Pete Sixsmith has not been the world’s most cheerful chappie this season. He was in decidedly happier fettle after yesterday’s sweet demolition job, finding warm words of praise for the entire Sunderland team, spirited and dominant as they were, and for the fans’ equally spirited mockery of the ineffectual pantomime villain, Kevin Nolan. He even offers sporting applause to the sizeable away support who must have been appalled by what they saw but kept up decent encouragement of their players throughout …
That was a satisfying start to our 2013 home programme wasn’t it? We had three well taken goals, a clean sheet and a master class in ball retention and use from the forgotten Welshman, David Vaughan. On a cold afternoon (full lightweight thermals for me) there was a warm glow around the vicinity of the Stadium as we walked back to cars, buses and firesides with a sprightly step, looking forward to Match of the Day later on.
That’s why we watch football and follow a team. Not because we want to win every game and trophy going – let’s leave that to the glory hunters of Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge – but because we want to see our team play with verve and flair and give us some relief from the sheer drudgery of our everyday lives.
When we see Sess leave a defender for dead with a feint of his body or Titus Bramble take ball first and man a split second later, we roar and cheer and think that there is nothing finer than watching your team play well.
We had plenty to be cheerful about yesterday. The tempo was fine as we took control of the game right from the start. The catalyst for our performance was David Vaughan, who was outstanding throughout the 90 minutes.
He kept the ball and passed it, something which we have found very difficult to do this season and he brought the best out of Seb Larsson. There was talk that Vaughan might not be at the club as the January window progressed. Yesterday must have put an end to this speculation. He looked like the player who destroyed us on Boxing Day 2010 and who had such a good season at Blackpool. Welcome back to the fold David.
This was his first Premier League appearance of the season and beggars the question, “Why?”. There were injury problems in autumn, but he has been a regular bench warmer for a while now and must have desperately wanted to show fans that his Everton aberration was all in the past.
The fact that we did not give the ball away meant that our flair players had a platform to build on, something which they took full advantage of.
Sess had the kind of game that has you purring in delight at what he can do. As several folk have said, if he could finish, he would have every club in Europe chasing him.
But let’s just enjoy what he can do. The ball to McClean (good performance from the Derry man), that lead to the Keystone Cops second goal, was a gem of the highest order, as was the feint that left Joe Cole standing and the shimmy and the shammy that resulted in McClean wrapping the game up.
In fact, there was not one weak link in the team. Both full backs did well, Gardner, up against West Ham’s one decent outfield player in Matt Jarvis, contained him and Jack Colback was excellent against the puffing and wheezing Cole – a candidate for the most overrated player of the last 20 years – and even had time to go forward and rattle the crossbar.
The O’Shea/ Bramble combination was a mixture of imperious interceptions and thundering tackles with Titus being roared on by a crowd who love to see this kind of thing.
Both wingers did well and I thought McClean was very good indeed. He is eager to be involved, helps his full back when needed and is once again running at defenders. MON has done well to persevere with him and hopefully he will continue to repay the faith.
Fletcher showed what an excellent player he is and he led the line brilliantly. He is very good at holding the ball up, gets other players involved and the lob for his “goal” was sublime – pity that he was offside. Definitely £12m well spent.
Larsson’s goal showed us what a technically proficient player he is. Watch how he makes a decision on which foot to use. He chooses the left one and produces a great finish which effectively wins the game for us.
I had a very enjoyable conversation with some Swedish fans over New Year and we all agreed that Seb was a wide man, not a central midfielder. On this evidence, we should hang our heads in shame.
So, a veritable feast to place before Monsieur Salut, making a second consecutive appearance at the SOL. He thoroughly enjoyed it as did the vast majority of the almost 40,000 crowd.
The ones who would not have were the Hammers fans sat in the Upper North Stand. It was an impressive turn out a few days before an important cup tie at Old Trafford, but they must have been bitterly disappointed with the rubbish that was served up for them.
Jaaskelainan had a good game, Jarvis looked dangerous in flashes and Joe Cole had some half decent touches, but the rest were woeful. Young Potts at full back was about as effective as the Potts character in Happy Days while Diarra showed why he hasn’t played this season. Even Big Sam said they were poor.
A choice of magic moments; Seb’s goal, N’Diaye’s shot that just missed with his first touch, Mignolet’s fine save from Vaz Te (worst haircut in the PL) after an hours inactivity, all contributed to the glow.
But for me, the crowd won it with their rendition of “Kevin Nolan, your chicken is dead”. Loved it – wit, relevance and it must have annoyed the ageing Nolan who got testier and testier as the game went on. Great stuff.
So, a good start to a very important phase of our season. We have games against teams who are at our level or below in Wigan, Swansea and Reading and we have the opportunity to strengthen the squad by bringing in and moving on players.
The relegation scrap is widening and we are by no means out of it, but West Ham, Norwich and Fulham will all be worried as January rumbles on and the likes of QPR, Reading and Southampton pick up wins and good draws, while Aston Villa and Newcastle slip further into trouble.
Wigan v Sunderland and Newcastle v Reading is an important North East double next week. Wigan could be the making of us as it was 12 months ago. Ha’way The Lads.