From a late cameo role to help preserve the lead at Crystal Palace, Danny Graham – in his 31st year – went straight into the Under 21s lineup to face Liverpool in a league cup tie. Top of the Barclays U21 Premier League, SAFC had already beaten the Scousers once and surely started favourites. Graham taught the young ‘uns a thing or rather two, but it wasn’t enough. Pete Sixsmith braved the cold to bring you this report on what went wrong …
The Hetton Irregulars (all five of us) met at Eppleton on Tuesday night to discuss the birth of a new era under Sam Allardyce, an era where relegation struggles are banished and our wonderful club sits in mid table obscurity for the rest of our time on this earth. Or something like that.
I chose this game over a good number of other, more competitive, fixtures in the FA Vase, Northern League, Cameron’s Strongarm Brookes Mileson Northern League Cup and Northern League Ernest Armstrong Division Two Cup. But the chance to rejoice over the previous night in good company was too much to turn down.
Our Under 21s are a tad depleted at the moment. Martin Smith and George Honeyman are on loan at Gateshead, where poor Smith put through his own goal on his debut on Saturday. That 4-1 home defeat to FC Halifax Town brought down the curtains on the Gateshead managerial reigns of Malcolm Crosby and Gary Owers, both Sunderland men through and through.
Mikael Mandron has gone to Hartlepool for a month and did well on his debut at home to Leyton Orient, a game Pools won 3-1, although he was subbed in his second at Mansfield, a game which saw a similar score line to The Stags. Skipper Liam Agnew is injured and Duncan Watmore may well be leaving the Under 21s behind now after his exploits for the first team and England.
It was, then, basically a young team with a number of 18-year-olds turning out plus three more experienced ones. Danny Graham offered to play after his five minutes at Selhurst Park, Adam Matthews, the forgotten man of the latest transfer window, continued at right back, while Liam Bridcutt had a number of scouts watching him with a view to leaving Sunderland before the Football League emergency loan window closes.
Liverpool were a big side with most of their players looking as if they were in the upper age bracket for Under 21 football. They had one player, Joao Carlos Texeira who has played for the first team and others who, although they may not make it in the Premier League, will do well at lower levels.
For the first twenty minutes, a home win looked a certainty. Mavrias and Gooch combined well and chances were missed until Liverpool broke away and opened the scoring. And then they did it again. And again. At half time, the Irregulars were glum and feared a real beating.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man and, after Ethan Robson pulled a goal back, up stepped Danny Graham. He made it 2-3 with a crisp shot and then had the temerity to equalise while the author was emptying his bladder in the netty. And we could have gone on to win it as Liverpool were rocking. Charis Mavrias missed two very good chances and we let them off the hook.
In extra time (never welcomed by the Irregulars who wanted to be home with a cup of Ovaltine and a chocolate biscuit) the visitors got on top and scored a very good goal through substitute Madger Gomes who shrugged off a tiring George Brady to fire in the winner.
And so we went out of the League Cup at the first hurdle. There will be greater calls on the 21s as the season continues. Gooch had been part of the group at Palace on Monday and looks to be pencilled in for first team duty. Others will head out on loan and Under 18s like Jordan Blinco, Carl Lawson and Dylan McEvoy will make the move up.
New manager Andy Welsh will do very well to keep us at the top of the League – not words that we often associate with Sunderland.