M Salut writes: at a chilly Victoria Park last night, Pete Sixsmith took a good look at the 17 players used by Simon Grayson as he assessed our chances of mounting a serious challenge for promotion. Sunderland won 2-1, but impressed few of those who have had their say already about what seems to have been a ponderous, uncreative performance.
The bookies say the Championship is regarded by many as more exciting than the Premier League, given the golden prize of promotion. Those who feel we stand a chance will see plenty of opportunities, as the season develops, at dailyenhanced.co.uk to back their belief with a flutter.
Meanwhile, let Sixer apply his forensic touch to events at Hartlepool 1-2 Sunderland …
Twelve months ago, we pitched up at Victoria Park with a team that included Vito Mannone, Younes Kaboul, Patrick van Aanholt, Fabio Borini and Jermain Defoe. We cruised into a 3-0 lead, took the nucleus of the Great Escape Vol 4 off at half time and looked like a team heading for the upper echelons of the Premier League.
Fast forward a year and we have lost two managers in Allardyce and Moyes, the above mentioned players have all gone and we are contemplating life in the Championship with its relentless grind.
Still, we could be like last night’s hosts who slipped out of the Football League as we were joining it and who now have places like Bromley, Barrow and Boreham Wood on their sat nav for at least a year.
They looked a neat and compact outfit under new manager Craig Harrison. He could have been taking charge of former club TNS in a Champions League Qualifier against Rijeka from Croatia, but seeing as the Men From Oswestry lost 5-1, he was probably better off at a chilly Hartlepool.
Simon Grayson has a hard job in front of him as he attempts to put together a squad that will finish in the top six and preferably the top two.
At the moment, it is very much work in progress and there were few signs that we will be following the Seagulls, the Magpies and the Terriers to the promised land of the FA Premier League.
He took this game seriously and selected a team that was a mixture of youth and experience. There was a full debut for Max Stryjek in goal and he did well enough to show that he will be a more than adequate Number 2 and if required, a potentially exciting Number 1.
There was one impressive save from a Padraig Amond header that was almost Pickford-like in its simplicity and quality.
Tais Browning also looked a good player on his debut. Paired with Lamine Kone at the back, he concentrated throughout the hour he was on the pitch, moving quickly and making sure that simple things were done well.
I imagine that Grayson had made it clear that he didn’t want any messing about at the back after The Unpleasantness at Perth as the normally cool Kone whacked the ball away at every opportunity, putting at least two balls out of the ground to the delight of the urchins setting the skate park alight behind the Mill House Stand.
Up front, Asoro and Maja also looked good players and combined well for the opening goal.
Asoro is a tricky winger, got in front of the rather cumbersome Louis Laing and the former Under 23 stalwart fell into him. The spot was pointed to and up stepped Maja to place the ball out of the reach of Scott Loach (any relation to Ken?) and just underneath the bar a la Jim Baxter and Gary Rowell.
James Vaughan was busy throughout, chasing everything that was knocked up to him and producing one splendid overhead kick which just cleared the bar. He will get in the faces of better defenders than Laing and Scott Harrison – another former Under 23 man. Throw in Blair Adams at left back and 75 per cent of the Pools back line plied its trade at Eppleton.
There were changes for both teams at half time and Pools looked far more dangerous, equalising on the hour through Ryan Donaldson. He looked marginally offside (the assistant referee would have seen it if she had been up with the play), but he had little difficulty in getting in front of a ponderous Adam Matthews and beating Stryjek with a well-placed shot.
The game meandered on until the 89th minute when Jeremain Lens, forever to be remembered as one of the great enigmas at SAFC, curled in a great free kick to win the game and paper over a few more cracks. Great goal, Jeremain, thanks for the memory……
Of those who made up the 17, we can assume that Kone, Khazri, Djilobodji and Lens will all be moving on before the end of August. Ndong and Matthews may join them and it would be a real bonus if the absent Jack Rodwell found another employer as well. That does not leave much and adequate replacements need to be found as soon as possible.
There was an interesting conversation last night between Lamine Kone, born in Paris and representing Ivory Coast and Padraig Amond from Carlow who numbers Accrington Stanley, Morecambe and Grimsby Town amongst his clubs.
Whether the Irishman speaks French is unknown, but they had a real good chinwag as an injured player was being treated. Kone smiled at him, made a few hand gestures and appeared to speak. Then, blow me down, when John O’Shea came on, Amond had a good chat with him.
Bradford City on Saturday and maybe McGeady to appear along with one or two others who had been at Blyth with the Under 23s where they conceded three goals in six minutes, eventually losing 3-2.
Maybe things have to get worse before they can get better…