Pete Sixsmith‘s test messages from South Wales suggested a day that peaked with his pre-match pint in Port Talbot and went downhill on reaching the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. At least he was spared a third defeat in a week. This is the blow-by-blow account of his day …
It was a long, long day and a long, long way to go for a point in a goalless draw.
And it went something like this:
3.30am Alarm goes off. Stagger out of bed, past sleeping cat, who assumes I am off to toilet. Looks amazed when I feed him at 4am
5.15am Coach arrives at Thinford. 35 sleepy people aboard as it sets off with the first fingers of dawn probing in the sky. No newspapers, so doze, read book and listen to Radio 4 Extra on DAB personal radio.
10am Passing Ross-on-Wye, see a sign which says “Go SAFC – FTM”. Much amusement on coach. Supporters everywhere …
11.30am Coach rolls into Port Talbot for pre-match drinks and a spot of lunch. Local Wetherspoons is full of fair-haired, bleary-eyed Sunderland supporters and dark-haired, dark-eyed Welsh. Quaff a decent pint of Rhymney Export and scoff ham, egg and chips, before leaving to explore the town centre.
Port Talbot is a mini Teesside, a mixture of steelworks and petro-chemicals squeezed into a town only a wee bit bigger than Consett. It incorporates the old town of Aberavon, separated from its upstart neighbour by the river. The steel works are a shadow of their former selves, employing 3,000 where once 20,000 trooped through the streets to the blast furnaces.
For such a small town, it has a tremendous roll-call of famous inhabitants. Richard Burton, Rob Brydon, Rhod Gilbert, Anthony Hopkins, Geoffrey Howe, Clive Jenkins, Colin Pascoe, Michael Sheen and George Thomas, whose sing-song Welsh accent I always associate with the bringing of order to the House of Commons, were all either born or brought up in the borough.
It’s a town that has seen better days. The shopping centre is similar to Redcar or Spennymoor and there are a lot of older people mooching around. Times look so hard that I failed to spot one Big Issue seller on the streets; even Bishop has it’s resident Romanian flogging the magazine.
1.40pm Back on coach and along M4 to Swansea; pick up a police escort on way in and are taken straight to the functional but rather dull Liberty Stadium.
3.00pm The match starts.
It’s basically the same format as last Saturday, with O’Shea coming into the back four and Gardner slotting into a midfield four. Richardson and Elmohamady drop to the bench.
We start well and O’Shea hits the bar with a good header and for 20 minutes, we pass the ball tidily. Gyan failed to beat Swansea’s excellent Dutch goalkeeper Vorn when put through by Sessegnon. He looks a shadow of the player he was last year (although not round the waist) and he does not look happy.
Swansea get into the game and look as neat and tidy as we do without really threatening. A long distance shot from Sinclair hit the bar and Graham missed the target with a free header in front of goal.
Ten minutes into the second half Graham failed to take another chance, this time forcing a good save out of Mignolet as Swansea looked the better of the two sides, forcing us to dig in.
On came Wickham and Elmohamady for Cattermole (second game in succession he has been hooked by Bruce) and Larsson (quietest game in Sunderland’s colours). Wickham played Gyan in and, had the Ghanaian looked up and seen him unmarked, we may well have been a goal up. He didn’t and wasted a good chance by shooting at the keeper. Bruce took him off fairly soon after that. Symbolic perhaps?
We finished well, but never looked like scoring. Colback was probably our best player with Brown and O’Shea looking comfortable. Sessegnon started well but faded, while the rest of the midfield is pedestrian and seems unable to break down opponents.
Up front is a real problem. Gyan cannot play as a lone striker. He needs someone to set him up in the box and to play him in. The crowd are losing patience with him and there were boos when he was withdrawn. Having said that, some of our fans are not the best judges; four of them were ejected for fighting amongst themselves, never a good sign.
5.10pm Coaches leave Swansea, hurtles down the M4, over the magnificent Severn Bridge and then up through the Midlands, with a stop for ice cream at Tamworth.
I listened to an excellent documentary about the UCS work in and began to read Robert Robinson’s Autobiography, picked up for a couple of quid in a Port Talbot charity shop.£11, post free in UK, from this link
You don’t have to be The Brain of Britain to realise that we need creativity in midfield and someone to put the ball in the net. Peter Crouch is being mentioned in this morning’s tabloids and he may be the supplier that Gyan so desperately needs.
However, he will have to ask the family if they want to exchange leafy Hertfordshire for Wearside. We may have to call his bluff to get him here.
11pm Coach drops off at Thinford, 18 hours after pick up.
11.30pm Cat gets a (very) late supper and seems to be shaking his head at the sheer foolishness of the trip – or maybe I imagined that.