Pete Sixsmith was indeed at both Hartlepool and Darlington – I can barely bring myself to write The Northern Echo Darlington Arena, even if I did work for that august journal in what I fondly imagine to have been its heyday – but was defeated by technology at Darlo (he’d left his phone at home). This, then, is his full account of two comfortable wins …
One game to go before the season opener at Anfield and at Sixsmith Towers there is a growing feeling of optimism for season 2011-12. The Easter Road workout will surely give the final pointers to the line up Steve Bruce will go for on August 13.
The two games this week will have given him much to think about and also much to be pleased with. Of the two, the Hartlepool one was of far more use than the trip to Darlington, with it being against a higher ranking club and with a more competitive edge.
You could look at the line up at Victoria Park and make a good case for that 11 starting against Liverpool. Certainties are Brown, Bardsley, Cattermole, Sessegnon and Gyan, with Richardson and Larsson not far behind. Ferdinand and Colback did well, while Elmohamady and Mignolet turned in decent performances.
It was just the kind of game we needed after the waste of time at Burnley on the Saturday. There was a good crowd in and the home team were determined to make sure that Ritchie Humphreys had a night to be proud of. When an ageing Peruvian juvenile, Norberto Solano, put them ahead, there was a feeling that this might go wrong, but the players, ably led by Captain Cattermole, shook themselves and began to turn on the style.
None more so than Stephane Sessegnon, who was brilliant. He had quick feet, a quick mind and the beginnings of what could be a very fruitful partnership with Asamoah Gyan. They both appeared to have been working on diagonal runs across the box, and there was one exquisite run by Gyan, which took him away from every Pool defender to almost latch onto what would have been a great ball by his Beninese chum.
Larsson was the other player who caught my eye, working hard and making a series of intelligent passes aimed at the front runners. He looked a shoo-in to me, either on the left or the right.
The goals were well taken (although Gyan might have been offside for his) and it was good to see Colback getting forward in the second half. He wants a place in the team and did nothing to harm his chances on Tuesday.
Interesting to note that we used no subs in this game as the players got an excellent work out here, so much better than training.
Twenty four hours later, we were on our way to Reynolds Folly on the edge of Darlington. This had originally been pencilled in as a reserve friendly and I had expected to see the likes of Roarie Deacon, James Armstrong and Craig Lynch turning out.
Instead, the Brucester decided to split his first team squad in order to give them a run out and also to ensure that the perennially cash strapped Quakers would make a few quid from the game.
It was an easy win against the Conference promotion hopefuls and goals from Jordan Cook (a well worked move), Craig Gardner ( a well hit free kick) and Ji Dong-won (a well diverted shot by a defender) saw us home comfortably, without the merest hint of a pitch invasion.
The passing was good and Eric Black (the man in charge – Bruce away looking for a left winger, perhaps), commented very favourably on it. David Vaughan was the fulcrum of many of the moves and he may well be the fourth midfield man at Anfield. He rarely wasted a ball and looked as if he could be a real asset as the season progresses.
The performance that really caught the eye though, was that of Ji Dong-won. He moved well, took up some excellent positions and showed that he could lay the ball off to team mates. He could be a real find and he seems to be enjoying his football. Bench at Anfield? I would think so.
Alas, no Steed Malbranque. He was away finalising his move to Saint Etienne, so we didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to him.
He has been a model professional in his three years at Sunderland and has become a popular figure with the supporters because of his actions on the field. No prison sentences, no stand up rows with the manager, no red cards and no tweets to bore us all to death. A good, honest pro who will always be welcome back at Sunderland – maybe as part of a Europa League game against us in 2012-13. I would imagine there will be many on Wearside looking for Les Verts’ results on a Saturday night. Au revoir, mon ami …