In the week after the derby I kept conjuring up a mental image of Meatloaf riding an elephant. Totally incorrect, of course, everyone knows Micky Dolenz, who found fame with the Monkees and thus gave us “Cheer up Peter Reid”, was the original circus boy. As Reidy had left years earlier it’s anyone’s guess as to what my mind was up to in that respect.
The Meatloaf connection is easier.
The derby trip was my third visit to the SOL. The second was against Arsenal a few weeks ago, when we lost, and my first was way back in 2006. It was Armistice Day, it was bitterly cold and we played Southampton in the Championship. I’d spent the intervening years remembering that we won by the only goal, so it was “two out of three ain’t bad”. (However, the excellent Statcat says we drew [Bale, G 90 mins] and on reading that that I conjured up a forgotten half-hearted effort going through a sea of legs and hitting one to leave the keeper no chance. I never leave early so am I right? Do I care? We went up that season).
At over £50 for a train ticket, I managed to talk the boss into letting me have the car. Probably no cheaper but a lot more convenient than the Trans-Pennine Express, which isn’t, and thus I drove up to the North east for another remembrance day match.
Days like this put things into perspective: Charles Buchan spent his career on the front line but some of that front line was the Somme; Jimmy Seed had his career wrecked by gas; but it’s the unknown heroes* who get me. My dad, born in 1909, said there wasn’t a single family in Birtley that wasn’t affected by the Great War. Maybe he was exaggerating but the war memorial, where I paid my respects in the morning, reflects the scale of the tragedy. Of 1,350 Birtley folk who enlisted, many in the DLI, 189 died. Football pales into insignificance when contemplating the list of names, especially when you come across William Thompson, whose name was added 90 years after his death.
That said, the reason I was there was a football match, one that had us worried. Man City have been popping in goals for fun and we haven’t been able to keep a clean sheet. Plus, after three consecutive losses they surely had a point to prove. All we had to stem the tide were a new manager and his inherited squad. How would they fare?
I’d been happy with the team Poyet had sent out against the Mags and even happier with their performance. I’d left the game thinking Borini deserved a chance and Johnson deserved a shake-up, and would have picked the exact same team Poyet sent out against Hull. Unfortunately, thanks to Cattermole and Dossena, neither of us got the chance to see how it would have performed over 90 minutes. I had expected Ki to return against Southampton, and also Giaccherini; Westwood needed time out and I’d have given Fletcher the night off (with warnings about drink driving during league cup games) but I was surprised by Gardner’s return.
So Gus and I appeared to be on similar wavelengths when it comes to picking teams, allowing for him being that bit closer to the players. This time I thought he’d include Mannone, Larsson, Brown, Ki and Fletch in the starting 11, with Giaccherini very possible and Altidore just edging out Borini. The other four would be Bardsley, O’Shea, Johnson and young Jack. Would that be a balanced side? Gus apparently thought not, Altidore was left out and Celustka was in, allowing Jack to roam the midfield.
And I have to say Gus got it right. Jack did roam the midfield, working well with Larsson, who covered acres of ground, tackled and generally got stuck in all over the place. (I still can’t work Ki out. Players are happy to give him the ball, he’s happy to take it and he can keep it, so that’s a step in the right direction, but he still seems hesitant about moving it forward. Maybe it’s just me – he’s part of what’s becoming a very effective midfield).
Jack and Seb Larsson weren’t the only ones who worked hard. City weren’t allowed time on the ball in the first half and when they did get forward they couldn’t get past the back four, marshalled by the magnificent Wes Brown. Don Vito Mannone, behind him, was rarely troubled and exuded confidence. Not only that, his distribution was excellent and paved the way for attacks down both flanks, which might explain how Bardsley found himself in the opposing box with the ball and time to place it past the keeper.
The second half was a little different as City had more of the ball and kept it further up the pitch, putting us under pressure and creating more chances, especially from half-time sub Navas. But only a little. Try as City might, our back line and Mannone coped brilliantly. We didn’t keep the ball as well as we had in the first half but we defended in depth when we needed to and came forward when we could, which was often enough to make City wary. Fletch, playing as a lone target man, worked his socks off for the team until replaced by Altidore, who looked less likely to score but put himself about a bit and will surely find the net one day.
This was a team performance, and a good one at that. The lads are communicating with and playing for each other, and for Gus. Well done that man.
And well done Meatloaf, too. We lost against Arsenal on my first visit this season but I’ve seen us beat the Mags and now City. Two out of three ain’t bad.
* If you want to hear the classic interpretation of one of the finest songs to be written about war, and in particular the Great War, catch June Tabor’s version of No Man’s Land at Salut! Live, which received an unusual burst of traffic yesterday after being mentioned in a thread at the Guardian online: http://www.salutlive.com/2011/07/song-of-the-day-tjune-tabor-no-mans-land.html