Pete Sixsmith saw just such a match the other night when mighty Shildon made mincemeat of South Shields. But does he really think the Liverpool decline is such that Fletcher, Saha and Co can emulate the scoreline when proper football resumes? …
The long break between league games at this early stage of the season is both frustrating and unhelpful. No sooner are we starting to blend a team together than half of them are whizzing off all over the world on international duty.
In some ways it is a compliment that Sunderland players are involved at a high level. With a group of players representing decent international sides like Belgium, Ireland, Sweden, Benin and England, plus various Under 21s, Under 19s and, for all I know, Under 12s, it is a far cry from the days when Jeff Whitley trooped off to play for Northern Ireland and Carl Robinson pulled on a Welsh shirt.
The frustration comes from having to wait until Sept 15 for the first home league game of the season. For those not prepared to sit for hours on a coach or sell their pensions in order to afford rail tickets to get to London and Swansea, the delay in seeing a real live Premier League game will last a month.
Granted, we faced Morecambe in the League Cup (and look how well they are doing in the league: in a play off place), but it is the league that counts. Pity anyone who can’t make it to the Liverpool game – they have to wait until the last weekend in September before we welcome the Bruce-slayers of Wigan.
As usual, I will be sliding down the pyramid for my Saturday fix and will be at New Ferens Park, the home of Durham City, for the FA Cup clash between City and Shildon.
Both teams have already gone through two rounds. Shildon won 6-0 at Whitehaven and then drew 1-1 with Guisborough Town, before travelling to North Yorkshire to crush the Priorymen 6-0 in the replay.
Durham have benefited from two home draws so far, putting out Newcastle Benfield and Billingham Town, both by a 2-1 margin and both on their artificial surface, the first time that the FA have allowed qualifying games to be played on a 3G pitch.
There is decent money at stake at this stage. Both clubs have already made £2,750 so far and progression through this round will bring in another £3,000 – a handy sum of money that would cover a couple of months expenses and wages.
Both also warmed up with good midweek results. Durham, who are managed by the man who made Cantona superfluous at Roker Park, Dickie Ord, beat Newton Aycliffe 5-2 on Tuesday night to claim their second league win of the season and take a comfortable mid table position.
However, they were trumped by Shildon. The Railwaymen completely swamped South Shields 11-0 the following night, to maintain their unbeaten record and move comfortably into the leading group – all from south-west Durham.
I have rarely seen a performance as complete as this from Shildon. They moved the ball about well and scored some simply sensational goals. That seven of the 11 came from Sunderland supporters Chris Hughes and Billy Greulich-Smith made it all the more enjoyable.
Click here to read Colin Randall at ESPN Soccernet’s Sunderland pages
Hughes got the first two, his opener a sublime chip, and completed his hat trick early in the second half. Greulich-Smith led the line brilliantly, caused serious problems for the Shields defence every time he ran at them and thoroughly deserved his four goals and a standing ovation at the end.
Add to that a couple of screamers from centre half Richard Flynn and midfielder Rob Briggs, another from Briggs and one from the ever dependable Danny Richmond, and you have as convincing a display as has been seen at Northern League level for a long time. Shields were poor, but they seemed to have a full squad and they were just outclassed by a far better side.
Salut! Sunderland readers may well want to get themselves to Durham on Saturday. The game kicks off at 3pm, admission is £7 (I think) and it should be a good game.
Alternatively, Shields are at Spennymoor, while fans based in Northumberland could go and see West Auckland at Ashington or Bishop Auckland at Bedlington. Throw in a visit from Northern Premier League club Kendal Town at Dunston and you are almost spoiled for choice.
Darlington are now playing at this level and there is a strong Sunderland connection there, with Martin Gray as manager, Brian Atkinson as his assistant and Tony Norman as the goalkeeping coach. Former Sunderland players Dan Smith (not a favourite of Arsène Wenger’s) and David Dowson play for them and skipper Gary Brown is a big fan. They started well but came a real cropper at Guisborough on Wednesday, losing 4-1 in front of a crowd of 1,300+. The week before, for Shildon’s visit, it was nearer 130.
We will have our fingers crossed that all our players return fit and well from Kazakhstan, Wales, Sweden and Egypt and that Adam Johnson’s injury is a minor one.
And then, let’s hope that Liverpool really are in decline and we can do to them what Shildon did to South Shields.