Not quite 14,000 souls got along to the Stadium of Light for the traditional empty-ground start to a League Cup campaign. Pete Sixsmith was one of them but said, bluntly: ‘For those quizzing, reading, walking or just plain breathing, you missed NOWT.’ But we won, and now have a 3rd Round tie at QPR to contemplate … plus, some time today, the completion – assuming the medical went well – of our signing of the Atlético Madrid fullback Javier Manquillo …
This is a short report. The reason for that is that I am writing it after a long day at The Riverside at Chester le Street and a long evening at the Stadium of Light. I have a long journey on Thursday to the deep south of Salisbury. And the game was so wretchedly poor there is sod all to write about.
There were a limited number of players available due to injury (Mannone, Borini and the rest), the fear of an injury in a relatively minor game (Defoe) and – though I have no idea – impending moves out of the club (Lens).
In came Pickford as had been planned, Khazri for his first start of the season and Asoro for his first game full stop. The bench had the ring of The Border Reivers with three Robsons on it and only Watmore having any real experience.
The former Manchester United trio continued, Rodwell filled in at centre half with Djilobodji and Gooch and Pienaar made up the engine room of the team. On paper it looked strong enough to beat Shrewsbury. On grass it struggled.
As a club we have had issues with this early round for many years. I have seen us dumped out of it by Bradford City, Lincoln City, Huddersfield Town and York City and struggle to beat Northampton Town, MK Dons, Exeter City and Morecambe. At least we did better than Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Watford in that we got through the round. And for what? Queens Park Bloody Rangers away. I shall miss that one.
That we got the opportunity to visit the pokiest ground west of the Pecos was due to a splendid Adnan Januzaj strike with seven minutes left. He twisted and turned with four Shrews’ defenders surrounding him, before crashing a rising shot past Jayson Leutwiler to ensure that we had no egg on our face and that the banana skin had been avoided.
We nearly gave the game away when George Waring headed across the goal instead of into it but survive we did. David Moyes had his first win and the small crowd went home pleased that we had not been knocked out, if not with the quality of football on display.
It would be easy to sit here and be critical but I see little point in that at the moment. Let’s look for positives and once again, there were some. Jack Rodwell had a solid game in the middle of the back four. Joel Asoro worked hard and had a couple of decent chances to score his first goal. And Januzaj took his chance well although the Southampton defence may not be so accommodating on Saturday.
Some players are still finding their feet and 90 minutes against well organised opponents will help them with match fitness and familiarity with their new team mates and the occasionally over demanding crowd.
My good friend Jake Beal, a dyed in the wool Southport supporter, who has been staying in the guest wing of Sixsmith Towers, said it was akin to watching the kind of game he watches week in week out in the National League. I didn’t take that as a positive statement with regard to where we are going.
New players are arriving as I write. Let’s see how many and of what quality by next Wednesday, when the whole fiasco will be over until January. That is when we will see how good a coach David Moyes is.
Ha’way The Lads.