Malcolm Dawson writes……with Sixer, our normal match reporter recuperating in Wales after the early summer grind of exam marking, it falls to a Salut! Sunderland virgin (his words not mine) to provide us with a first hand account of last night’s third pre-season friendly. Brian Todd survived the experience of Mr Sixsmith’s teaching and brings us his view of last night’s proceedings. I’m tempted to say his Uncle Colin would be proud of him but I won’t because as far as I know they aren’t related and he’s probably sick of people making the same reference anyway. So was it a funny old game Brian? Let’s find out…………
A beautiful evening at the Tony Macaroni Arena saw around 500 of Sunderland’s finest squinting into the evening sun to see the boys take on newly promoted Livingston. For those of you that don’t know Livingston it’s a new town, around 40 odd years old, built to take the over-spill from the demolition of the Glasgow tenements. That means 90% of the town supports one of the old firm teams and about 1% of the remaining 10% supports Livingston. This generally means that their 10,800 seater stadium, as nice as it is, is a complete waste of time for average crowds of about 900. But that’s the SPL’s fault for their stupid vanity.
Onto the game. An impeccably observed minutes applause rang around the ground for Sunderland legend Bradley then the team set up as a 4-1-4-1 with no recognised centre forward and a line up of Mika, O’Shea, Djilibodji, Gibson, N’dong, Khazri, Jones, Rodwell, Gooch, Galloway and Love.
Livingston started the game brightly with an attempt which appeared to be saved by Mika just going past the post. After that Sunderland controlled the possession with some nice crisp passing which was largely ineffectual and lacked penetration with no outlet to aim for up front. Khazri was full of running but his delivery from set pieces was poor while Gooch gave the defence lots of problems all half. Indeed it was his strike which was parried by the keeper that led to Khazri pouncing and slotting home to net the opener. The defence looked solid with even Papa looking like a centre half for a change when Livingston applied a bit of pressure for the 5 minutes or so after we took the lead. A few long range efforts from Rodwell and N’dong were all that were of note in a first half leaving many in the crowd a little frustrated. We huffed and puffed but that 11 looked like they couldn’t blow down a house of cards
The second half saw Lens introduced for Jones and although it started quietly Livingston gave it a go to no avail with a fabulous set piece, and a 35 yard volley from Gibson Sunderland’s only chance of note. On the hour mark the whole team was changed with Love, who for me was man of the match, heading to the showers.
The new guys driven on by the ever talking and motivating Cattermole looked brighter, more interested and generally more up for it. Whether it was a change of formation or a change of attitude I don’t know but the pace increased as did the pressure
Livingston made their changes and introduced keeper Gary Maley. Big Stretch is a great guy who I’ve known since he was a kid so I better be kind….. Sod it. A drive from outside the box was fumbled inexplicably by the big guy and Osoro pounced and tucked it away nicely. It was all Sunderland after that with Osoro looking very sharp and Kone who looked huge on the pitch keeping things tight when Livingston did rarely endeavour to venture into the Sunderland half.
As the match petered out and the sun finally disappeared behind the North Stand up popped Lens, a player who did virtually nothing for 44minutes, with one of the finest strikes I’ve seen in years. So good even the Sunderland fans went quiet for a second or two because they couldn’t quite believe it. Maley had no chance with this one and the ref blew up with everyone still in a high.
As we walked out with smiles on faces as red as the sun dried tomatoes on one of Tony Macaroni’s pizzas, thanks to the glorious sunshine, I asked a few guys what they thought. It was OK, wasn’t bad, pretty average was the general consensus. I personally left with a feeling of hope rather than expectation as OK and not bad or pretty average won’t cut it and get us out of what looks to be a very challenging league. I’ll still keep the faith though…. For now.