If you want confirmation of the popular view that Cabral’s exclusion from PDC, Bally and now Poyet teams is a scandal, this is not the place to be. Pete Sixsmith caught him, and Modibo Diakité, in an Under 21s game at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. And body language told him they must be ruing the day their agents mentioned the word Sunderland …
I spared myself the 700-mile round journey to Swansea, that “ugly, lovely town” as Dylan Thomas described it, and left it to Monsieur Salut and the indefatigable Bob Chapman to witness the latest disaster. Too many long trips, too long spent on cramped coaches and too much bad food and indifferent beer mean that I shall probably continue to curtail my travelling.
My Saturday fix still had to be located and started at the Sunderland Stadium of Light. Along with another 588 diehards, I was there at 12 o’clock to watch Kevin Ball’s Under 21s take on their Chelsea counterparts. Strange time for a game and I assume it was for Chelsea TV so that their “supporters” all over the world could watch this an aperitif before the first team and their friendly referee took on Cardiff at Stamford Bridge.
The team that Ball turned out was not his regular Under 21 squad. Under instructions from Poyet, he played three senior players who had not made the trip to Swansea in Wes Brown, Mobido Diakite and Cabral and also added David Moberg Karlsson, El Hadji Ba and Connor Wickham to the faces that we see regularly at Hetton.
Of those, Brown played a full 90 minutes and looked solid if a little slow. He got through the game, read it well and organised the rest of the back four. But he looked a long way from Premier League fitness and I would not expect to see him lining up next week.
Diakité partnered him for most of the game, occupying a place that could have been taken by John Egan, who is working his way back to fitness after breaking his leg when playing for Bradford City last season. It was Diakité’s awful back pass to Joel Dixon that enabled Chelsea to equalise and throughout the game he looked like someone who couldn’t wait to get hold of his agent and throttle him for having sent him to Sunderland.
Cabral was the same. As he strolled around the empty Stadium, making the odd tackle and completing the odd pass, he must have thought wistfully of his exploits in the Champions League last season. A couple of weeks ago, his former club FC Basel beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge; here he was playing against a bunch of pushy kids wearing a Chelsea strip. Another agent may well be in for a good bollocking.
And then we come to Connor Wickham, an ever spreading stain on Steve Bruce’s transfer record. He has made absolutely no progress since he arrived for a staggering £8m two and a half years ago. This may be due to inadequate coaching, the constant state of change within the club or his own lack of interest in working hard. He has been dropped from the England Under 21 squad because he is not playing regularly and he has not impressed when he has been out on loan. He is at a crossroads in his career – three managers have seen little to enthuse about and the fourth one may be the one to show him the door.
Ba limped off early while Moberg Karlsson did all right without showing anything that would merit a place in the first team. These two are “for the future” although our impending relegation and subsequent budget slashing could mean that they will pursue their football education elsewhere.
The bright sparks were Duncan Watmore, who scored two goals, the first one an absolute cracker after a neat exchange of passes with Liam Marrs and the second a well taken equaliser after Wickham had won the ball in the box. He looks a good prospect and may well figure at some stage in the season.
Skipper Liam Marrs also did well. He has been with the club since he was 12, was captain of the Under 19s and is now an Under 21 regular. He is small (so was Danny Rose) but his tenacity and desire seem to make up for any deficiency in the height department. He is another one who should be looking for a regular game next season in the Championship.
The game ended 2-2, with Chelsea scoring through Ferunz and Kiwomya (son of Notts County manager, Chris). The Blues had the advantage of being a settled side and not a mix of players as ours were. Most of them should make a good living away from Stamford Bridge.
My next stop was Dean Street for Shildon’s Northern League clash with Durham City. I spent the first half watching and listening as Shildon scored first and then conceded two in a minute. The listening was relatively comfortable as Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett used phrases like “keeping a good shape”, “Swansea posing no threat” and “a competent and controlled performance”.
That quickly went up the spout and the radio was consigned to my pocket as we were caught out by the old one-two. Three and four were transmitted by M Salut, whose day in that “ugly, lovely town” was growing uglier by the minute.
And to add insult to injury, Durham City grabbed a 90th minute winner to triumph 3-2. It never rains it pours.
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