagree on important things – the best way to make porridge, the best drinker, the best way to drive a car. But I do think that as (if) the weather warms up, we will see the best of the exotic Djibril.

Kenwyne’s goal was well taken, an excellent downward header which was difficult for Tommy to save and the second goal made us all wonder if we would have been celebrating in the SJP stratosphere last Sunday if Healey had replaced Cisse instead of Chopra.

Stoke work hard, play limited football but are not thugs. Credit to Tony Pulis for that. Can you imagine a copper bottomed, first class cheat like Joe Kinnear in charge of them? They have little quality and must hope that the intimidating atmosphere of the Municipal Incinerator Stadium will get them the five wins that they need to stay up.

I would say that we need three more. It would be nice to get two of them at the Emirates and Anfield, but I’m not holding my breath. The Wigan, Hull and Spurs home games are the ones we should be looking at in order to give us a third season at this level and retain the services of the likes of Cisse, Richardson and the ever improving Ferdinand. Has Capello seen him play this season?

Finally, a guy rang Radio Newcastle’s post-match phone in to say that he thought Danny Collins had had a stinker. Can’t work out if it was Callum Davenport, Tel Ben Haim or a man who watches games through the thickest of velvet curtains, because Collins is the most improved player I have seen at Sunderland in years. Well done Danny – and my brother agrees with me on this as well!

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