Now we know it: Kevin Phillips will be starting on Saturday* intent on heaping more woe on Steve Bruce and Sunderland supporters: “You look at the teams we have got left at home – Sunderland, Wolves and Fulham – and it’s no disrespect to those teams but they are games we feel we can win.” Pete Sixsmith, though, has broken our collective duck: he’s actually witnessed a win, and over money-coming-out-of-our-ears Manchester City at that. You know what’s coming next …
A Sunderland win at last! I was hoping to use that header after Saturday’s trip to St. Andrews, but the Reserves beat me to it with a well deserved 2-0 win over Manchester City at Eppleton/Hetton last night.
Goals from Craig Lynch in the first half and Ryan Noble after the break, sealed the points in the last game of the regular season and possibly the last game to be played under the current reserve set up.
There were some good performances but this was a team effort and it has been good to see players develop under the watchful eye of Keith Bertschin and Stephen Clemence. This latest win was down to organisation, self discipline and a desire to work hard for each other against a bigger and older City side.
In fact, Bertschin’s season has been a mirror image of that of his ultimate boss, Steve Bruce. The first half was a real learning process, with some disappointing defeats and a feeling that players were finding the transition from Under 18 football to reserve level difficult.
However, since Christmas, performances and results have been much better. According to Bertschin, this is due to “coming in before games to focus on defensive work and set pieces, which gives them confidence in each other”. Hmmm.
Last night, the five at the back were excellent. The ones that stood out for me were right back Liam Marrs and centre half John Egan. Both read the game really well, with Marrs having a great tussle with the much bigger City winger, Jeremy Healen. Egan is not the biggest, but he won the ball in the air regularly and tackled crisply and cleanly; both look genuine prospects.
Ryan Noble worked well on his own and ran selflessly for the team, aided by Craig Lynch and Matthew Fletcher, who, after a few disappointing games, at last looked more like Darren than Norman Stanley.
What will happen to second team football next season? I read an interesting article in the current When Saturday Comes that suggests that there will be a Premier Development League for Under 21s next season. How this will work is not made clear. Will it focus on skills? Will it be competitive? Will supporters be encouraged to attend?
The last point is becoming a contentious one, with Sunderland opting for behind closed doors and/or afternoon kick offs. This season, we have been denied access to a couple of games, plus an FA Youth Cup tie against Chelsea. The semi-final of the Totesport League Cup against Preston is also going to be played at the Academy, so, mindful of the pending court case after Djibril Cisse’s wayward shot, we are not allowed to watch that.
I have seen some good players come through reserve team football. The performance I remember most was that of Paul Scholes in the early 90s. Keith Gillespie was going to be the next great thing as Manchester United Reserves rolled into Roker Park, but Scholes was superb that night and the hardy souls who were there marked him down as a future star.
I also remember Alan Brown leaning over the balcony of the main stand and telling a young Jackie Ashurst that he should be doing a ”better warm up than that, young man”. That’s where Cloughie got his catch phrase from …
A strictly unscientific straw poll among the peer group I stand with at Hetton suggested that we should be capable of scraping together enough points to avoid the drop, that Bruce would not be sacked this season, but that his position may need to be looked at in the summer. No great enthusiasm for chopping and changing and a feeling that, whatever the reasons for them may be, the manager has been hampered by injuries.
I’ll throw that one open to the regulars.
* Read Kevin Phillips’s quotes about us, Birmingham and Saturday here