Sixer’s Soapbox: O’Neill’s men frustrate Liverpool at end of historic week

At the end of week in which we were reminded yet again that there are sometimes more important things than football, it fell to the city of Sunderland to host a group of supporters who have been campaigning for more than two decades to expose the lies and cover up perpetrated by those in authority. The findings of the Hillsborough report will have come as no surprise to the majority of fans who attended games back then and one of the shocking aspects of the affair is the extent to which establishment figures have waited until now to admit their failures. Pete Sixsmith was in attendance to witness the first home game of the season’s Premiership campaign in a ground where The Lads can now attack a goal with home fans behind it in both halves.

Back into the old routine at last, after postponements, Rugby League and World Cup qualifiers, it was good to be back in an almost full Stadium on Saturday to witness the first home league game of the season.

The 5.30 kick off did disrupt the routine a little bit, but it enabled me to tick off Sunderland West End’s Wearside League fixture against, Harton and Westoe, a tight game that ended in a 1-1 draw that satisfied both teams.

The car was parked in the same place, the same route was followed past the now closed Italian restaurant where, under previous ownership, we ate one of the worst meals in the history of humankind. The sardines in tomato sauce still provoke an involuntary twinge from my never too sensitive stomach.

lamenting the loss of pre-match scran

Over the road, past the hordes drinking in The Victory Club, The Deaf Centre and The Constitutional Club and then over the railway bridge, to see a strange sight – thousands of red and whites milling around the South Stand, with no barriers or stewards in sight and no away fans being given prime seats, just as we are not when we go away.

Familiar faces in the concourse and familiar faces as I trooped up to the steps to my seat. Doug Forrest, new occupant of Row 31 Seat 403, no Joan Dawson as she was at a family wedding, the same faces to the left and in front, while behind us three young men from Gibraltar, over for the Great North Run.

The Stadium has benefited from its summer spruce up. The refreshment bars look better, the signage is much clearer and the screens are a welcome addition. After all if Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers have one, so should we.

There was a feeling of optimism as well. This was a Liverpool side finding its feet under Brendan Rodgers. His style of play was being introduced to a team that Kenny Dalglish had put together with all the care of a toddler playing with Lego, hoping that the bricks might fit if you bang them together enough. Carroll and Adam had been shipped out and Downing and Henderson were warming the bench. Not a great return for £70m.

Club and fans dealt with the aftermath of Hillsborough well. Flags flew at half mast and there was warm applause for the current representatives of the visitors as they came out. Unlike Old Trafford, there were no songs regarding the blame culture and a dignified message on the new screen summed up what the 40,000 Sunderland fans felt about the whole thing.

And off we went.

You know what you are going to get with a Martin O’Neill team. We defended well and played on the break. Now that we have a centre forward who embodies the virtues of the English game, this strategy should prove to have more successes than failures and the decision to pay an awful lot of money for Fletcher was vindicated, when he swept home his third goal for the club, after an excellent run by the equally excellent Craig Gardner.

We have a solid side that works hard – none more so than Lee Cattermole, who I thought was outstanding and gave probably his best performance in a Sunderland shirt. O’Neill clearly likes him and sees him as the John McGovern of our side – unsung but effective and a man who, on this form, you can build a team around.

He pushed the much vaunted Joe Allan deeper and deeper (a point missed by Match of the Day pundit, Mr Creosote), tackled Steven Gerrard as hard as Gerrard tackled him and never once lunged in to incur the displeasure of the outstanding Martin Atkinson.

The back four was solid, with Rose making an impressive debut until he tired in the second half. Behind them, Mignolet made a series of good saves, but he really does need to work on his poor distribution. I lost count of the number of times his kicks went to a Liverpool shirt.

For our game to work effectively, the flair players have to perform. That puts a lot of pressure on Sessegnon and McClean, players who will have been identified by opposition managers as the ones they have to stop.

Both of them were tightly marked on Saturday as Rodgers remembered the scuffing they gave Swansea last season. Sess showed some lovely touches but he never quite seemed at the pace of the game and delayed his final ball on too many occasions. Whizzing across to Africa does not seem to help his preparation and he will be away again in three weeks time.

McClean has had a difficult ten days what with his falling out with the “Aged Italian” and the deletion of his Twitter account. He worked hard and tackled back as he always does, but he seemed to want to come inside a little too much instead of beating his full back on the outside. That he was up against the impressive Martin Kelly made his task harder.

As for the visitors, they had the better chances, but as long as they continue to employ Suarez, the words dignity and Liverpool will rarely be heard in the same sentence when referring to events on the field. His absurd dive in the first half earned him a well deserved booking and at times he epitomises all that those of my generation abhor about the modern footballer.

I suppose his goalscoring record justifies his continued employment, but he is almost as easy to dislike as John Terry and Frank Lampard, which is really saying something.

I liked the look of Kelly and the young winger Sterling came into the game as Rose tired. He looks a good player and, if the media don’t turn his head, he could do well.

Borini looked out of his depth and Shelvey failed to do much with the space given him as we sat deep in the second half. This is an adequate Liverpool team who have mid table stamped all over them. Rodgers needs a couple of years to fully develop his style at Anfield – but will the plastic Reds be prepared to wait? The sensible ones will but he will always be under pressure from the media and those who follow the club on TV and the internet.

So a point that at the end I was happy to take and on the shuffle back to the car, the general consensus was the same. Three games unbeaten for those who like their glass half full, three games without a win for those who prefer to see it half empty.

The next two games may well help us to get a firmer hold on what kind of team we are and where we are going this season – and then, after a visit to Eastlands, we have another International break. Huh!!!

7 thoughts on “Sixer’s Soapbox: O’Neill’s men frustrate Liverpool at end of historic week”

  1. Whilst I am grateful for what MON did last season,I have to say Saturday was pretty frustrating to watch.Too defensive for a home team,and allowed a mediocre Liverpool team far too much time and respect.Don’t know the stats but I reacall having one shot on target and one missed attempt near the end(Saha)….sorry just not good enough to be blunt…Its gonna be a long boring season if this is what we are to expect.

    Rodgers reckoned we were happier with the draw and he is right.He sounded pretty pleased with his teams efforts,which is the first time he has been able to say that this season….so lets hope no other manager feels that way playing at the SOL for the rest of the season.

  2. Whilst the result was welcome I didn’t feel the performance was anything to get excited about. In fact watching it on tv was rather painful as we soaked up pressure at home against a team that hadn’t won a league game this season and gave them far too much respect.It was a disppointing performance

    I expected us to start at a fast tempo and not allowing Liverpool to dictate the game. Get our strikers and midfielders into their faces and give them no time to play the wonderful passing game that Rogers has them playing(sic). We did nothing like this and were on the back foot for most of the game against a team that was no better than ordinary.

    On the positives we had some good individual performances particuarly from Cattermole, Gardner and O’Shea but too many were posted missing. Sess looked to suffering from ‘ just signed new contract syndrome’ and is in danger of sliding into a comfort zone and McClean needs to get his head sorted and get back to the raw talent we saw last season.The Suarez dive showed again why he is up their with Cole and Terry as the most odious players in English football.The only contact by the cheating little racist was him kicking O’Sheas foot as looked for something to fall over.

    If watching us sit back at home against such an ordinary team wasn’t bad enough I also had the misfortune to have to listen to the ‘expert views of the ESPN Chuckle Brothers aka Barnes and Burley.

    They were trying to break the record of speaking the most verbal diahorrea during a half time and just about succeeded.The Suarez dive was apparently a penalty and Sunderland didn’t so much as score their goal but apparently Liverpool conceded it.

    Burley in particular continually comes across as a nobody trying desperately to be a somebody with his ‘controversial’ remarks and only Tyldsley and Lawrenson come close to him in the media irritant stakes now. If that pair can’t get fans out of their armchairs and to games then nothing will.

    However all things considered a decent start in 3 tricky games but if we are serious about pushing on this season we need 4 points out of the next 6 minumum.

  3. £12 million – Borini or Fletcher? I think Saturday showed which was the better buy.
    The new screens were nice, but when there’s only one person in your vicinity who can make out the time, they’re a bit frustrating, as is the continued inability of the clock to run past 90 minutes.

    The ground loooked much better with the whole lower section virtually full (as it would have been for Liverpool’s visit anyway) but for the last five minutes it looked dreadful, as what looked like 30% of the crowd buggered off

  4. Once again an excellent assessment of the game and performances.Just a word however in defence of Simon ‘il est si bon he’s Sunderland’s number one.’.If he could find a Sunderland player’s feet from 50 or 60 yards away,he’d be a midfielder not a keeper. Most clearances have to be competed for and at last we have a player in Fletcher capable of making the most of long balls to relieve the pressure. The stadium improvements have made a huge difference and it was good to hear that Ellis Short attended the youth games on Saturday morning which seems to suggest he has a strong affinity with the club. Over-all I feel extremely optimistic, which is a little bit worrying.

  5. I think MON labours on the fact that the team is not fully fit because they clearly aren’t MATCH fit. Many saw their laboured efforts to hang on towards the end – but with some more competetive games under their belt that should improve. We’re still waiting to play two consecutive weeks of football, and the fact that none of our new signings had a thorough pre-season means that those lads who did are tiring late on because they’re covering those players. Time will change that.

    My personal concern is – as mentioned above – Titus Bramble. How is he ahead of Matt Kilgallon in the pecking order? When he came on it meant that John O’Shea was shifted to the left side of central defence there was little coordination between Bramble and Gardner which drew Gardner deeper and therefore the whole defence deeper. We were always likely to concede from then on, and were somewhat lucky that it was only one.

    On the plus side. Coback, Cattermole, Gardner and Mignolet (defensively – I cannot argue his distribution was adequate, but his job is to stop goals not make them) were fantastic, as was the atmosphere. It was a real plus to see us on MOTD without endless rows of empty seats on display, and that too will make a difference over the course of the season.

    With a few more games under their belt, Fletcher and Sess will develop together and there were early signs of that yesterday – though clearly both are not match sharp yet, and neither saw enough of the ball in the right areas. We very rarely threatened in the final third, and personally I would have been tempted to get Louis Saha on earlier – he is a class player who also needs some game time to get into his groove.

    The next three games are huge (I include the trip to Milton Keynes) and we need a league victory under our belts as soon as possible to settle everyone’s nerves. Let’s hope that comes against West Ham next week and we can kick on from there.


  6. Gardner proving beyond doubt his best position is right back. Fletcher has a 100% chance – conversion rate after two league games.

    I’m surprised I don’t have a smugness induced black eye courtesy of my match-attending friends.

  7. As ever a beautifully crafted article with soundly reasoned opinions.

    I have to confess to an element of disappointment in the team, which seems to be only capable of managing a one half performance, coupled with a second half of heart stopping opposition pressure, permitted by a progressive movement of our defensive line towards our own goal mouth.

    This when then linked with Bramble’s inability to clear a slow moving ball from our own box, to a place of relative safety, or even Carlos Cuellar’s earlier almost suicidal back header, one could almost hear the sound closing of Mackem sphincters around the ground.

    Quite why MON has to continue labouring how unfit the team is bothers me, surely it is his job to ensure that by now they are in fine fettle?

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