John McCormick writes: Pete Sixsmith has finally made it home from seat U2 in the Carrow Road football stadium (hence the reference in the introduction to Saturday’s Sevens). He probably has just enough time to grab some rest before he heads off to Sheffield. But before he gets his head down here he is with the heads up on a game more than a few of us expected to be difficult.
As ever, it’s a fine piece of writing. The bonus is that this time it’s about an excellent Sunderland performance:
I like to give the impression that I know something about this game that we all love to watch and play. I can nod sagely and give an assessment of what I have just seen and make it sound that I am knowledgeable.
Like my teaching career, much of this is based on bluff, bluster and good fortune. I held court on Sunday, saying that Galloway would have to be tighter on Norwich wide player Yanic Wildschut and that Lamine Kone needed to give his head a shake before the industrious Cameron Jerome got the better of him and put The Canaries ahead.
As that great philosopher Basil Fawlty has said, “You should be on Mastermind, specialist subject, the bleedin’ obvious” as Norwich spent the first twenty minutes pushing us onto and keeping us on a defensive footing.
A Jerome effort was rightly chalked off for offside and some referees might have awarded a penalty for a slight nudge by Galloway on Wildschut as we struggled to get a foothold into the game. Indeed, I was just about to text that observation to M Salut and a select band of brothers and sisters, when James Vaughan headed on a Jason Steele clearance and Lewis Grabban flitted past the lumbering Norwich defence to slip the ball past Angus Gunn to put us ahead.
And that was that. The nerves and edginess that had been there in the opening ten minutes disappeared now and players stepped up to the crease and made sure that we controlled the game as confidently as we had 18 months ago in Sam Allardyce’s best Sunderland performance.
That day, Lamine Kone was very, very impressive. He has rarely hit those heights since but he got very close to it on Sunday. He puffed his large chest out, won every ball in the air, made numerous tackles and even gave a reprise of that memorable challenge he made on Yaya Toure when he knocked his fellow Ivorian over. We thought we had the new Charlie Hurley; last season he was more like the new Steve Hetzke.
Alongside him, Tyias Browning watched and learned; how to win a header; how to dispossess an opponent in the box without giving away a penalty and how to burst forward with the ball, creating panic in the opposition ranks. Browning did all of these things as effectively as Kone did and their partnership at the back gave us the solid base that allowed us to take control of the midfield and pressurise the home team.
They huffed and puffed and never threatened our goal. Vaughan pulled the centre backs all over the place, creating space for Grabban and Aiden McGeady, and it was the former Lokomotiv Moscow man who won the game for us in a scintillating eleven minute spell.
First of all, he picked up a short pass from the industrious Lee Cattermole and controlled it with his right foot in order to set it for his trusty left one. The ball flashed past Gunn into the net to put us two up. But there was better to come.
A run by Didier Ndong ended up with the mercurial Scots/Irishman getting the ball wide left. Again, he set himself nicely and delivered a wonderful cross that eluded defenders and goalkeeper, but not Lewis Grabban who anticipated it well, moved to the far post and headed in the clincher. Cue wild celebrations on and off the pitch.
It was game over and although City pulled one back with a Grabban own goal and Steele made a couple of very good saves, there was no doubt as to who the more accurate and precise team were. Norwich moved the ball square, Sunderland moved the ball forward. Norwich stood off tackles, Sunderland made them.
Nobody personified this more than Didier Ndong who had a game of calm authority alongside Lee Cattermole. Whenever you looked up, Ndong was there, either pushing forward, harassing attackers or winning possession with a timely and effective challenge. He has taken on more responsibility this season and thrives on it.
Last year we had players like Januzaj, Denayer and Manquillo, loan players who looked either out of their depth or completely disinterested – mostly the latter. This year we have Vaughan, Browning and Galloway, nowhere near as accomplished but who appear to be showing a real commitment to the club and to the support. They all gave the kind of performance that we expect from our players – the likes of Billy Jones and Lee Cattermole, although not technically accomplished, know that supporters realise that they play to the best of their ability.
And we have a manager who understands the club and where it comes from:
“It’s a working class city and the support demand hard working players. That’s what we do.”
As mission statements go, that’s up there with the best (although I happen to believe that mission statements are complete and utter b******).
Three unbeaten games and a first win in August since a Darren Bent penalty gave us a win over a Manchester City side that were embarking on their spell of success as the flagship of Abu Dhabi. Should we be able to win at least two more games in August then Simon Grayson will have much to look forward to, as will the support.
We roll onto Hillsborough on Wednesday before welcoming Leeds United on Saturday. The grind goes on.
Graphics by Jake