Pete Sixsmith was, for once, blameless in renewed outbreaks of the Thirty Five Year war. He was on the bus going home from Villa Park so missed all the abuse piled on us from supporters of a League One club after we declined to express regret at their relegation. Pete saw plenty of goals yesterday as the Sunderland Women’s team hammered in eight. How worried is he about the men’s current inability to score even one?
It must be a long time since we had three goalless draws out of four games. We have had one that was technically quite interesting, one that was plain awful and this latest one that was quite an entertaining game although once again, we left disappointed.
The day had started at 7.38am as the coach collected us at Thinford, home of England’s most confusing roundabout. By the time we arrived in Lichfield, home of England’s second smallest city, I had an appetite.
I hovered between three establishments and eventually chose The Causeway Café in Dam Street. Breakfast was ordered and arrived promptly, just as a party of four older people arrived and sat opposite me. While I munched my way through bacon, sausage, egg, beans, black pudding, fried tomato, fried bread and the most wonderful mushrooms, the man of the party did a very passable impersonation of Harry Enfield’s “I’m considerably richer than youw” character.
The accent was perfect, with its long, drawn out vowels and rising intonation. The subject being imparted to the cafe was the seating plan for a coach trip to a golf club. The three ladies simpered away agreeing with his every word and sipped their lattés which, according to Harry, “we always have”.
Then off for a stroll, finishing off with a worthwhile hour in the Erasmus Darwin House. He was th egrandfather of Charles, the man who expounded The Origin of Species and was a remarkable man in his own right.
Being fat and no oil painting, I could empathise with him, although I could not match his prodigious output of 12 children by various wives and mistresses. Nor do I have a horse called Doctoras he did and which followed him whenever he went on his doctor’s rounds in Lichfield and the surrounding Staffs/Derbs countryside.
Full of sustenance and intellectual stimulation, off we wentto England’s second city and into the suburb of Aston. Villa Park is a ground that has redeveloped well, a good mix of ancient and modern, the Stadium of Light meets Goodison Park. The Holte End is as imposing a stand as any in English football, cut into the hillside and offering a glimpse of greenery in Aston Hall Park.
The game almost started disastrously as Bardsley’s pass back to Mignolet lacked pace. The keeper didn’t help by taking a circuitous route to kick it, almost allowing Weimann to score. He made a good save and then an even better one from the perpetually disappointing Charles N’Zogbia.
However, once we got a grip on the game, we were the better side and we probed and poked and eventually created chances. Bendtner did well to get a header in from a McClean cross, the Irishman should have scored when Sess played him in and Bendtner missed another chance at the post.
When he did “score” it was chalked off for offside, thanks to an over zealous assistant. Larsson’s superb ball found the Dane at worst, level with the back four and he pulled away from the defender to slip the ball in. With 15 minutes to go, the crowd would have turned on Mcleish and we would have returned home with three welcome points.
But no. Up went the flag and texts from home suggested that it was onside and that the assistant had erred too much on the side of caution. Two weeks ago it would have been given, but it looks like assistant referees have been told to give the defenders the benefit of the doubt in tight decisions.
There was time for Weimann to miss a good chance and for Craig Gardner to get himself sent off for two yellows. The first one was for a petulant tackle after he had lost the ball, the second was technically correct, but frustrating for players, fans and officials alike. As he trudged up, the sleeping masses left in the Villa areas booed and jeered, until he took off his red and white shirt to reveal a Stilian Petrov t-shirt. The boos turned to applause, although I am sure Gardner was not keen to hear it. On top of that, he never got the chance to kick his little brother who remained on the bench throughout.
He was in good company, as we only used the one sub, and that was Fraizer Campbell on for Bendtner. One of my travelling companions was sure that Bendtner wanted to stay at Sunderland, as “any scout watching that performance would think he was s**** and cross him off his list”, which is an interesting theory. Unfortunately, Campbell did nothing to improve our poor goalscoring record and MON knows what he has to do in the summer.
He could also ask Bardsley and O’Shea to perhaps think a little more about their passing. Wee Shuggie’s was as haphazard as ever, but O’Shea’s was shocking from a player who looks so comfortable when defending.
He played a number of passes to Larsson that had the Swede looking to the heavens as the ball went 15 yards in front of him or 10 yards to the right. Maybe at United he knew that if he gave the ball away, they would soon get it back. That doesn’t apply at teams like Sunderland.
Three more Saturdays to go – well one Saturday and two Sundays if you want to be pedantic- and it would be good to finish with a flourish and maybe launch Wickham or Meyler on a shaky Bolton or see how Ji can cope at Craven Cottage. Four points is my minimum expectation from those two.
And then we could decide the destination of the Premier League trophy by beating, drawing with or losing to Manchester United. I expect every seat in the Stadium to be taken for that one!!