Sixer’s Soapbox: more positive, fewer negatives after Sunderland sink Stoke

Pete Sixsmith: ho ho ho
Pete Sixsmith: ho ho ho

John McCormick writes: Pete Sixsmith is about to go out, may even have already gone out, to do his Christmas duty on the Polar Express. When he gets back, he’ll no doubt sit down with his rosy cheeks, slippers, pipe and his ho, ho, ho to see what comments our readers have left on his report. Will they agree with this summary of a game against a team with away form, one that’s tough to beat and with the kind of defence we’d like to emulate? Or will they say something different? For my part the word I’d use is encouraging. But did that sending off lead me to a false sense of optimism? Let’s see what Pete thinks


Three weeks ago, as we trudged out of the East Stand after a dispiriting home defeat to a mediocre Southampton side, I said to George, who sits in front of me, that this was a rag bag of a side, with no pace, no identity and, by the looks of it, no future in the Premier League. He did not disagree.

Jake: Ower the moon for PVA, for Duncan, and most of all for the long suffering supporters.
Jake: Ower the moon for PVA, for Duncan, and most of all for the long suffering supporters.

Three weeks on, after the new manager and his coaching team have had a good, long look at the squad and have begun to sort out those who want to play and those who don’t, we have just had a week where we have won two games against teams above us and have, for the first time in a long time, looked like a decent Premier League side.

I don’t want to get carried away with all of this. We have a series of tough games coming up and confidence can be a fragile thing. But, as in the early days of Martin O’Neill, we have a manager who has players doing what they can do very well indeed.

The current formation seems to suit us well. The three central defenders look comfortable with each other, and once again the contribution of John O’Shea cannot be overlooked. His organisational skills are outstanding; here is a man for whom coaching and management are an absolute certainty. He knows how Jon Walters plays and he handled him perfectly.

a little touch of class
A little touch of class

The other quiet man of this team – quiet in that he gets things done with the minimum of fuss – is Yann M’Vila. When Seb Larsson went off after an hour, there was a worry that the midfield two of M’Vila and Cattermole would be overrun.

Not a bit of it. Both were excellent but the Frenchman brings that extra bit of quality and composure to the midfield. He never stopped running and made sure that Cattermole was able to play a bit further up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that there was cover behind or alongside him. Well done to whoever brought him in, be it Lee Congerton, Dick Advocaat or some kid playing FIFA 15.

There were many more plusses than minuses in this performance. Stoke are always an obdurate bunch (Sam liked that word when the 5Live interviewer used it to him; we may be hearing a bit more of that one in December and January) but the days of 6’5” defenders and huge forwards is long gone. They play some decent stuff now, but for those who have been there a long time, there is always the tendency to revert to what they were brought up on.

Ryan Shawcross is one of these. By no means a dirty player, he commits fouls with a rather cavalier attitude to the man in black – or yellow in this case. He had been given a lifeline by Mike Dean when he had a hack at Duncan Watmore and was booked a few minutes later when he brought down Steven Fletcher. His body language indicated that that was one for the team and he knew he had to be careful.

subjected the opposition to a degree of pace
subjected the opposition to a degree of pace

Far be it from me to suggest that the manager told Watmore and Fletcher that there was a good chance of friend Ryan being sent off and it would be an even better chance if they harried him. Watmore, proud possessor of a First Class Honours Degree, seemed to have that worked out himself and put pressure on the City captain.

Shawcross may have got to the ball first (several TV replays suggested that he did) but from Seat 404, Row 30 in the East Stand it looked like a foul and I thought that Dean pulled out a straight red. City fans (a reasonable turn out, but nothing like the 2,400 in the away end at Selhurst on Monday night), will disagree but it won’t make one iota of difference. Off went Shawcross and City had to rearrange their line-up. It gave us a chance, but their obduracy (I like the word as well, Sam) was impressive.

Equally impressive is the use of substitutes in the last two games. Watmore’s introduction was enforced as Defoe limped off, but he had caused problems for the Potters defence. Lens and Johnson came on for Larsson and O’Shea to give us a bit more pace and creativity and it worked.

It was Johnson who rolled the ball to Van Aanholt for the wing back to crash home the opening goal, and he played a part in the move that set Watmore free to clinch the game with a splendid shot past the equally splendid Jack Butland.

Watmore is a player of some potential but he needs to be handled carefully. The Hetton Irregulars have seen him miss chances similar to the one that he put away and he was also in good positions on a couple of other occasions and failed to trouble the keeper. At times he reminds me of Billy Hughes with his pace and his desire to score – but many of us thought the same about James McClean four years ago.

Marton Fulop 1983-2015
Marton Fulop, 1983-2015

It was an emotional day as the club remembered Marton Fulop, whose tragically early death stunned us all. His parents would have been proud to see how much esteem he was held in by Sunderland supporters and the spontaneous outbreak of further applause in the 32nd minute reinforced it.

I hope it didn’t distract our defenders, as it gave City their sole opportunity and it took a brilliant save by The Giant Pantilimon to rescue us. Marton would have approved.

The day got better when we heard that Palace, who never looked like scoring on Monday night, had put five past Newcastle, with even The Show Pony Brothers, aka Zaha and Bolasie, appearing on the score sheet. BBC Newcastle had to wait until 5.57 for McLaren’s post-match interview and it was straight out of the Ron Knee textbook – tight lipped and ashen faced. The word obdurate did not appear in his analysis and if I were a Newcastle fan (by the grace of Colin Randall I am not), I would be very, very worried.

TALES FROM THE RED AND WHITES Vol 1 is selling well and would make a splendid Christmas gift to that special Mackem in your life. It can be bought in all good bookshops (and some bad ones), from Amazon or direct from the publisher


17 thoughts on “Sixer’s Soapbox: more positive, fewer negatives after Sunderland sink Stoke”

    • Quite right! You have to email your entries to the link supplied. AND I shall pounce on any Comment left elsewhere that gives the answer, right or wrong. Unless they say Jozy

      • OK so I’ll have my say here…..
        The pinstripe monstrosity was far and away our worst ever shirt, even looking at it now I can still see it as modelled by a mulleted Barry Venison, truly awful. The best for me has got to be the shirt as worn by the 1973 team and not just because it brings back memories of the only meaningful trophy to be won in my lifetime. It’s simple, it had broadish stripes with a red one down the middle and a small red collar. Best of all there was no manufacturer’s logo all ower the shop and NO horrible sponsor’s name dominating the chest! Wtf are Bidvest and Dafabet anyway? There wasn’t even a club badge on the shirt back then, just a simple “SAFC” over the heart.
        Worst change (I refuse to say “away”, we should wear the R&W stripes whenever possible home and away) shirt? Well the 92 Cup Final one, as shown above was pretty bad, but the current one takes some beating. Apart from being a horrible colour, our players just seem to merge into the grassy background, surely it’s not a good idea to wear camouflage!

      • You’ll never see me in camouflage gear Jake.

        My fave change shirt is still the dark blue one with a red and white band across the middle and red and white colllar, circa 1999 as worn by Super Kev, Magic J etc. Even the Reg Vardy logo wasn’t so bad.

  1. The sending off probably turned the game in our favour but we took advantage of it as we should have done . Every MOTD genius will tell you at some point that’s its harder to play against ten men,apart from when it benefits SAFC of course ,but due to the improvement under Big Sam we made the advantage count .As in the skunk game , the player put the referee in the position where he had to make a decision, we didnt and we’ve had more than our fair share of close decisions going against us this season . The difference is that we as fans tend to shrug and wearily accept it instead of behaving like spoilt children . Maybe we should chance track and convince ourselves we can do no wrong, the gods are conspiring against us and we deserve more ?It might make ourselves and the club raise our expectations , working well up the road isn’t it !

  2. It’s very simple. I’m 66 and like a child I am so happy with this last week of football that I’m on the verge of becoming optimistic which is very dangerous I know. As my daughter said ‘ I can’t stop smiling’. Thanks Sam..

  3. Personally, I think we stand a good chance of nicking something from Arsenal. Not so sure we will from Liverpool. But, I think our defense is strong at the moment. Look at Van Arnholt, Kaboul & Coates recently compared to the start of the season. I just hope John O’Shea stays fit, and I feel he was removed today to allow Kaboul & Coates to play without him.
    It’s great that we have an ex player as a manager, and he is up for the relegation fight. Not so sure we need signings like Andy Carroll, and it seems we did not lose much in Jack Colback, as he is failing to impress up the road.

    • To be fair it was a hectic high scoring day and you cannot moan about them showing Vardy’s historic achievement first.

      I was quite happy though that Murphy and Lineker teased a quite contrite Alan Shearer,who had to admit Allerdyce was the man for the job through gitted teeth….pity they let him go then.

      • Was never good enough for the Toon , only had them in eleventh place when they sacked him , they’d pawn their grannies for that today . They got relegated not long after .

      • So did Blackburn,and Bolton too (though they didnt sack him as such.)He is a very successful mangager for getting clubs promoted and keeping them there.

        Though you are right he was not considered good enough for their lofty ambitions…..funny thing is they have only beat that 11th place once ever since.. … with a 10th place finish in 2013/14.

      • Didn’t Pardew finish 5th once Vince? They hated him aswell , but it just reinforces your point,nothing’s good enough for them .

  4. We didn’t play the dour, shut-them-down-at-all-costs football that some feared Allardyce would bring to the club. Picking up three points does, of course, add to the entertainment value but yesterday’s game was well worth watching. I can’t help thinking that this time next week we could be level pegging with Chelsea. Or even ahead on goal average…

  5. The Mags carried Black Friday on until the Saturday. 5 goals against a team we never looked like conceding against.

  6. The set-up of the team with a defensive back three of Coates, O’Shea and Kaboul seems to be working well. They are organised and playing well together, but for me part of the reason for this is the fact that Seb Larsson has been starting. He, M’Vila and Cattermole are all hardworking players who will close down opponents and cover the full backs. This has allowed Yedlin, Jones and van Aanholt, the only starting players with real pace, the freedom to get forward and not leave the back line exposed. Borini, Lens and Toivonen are all quicker and have more flair than the current midfield three, but do a different job.

    Credit to Big Sam for finding the balance but the real test will come when two of the three centre backs are unavailable. Wes Brown might be able to cover one of those positions for a short while but Billy Jones is not a centre back. Could Rodwell do it?

    I thought Watmore looked lively when he first came on but tried to hold onto the ball too long and one or two of his first touches were too heavy. Then he seemed to disappear from the game and I was thinking Borini might have been a better replacement for Defoe but credit DW for taking his chance well.

    We have some tough fixtures coming up and a win against Watford would seem vital. Early days but the team seems fitter, we had a decent bench yesterday. Some cause for optimism, especially with the way Villa and the Mags keep self-destructing but too early to count any chickens.

    John Mac beat me to the posting today which is probably just as well as my headline would have been “Stoke come unstuck as PVA sticks one in!”

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