Sixers Says: U21s’ title challenge intact after uninspiring win at Middlesbrough

Malcolm Dawson writes……they say as we get older we revert to childhood. In my case that means buying two ounces of black bullets and needing someone to cut my toenails for me. Pete Sixsmith on the other hand has got himself a paper round and spends his hard earned cash on lucky bags and going to watch Sunderland Reserves. OK – I know they’re not called that anymore but he got a bit of a shock yesterday as his desire for real “Monday Night Football” used up the pocket money he gets from taking copies of the “Financial Times”, “Country Life” and “Spectator” round to the inhabitants of Busty Bank, Shildon. He’s had better Monday nights but at least the boys kept up the pressure on Manchester United who should win the league but might just slip up.

Down at the Riverside
Down at the Riverside

Middlesbrough Under 21’s (a).

Five weeks ago, I reported on a splendid Under 21 game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough at the Stadium of Light, which we ended up winning by the odd goal in 5 and which included excellent performances from George Honeyman for us and Harry Chapman for them.

Last night, I witnessed the absolute antithesis of the previous game at The Riverside where we once again won, but by the odd goal in 1. Chapman has gone to Barnsley on loan while Honeyman had a desperately disappointing game – of which more later.
Our line up included Billy Jones and Wes Brown in the back four and Jeremain Lens up front. All need match practice; all may well be needed for the desperate run in that we face in an attempt to avoid an away day at the Pirelli Stadium, Burton-on-Trent. Regulars like Agnew, Mandron, Stryjek and two of the multitude of Robsons were also there, but there was no Rees Greenwood, who I think is away with the England Under 20 squad.

The evening got off to a bad start when I was charged £2 to park the car and then £3 to get in. Had this been at the far superior Stadium of Light, parking would have been free and for a genuine pensioner (as I now am; the 65th was reached last Friday) it would have cost me £1 to enter the hallowed portals. Obviously Middlesbrough are short of cash.

In the ground, there was a smattering of Sunderland aficionados and the talk was of positives and negatives from the visit to the Sports Direct. All agreed on the importance of the next three games and all felt that there would be at least one twist in the relegation battle; Watford’s current wretched form was pointed out but they probably had enough to stay out of the deep doo-dah that we currently occupy.

Lens got a much needed run out
Lens got a much needed run out

We opened well and Mandron put a good chance over the bar early on. Middlesbrough turned out a young team, apart from injury prone Aussie central defender Rhys Williams (he limped off again early in the second half, poor lad), and they also showed a more aggressive style in a league not noted for it. There may well have been some bad blood between their Jordan Jones and our Thomas Robson as Jones hacked away at him on a couple of occasions.

Ethan Robson left early and was replaced by Denver Hume, a new name for me, and he had a decent game, possibly his first one at this level. But it wasn’t a great spectacle, with both teams making basic errors in passing and tackling. It was settled with a well taken goal by Carl Lawson in the 62nd minute. He picked up a good pass from Hume and scored with a volley not dissimilar from the one that Jermain Defoe had fizzed past Rob Elliott at the Sports Direct 30 hours earlier. From then on, we hardly saw the ball, as Boro came at us. Max Stryjek made three very good saves and looks a very promising keeper. We have a good set of home produced custodians with Jordan Pickford and James Talbot all a testimony to the work that Mark Prudhoe has done with them.

Jake: Will we see him with the big boys again? Sixer has his doubts.
Jake: will we see him with the big boys again? Sixer has his doubts.

We held on to win and the general consensus was that we would probably have been better off at home answering questions on University Challenge or looking for some of my former students on Police Interceptors. (They wouldn’t be the ones in uniform – Ed) For the three first teamers it was a useful run out and Lens showed some good touches in the 80 minutes he played. Wes Brown did OK but Billy Jones had a poor second half and looked sluggish. He has clearly fallen behind Yedlin and Eboue in the pecking order and I would be surprised to see him in a first team shirt again.

The same applies to Mikael Mandron, Liam Agnew and George Honeyman who are clearly not going to make the grade and will probably need to leave Sunderland if they are to make a living in the game. Honeyman has suffered some cruel injuries and looked well off the pace last night, Agnew is a good player and a good leader but is clearly not a top level player while Mandron consistently flatters to deceive.

At least they didn’t have to pay two quid to park their cars…………

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