Pete Sixsmith reports from our satisfactory win over Morecambe and discusses Martin O’Neill’s options for the trip to freescoring Swansea on Saturday …
Twelve months ago, we sat in glum silence at the Amex Stadium in sunny, downtown Brighton as Steve Bruce’s bits and pieces team lined up in a 4-6-0 formation and went down to a feeble 1-0 defeat to M Salut’s home town (ouch – ed) club, a defeat that many regarded as the beginning of the end for the Geordie Martyr.
A year on, with Bruce now a distant and fading memory, we sent out a very strong side to take on Morecambe in what is now the Capital One Cup, and finished up comfortable winners. We gave two recent (and hopefully future) internationals debuts and sat back and watched some enjoyable and expansive football.
We clearly needed a game under our belts after the postponement on Saturday and it was a strong side that turned out against opponents who had deprived us of a chance to say farewell to Kevin Phillips by winning at Blackpool in the previous round.
Having ended his pursuit of Steven Fletcher successfully and then persuaded Adam Johnson to throw in his lot with his local club, MON fielded them both, with Johnson starting on the right and Norman Stanley being the apex of the attack, with Johnson and McClean wide and Sess just behind him.
Cattermole and Larsson patrolled the centre of midfield, Bramble partnered O’Shea and Gardner and Colback, last seen as a full back pairing against Abu Dhabi City in January, resumed their defensive duties, such as they were.
Westwood had an outing in goal, although I imagine that he anticipated a quiet evening judging by the deckchair and portable TV he set up in his goalmouth.
There was no sign of Kieran Richardson and the news filtered through that we had accepted a bid from Fulham and that he was discussing terms with them. More on Kieran later in the week.
In truth, it was as comfortable win as you will see at this stage of the season. Johnson showed some excellent touches as Morecambe doubled up on him. He has quick feet, and puts in a very good ball from wide. The first goal came from a well taken corner and the second after a mazy run and a good pass. James McClean was the recipient in both cases and finished with a good header and a firm shot.
Fletcher’s debut was always going to be more difficult. His pre-season was virtually non-existent due to an ankle injury and his dispute with Wolves. He lasted for 65 minutes and showed some decent touches and a willingness to chase back and tackle. He will need more games before we see the best of him, but he left to warm applause as he was replaced by the more explosive Louis Saha.
Of the rest, Sess started well but faded and probably tried to do a little too much. He laid a couple of superb passes through, but he is a far better player when he brings others in rather than trying to do it all himself as he did at times last night.
Larsson and Cattermole worked as a combination in the middle. Larsson pushed forward and the skipper sat in front of the back four and looked imperious at times as he picked the ball up and moved it around with confidence.
However, there was a first booking of the season for a totally unnecessary foul on a Morecambe player, a foul committed after he had had a chunter at the referee for not giving one on him.
The red mist came down and some refs might well have seen the “tackle” as a piece of retaliation and have taken an even stronger line. He may get away with it in a low key game such as this, but it would be inadvisable to do the same in front of a baying crowd at the Sports Direct or The Britannia.
It’s difficult to know what to say about Morecambe without appearing to be patronising. They never really threatened but they kept their shape and their manager, Jim Bentley, would have been satisfied with their efforts. There were no stand out performances, but they were a well drilled and well organised side who played the right way. The ball was passed rather than lumped up to the forward, where Sunderland fan Richard Brodie, a former Northern League player, ran his proverbials off.
I thought their turnout was very impressive – until Joan Dawson reminded me that home fans were now housed in the South Stand and that the Shrimps were tucked away in the top right hand corner of the Upper North. They supported their team well and I am sure that, at times, they were comparing us unfavourably with Port Vale who had beaten them at home on Saturday.
The team selection for Saturday will be interesting. Does he retain Colback at left back? Is Fletcher fit enough to start a tricky game at Swansea? Cuellar or Bramble against a side who move the ball around well and who, under Michael Laudrup, seem to be more incisive than under Brendan Rogers?
As they used to say in the sitcom Soap, these and many other questions will be answered in the next week. Here’s hoping for lots of positives from South Wales.
The journey home was enlivened by the news from Doncaster as the Geordie Martyr’s team slumped out of the cup. The sound of sharpening knives on Humberside can be heard. He should never have gone to Cleethorpes for his holidays in 1975.