Sixer’s U23s Soapbox: Sunderland Triumph in Washington DC (Durham Challenge Cup) tie

Malcolm Dawson writes……I was trying to decide whether take the car and go to see our U23s in action in Durham last night or walk up to the local for the Wednesday pub quiz, when I decided that I needed to escape the ever pervading smell of some pan fried mackerel I’d had in an effort to follow the latest dietary guidelines. So leaving the Fabreze and Glade plug ins to do their work I elected that the footy had to be the sensible choice. After a bit of banter with the lady in the shipping container which serves as the refreshment centre (£1.40 for a cup of tea!) I made my way into the stand as the teams took to the field. I was about to take the nearest empty seat, which just happened to be next to one Gary Bennett, when I heard my name called from a couple of rows behind. It was none other than Peter Sixsmith. Was I surprised to see him there? Well of course not but especially as we had both been at the Shildon v Guisborough game the previous evening and talked about going to this one. 

Both were enjoyable games played in a good spirit by four teams all trying to play good football. On Saturday there’s another enjoyable trip to Accrington and a couple of beers in the Peel Park Hotel before the game. What’s not to like about football outside of the Premier League? Oh yes – the Stanley drums but then you can’t have everything.

I know Pete enjoyed last night’s game as much as I did – let him tell you why.


It was a nostalgic evening at New Ferens Park last night when our Under 23’s took on Washington F.C of the Northern League Second Division in the Preliminary Round of the Durham Challenge Cup.

Nostalgia for the days in the 90’s when our Reserve team turned out there on Monday nights and crowds in excess of 2,000 turned up to watch Andy Marriott, Neil Wainwright and Danny Dichio strut their stuff on what was probably the best grass pitch in County Durham.

Did you ever see him use his “other” foot?

Nostalgia too for some of the opposing players we saw. Paul Merson, then of Villa and playing in a side that were 6 down, turning to the crowd and saying “What the f*** am I doing here? And what the f*** are you lot here doing watching me?”

Gazza in one of his more reflective moments

Or Paul Gascoigne, recovering from injury at Everton, being jeered at the start and then winning a deserved standing ovation as he went off after 70 minutes for his sheer good nature as he smiled, chuckled and gurned his way through his latest recovery and made it very clear that he just loved playing football.

No such stars last night, as our Under 23 squad had a comfortable 5-1 win over a Washington side who played football throughout, refused to lump the ball upfield, committed no egregious fouls and who scored a spectacular goal that, briefly, brought it back to 4-1.

They are playing at NFP because it is available and nothing else is. They left their Albany Park ground a while ago after a long running dispute with the owners – I gather the site is now being converted to housing – and lodged at the Nissan Sports and Social Club for a while.

Now they are playing on an artificial surface at a ground where Durham City played until they too fell out with the owner – they now ground share with Willington – but they have not neglected their Wearside roots and there was a good turnout from the club’s many junior teams of both genders. Some watched the football, some played on their phones, most spent a large amount of the evening scoffing chips, ket and chocolate.

The Under 23s are not doing particularly well in Premier League 2 Division 2 but the purpose is not winning but trying to bring young players through. The Two Jordans started at this level as did Jack Colback (a better player than JH at 18 in some regulars’ books).

Of the current first team squad, Denver Hume, Elliott Embleton, Ethan Robson and to a lesser extent, Duncan Watmore and Grant Leadbitter all learned their trade at Under 23 level and the work done by the likes of Robbie Stockdale, Elliot Dickman and Michael Proctor, should not be dismissed.

Bali Mumba and Benji Kimpioka were missing as they have just returned from international duty so it gave some of the younger lads a chance to show what they could do. The player who really caught the eye was French full back cum winger Williams Kokolo, who has filled out well over the summer without losing any of his speed. He scored a fine goal, defended well and used his developing strength to edge out a couple of dangerous Washington breaks. Definitely one for the EFL Trophy games.

Caught the eye

Lee Connolly scored two well taken goals but was caught offside at least three times as much, which reduced his effectiveness. He is quick and sharp but small so he has to rely on his speed to get away from defenders. Another one for the Trophy, I feel.

Jack Bainbridge and Ruben Sammut both looked very comfortable and these two venerable 22 year olds were withdrawn with half an hour left to allow them to get the pipe and slippers out and relax over a whisky and soda, while young keeper Ahmed Abdelkader made a couple of decent saves and ran his box well.

The crowd of 195, gorged on chips and chocolate, went home happy at witnessing a decent game of football, well refereed and on a pleasantly warm night. Far better than watching the telly, that’s for sure (c. Steve Bruce).

Accrington next and my third visit in 6 months.

Bet we get them in the FA Cup.

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