Sixer’s pre-season soapbox: normal service resumes at Darlington

Malcolm Dawson writes….I was in the environs of Darlington yesterday afternoon and pondered whether to hang about and take advantage of the cash turnstiles to get my first look at the revamped (work in progress) Sunderland AFC but decided that whilst my mobility is a lot better than it was this time last year, my knees are still not up to a couple of hours of standing, so I went home and defrosted the freezer. Try as I might I couldn’t find any reference to the use of the essential tools in the instruction manual, but aren’t you supposed to use a bread knife and 12lb lump hammer? The France/Belgium commentary played in the background and Pete Sixsmith‘s short and sweet texts brought me up to date on events at Blackwell Meadows, whilst I worked feverishly chipping and thawing and wondering why I have so many tortilla wraps, hidden away amongst the frozen prawns and mixed veg?

This morning Peter brings me and you a more detailed view of last night’s proceedings and here it is……


On a night when two of the finest teams in the world locked horns in Leningrad (St Petersburg if you must) in a tense and tight World Cup semi-final, 1,336 of us filed into Darlington’s relatively new stadium to welcome Jack Ross and a host of new players to the wonderful world of Sunderland AFC.

Instead of spending an evening in the company of Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe, Samuel Umtiti and Thibaut Courtois, we made do with Lee Cattermole, Anton Forrester, Tom Flanagan and Max Stryjek and we probably left the functional Blackwell Meadows on the banks of the River Skerne as disappointed as Le Diable Rouge did in the wonderful Zenith Stadium on the banks of the River Neva.

Blackwell Meadows – home of The Quakers

For Jack Ross, it was a salutary introduction to his new role as “Man Who Has To Get Us Out Of This Division – Preferably Upwards”. He was able to call upon all his new signings bar one as keeper John McLaughlin has a slight knock and he will have been able to see what talent there is still at the club, now. He may well be wishing that he was still in Paisley…….

To be fair, it was our first game, while Darlington had the benefit of a game against Motherwell on Sunday. They were thumped 5-1. They looked fitter and better organised than we did and had a clear game plan to execute. Like us, they had several new signings, some known to manager Tommy Wright, some not. And they are part time footballers. We are not.

What would Ross learn from this? He may have deduced that there are players at the club he does not want to keep. He may have learnt that the part time game in England is in rude health and that players like the Darlington centre forward, Reece Styche, could have made a comfortable living in the full-time game in Scotland. Hopefully he and his team will have realised that a much more solid performance is required at Hartlepool on Saturday if they are not to be the butt of heavy criticism from a support who were not particularly impressed last night.

The goal came early.
Ethan Robson played the ball back to Alim Ozturk who dawdled and was dispossessed, allowing Jordan Nicholson to run on and beat a blameless Robbin Ruiter comfortably. Ozturk had a shot cleared off the line later before he limped off after a couple of robust challenges from the aforementioned Styche. His central defensive partner, Tom Flanagan, was also caught out a couple of times as he dwelt on the ball for far too long and his passing in the first half left a bit to be desired as did the performances of most of the team.

The second half was better and we certainly had more of the play. Styche took advantage of an error by Flanagan to hit the post, but we were equally profligate as Maja and Hume missed decent chances. However, the equaliser did not come and we trooped back to our cars on a lovely summer’s evening with much to think about. There are still many changes in the offing.

Asoro looks as if he is away to Swansea and Khazri and Kone are heading back to France. There will be others, Cattermole and McManaman being the most likely, while goodness only knows who will come in. Anton Forrester, released by Port Vale, played for an hour and looked a decent player at times but he does not have a prolific goal scoring record. Maybe Ross can conjure up another Marco Gabbiadini from somewhere.

Can Jack Ross find a forward fit to wear the shirt? – Even if it doesn’t have stripes on the back!

Hartlepool are a league above Darlington and are full time. They too have overhauled their squad so Saturday’s clash between the third and fourth placed teams in the North East pantheon could be interesting. Just don’t expect a goal fest.

9 thoughts on “Sixer’s pre-season soapbox: normal service resumes at Darlington”

  1. And Neil – what I expected was the recruitment of the cream of division 1 . Players who would want to play for the biggest club in League 1. Players who would get us promoted at the first time of asking. If you didn’t expect that then you don’t have the same ambition for the club as I do. If I had the money – and who knows – I might do one day! I would buy the club. But I wouldn’t recruit the small fish for our big pond. The only way is down right now. I don’t believe for one minute that Donald will spend once One and Khasri are gone – maybe I will eat ,my words but I seriously doubt it.

  2. I stick to my precious comments! Do you consider “rebuilding” taking on the likes of Flanagan, who our fellow relegation sufferers didn’t want. Maguire who couldn’t find any form last year? And now the arrival on trial of Anton Forrester who was released by – listen up – PORT VALE!!! Do you lads seriously consider this “rebuilding”. Donald promised us we would have a “healthy budget” for a division one club. If they have to get players off the wage bill I get it. But why employ utter dross in the mean time – thus taking us downwards and not upwards. Aren’t you tired like I am of the many years of under-achievement. You talk about being prepared to loiter in division one for a couple of years – are you kidding??? We are Sunderland!! We have a 47,000 seater stadium with better infrastructure than most premiership clubs!!! I’m not a doom and gloomer – I just see the writing on the wall. Once agin, promises are broken. Yet again we seem to have little to no ambition whatsoever to bring in decent calibre players that will actually drag us out of the crap! With the exception of Man City awe are without doubt the biggest club to languish in the lower reaches and it seems we are destined to under achieve once again. Are my words over-reactionary – I don’t believe they are boys. But I don’t expect for one second you’ll agree. There you go.

  3. I agree, Malcolm. Maybe SD has been a tad misleading about the quality of signings he wishes to make, but let’s see what happens after we are rid of All our big earners. If there’s any time left in the transfer window. Sadly, up to now Jack is being hamstrung like our last managers. Shopping at Iceland is cheap, but you get what you pay for.

  4. Prediction. Stuart Donald will add weight to our sinking ship. Defenders from relegated clubs, players released from Port Vale!!! WTF???? What a joke. We will be scrapping against relegation this year too. Where’s the budget he promised us? Yet again renewed hope ends in disappointment. We are finished. Al, ends up.

    • What we have to remember is that there is a limit to what the club can pay in wages. While Khazri, Kone, Oviedo, Cattermole, Ndong and Djilibodji are still under contract there is a huge drain on resources. Once four or five of them are off the payroll there’ll be more room for manoeuvre.

      We are still struggling because of the mess the previous regime got us into. Personally I’m not bothered if we don’t walk this division this season as long as the club can sort out the mess and rebuild so that the club will be in a better place in the future.

      I just hope people can have some patience this year and give the new manager, owners and players a bit of slack. I really hope that the negativity doesn’t start up again. Let’s get behind them, even if we set off at a crawl and not at top speed.

      • Spot on Malcolm. I think it will probably take 2 to 3 years to get really back on track. This may well mean a couple of seasons in Division One.

        Our owners and Manager are taking on a massive rebuilding job. Our club has been in free fall for several years now, and counteracting this will be very difficult.
        Size doesn’t always matter. In fact it might initially work against us. We will be seen as a prize scalp for some of the so-called smaller clubs, who unlike Sunderland are probably starting the season with a settled squad and a tried and tested system.

        There is something that the alleged better quality players listed could do that would assist Sunderland enormously, and in so doing enhance their slightly soiled reputations. They could agree to amend their contracts on a par with the rest of the squad, until such time as [1] they leave the club, or [2] we are promoted back to the Championship.

        I think, that assuming the players you list stayed and played to the maximum of their ability, our stay in Division One might be short. Those six players, together with the squad already assembled by Jack Ross, would surely be a genuine force in Division One, and would almost certainly achieve promotion in the coming season.

        What about it fellows?

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