Malcolm Dawson writes……at half time last night, I sent Pete Sixsmith a text. He was watching the boys in red and white going through the motions in industrial Lincolnshire and confirmed what the intermittent commentary on the SAFC website suggested, that this was not a pre-season classic.
“Avoid the A1(M)” I said having returned from a few days in the Midlands seeing old friends the previous night and been diverted, first towards Doncaster and Newark as the M18/A1(M) junction was closed, then through obscure rural villages that Sunderland supporting James Herriott would have recognised but I didn’t. The poorly signed diversion which eventually led me through Teeside, via Sedgefield must have added 30 miles and almost an hour to my journey. Did he take any notice? Apparently not.
I have been in a car with Mr Sixsmith who needs no encouragement to lambaste the Highways agency when roadworks get in the way and after last night’s footballing performance (as inspiring as an Ed Sheeran album apparently) I would think the air was riper than a mature Camembert that hasn’t seen the inside of a fridge for a month or more. We’ll let Pete take up the story.
AN UNWANTED DOUBLE
It is very rare that I have had an unwanted double. Catch me in a pub and offer me a double Highland Park and I would nod my head and smile like Mr Wemmick’s Aged P in Great Expectations. Consort with me in a good coffee shop and enquire whether I would like two shots of espresso and I would happily say “Si, Signor.” Give me the opportunity to attend cricket and football on consecutive nights and I would be as happy as the proverbial pig in the equally proverbial muck.
Unfortunately I got a crushing Durham defeat at the hands of Nottinghamshire followed by as tedious a ninety minutes as I have seen since we drew 0-0 with Burnley and David Moyes showed all his charm and wit in his exchange with the admirable Vicky Sparks.
The cricket was men against boys. Notts fielded Alex Hales, Jake Ball, Rikki Wessels, Brendan Taylor and Samit Patel. Durham ‘s team included Cameron Steel, Liam Trevaskis, Stuart Poynter, Jack Burnham and Ryan Pringle. Test match players against young hopefuls and it led to the easiest of nine wicket wins for The Outlaws. I searched in vain for Richard Greene, Alan Wheatley and Alexander Gauge in the stands, while the fragrant ghost of Patricia Driscoll hovered over Lumley Castle and Dick James’ theme song was an earworm burrowing through my brain. Ah, those were the days. No CGI in the Elstree version of Sherwood Forest.
Twenty four hours later, Pete Horan (recovering from waxing his daughter’s drawers – oooh, isn’t he bold) and I pitched up at Glanford Park for the final away friendly and a first look at Aidan McGeady.
Weather wise, both were pleasant evenings. If the first one was a tad embarrassing, the second was a tad boring in that it was a dull game between two sides who knew that they were very close to the start of the season. We had a team who made the play offs but who lost their home leg to Millwall against a side who had suffered a pathetic relegation, who had lost their charisma free manager, had lost four of their regular starters and who were probably more concerned about returning to Glanford Park for a league fixture in 2018/19 than looking forward to an afternoon at the all new White Hart Lane.
That there were no goals was hardly surprising. That The Iron came closest was. Robbin Ruiter kept our unbeaten record in England intact with a fine save at the end and the Scunny Bunny was leaping up and down when a 30 yarder from Funso Ojo rattled the bar and bounced kindly for Sunderland.
McGeady played for an hour before he was withdrawn. There were some decent flashes of what he can do -and he can beat defenders – but he looked a bit off the pace at times and I would not bank on him being ready for the visit of the Rams in eight days’ time,
Many of the Red and Whites there had their first look at Brendan Galloway and he too showed some good touches after a nervous and edgy first half. He played at left back with Adam Matthews on the right. I have now seen as much of Matthews in a week as I have in the previous two years which must tell us something.
Creativity in our midfield was as rare as a literary discussion on the virtues of Henry James at a Mike Ashley business dinner, with Elliot Embleton finding it hard going at times. I still like the cut of his jib but he needs a good loan move either into League One or Two or to the National League. There is promise there but we need to help him use it.
James Vaughan buzzed around a lot without looking like breaking his duck and young Asoro showed the kind of promise once associated with Fry’s Turkish Delight. He created a chance for himself in the second half which the ever dependable Matt Gilkes in the Scunthorpe goal saved well.
As the game meandered on, I chatted to the two men sat behind me who came from the Bradford area and who followed Sunderland because that was where the older of the father and son duo’s dad came from. They lived in the village of Idle and yes, they were members of The Idle Working Men’s Club. M Salut’s own father would have enjoyed that.
Alas, the double became a treble on the way home as Highways England decided to close the A1(M) twice. The Wetherby closure was an irritant but the second necessitated a visit to Northallerton via the A 61 and A 167. It proved too much for the two German lorries in front, who gave up and turned back to the original diversion. We stuck it out and got home 45 minutes later than we should have. Thanks Highways England. I look forward to my next night time sojourn through North Yorkshire.
Jason Steele and Lewis Grabban are solid, Championship players who should give us that extra experience and bite that we need in this most competitive of leagues. If Lens stays, we could do well but I would imagine that he would prefer the political instability of Istanbul to the serene calmness of a British government that has everything under control – with the possible exception of The Highways Agency.
Doubles all round chaps and put a squirt of soda in mine.