While Sunderland supporters generally await, with some impatience and not a little concern, significant developments on the transfer front, the pre-season build-up goes on. Stuttering is the adjective that springs to mind when reflecting on the results so far. Last night, at Derby County, Pete Sixsmith saw Martin O’Neill’s team get close, but not close enough, to clocking up another morale-boosting win …
Principally because of the great man, Brian Clough, I have always had a soft spot for Derby. I didn’t see a lot of him at Roker Park, but M Salut and I were in the 48,000 crowd when he scored his only top division goal, against Leeds United in September 1964.
I followed his career with considerable interest as he took the managerial reins at Hartlepool and then the Baseball Ground, a wonderfully evocative stadium with its double decker stands and mud heap of a pitch.
His is still a revered name in Derby and there is a statue outside Pride Park of him and his erstwhile sidekick, Peter Taylor, shoulder to shoulder in the solidarity that helped a relatively small town club kick big city behinds 45 years ago; would that it could happen now.
Last night; Pride Park was not bursting at the seams. A crowd of 3,500 proved that the Olympics were a bigger draw than Sunderland. We had 668 fans there, including Martin Wanless, his dad Alan, a fearsome centre forward at Bishop Auckland Grammar School and in the Northern League, and Martin’s stunning Australian girl friend, who was reminded several times that Yorkshire had won more medals than Oz.
The game was nondescript for 45 minutes. Blair Adams defended well at left back but his distribution left a fair bit to be desired, Cuellar looked comfortable at centre half and we played a five-man midfield, with Gardner getting forward to support Fraizer Campbell.
The former Villa and Birmingham man had a poor game. His shooting was as off target as an archer with the yips and his control was as poor as David Cameron’s when confronted by Ed Balls. He failed to support Campbell, who in turn looks to have lost the pace he had before that succession of injuries knocked him back. Playing up front, with his back to the goal is not his style.
The second half was much better. Kieran Richardson came on for Gardner and sat in that space, moving the ball on quickly and making some defence splitting plasses. His ball sent James McClean in for a well taken goal and we had most of the play after that, without claiming the second goal that would have wrapped it up.
Just when it looked like we had won, John Egan allowed Nathan Tyson to get in front of him to score with a near post header and earn the Rams a deserved draw. They are a neat and tidy side who look destined for a mid table berth in the Championship.
Our positives included an excellent performance from Simon Mignolet, a good 80 minutes from David Meyler and decent showings by Elmohamady, Larsson and McClean after their international exploits. Adams did well enough while Cuellar and O’Shea looked calm and unruffled. Campbell had a much better second half when Cattermole and Richardson arrived to up the tempo and improve the passing.
Leicester on Saturday, but not for this correspondent as he is heading across Route 66 to Whitehaven via the Llama Karma Café, Jennings Brewery Tap in Cockermouth and a stroll along the Whitehaven prom, to witness Shildon’s FA Cup tie with the West Cumbrians. Hitting the Wembley trail in early August; who’d have thought it?