Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: home and dry on a wet night on Wearside

Malcolm Dawson writes……with the festive season almost upon us and Pete Sixsmith up to the eyes with all that he does on this site, to give the old boy a rest, it falls to me to bring you my take on what went on at a cold and wet Stadium of Light last night.


I turned on the car radio at 5.55pm as I prepared to set off through the County Durham hinterland for what I expected would be a tough game in our quest for promotion, switching to Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport just in time to hear BBC weatherman Paul Mooney promise the rain would stop within the hour. Well he got that wrong and it was torrential as I drove through Willington, Neville’s Cross, Chester-le-Street, Shiney Row and over the Wearmouth bridge and it was still persistent as I took my seat in the West Stand.

The team was almost the same as had started on Saturday, with Chris Maguire for Oviedo an obvious swap, the Scot a more natural midfielder than the Costa Rican. Max Power’s rescinded red card meant he was available but I wondered how much that sending off might have affected the energy levels of the rest of the side and how all the adverse criticism Power had received might have affected his mental state. I was fearful that a poor refereeing decision which probably cost us two points at Walsall could have a knock on effect against the side that was starting the night in third place and who knew a win would catapult them above us.

Back in the starting line up

Barnsley lined up in their black change shirts, and first choice white shorts with red trim, which for a fashion buff such as myself didn’t look quite right but was brought about by the fact that our home kit was originally intended to have red shorts, but on the new regime’s insistence, when at home we pair our striped shirts with the change kit’s shorts and means the red numbers on the black shorts look slightly incongruous. Am I the only one who is OCD enough to find that irritating on the eye?

In the grand scheme of things it is irrelevant.

Fortunately, unlike the previous Tuesday night home game, irritating phone menace woman was not sitting in front and I could focus on the game. It was immediately apparent that although the personnel was 91 per cent the same as Saturday, they were set up in a completely different way. As you would expect Flanagan and Baldwin were the centre halves in a back four, but Matthews and James had been instructed to play much higher up the pitch when we were in possession, providing width to the attack. Power was sat (not literally!) in front as the defensive midfielder but Honeyman was in a more advanced position, Gooch playing in a central role with the “M People” McGeady, Maguire and Maja moving on up and around the opposition’s penalty box when we attacked but all dropping deep when we lost possession.

Physically, Barnsley looked a lot bigger than us and centre forward Kieffer Moore towered above Jack Baldwin and was even a few inches bigger than Tom Flanagan. That said he had good feet for a tall man and got through some work in midfield as well as providing an aerial threat in front of goal.

We looked OK in the opening minutes and were moving the ball around well. Glancing up to the big screen after what I thought was about three minutes of play I was surprised to see that almost 10 minutes had passed already. It had been pretty even up to that point with Adam Matthews showing some good skills down the right wing but it was Reece James on the left wing who created the first clear cut scoring opportunity when his peach of a cross found Josh Maja in space in front of goal, but the young striker steered his header wide. For a young man of his ability it would have been a big disappointment, just as it was for those of us watching. But it was an encouraging start.

We keep saying there are no easy games in this division and Barnsley were producing some decent moves of their own, without really putting any pressure on Jon McLaughlin and shortly after an opportunity for the visitors came to naught we had a great opportunity ourselves to go ahead. Aiden McGeady found himself in the penalty area and twisting and turning was tackled by Ethan Pinnock, who perhaps slid in with the wrong leg. Did he win the ball? I wasn’t sure from my seat but when the Irishman went down the ref pointed to the spot and it was McGeady himself who took the resulting penalty. It may have been a soft decision and had I been a Barnsley fan I might have argued it shouldn’t have been given, but after a stuttering run up and a brief pause that was just this side of what is legally allowable, McGeady sent the keeper the wrong way and tucked the spot kick away.

Oh wow oh it’s Maja – you know (again!)

One minute later we were two nil up. The ever improving Adam Matthews, once again marauding down the right, played a lovely ball in to Josh Maja, who took a touch with his right foot, made space and shifted it to his left and curled in a lovely shot from the edge of the box beyond the reach of Barnsley keeper Adam Davies.

Almost immediately, Maja could have, probably should have had a third, when he again headed off target after a wonderful cross from Chris Maguire.

We appeared to be cruising at this point and with half an hour on the clock, Gooch earned himself more Brownie points (which he was to need later), first by clearing off the line then going up the other end and finding the net to put us three ahead. The ball was played out to the left, Honeyman was tackled and left sprawling and whilst the crowd around me were berating the ref for not blowing, the skipper stuck out a boot and prodded the ball on to McGeady who set up Gooch for another left footed curler into the top corner from the 18 yard line.

This was a similar situation to that we had found ourselves in against Scunthorpe and the bloke beside me asked if I could settle. The lady in front asked if I had a bet on as I explained why I’m never relaxed unless we have at least a four goal lead. The next 50 minutes or so just reinforced my cautious approach as The Tykes got back into the game.

They got one back just before half time as full back Zeki Fryers got to the corner flag to set up Moore in front of goal. McLaughlin pulled off a terrific save but Gooch fluffed the clearance, first slicing the ball vertically then chesting it weakly straight to the feet of Moore, who had dropped back to the edge of the box. He made no mistake and scored the third left footed goal of the evening. McLaughlin might have saved that effort too but in trying to block the shot, Jack Baldwin deflected the ball over the Sunderland keeper.

Those around were complaining that we had taken our foot of the gas and it certainly looked that way as passes went astray, we struggled to maintain possession as Barnsley continued to press and the half time whistle blew at the right time for the red and whites just after Cauley Woodrow had swivelled and fired a right foot shot against the post. 3-1 was nervy enough. 3-2 would have been heart in mouth time.

Sometimes it is easier to criticise our own than give credit to the opponents. At 3-0 we were comfortable and showboating. The crowd were cheering every pass as we maintained possession, Matthews back heeled, Gooch performed what in ballet terms might be deemed an entrechat as he flicked the ball on and I wondered if we would start to tease the 1,500 or so visiting fans with a chorus of “It’s just like watching Brazil”, a song they sang themselves in their Premier League days. But they upped their game and made it hard for us, grabbing another when Moore headed home a corner unchallenged at the near post.


Immediately before they scored Jack Ross had replaced Maja with Luke O’Nien, a move which which baffled some, but Maja walked off clutching his shoulder and as I pointed out to those questioning the absence of a recognised centre forward, we had scored twice at Walsall without an out and out striker on the pitch. But now the nerves were jangling as the Tykes were back in the game.

At the weekend we watched the game anxiously after the sending off, then with hope as McGeady pull one back, then with joy as the Lads fought back to earn a point in the last minute. Last night it was the other way round and at 3-2 it was a case of hoping not to see a comfortable lead wiped out.

As a Barnsley attack broke down Maguire found himself in the clear and one on one with the keeper, who had rushed out of his area, would expect to score 8 times out of 10 but this was one of the two when he couldn’t convert.

McGeady, who had put in a good defensive shift as well as causing the visitor’s defence problems all night, found space on the left and fired in a teasing cross which O’Nien got a head to but couldn’t deflect into the net. This was nowhere near as straightforward a chance as Maja’s two earlier headers, but the ex Wycombe man was to get his reward in the 84th minute when we found our passing skills again. With Sunderland pressing high up the pitch, the ball broke for Gooch, who side footed to the tireless Honeyman who drove forward a pace or two before sending out a diagonal ball to McGeady who in turn squared it across the keeper for O’Nien to side foot home.

And that was it more or less. Five minutes of added time were seen out. Oviedo was brought on to kill a bit of time and as the 4th official put the wrong number on the board, Honeyman handed the captain’s armband to Power, who had been effective, if low key, all night, before taking it back when the number 10 was swiftly changed to 11 and Gooch left the field.

At the end O’Nien, with his trademark massive grin, gave his shirt to a young lad and we left the ground happy with the three points. We had seen the potential this side has in the first half hour, then became frustrated as they let a strong position slip but let’s not do Barnsley a disservice. They are a decent team who will be in the mix at the end of the season.

And the rain had stopped on the walk back to the car.

Click here to see the match highlights courtesy of

11 thoughts on “Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: home and dry on a wet night on Wearside”

  1. Definitely OCD on the red numbers on our shorts comment : ).

    We doing well and every player is now mucking in, unlike last few seasons. I have gone on record criticising McGeady in the past here, but now stand corrected this season, he is proving his worth. I am delighted to be wrong about him, but you can only judge on what you have seen in the past.

    I recall the venom directed at David Beckham for getting sent off in a World Cup game against Argentina. Many said he should never pay for England again. They were even hanging effigies of him in the games at the start of the next season. But he overcame it to become a great example of a professional player later on. It’s a tough game sometimes, but we pay our money and can have a view. A player can hide or respond, all part of being a professional footballer, mentally you have to be strong at all times. It really is a lonely place out there on that pitch. A good manager can help, like Alex Ferguson, let s hope we have found our own Scottish genius.

  2. Far be it from me to espouse Hells Angel philosophy but they do have one tenet that could be adapted to being a supporter – “My brother may not always be right, but he’s always my brother.”
    My team and its members may not always be perfect, but…

  3. There are people at the game who berate Josh Maja for not being Billy Whitehurst, Kevin Phillips and Jermain Defoe all rolled into one. He has scored 12 goals this season. His goal last night was top quality and he could have had a hat trick before half time. He may have missed the headers, but he got into position for them
    He is 19, learning all the time and the manager, who knows a bit more about football than some of the face aches who sit behind me, rates him very, very highly. It will be interesting to see whether he can form a partnership with Charlie Wyke when he comes back.
    Of course, I am forgetting that some of the support have already written Wyke off as too slow, too injury prone and not good enough. They probably thought that Brian Clough wasn’t as good as Ian Lawther or that Dennis Tueart was no improvement on Bruce Stuckey.

  4. I was at the Walsall game and saw the clash from 30 metres distance and was unable to make a judgement as to whether the red card was correct or not. However, I would not hurl abuse at any of our players, even Catts when he would regularly get himself sent off far too easily. (Funny that he is now such a favourite with the same fans that once vilified him). I view my presence at games as an opportunity to add something positive to the efforts of those striving on the pitch for our club. “We love you Sunderland, we do”

  5. What a good few days. The players have shown themselves as genuine and fully committed, being totally deserving of their success. If ‘supporters’ can’t get behind lads like these then there’s no hope for our future. Mr. Madley refereed the game excellently, allowing it to flow and both sides were worthy of credit for their honesty in not trying to con him. It might only be the third tier but I’m really enjoying it. Roll on Accrington.

  6. Not really self-defence because while initially critical, I quickly recanted after Pete Sixsmith reported that his own view – initially the same as mine (and remember he was there) – had been reversed on seeing Jack Ross’s comments and watching replays properly.

    During the match, as followed from far away, it was striking that most SAFC fanzine tweets (ie from those running them, not just their followers) and definitely Barnes and Benno saw it as a red. A handful thought yellow. In the event, it was worthy of neither. The clip available then was difficult to watch with any certainty but appeared to support the incorrect interpretation.

    • The point here is surely not whether or not the referee’s decision was correct but the way that people reacted in an over the top hypercritical way in an instance before being able to properly assess the situation. Had Power lashed out like he did at Bradford then he may have been deserving of some criticism. Had he been sent off for that non tackle towards the end of the season then he probably would still have been criticised but not in such a vitriolic way. It was probably the fact that he was only starting his second game after suspension that heightened people’s responses and I don’t think instantaneous responses like the poll Roker Report published in the immediate aftermath, instead of waiting for a measured response was helpful.

      You know my feelings about social media and one of my dislikes about it is that it allows people to give vent to their feelings before they have either had time to reflect upon the actuality or to present their viewpoint in a rational, reasoned way.

      I don’t accuse you or Pete as being over the top and at the time I found it annoying that a player who had just served two lengthy bans – one of which was stupid and avoidable looked to have put himself in a situation where he faced another.

      But I thought his tackle against Oxford was one that was perhaps only worthy of a yellow, but I can understand why the ref thought it was a red at the time. Saturday I thought he stood his ground as the Walsall player slid into him. Had he turned his back or moved away he would have got stick for shirking a tackle – so he can’t win.

      What I have seen of Max Power indicates a decent, hard working committed player and what’s more he appears to be a decent individual too – something that we perhaps might not have said about the young Lee Cattermole who thankfully seems far more mature these days.

      Too often this season I have seen comments aimed at individual players which are quite vicious and scathing in their tone and mostly they have proved to be wrong. We have a squad who are all playing for the club and the fans and they are worthy of our support.

      Take these comments as illustrating my point

      Cattermole – not good enough ship him out.
      McGeouch – slow and not worth his place in the side.
      Honeyman – no good get rid.
      Matthews – I worry when he’s in the side
      Power – send him back to Wigan
      Ozturk – a liability
      McGeady – too lazy and too expensive

      All of the above have made mistakes but all have shown their worth but most of all they have shown they are prepared to give their all for the club and for the fans.

      No one would have been more upset than Max Power on Saturday night. He knew the effect that red card had on the game and on his team mates but what would have made it harder to take would be the certainty in his mind that he had not made a dirty or reckless challenge.

      I defy anyone not to be affected in some way by negative criticism. Supporters should be doing all they can to support the team. Most do but as usual the empty vessels make the most noise.

  7. Joan, well said.

    In other posts I’ve banged on about the minority SAFC boo-boys that afflict the club. Kilbane was a top class Premier League and International player whose SAFC career was blighted by them. Max Power highlights just how this kind of abuse can affect players.

    Thankfully it bodes well to have really strong charachters in the squad like Catts, Honeyman, Maja and Power who continue to give top class performances despite the boo-boys.

  8. Interesting to listen to Max Power’s interview on, talking about how he’d lost sleep since the sending off and that had affected his energy levels and no doubt his mood. I’ve always been quite shocked by how personal criticism of players can be (I never accepted the shameful treatment of Kevin Kilbane). With the extensive use of social media, which only intensifies the vitriol, it’s terrible that some people seem to forget the players are only human. It also seems highly counter-productive to adversely affect a player’s performance, or even drive them out of the club.

    Anyway, great win last night that I experienced on my phone via texts and updates – reminded me of Ceefax days 🙂

    • There aren’t many people who are motivated purely by criticism and many more who are affected in a negative way. Calls to send him back to Wigan and those who called his tackle idiotic are probably the same people who would have called him had he opted out of the challenge.

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