A comfortable passage into the Fourth Round and a tie with Yorkshire’s top club Middlesbrough sets the seal on a good day for Pete Sixsmith. An outbreak of retro chanting, inspired by the terraces at London Road makes a good day even better, even though Jarvis the Dog was refused entry by Peterborough United …
Other than in the pages of the Beano, I have never seen anyone slip on a banana skin. Rodger the Dodger, Dennis The Menace and Minnie The Minx all used them in their vain attempts to stop Dad from slippering them (interesting sub text there), but in the street, a discarded banana skin has never, in my experience, led to outbreaks of hilarity as a fat man has gone a*** over tip having placed his size 11s on them.
So it was on Sunday. A few weeks ago, the prospect of a trip to a competent Championship side would have had us biting our fingernails and snapping at our loved ones. Indeed, we had gone down to one of that ilk in the Carling Cup, where the then manager packed his midfield and played Sessegnon alone up front.
After that dismal defeat, I said that the football was predictable, one-paced and dull and that we lacked imagination, verve and flair. I also suggested that if results did not improve quickly, The Brucester should be heading for the library with the pearl handled revolvers.
Well, the revolvers have been used and the new management team, using the same players, and on this occasion, the same formation, have fashioned a team that plays with all of the things we lacked at Brighton. The one addition is James McClean, who showed the Peterborough fans exactly what they missed when he turned them down earlier in the year.
The fact that we won this one at a canter shows the change in attitude and approach since the change of manager. When things were going badly for Bruce, he stood there with his arms folded, unwilling or unable to implement a change. With O’Neill, there is an alert footballing brain on the sidelines, looking all the time at the state of the game and passing instructions on to enthusiastic players who had looked jaded and bored under the previous regime.
Darren Ferguson’s assessment of his own side (“We needed all 11 to play at their best against a good Premier League side; only two did so) was absolutely right. Take the two central defenders out of the equation and they looked little better than teams further down the leagues – and certainly no match for a resurgent Sunderland side, which clearly enjoyed a stress free afternoon.
The midfield trio of Cattermole, Vaughan and Gardner grabbed hold of midfield early on and never let go, allowing the two wide men in Larsson and McClean to have run after run down the flanks. Sessegnon worked ever so hard up front against United’s two best players in Bennett and Zakuani.
Defensively, we were never remotely worried and Mignolet could have worn a Ned Kelly mask for all that he had to do, while O’ Shea and Kilgallon (now the owner of a great song – see later) were as untroubled and as unflappable as that great buttling double act of Jeeves and Carson.
The two goals at the start of the second half killed the game off and allowed the following standing behind the goal to have a retro afternoon, with songs and chants extolling Charlie Hurley, Bobby Kerr, Vic Halom, Gary Rowell, Marco, Bally, Kevin Phillips, Lee Howey, Quinny, Alex Rae, Tommy Sorenson, Dickie Ord and even Danny Collins (although that one faded out pretty quickly). I was disappointed that there were no musical tributes to Shack (He’s big, he’s tall, he’s sitting on the ball, Lenny Shack, Lenny Shack) or Raich Carter (He’s one of our own, he’s one of our own, that Horatio Stratton Carter, he’s one of our own).
As for the reinvigorated, and rediscovered Matt Kilgallon, he was regaled with, “We thought you were dead, We thought you were dead, Matt Kilgallon, We thought you were dead”. If Steve Bruce were watching, he must have wondered about the wisdom of freezing him out for 18 months.
The whole day was most enjoyable. I was accompanied by Mr Horan and the Misses Horan, which sounds like something from a Jane Austen novel. I gather Ms Austen stood behind the goal at The Dell one week and at Fratton Park the next, just like I used to go to The Sports Direct Arena in the 60s, and the paper round money would not stretch to Ipswich Town away.
We stopped in Stamford, as fine an example of an English town as you would wish to see with its four large churches, its golden stone houses and its fine pubs. The London Inn and The Green Man were most welcoming, although the guy in The Green Man wearing the NUFC polo shirt did not stay long enough to find out. As the vicious Misses Horans walked in wearing their Sunderland shirts, he disappeared round the corner, zipped up his jacket, quaffed his pint in record time and left, just before Emma ripped his liver out and ate it.
The draw is an interesting one and gives us plenty to talk about. ‘Boro are a decent side and have a manager and owner who just ooze integrity. Hopefully, Julio will make a return to the Stadium and his name will be sung with gusto, as it was at London Road. It could be another banana skin, but I think we will be fine and Dandy.