View from the West Stand: did the tide turn as the Blackpool Seasiders came to Wearside?

Jake: ‘is this called the start of a revival?’

Who’d have thought not long ago that we would be feeling happy with another one all draw? It may not be ideal but at least it represents an improvement on recent results. Pete Sixsmith was off on Santa duties but Malcolm Dawson was in his usual seat. How did he see things? Read on…..

SUNDERLAND 1 BLACKPOOL 1

Jake does his bit for the seat change

The weather first thing seemed promising yesterday but I’ve lived in the North East long enough to know that’s no guarantee that it’ll stay that way. Accuweather may have been telling me it was 10° and I may have gone to school with no coat whatever the weather, but it was on with the thermals before I set off and what a good decision that turned out to be. It was freezing and despite my layers I was never that cold last February when I was in Norway, high above the Arctic circle being taken for a trip on a Reindeer sleigh by members of the Sami community who had decided that cashing in on tourism was probably a more preferable lifestyle than following their herds across the tundra in 22 hours of darkness.

Might have felt at home on Wearside yesterday

Twelve months ago Blackpool was a club in turmoil and many of their supporters were only going to away games. They’re going back to Bloomfield Road again but still had a good turn out yesterday, who out sang the mostly quiet home support for much of the game. The impression I was getting from those of a red and white persuasion, on the Park and Ride and in and around the ground was subdued but not overtly negative. There wasn’t an overwhelming feeling of confidence, but nor was there an air of despondency before kick off. More of a “here we are again, what’s today going to bring?” sort of feeling.

Phil Parkinson decided to stick with five at the back with Flanagan Ozturk and de Bock forming the central three. With O’Nien and Hume as wing backs there was potentially more pace on the flanks than there had been at Gillingham. Power and Dobson were the midfield two with Watmore and Maguire playing off Charlie Wyke, starting for the first time in ages. Wyke is a big, physical hard as nails character who might well have linked up well with Roy Race at Melchester Rovers. Marco Gabbiadini did the half time draw and how we could do with someone who can stick it away like he used to do at the moment.

Is the 70 year old still playing?

Blackpool had a big tall, soft as clarts centre forward in the Cotes d’Ivoire, Frenchman Armand Gnanduillet who was to make significant contributions in contrasting ways throughout the game.

We started off as we so often do, attacking the Roker End and within the first two minutes had won two corners and seen Charlie Wyke head just off target. But as seems to happen quite often having failed to convert an early chance we end up on the back foot when the visitors take the lead immediately afterwards.

From the resultant goal kick Blackpool keeper Jak Alnwick pumped the ball forward to their right wing where de Bock brought down the aforementioned clarty bloke. It was probably a foul (though from where I sit it looked as if de Bock might have actually played the ball around the legs) the linesman flagged and a foul was given. The subsequent rolling around, clutching his ankle was unwarranted, but obviously something the man whose surname reminds me of a particularly unsavoury French sausage, considers a legitimate tactic. We’ll return to that later.

M Salut is known to eat these!

But free kick it was and the ball was sent high into the box, past the outstretched leg of Alim Ozturk beyond the far post. A player in a blue stripy shirt hooked it back in front of goal, clarty French bloke headed towards goal and this time Ozturk headed it out to the edge of the box. From there it was played back out to the Blackpool right, swung back in, cleared by de Bock but only to Matthew Virtue-Thick who curled a lovely shot into the top corner from outside the box. McLaughlin, preferred to Burge for this one had no chance but once again our failure to clear our lines quickly had cost us a goal.

It soon became apparent that we did not have a great official in charge of this game. Both Wyke and Maguire were on the wrong end of some physical manhandling yet nothing was given. Then he would blow for the most innocuous of challenges. Sometimes a push in the back would be penalised then other times an arm around the neck and a judo throw deemed acceptable. If we are going to have poor referees at least let them be consistent please. Add to that linesmen who seemed to lag behind play and then give offside decisions based on guesswork, having failed to spot players getting behind defenders after the ball had been played and even I was getting animated.

We still have a preference for the slow build up and sideways and backward passing, rather than going for the quick attack, but a quick interception from Max Power found Charlie Wyke who tried to backheel it into the path of Watmore on the edge of the box, but it was well defended by an alert Jay Spearing. Watmore had another chance a little later after Hume’s cross made its way to O’Nien on the opposite side. His dink back across goal found Watmore but he was only able to head it over from the edge of the six yard box. McLaughlin made a decent stop from Gnanduillet and the follow up drive across the face of goal pinged harmlessly out to the touchline.

On thirty five minutes we got another corner as Hume again looked for O’Nien. Our first efforts with the dead ball had come to nothing but this time Maguire sent in a hard cross at around knee height and Wyke managed to get ahead of his marker to stick a side foot volley firmly home.

First goal since August

Wyke’s celebration seemed to be more one of relief than ecstasy but at least we were back in the game.

Unlike the Burton game we didn’t immediately concede this time but we nearly did as the ball broke to Husband but with McLaughlin nowhere near his shot hit the big clarty Frenchman on the knee and went wide. He was standing on the goal line and clearly offside but had he been able to get out of the way the goal would probably have been given.

Not long after Watmore and O’Nien linked up. O’Nien was brought down but the referee waved play on, probably correctly, though it was the kind of tackle where despite the player playing the ball, it is often deemed a foul. Anyway it broke to our French friend and George Dobson tried a similar tackle, brought the player down and was rightly penalised and booked. Gnanduillet obviously took exception to this and forgot about falling down and rolling around and grabbed hold of Dobson and gave him a shake. He also got a yellow for that, again probably correctly, though I’ve seen the red card shown for less. Mind you he might have got a second yellow straight away for dissent as he purposefully walked away when the ref was calling him for a talking to. Later he was to get Dobson sent off after our man appeared to win the ball cleanly. The ball bounced into Gnanduillet’s legs and he did his rolling around in agony act. The ref fell for it and produced a second yellow. Dobson couldn’t believe it and several Blackpool players appeared to console him as he made his way to the dugout. This was later in the second half. Wyke had headed against the bar and Grigg only just failed to get a foot on a hard low cross from O’Nien but the stats will show that Blackpool had more shots than us and we only managed two on target all game.

This was a better result but over the entire 90 minutes not a lot better than the Burton game performance wise. It’s easy to let the result cloud one’s judgement but we actually had a decent spell against Burton without making it count. Yesterday there were positive signs but also areas of concern. There seems to be a lack of attacking intent and a passing game that seems more intent on keeping possession than finding ways to threaten the opponent’s goal. There are still too many misplaced passes (Flanagan being especially culpable yesterday) and an inability to clear our defensive areas quickly. No more games until after Christmas and the prospect of a transfer window which may allow Parkinson (or whoever is in charge then) to address some of those issues but at least the home crowd was generally supportive, if subdued yesterday.

The official attendance given out was 30,595. Yeah right! There is a difference between tickets sold and bodies through the gate. To my eyes 23,000 would be nearer the mark as presumably a considerable number of season card holders decided they had better things to do and gave our last match before Christmas a miss. Judging by the atmosphere in the ground yesterday, these might well have been those types who seem to feel that anything other than an easy victory is sufficient to induce acts of aggression – physical and verbal.

Twelve months ago we appeared to be a club in a good place. We had a new triumvirate of owners who appreciated the place a football club holds in the lives of those who show their allegiance to it. They had gone out of their way to reconnect with the fans, on social media and in the flesh. Interaction with supporters on Twitter and in the media, regular attendances at supporters’ group meetings, invitations for fans to join them in the boardroom and turning up in local pubs and in the fan zones pre-match were just some of the ways in which they showed they got what football is all about.

They had also taken a firm stand on those players who had shown no desire to be at the club, installed an enthusiastic young manager and brought in a recruitment policy which brought along a whole load of players who, although limited in ability, were players who could do a job at the level we found ourselves, were happy to be paid League 1 wages but who, most importantly, wanted to be at the club. Things were good in the run up to last Christmas. Despite the fact that his team selections had been hampered by injuries, Jack Ross had seemed to find a system that made us favourites to get out of this division at the first attempt.

Then it started to turn sour. After the Burton game I wrote that I wondered if I wanted to endure many more evenings and afternoons at the Stadium if they were going to be like that. What I perhaps didn’t make crystal clear was that it was the toxic atmosphere created by the boo boys and girls and the negativity I was encountering when going to away games. Wrinkly Pete echoed my feelings and I am in no doubt that whilst not directly responsible for team selection, tactics or performances on the pitch, these vociferous and frankly unpleasant types who vent their spleen at any opportunity, are in danger of destroying the very thing they claim to love.

No more Tweets from Stewart Donald, no more Charlie Methven visiting the Branches or popping into the pub before away games. Apparent discord in the dressing room and an already beleaguered manager, who is probably only there because of the impatient minority who cannot see the bigger picture. As a player, manager, coach or owner, how enthusiastic would you feel if, despite your best efforts, people were gesticulating in your direction and telling you to eff off? Add to this a proliferation of websites, presumably run by these types or possibly Mags, who dominate the News Now Sunderland pages with critical headlines drawn from negative social media types and it all gets into the subconscious and inhibits maximum efficiency.

Hard as it sometimes is the Lads need us behind them.

This wasn’t a great performance yesterday but on the whole the crowd stayed behind the team, without getting too carried away. There were a few half hearted boos at the end, but the majority were in the direction of the referee who had not endeared himself to the home support.

Rant over.

I shan’t be at the Bolton game as I will away for the Christmas period but Peter Sixsmith will be to bring you what may well be the last Salut! Sunderland match report. Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and wishing us all good fortune and success for our club in the future.

Ha’way the Lads

Highlights via safc.com

If there is any copyright claim, not answered by “fair use”, on the images used in this report please let us know and we will acknowledge or remove as requested

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View from the West Stand: Burton Brewers leave Sunderland fans with bitter taste

    Jake: The darkest of dark days. Martin Harvey RIP.

Burton Albion came to Wearside knowing that they had never lost there and left with that record intact. The result left the home side in their lowest ever position since joining the Football League in 1890, after a performance which was as grim as the weather.

The phrase “gone for a Burton” is thought to have originated in WW2 when the euphemism was used to explain the non appearance of RAF pilots after skirmishes during the Battle of Britain. Burton Ales were popular at the time and rather than report that a pilot was missing in action or had been shot down it was suggested that they had popped out for a pint.  It was SAFC that went for a Burton last night.

Marmite is a byproduct of the brewing industry and is also produced in Burton on Trent. It might be said that Jack Ross was a marmite manager, liked by some, loathed by others and earlier in the season it was those who found him distasteful who got their way. So how might we describe Phil Parkinson in terms of  stuff to spread on our breakfast toast? Not Gentleman’s Relish it would seem, if the dissenting voices in the Roker End are anything to go by. 

Malcolm Dawson and Pete Sixsmith were both there, suffering with the rest and with them sharing the responsibility for reporting on home games this season, it is Malcolm who drew the short straw and is forced to recall the events of last night over his scrambled eggs.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

ENOUGH TO DRIVE A MAN TO DRINK

Well let’s start with the positives:

It didn’t rain.

The queue for the park and ride was non existent.

I was back in my car just after 10 o’clock.

I was having a cup of tea with my sister in law in Houghton just 35 minutes after the full time whistle and the dog was pleased to see me.

Ten years ago Sunderland, managed by Roy Keane were a Premier League club and Burton were in what was then known as the Conference. Last night those of us unfortunate enough to be there saw two League One clubs (and let’s face it not even very good ones) playing in a Premier League Stadium.

Twenty years ago I was living in a small rural, former mining village, not that far from Burton on Trent, regularly making the 380 mile round trip on a Tuesday night to the Stadium of Light, to see a team with the likes of Niall Quinn, Kevin Phillips, Eric Roy and Stephan Schwartz finish 7th in the highest division of English football. Now and then when Sunderland didn’t have a game, I would occasionally go to Burton’s crumbling ground at Eton Park, to see them in the Dr Marten’s League face the might of such teams as Ilkeston, Atherstone United or Rothwell Town. How times have changed.

Eton Park

Last night the teams met on equal terms, but only a handful of Burton fans made that journey to see a Sunderland team with the likes of Conor McLaughlin, Will Grigg, Joel Lynch and Chris Maguire drop to 11th place in what many of us still like to think of as the Third Division.

Meanwhile I have moved to a small rural, former mining village somewhat closer to the Stadium of Light and am left wondering why I bother to make a round trip of less than 40 miles.

Make no mistake, it’s not the fact that the club finds itself in the lowest league position in its history and has gone out of the FA Cup in the first round for the first time ever since the Football League was extended and teams in the top divisions were excluded from the early rounds. No it’s the fact that I’m not sure I want to endure any more afternoons or evenings like last night.

So to the football. It was not good last night – there’s no getting away from it. The team performance was not good enough to take the three points from a club that is hardly setting this division alight.

With Conor McLaughlin back from suspension, it allowed Luke O’Nien to play in his more favoured midfield role, just behind the lone striker and ahead of Leadbitter and Power. Watmore replaced Maguire on the right and not only injected more pace into the team but was also more disciplined in his positioning, giving us more width down that flank. Both Maguire and McGeady look to drift inside as soon as they can and not only does this make us play too narrow and easier to defend but ends up pushing Will Grigg who, reputation would have it, is a proven goalscorer, away from the predator’s natural habitat in front of goal. I have been patient with Grigg, pointing to a lack of service, but to be honest Josh Maja, frequently also had to cope with little in the way of quality balls but somehow developed the knack of making space and finding the net. Whatever confidence Grigg brought with him from Wigan has surely gone now. Many are calling for Kimpioka to start and they may be right but my feeling is that he isn’t the answer to our problems and a run in the team may actually knock his confidence. Still I thought that about Maja as well before he proved to be a goal machine.

Is Benji ready to fill that striker spot?

I have noticed a change in the pre-match warm up since PP has replaced JR and while the starting XI still indulge in a bit of small sided two touch possession passing drills, they do it in a marked area which is roughly ten yards square, rather than a much smaller two by two and they are bringing this into games. Under Ross we would often see two or three players, almost on top of each other tippy tapping the ball between them in tight situations, allowing opponents to get close. This has the advantage of creating more space away from the ball but more often than not resulted in our conceding possession. Now the players appear to be trying to make more medium length passes of six to twelve yards. This has the advantage of making opponents space out but unfortunately many of our players don’t appear to have the ability to make these kinds of passes with sufficient accuracy. Combine this with a lack of understanding as to where passes will go and we are conceding possession far too easily.

Coventry’s goal on Saturday came after a woeful back pass from Maguire put Burge under pressure and the keeper did well only to concede a corner. But that needless corner resulted in the Sky Blue’s opener. That had come after several other poor passes, often just outside our own penalty area, Leadbitter and Hume being especially culpable in those early stages. Leadbitter was at it again last night but he was by no means alone.

One incident in the second half summed it up for me. Joel Lynch, in space and with time, air kicked at a ball that was no more than a foot away from him, then tried to recover by playing the ball to Jordan Willis, but his pass was woefully short and it was easily intercepted as Burton bore down on goal. Lynch to his credit, got back and put in a saving tackle but a side more clinical than Burton, would have got a third. In fact on at least two occasions I remarked that the Burton forwards looked as poor as ours.

Kenny Lynch might be able to help Joel with his footwork.

But it started so well! Though we were by no means dominating the game we weren’t second best either in the early stages. A good cross field run from Watmore saw him pass for once and send the ball out wide left. It reached Aiden McGeady who played the ball into the box where O’Nien had his heel clipped and the ref pointed to the spot. The lad that sits next to me couldn’t look, recalling McGeady’s previous effort which had been one of the worst penalties I’d ever seen. No such problems this time as he spurned the fancy stuff to drive it hard and low into the bottom left hand corner as O’Hara moved in the opposite direction. One – nil and with the players celebrating my neighbour decided it was safe to dispose of some pre-match lager. When he got back to his seat he had missed seeing two goals as the visitors were back on level terms after less than thirty seconds of actual play.

A throw on their right was moved quickly and accurately and a neat back heeled flick from Boyce found Wallace in space inside the box. He side footed firmly towards goal and though Burge did well to get two hands on it, could only palm it out to Edwards who had got in front of Denver Hume and he had the easiest of tasks to stick it away with a simple header.

When we weren’t misplacing medium length passes we were trying the route one approach which was equally inaccurate and kept the ball boys busy. The Brewers on the other hand, whilst hardly world beaters were at least able to pass the ball to players in the same colour shirts and created a decent chance when Boyce was put into the box. The Burton fans will probably think he should have done better with his left foot effort, while we can credit Burge with another decent save which this time was cleared to safety.

In one of our better moves, Hume who had been trying to run at defenders all half, carried the ball infield and slipped it through to O’Nien who had a decent enough effort but one which O’Hara was able to turn round the post with a diving save to add to his DvD CV.

It doesn’t take much to knock the stuffing out of the side at the moment and for the most part we huffed and puffed our way to half time with those around me increasingly frustrated. There were a few boos from the south end of the ground as the sides walked off for their half time energy drinks and hair dryer avoidance tactics, though this manager does not appear to be that animated, so maybe they just settled for the Lucozade or Carabao.

Luke O’Nien – a bright spark on a grey evening

On around about 48 minutes the Roker End decided to get behind the team and for the next quarter of an hour or so were as vocal and supportive as I’ve heard for a while. It was during this air of positivity that we were at our best (though that’s not saying much) and took the game to Burton without ever really looking like regaining the lead, although at one point McGeady teed up McLaughlin whose powerful drive just cleared the crossbar instead of breaking the net bringing back memories of Chris Makin. Then Hume and McGeady combined down the left hand side and the Scottish Irishman whipped in a cross from the by line which found O’Nien but his bouncing shot was easily collected by O’Hara at the second attempt after taking the pace off it.

With the crowd starting to quieten down again it was inevitable that we would concede a second as Burton took control. They had broken and found space a number of times, often as a result of our players’ inability to keep possession and eventually they were able to finish off a move and finish off our hopes of a win. That it was such a soft goal, lacking in any sort of defensive challenge was too much for the home fans. The ball was collected by the Burton left back who played a simple ball to Scott Fraser, just inside the centre circle in his own half of the pitch. Fraser ran unchallenged all the way into our box with no red and white shirt ever getting within a yard of him. A simple ball across the face of goal and the onrushing and unmarked Liam Boyce had the simplest of finishes and the boos started.

It wasn’t just the goal that created the unrest. It was such an easy goal of the sort we seem to have forgotten how to create ourselves that summed up the way the side is performing at the moment. When the ball went past Burge there were more yellow shirts around Boyce. Far too often we just fail to create meaningful opportunities from decent positions. Far too often, we try hopeful long balls that come to nothing. Far too often we make things easy for opponents. The visitors continued to find space and create chances, one long range effort rattling the cross bar with Burge beaten and if anyone was going to score again it would be them.

And so another miserable night wound down. I was getting frustrated in my own quiet way. Others were more vocal. Singing “sacked in the morning” and booing the team off the field may be a way of showing dissatisfaction but it’s not going to get us out of this mess. It will, if anything have the opposite effect.

Twelve months ago we had an owner, a manager and players who wanted to be here. People who were looking to get the club out of the mess it had found itself in and who wanted to give something back to the fans. We had an opportunity then to build on what we had – excellent facilities and a large and passionate fan base. Unfortunately some of that passion is expressed in less than helpful ways. I’ll not forget the way some in the Sunderland end have berated our players in angry and aggressive ways at places like Fleetwood and Accrington. We saw at the beginning of last season how far owners, management and players would go to develop the relationship with supporters. Even last night Max Power and Chris Maguire found time between the warm up and kick off to pose for selfies with young fans but there seem to be too many who were too quick to seize the opportunity to do the club down.

These people may purport to care about the club but the way they show their passion can only in my view, end with the complete opposite result to that which they crave. Twelve months ago playing in front of 30,000 at the SoL must have seemed like a dream to many players. Playing in the toxic atmosphere that hung around the ground after that second goal went in will hardly inspire any player or manager to want to come here. Stewart Donald must be beginning to wonder if his effort and investment is worth it in the face of such ingratitude. How attractive will potential investors see the club now? As a going concern with the potential for success or as a source of asset stripping after running down the playing side of things?

Once again we see and hear their simplistic solutions. Sack the board, change the manager, get rid of the players and bring in the names that the press bandy about, whether or not those names are open to a move to Sunderland. I’m not saying fans are to blame for our current predicament but I don’t think a section of them are helping or doing themselves any favours. At the root of the problem is this notion that we are a “big club”. We may be in terms of facilities and the amount of people that come through the turnstiles but we are hardly a successful club in modern times.

Six times we have finished as the top club in English football.

The last Sunderland captain to lift the League Trophy

Five of those times were more than a century ago. The last time was 84 seasons ago and we won the Cup for the first time the following season. The only other occasion the FA Cup was brought back to Wearside was 47 seasons ago. It’s going to be a long time before we get back to those heights. It’s not impossible but it will need time and patience, qualities which some amongst the Sunderland fanbase seem to lack. Just 11 years ago Leicester City were relegated to the third tier and nine years later won the Premier League and are currently sitting second in the top flight. It didn’t happen overnight and their fans are loving it.

Now I’ve got that off my chest I need to reiterate that the way we are playing at the moment is nowhere near good enough to take us on a similar journey. There are plenty of reasons other than negativity in the stands, in the pubs, on the internet and in the press which have brought us to this nadir. We can look at tactics, individual players, recruitment and a whole host of other issues.What is clear is that just now we are simply not good enough to get out of this division and I’m not looking forward to my next game. I’ll still be there though.

Ha’way the lads!

Highlights if you really want to watch them via safc.com

If there is any copyright claim, not answered by “fair use”, on the images used in this report please let us know and we will acknowledge or remove as requested

As readers know, we have been unable to publish comments for some weeks and this seems likely to remain unresolved as we wind down the site (which will remain visible until the hosting period, already paid for, expires).

Each post we publish allows a solitary response, which does not appear but can be seen by Salut! Sunderland’s editors behind the scenes. Afterwards, anyone hoping to comment is prevented from doing so and sees an automatic message about a ‘critical error’ on the site. Phil Davison’s was that single response to this article. It read simply: ‘Malcolm and Pete. I will miss the voices of reason regarding SAFC’.

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Sixer’s Coventry Soapbox: grey skies as the Sky Blues come to town

Jake asks: ”did that late goal paper over even the smallest of cracks?

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Malcolm Dawson writes…..on this day 12 months ago we travelled to Walsall full of optimism. Since the stewardship of the club had been handed over to new owners things were starting to look up. A new manager and a good set of results saw us undefeated at the Stadium of Light, starting with a victory over the Championship Champions Wolves, whilst the trip to the Midlands was on the back of four successive away wins. The way the new regime had reconnected with the supporters, their handling of highly paid non players, as well as good performances on the field from a group of players who clearly wanted to be at the club and it seemed the whole of Wearside and Sunderland supporting enclaves further afield was in good spirits. Fast forward 12 months and the mood has changed dramatically.

That game was the one where Max Power was sent off. Though the red card was subsequently rescinded, supporting the views of many of us at the time that the ref had got it wrong, there were plenty of Twitterers and other social media users who immediately took to the ether, demanding the sacking of Power and allowing their inherent negativity to start to take effect. Now I know that fans don’t pick the team, decide on the tactics nor go out onto the greensward in search of three points but I still believe that the mood they bring to proceedings can have an influence on the state of mind of the players, the manager and everyone else involved with the club.

It wasn’t long before Twitter, Facebook and those websites like The Boot Room and Transfer Tavern who seek readership by delighting in negative headlines and reposting simplistic comments from social media started to eat into that positivity. Negativity is pernicious and a vocal minority will have a greater effect than a largely silent majority who are satisfied with or at least realistic about things. When the GB cycling team were beating all before them they spoke about “the maximisation of marginals” and players, management and owners are people with feelings and it is my belief that undermining their self belief, even by only a tiny amount will impact upon the team’s performance.

The fact Stewart Donald has closed his Twitter account, has only rarely been seen recently at the Stadium and seems to have given up on socialising with the fans is one clue. The comment Jack Ross made when he described how, whilst signing autographs for a group of youngsters, a middle aged man had walked past telling him to “eff off back to Scotland” is equally illuminating. Well that man got his wish and how well that is working out eh?

Starting with that Wolves game, if my maths is correct, we have played 31 league games at the SoL and only lost once, yet yesterday the mood was sombre around me. Some disappointing results away from home and in cup games, but more so the way the team has played in those games, has done nothing to lift the mood. There are some who get angry and others like me who just seem resigned to the fact we are looking at a lengthy spell in this division. But like Pete Sixsmith I sense little optimism on Wearside at the moment and the mood around me yesterday was as grey and miserable as the weather. Coventry are the only team to pick up all three points on our home ground since that win over Wolves and they almost did so again yesterday. The home crowd were mostly relieved, rather than elated, when we salvaged something late on. 

Still somewhere between The Dance of the Knights and that rubbishy techno trash that the players walk out to, a peregrine falcon flew twice around the stadium in search of an ailing pigeon. It might have had more chance of finding a dead duck. Over to Pete.

THE END IS NIGH…….

When I made it clear to the powers that be that I was retiring from my teaching job, there was a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I told the head (decent bloke) that I would not be attending any more out of hours meetings, and became more relaxed in the classroom, allowing the students a little more leeway than in the past being less of the martinet and more of the benevolent old uncle who indulges his wayward nephews and nieces.

That is how it feels with regard to writing for Salut! Sunderland. It has been an experience which I have enjoyed immensely over the years even if what I have had to write about has in the main, been similar to being in a locked room with Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Prince Andrew without a pair of ear plugs.

I have ranted and raved over some of the performances, managers, players and owners, none of it to any effect. Some may say that it is the mellowing that comes when one realises that the years left are diminishing and that although one may rage against the passing of the light an association football match is not that important in the grand scheme of things.

A few years ago, a performance as insipid and stumbling as this one would have had me apoplectic with rage with steam coming out of my ears and my face turning purple a la crusty retired colonels/schoolteachers in The Dandy or Beano. The succession of misplaced passes, long balls hoofed up field for the lone forward to pointlessly chase and the complete lack of any creativity and oomph in midfield would have had me raging from my seat and cursing all the way back to Sixsmith Towers where the dogs would be kicked, the servants roundly abused and the brandy and soda quaffed all night.

It’s not that I don’t care anymore – as I write this, I have a heavy heart – it’s just that I feel that I have become immune to the events that unfold at the football club that I have followed since Monsieur Salut and I boarded the train at Shildon station in 1963.

I think most are agreed that automatic promotion is about as likely as Lord Buckethead forming the new government on December 13. In order to do that, we would have to win nearly all of our remaining games to catch those giants of football, Wycombe Wanderers, and join that group of long established “proper” football clubs – Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Stoke City – which currently languish in the Championship.

We could sneak into the playoffs should the manager be able to bring in the players he feels he needs in January. From what I have seen, that will be big men who get the ball forward quickly (a euphemism for lumping it forward) to a big, strong centre forward who will hold it up so that strong, mobile midfielders will support him. Throw in a couple of speedy wingers who will feed aforementioned centre forward with tempting crosses that can be headed in and all of a sudden, automatic promotion is back on the agenda.

However, we don’t have any speedy wingers who can plant a ball on a centre forward’s head. We have Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady, both of whom served us extremely well last year and both of whom are struggling to have any influence this year.

McGeady had one moment in the second half where he shuffled along the field and unleashed a venomous shot that Coventry keeper Marko Marosi did well to save. Other than that, the visitors kept him quiet. The McGeady of last season appears to have, er, disappeared…..

Maguire’s main contribution was to play a significant role in Coventry’s goal. An underhit back pass to Burge was intercepted by the impressive Amadou Bakayoko (a man who has spells at Southport and AFC Telford on his CV) and although his shot was put behind for a corner, poor marking and a spot of head tennis allowed Dom Hyam to open the scoring with a firm header. Other than that, the man who was so confident last season and who won us a number of games was anonymous and could easily have been replaced at half time.

George Honeyman – we miss his energy

It looked as if we were playing a 4-1-2-2-1 formation, with both full backs urged to focus on defensive duties rather than pushing forward. The fact that they were, in O’Nien and Hume, two of our sharpest players meant that the other, older, more ponderous midfielders were expected to inject pace and accuracy into the game. They didn’t.

Grant Leadbitter sat in front of the back four in order to tidy up. There was a lot of it to do in the opening 30 minutes as Joel Lynch had a shocker until he got his head right and put in a good 60 minutes – although we were a goal down by this stage. Without Jordan Willis we would have been down and out. He made at least four timely interceptions/blocks and looks to be by far the best of the summer incomings. Hopefully the injury that caused him to limp off is not serious.

Poor Grant struggled but at least we can point to his relative antiquity. Not so for Max Power or George Dobson who were collectively dreadful. They brought little energy to the team and consistently failed to support Will Grigg. The energy and general bustle of George Honeyman is sadly missed and I hope the keyboard warriors who played a part in forcing him out will be feeling suitably ashamed of themselves. Fat chance.

As for Grigg, I thought he did as well as he has all season. He is a player who thrives on the ball getting to him in the box which is where he scores the vast majority of his goals. Asking him to chase long balls is like asking Michael Gove to stop interrupting interviewers or (in the interests of political balance) pinning Jeremy Corbyn down on his Brexit intentions – it ain’t gonna happen.

There was one situation in the second half that summed it all up. A long clearance from Burge was won in the air by Grigg, who then got round the defender and chested the ball down with his back to goal. He looked up for midfield support only to see the three of them ambling forward. He must have had his Peter Glaze moment then and wondered why he bothered.

The changes made some impression. Duncan Watmore ran at tiring defenders and kept a well organised City on the back foot. Benjy Kimpioka notched the equaliser partly as a result of Coventry defending a cross as badly as we had an hour earlier. He’s an enigma. Whether he is also, to quote Churchill a riddle wrapped up in a mystery, remains to be seen. At the moment, he is a useful man to bring on rather than start with.

Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka

There are already calls for the owners, manager, players and tea ladies to go. Where to and who would replace them is never mentioned. We are where we are, a team that looks as if it is 10th in the league. There is only one relegation place available and we should avoid that as comfortably as we should avoid the automatic promotion places. Play offs it is then unless Phil Parkinson can conjure up a second half of the season akin to that of Roy Keane in 2007. Is Carlos Edwards available?

Coventry impressed me. They may be nomads at the moment but they have a manager who is clearly comfortable at this level. The worry for them is that they ran out of steam towards the end. I did feel that one goal was insufficient for them. I do get some things right.

Burton Albion come calling on Tuesday so we shall see if the management team have yet another rethink about the personnel and formation.

They must realise that Luke O’Nien is wasted at full back and that we need to inject some pace when we go forward. Mind, Luke needs to curb his temper. He had a couple of spats with Brandon Mason which a poorer referee than the excellent Scott Oldham might have looked upon in a less sensible light. Keep an eye out for this ref in the Premier League in the not too distant future. I saw him at Darlington v Walsall on Wednesday night and he impressed then with his cool and sensible approach.

We keep on going more out of habit than anything else. A third season at this level looks more likely now and should we lose to a Burton team who are undefeated at the Stadium, the mood will undoubtedly turn against manager, players and owners.

To quote Walter Gabriel, the great philosopher of Ambridge: “Oh dear, Oh Lord Oh Dear. What a roight mess we are in, eh, Tom Forrest?”

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View from the CW Stand: U23s well beaten by Reading

Jake does his bit for the seat change

SAFC U23s 0 Reading U23s 4

I would expect professional football coaches to have a greater insight into the ability and potential of the players they work with on a day to day basis than I do, but when watching the U23s even an amateur like me can get an inkling of which young players might make it in the game.

I don’t get to watch as much football as Pete Sixsmith (few do) but in the past few years I have identified Lynden Gooch, Jordan Pickford, Ethan Robson, Josh Maja, Joel Osoro, Denver Hume and Max Stryjek as those most likely to, from watching them play at U21 or U23 level. There have also been a few that I couldn’t see cutting the mustard, whose blushes I will spare in the unlikely event that they visit the site.

The current crop of Academy players were on show yesterday as the U23s took on Reading at the Eppleton CW ground in what is known as Premier League 2. They haven’t had it easy this season with several of their more experienced players out on loan and there was more disappointment after a 4-0 home defeat. Myself, Peter and the Hetton Irregulars who had turned out in force, all deemed this to be a game of men against boys. Literally in fact, as the visitors appeared to be both physically stronger and at least a couple of years older, player for player.

Bali Mumba might get some minutes tomorrow

Bali Mumba, who has been playing at full back recently, started on the right of midfield but was subbed at half time, presumably because he is in line for some sort of involvement in the What’sname Cup tomorrow evening. It’s easy to forget just how young Bali is and he could just as easily have been playing for the U18s against Middlesbrough if they hadn’t been kicking off at the same time.

Ruben Sammut is another who should make the step up to first team action at some point, though he was unusually quiet yesterday. The third player I fancy to make the breakthrough is Williams Kokolo – left back yesterday but also used as a left winger on occasions.

One player I’d be very surprised to see playing for the big boys any time soon is keeper Ahmed Abdelkader. I’ve seen him a few times in friendlies and cup games and whilst he has made a few reasonable saves has too often appeared indecisive and doesn’t command his area. With Lee Burge injured and James Patterson bench warming for the first XI this was the Algerian’s first start in PL2 and I expect it will live long in his memory, but which was also a performance he will wish to forget.

Whilst we held our own for the first 20 minutes or so, the visitors outplayed our boys in virtually every department and anyone keeping match stats would probably have awarded Reading 80% of possession and plenty of efforts on goal as opposed to Cieran Dunne’s solitary effort for us, which rebounded off the side of the house outside the Bog Row end of the ground and set the dog off barking. It’s been quiet of late so it was just like old times.

The visitors took the lead when 21 year old Irishman Josh Barrett fired home from the edge of the box, whilst Abdelkader stood and watched it go between him and the post. Even though he was only a yard or two in from the post he obviously thought it was going wide, making no effort to reach the shot and looking for all the world like the last kid to be picked in the playground before being told to go between the coats, when what he really wanted to do was play centre forward. I’m sure Pete, who was standing behind whilst I was in the posh seats, was replaying the scene from Kes, where Brian Glover fantasises that he is Bobby Charlton, whilst Billy Casper swings upside down on the cross bar.

Ahmed Abdelkader taking his inspiration from Ken Loach

Think of Chris Maguire’s goal against Tranmere when the goalkeeper was rooted to the spot and this was nothing like that. It was simply a huge error of judgement from an inexperienced player, who will either learn from his mistake or be consigned to the scrapheap that is French non league football.

It was only 1-0 at half time but the men in black were asserting their dominance and it was no surprise when they doubled the lead shortly into the second half when 22 year old Englishmen Tyler Frost kept his cool after a break down the left to slot home under the body of the diving Abdelkader.

Not long after that the French Algerian must have decide he’d had enough. Reading again broke down the left and he rushed out of his goal to dive at the feet of the onrushing forward to claim the ball. Unfortunately for him when he got his hand to the ball he had slid outside the penalty area and got himself a red card for his efforts. Another example of poor spatial awareness and plenty for our new goalkeeping coach to look at then delegate his improvement programme to someone else.

Despite the fact the infringement took place to the right of the area, about 10 yards from the goal line, referee Mr Swallow allowed the free kick to be taken from the edge of the D giving a much better angle for the visitors. Fortunately the effort was way off target otherwise I might have been telling Mr Swallow where he could migrate to.

Patterson was brought on to face the kick, but the young Biscuitmen pressed home their dominance and he also conceded two goals in the half hour or so he was between the sticks. The first was good header by 18 year old Frenchman Michael Olise after a decent cross from full back Teddy Howe, before Tyler Frost sent more shivers through the home defence, firing home from distance with around 10 minutes left and presumably making Phil Parkinson and his team pray for the continuing health of Jon McLaughlin.

As ever it was a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday lunchtime. The majority of the Reading side have first team squad numbers and most of them have played a few times for the senior side, unlike our own boys and the difference in experience was clear. We shall expect the same tomorrow when our mix of experienced professionals and fringe squad members take on the Leicester City U21s.

Sixer’s Southend Soapbox: no points for Sol from the SoL

Malcolm Dawson writes……the bus from the business park off Wessington Way to the ground was packed yesterday but there was no buzz of conversation or air of excitement pre-match. Whether this is a reflection of the type of supporter who elects to use the park and ride, rather than sink a few in the hostelry of choice I wouldn’t like to say but it strikes me as a little odd that a bus load of mainly home fans, who witnessed a 5-0 victory the last time they made the trip to the SoL and who had only witnessed one home defeat in the previous thirty one league games were so subdued, though I confess I felt much he same.

The atmosphere outside the ground was not alive with anticipation either and even at 2.40 there were no long queues at the turnstiles, yet I had to stand in line for twenty minutes to get a ticket for next week’s cup tie and there were still more than 30,000 inside. In fact the only bit of the kind of banter I expect before a Sunderland game, came as I walked from the ticket office to the ground where a young lad (he’d have been about 20) complained to me that his mates who would have been about 40, (so maybe one was his dad) were calling him Harry Potter because he had started wearing specs. He should know better than to look to a man in a red and white scarf for sympathy. “Don’t take it,” I replied “turn them into frogs” at which point his mates creased up and he learned the lesson that you need a thick skin to be a Sunderland supporter.

Our technical difficulties mean that for some reason the first comment posted after an article seems to be accepted before disappearing into the ether and blocking others from adding their two pennorth. Yesterday we came up against the team that would have been rock bottom had Bolton not had all those points deducted so a win was expected and the team delivered. You can see what Chris Boyle (aka CSB) thought of it here as he tried to comment at the end of Sixer’s Sevens. You can find out what the man himself thought of the game by reading on.

SHRIMPERS SEEN OFF BY YOUNG GUNS.

“Oh well, at least it hasn’t rained” was the underwhelming assessment of this uninspiring win over a team who look destined for the basement league next season. It came from my brother, spending three weeks in the British Isles (two in Ireland, one in Little Britain) before he returns to Thessaloniki, where he has lived since 1997.

He times his visits to the North East to coincide with a home game. In the past he has seen the likes of Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea – the one where Eden Hazard delivered a master class a few years ago- but never the likes of Southend United. Trying to explain where Southend was to Veta, his Greek wife was a severe test of our geographical and linguistic skills.

The last time he was here, in November 2016, we beat Hull City 3-0 as we dared to hope that David Moyes could get us out of the quagmire at the bottom of the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored that day and Victor Anichebe fired a double in the second half as we strung back to back wins together for the only time that season.

Now, instead of such Wearside legends as Papy Djilobodji, Didier Ndong and Billy Jones, we have Joel Lynch, Max Power and Conor McLaughlin, all three honest and committed players (as was Jones) but all a long way from the quality that we had for a few years in the Keane, Bruce, O’Neill, Poyet period of our history.

At this level, we need commitment and energy and a touch of class to make us stand out.

What we got against a side who have managed but a single league victory all season, was a performance that could be deemed no more than adequate and made Phil wonder whether an afternoon in The Bridges and The National Glass Centre with Veta might have been more productive and enjoyable.

National Glass Centre

So, five games into the new manager’s term of office and with the prospect of the riches of Croesus to spend in January (relatively speaking), where do we stand and what can we see in his team pattern and selections?

He likes his full backs to get forward, hence the selection of McLaughlin (C) and Hume. Both had good games, with Young Denver turning in a sparkling opening half hour until Southend worked out how to stop his foraging into danger areas.

The cross that the Northumberland born wing back put in for the goal was a cracker and the one that Will Grigg headed on to the post was almost as good. He foraged down the left-hand side to great effect and is one very good reason for using a tranche of the U.S. investment to maintain and improve the academy. Home grown players like him, Lynden Gooch, Elliot Embleton, Bali Mumba and Ethan Robson are important for the future of the club. We are finding it difficult at Under 23 and Under 19 level at the moment – let’s hope for an upturn in the next two years.

Both McLaughlins were competent on their re-calls although (J) seemed to be a little less comfortable than he was last season. He had little to do but one excellent punch out in the 93rd minute, as Southend filled the box for a “Hail Mary” free kick, wrapped up the points for us.

We played a 4-2-3-1 formation, not quite a Christmas Tree (plenty on sale now – I expect to see the first one up on the paper round this week) but one that gives us options. The donkey work is done by the 2 and Parkinson has handed the opportunity to Max Power and George Dobson to claim those roles above Leadbitter and McGeouch.

Both performed as expected. Captain Power, resplendent in his orange boots, took the responsibility of moving the ball forward and his young, fresh faced subaltern did the hard yards in tracking back and winning the ball. Aesthetically, the former Walsall man is not pleasing to watch (he has a rather ugly running style) but he gets there and he tackles well. He fits into Parkinson’s game plan well and should improve.

Power has matured as skipper. There was an occasion in the second half when he was lining up a shot and McGeady took it off his foot. Twelve months ago, he would have been enraged. Here, he bit his tongue and applauded the mercurial Irishmen as he had forced a good save out of the Shrimpers keeper.

Two of the three that played in front of George and Max were not so impressive. Both Maguire and McGeady try too hard to bring that extra bit of special to the team, which I presume is what Parkinson wants from them. Both can do it, but not to order and both were disappointing, with Maguire being the winner of the Most Disappointing of the Midfield Three competition.

He works hard enough but got himself tangled up a few times and seemed determined to relive that glorious goal of twelve months ago when he finished off Southend. It just didn’t work for him in this one and he knew that he had not performed particularly well when he was replaced by a much sharper Duncan Watmore midway through the second half.

McGeady also tries to bring off the spectacular and on his day is a threat to any opponent. Like Maguire, it didn’t quite work for him and he almost played himself into trouble on a number of occasions in the later stages of the game. Like Maguire, when it comes off, it’s spectacular but maybe in the latter stages of his illustrious career, it just doesn’t come off as much as it used to.

That leaves the club icon and testimony to the club recruitment policy, Luke O’Nien.

His enthusiasm and ability to play at full back and further up the field is keeping us afloat at the moment and there will surely be clubs further up the pyramid monitoring his progress on a regular basis. Here, he took his goal well, converting a splendid cross from Hume (another one whose radar blip will be increasing in size) with a fine diving header. He defends well, picks the ball up and runs with it, tackles, harries and scores goals. Whether his future is in midfield or at full back remains to be seen, but he has a future and hopefully it will be a Wearside one.

And that brings us to Will Grigg. Like many before him, he has not made a great impression in his time at the club and the goals we hoped for have been like a shower in a cheap hotel – the water comes through in dribs and drabs rather than in a flow. It could be a good shower but it just doesn’t work properly so nobody gets much benefit from it.

There were a couple of flashes here – a decent header from a a Hume cross and he started a move with a ball to McLaughlin(C) which led to another header that just whizzed over the top. Parkinson will have to persevere with him while Wyke is injured. McNulty looks like a half hour man and there is nobody else to call up.

As far as games go, it was as dull and dreary as anything I have seen over the last few seasons. The opposition were limited and, apart from one early chance, never looked like scoring. Sol Campbell has organised them, but we struggled to break down a team who have conceded an average of 2.75 goals per game and who have taken one point from the last fifteen available.

The evening in Durham was an improvement on the afternoon in Sunderland. A fine fish and chip tea in Bell’s Restaurant in the Market Place was followed by a most enjoyable evening in the company of Show of Hands, Miranda Sykes and Cormac Byrne at the Gala Theatre.

Show of Hands

When we left it was raining, but the brother was still on a high and hardly noticed it.

Had it been so after the game, he would have justifiably complained all the way home- to Thessaloniki, not Shildon.

Highlights for those in the UK via safc.com

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View from the West Stand: That’s more like it as Cats put five past Tranmere

Apologies all for the ongoing site difficulties which M. Salut is trying to correct with little or no help from the hosts to whom he pays a substantial fee. I had thought that these were sorted but on my laptop at least, I am unable to either post or read comments.  I have copied and pasted a comment already received from Dave at the foot of the article.

In the meantime, you can always have your say on anything that appears here, or for that matter any SAFC topics which do not, at Salut! Sunderland’s Facebook group. Click on any of the preceding four words. If you are told that you need to join the group, you can do so easily. Approval is very quick.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

Pete Sixsmith, enjoyed his mini break in the country formerly known as the Czech Republic, spending the weekend drinking beer and watching football, but was back in time for last night’s comprehensive victory at the Stadium of Light. He took up his normal seat in the East Stand but we are sharing reporting duties between us this year, with Bob Chapman our third contributor for those games neither of us gets to. So with Pete up and about taking the latest tabloid gossip to the good folk of Shildon before making good use of his bus pass, it is my turn to dust down the old soapbox with thoughts on the 5-0 drubbing of Tranmere Rovers.

Read moreView from the West Stand: That’s more like it as Cats put five past Tranmere

Parkinson’s lore: Pete Sixsmith welcomes another new manager

Malcolm Dawson writes…….As I was tucking into my porridge and blueberries this morning, I received an e-mail from Pete Sixsmith with the title “Parkinson” so assumed that the club had confirmed we had a new manager in place. I then went to the News Now webpage to find these headlines:

10:06  SAFC Official website: SAFC appoint Phil Parkinson

10:10  Chronicle Live: Is Jack Ross still available? – Sunderland fans react to Phil Parkinson appointment

It doesn’t take long for those who think they know best to respond on social media and I suppose there will always be some who have a totally negative outlook on life, but I get increasingly frustrated by so called news sites which seem to think people’s Tweets are newsworthy. How many of these people who already have the knives out for the new boss and the owner thought that Martin O’Neill would bring us success because he was a Sunderland fan as a boy, or that Nigel Clough would rocket us into the Premier League because his dad won the European Cup and he was born in what was then the town of Sunderland?

If I am starting to get disillusioned with the club under Stewart Donald’s tenure it is not because we failed to get promotion, it is not because we have been going to places like Accrington, Fleetwood or Rochdale which are proper clubs with devoted supporters. Nor is it because we drew 19 games last season but because of a minority of loud, very vocal and not very pleasant band of followers (I refuse to refer to them as supporters) who seem to enjoy putting the club down at every opportunity, venting their spleen at players who give of their best (even unused substitutes) when we don’t win by a massive margin, or take to social media at the earliest opportunity to show their ability in the use of four letter words, occasionally adding the letter E to one just for variety.

Will the new man get us promoted? I’ve no idea. 

Will he do a better job than Jack Ross? Time will tell.

Will I enjoy watching the side more than I did under the last man? I’ll wait and see.

What I won’t do is jump to conclusions before he’s even had PP printed onto his training gear – oh and I’ll continue to be a supporter.

Now what you’ve really come here to read ……..Sixer’s reaction to the latest manager to take on the Wearside hot seat.

Sixer by Jake

PARKY TAKES THE HOT SEAT.

It’s 140 years to the day since James Allan and a group of friends and colleagues met in The Norfolk Hotel to found what would become Sunderland AFC.

In those dim and distant days when the majority of the city’s population worked in shipyards, coal mines or heavy engineering and lived in the tightly packed terraces that led down to the banks of the River Wear (and later, to the shores of Sicileeee), I imagine there were broadsheets being printed where dissenting supporters accused Allan of setting the club up so he could sell it at a profit to Hiram B, Shackernacker from Poughkeepsie, New York while simultaneously lambasting Mr. Ross, the Maths teacher from Hudson Road School, for “stealing a living” and being “s****.”

It’s also a tad over fourteen years since I wrote my first match report for Salut, a missive from Ashburton Grove describing a 2-3 defeat to Arsenal in Roy Keane’s inaugural Premier League season, a game that showed a fair bit of promise for the future as the Jolly Drumaville boys, aided by Niall Quinn and the admirable John Hays, promised all kinds of things including magic carpets, stability and a permanent place at the top table.

Our team that day was; Craig Gordon; Paul McShane, Nyron Nosworthy, Danny Collins, Danny Higginbotham; Grant Leadbitter, Dwight Yorke, Liam Miller, Ross Wallace; Kenwyne Jones, Michael Chopra with subs; Darren Ward, Ian Harte (for Yorke 90), Dickson Etuhu (for Wallace 77), Anthony Stokes (for Chopra 77) Roy O’Donovan.

Kenwyne Jones

It was a 12.00 kick off which meant leaving at about 5 and getting there in time for a quick pint and a snack and a wander round the new ground. Van Persie and Senderos gave them the lead before Ross Wallace (now at Fleetwood Town – good guy, decent player, not s****) pulled one back before half time. Kenwynne Jones (fine player on his day, also not s****) levelled early in the second half and it looked like we would hold on. Two substitutions made in the 77th minute may have distracted us as Van Persie scored the winner with ten to go.

Now, 14 years on, we are heading for Adams Park with a team of players who are no more than Championship level at best and a new manager in charge – unless the DUP veto this.

Arlene Foster wondering if Phil is the right man for the job

We have fallen a long way and there may be little chance of us getting back to where Charlie Chalke and Roy Keane took us all those years ago.

Phil Parkinson is the man given the opportunity to improve on Jack Ross’ record and get us out of League One to the relative prosperity of the Championship. He’s a Chorley born man who started out at Bury and then moved to Reading where he spent ten years and qualified for a testimonial. He also became a close buddy of Alan Pardew, so there’s a stick to beat him with already.

When he stopped playing, he became manager of Colchester United and took them to the Championship before leaving for Hull City and an uncomfortable stretch at Anlaby Circle. He was in charge of them when Ross Wallace scored a last minute winner in front of us, took his shirt off and was sent to the dressing rooms by an unsmiling Richard Beeby.

He then moved to Charlton Athletic and managed to get them relegated to League One, thereby undoing his good work at Colchester and although he stayed there for three years, he couldn’t get them back up and was sacked.

Back to Yorkshire for his next job at a struggling Bradford City and he struck gold. He took them to Wembley for a League Cup Final (don’t ask about the result) and then again for a play off victory over Northampton Town before establishing them in League One. He had John McLaughlin as his goalkeeper and was in charge of The Bantams when they put us out of the FA Cup in 2015 when our team had Wearside legends like Billy Jones, Ricardo Alvarez and Liam Bridcutt on the field.

He left Bradford a steady League One club and moved back across the Pennines to Bolton, who had just been relegated to League One as their financial troubles began to grow. He got them back up at the first attempt, despite an EFL transfer embargo which prevented him from recruiting anything but loan players and free agents and then miraculously kept them up the next season as well, taking four points off us and being in the away dugout for Simon Grayson’s last game as Sunderland manager.

The troubles at Horwich clearly wore him down and he resigned after it looked as if Bolton were going to drop out of the EFL – and I don’t think anyone could blame him for that.

He now finds himself at another club riven with self doubt and with divisions between supporters, owners and players clearly on view. Should he read this (I assume he won’t) I would advise him to permanently block the message boards, not listen to any phone ins (even the ones that use me) and avoid social media. I’m pretty sure that he will do all three as a matter of course.

I wish him well and hope that he makes a success of this job even if his football style appears to be more pragmatic than romantic. We desperately need to finish this season with 21 or 22 clubs below us and a season that ends on the first weekend in May with a visit from The Demon King and his Fleetwood Town team (assuming he is not in jail by then).

No report from me from Wycombe.

I am having a weekend in Prague and hope to get some football in. Slavia and Bohemians are at home and there is an intriguing Second Division game at Vysherad which kicks off at 9.15 on Sunday morning. I’ll see how I feel after a night of Czech beer and Czech dumplings.

Comfortable win at Hetton for the U23s in County Cup

Malcolm Dawson writes……whilst Pete Sixsmith took a trip up to Ironworks Road to see Shildon record a 6-2 victory over Tow Law in the group stage of the Northern League Cup, I made the trip east to the place of my birth where SAFC U23s were taking on Boldon CA of the Wearside League in the County Challenge Cup.

This is the ground where I saw my first ever live football match around about 60 years ago. I don’t remember much about that game except the home side, the long defunct Eppleton Colliery Welfare, played in the same colours as West Ham United’s change strip – light blue with two maroon bands.

Bobby Moore, not playing for Eppleton CW

The ground was a lot different then too, as the football team shared it with the long defunct Eppleton Colliery Welfare Cricket Club. It has seen a few more changes in the past few months after the changing rooms and toilets were damaged by fire, meaning the teams and officials now have to change in Portakabins and a trip to the loo involved leaving the ground via a side gate to use those in the Hetton Centre. Hetton hasn’t changed an awful lot since I grew up there, although when in my teens there were at least 17 pubs and 5 working men’s clubs between the High Downs Hotel and the Four Lane Ends, I can only think of 5 pubs and 3 clubs that are still in business.

Still I wasn’t there to reminisce. As they say nostalgia isn’t what it used to be and there was a game of footy going on. No team sheets for my £1 admission but I recognised most of the home side. Goalkeeper Ahmed Abdelkader I had first seen at Bishop Auckland in a pre-season friendly, where despite being on the Sunderland bench he played the second half for Bishops who hadn’t got a sub keeper of their own. Of the others, skipper Jack Bainbridge will surely get some time for the senior XI in one of the cup competitions and Williams Kokolo, who always impresses me when I see him, must also have been in Jack Ross’s thoughts until a week ago. Bali Mumba and Ruban Sammut, another two who are on the fringes of the senior squad were on the bench while Benji Kimpioka was away with the Swedish U21 squad who have beaten Iceland and Luxembourg over the past few days.

I haven’t been to Boldon in years but it was home to my Uncle Cud who worked down the pit and grew grapes in a greenhouse on his allotment, where he also had a shed with a full size snooker table in and Aunty Elsie my dad’s sister, who always gave us tinned peaches with Carnation milk and bread and butter when we went for tea.

Boldon who had brought a good smattering of supporters and officials, emerged in their black and white striped shirts and lined up attacking the Bog Row end of the ground.

It was immediately obvious that what we were witnessing was a team of professionals (albeit young ones) who spend their days working on fitness and tactics, against part time opponents who spend their days at work and in the various licensed establishments north of the River Wear. The centre forward, Frankie Hucks was the archetypal non league footballer – a bit like Alf Tupper with love handles, whereas Lee Connelly who wore the number 9 shirt for the home side, makes Mark McNulty look like Giant Haystacks. Connelly though is nippy and makes up for his lack of height with his speed and enthusiasm and he had a great opportunity to put the Black Kittens ahead in only the second minute.

The home side, quicker in speed and thought, played several quick passes and showed good movement straight from the kick off and when winger Nathan Greenwood burst into the penalty area, the slightest of touches brought him down and the ref awarded the spot kick. It looked a bit soft from my seat, but was probably the correct decision but James Lone in the Boldon goal, threw himself to his left and got a strong hand on Connelly’s well struck penalty. There was nothing wrong with Connelly’s effort. He hit it hard and low, just inside the post but the visiting keeper made the first of several good saves.

At the other end Abdelkader made a couple of good stops of his own, rushing out to dive at the feet of Hucks, then turning a good shot from Levi Collins around the post. But Sunderland were clearly the superior side and with a quarter of the game gone, Connelly made up for the penalty miss when a Boldon defender attempted to pass the ball back, without looking and Connelly was put clean through in front of goal and he drove the ball home into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

Pocket rocket – Lee Connelly

But just like the senior squad on too many occasions, it began to look as if the young lads would fail to press home their advantage, whilst the young Algerian in the home goal had a couple of shaky moments, needing his defenders to prevent the visitors scoring, after fumbling the ball.

However, three quick goals just before the break made it comforfortable. First, Williams Kokolo who had been given a free role and was popping up anywhere along the front line, was on hand to power the ball home, after a shot from Greenwood had been blocked on the line and Connelly’s follow up also blocked. The French teenager made sure at the third attempt, five minutes before the break.

Connelly got his second minutes later when a quick through ball found him with time and space and he was able to pick his spot from around 16 yards. Although it looked as if his shot might have been cleared off the line by the outstretched leg of a sliding defender, the whistle went and the ref signalled the goal.

No VAR here.

Caught the eye again

There was still time for Kokolo to get his second before the half time oranges when the ball broke towards him in the box and he let it run past him before prodding it home with his left peg from close range. Elliot Dickman will have been relatively pleased at half time and with a four goal cushion introduced two subs for the second period.

One of these was Ruban Sammut, who sits just in front of the back four in the holding midfielder role. He is the fulcrum around which this side operates, constantly making himself available, looking around when in possession and mixing up the simple ball with the precision passing that can open up opposition defences. He certainly caught the eye again in this fixture and I expect to see him feature against Oxford or Leicester U21s in those upcoming cup ties, though he did blast one over the bar from relatively close range after being set up by the third sub Ryan Leonard.

No goals in the second half and the home team played well within themselves. At least the two Boldon followers sitting in front of me stayed until the end as at half time they were talking about going when it got to 7 or 8. It could have been but for me the Boldon player of the match was the keeper, James Lone who despite conceding four also made some outstanding saves and allowed the two in front of me to watch the full 90 minutes.

Although it is clearly early autumn, it stayed dry and was probably warmer than Tow Law.

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Pete the Prophet: Ross gone just before tonight’s big game

Malcolm Dawson writes…. I am currently on one of my regular commitments at an hotel in Lancashire, organising and directing Bridge for a large group of mostly retired people for whom it is a pleasant and sociable way of spending a few days away from home, especially for those who are mostly on their own or less mobile, as well as the groups who come together for a bit of libation, in between the Bridge and the sandblasting you get walking along the prom when the tide is out.

As this afternoon’s session finished at 4.30 I switched on my laptop to be greeted with the news that Jack Ross has left the club. This is certainly what a lot of people who follow the fortunes of the club have been asking for and it will come as no surprise to Pete Sixsmith who hinted as much in his Soapbox on Sunday, following a miserable afternoon spent at Sincil Bank. Personally I am not sure that a simple change of manager will bring about an immediate change in fortunes and time will tell if those who have been calling for his head will turn out to be proved right. What I do believe however is that constant criticism affects us all and football managers, owners and players are people first and foremost. Social media provides a platform for people to voice their opinions, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing but it also provides a degree of anonymity and distances those who make hurtful and spiteful comments from those who it is aimed at. This is further emphasised by a proliferation of websites which like to stress those negative tweets and postings with eye-catching headlines using provocative phrases like “fans blast” or “fans destroy” etc.

Read morePete the Prophet: Ross gone just before tonight’s big game