Meet Adam, the Middlesbrough-supporting grandson of a NUFC fan making his mark at Sunderland

Adam in the North East’s finest colours

We must all be so excited, says Monsieur Salut. The break from football caused by one of this season’s Sunderland failures – an embarrassing and historic early exit from the FA Cup – is behind us. Sunderland are back in action and where else but at the scene of that recent crime, Gillingham.

Will our defenders suddenly show they can defend, midfielders create and strikers score? Will the Lads produce football of a quality and style to warm the cockles of the heart? Answers on a postcard to Phil Parkinson.

Guess the score but you cannot, owing to our infamous technical glitches, do so here. With Salut! Sunderland in extinction rebellion mode, winding down for an end to active service from Dec 31, it would be expensive and frankly stupid at such a late stage to pay someone to fix our inability to publish comments. Go to the Salut! Sunderland Facebook group – pushing 900 members now and it’s easy to join – if you have something to say.

Jake: ‘Pity the poor souls who traipse down there for this. Unless it’s a cracking away win….’

And on to a happier topic.

Read moreMeet Adam, the Middlesbrough-supporting grandson of a NUFC fan making his mark at Sunderland

Salut! Sunderland’s 13 years, 13 SAFC managers: (3) Steve Bruce

Our former boss: another great portrait by Owen Lennox, Sunderland artist and friend of Salut! Sunderland

Monsieur Salut writes: the other day, Wrinkly Pete – Peter Lynn – wrote, in a message our wretched technical issues prevent from being published as a comment, that Pete Sixsmith‘s outstanding appreciation of Martin Harvey reminded him ‘how I will miss this website and articles like this’.

It is typical of Sixer’s commitment to Salut! Sunderland throughout its 13 years of life that even as he breathed a sigh of relief that we should now be winding down, he was devising one last series: the 13 managers who have accompanied this site on its sometimes bumpy ride. It’s been bumpy for them, too, as Steve Bruce would attest.

Bruce was hugely divisive figure. The highly successful author Terry Deary (Horrible Histories, anyone?) told us: ‘I gave up my season ticket when Steve Bruce was appointed manager. I will renew it as soon as he leaves’. I would sometimes point out that he was the only manager since Peter Reid – and remains the only manager – to deliver a top 10 Premier League finish. But he had faults and forfeited a lot of respect with post-dismissal remarks about our club and its fans.

Here is how Pete remembers him …

Read moreSalut! Sunderland’s 13 years, 13 SAFC managers: (3) Steve Bruce

Wrinkly Pete on Sunderland’s crisis: ‘an element of fans could drive me away’

Wrinkly Pete: ‘the attitude of some worries me’

Monsieur Salut writes: there are views that are unpopular to hold in Sunderland and the SAFC-supporting catchment area that stretches throughout County Durham and beyond. One such view, as a mostly disappointing start to the season under Jack Ross is followed by a mostly woeful spell in new hands, is that we must be patient, maintain our loyal support and avoid the sort of collective negativity that unsettles the very players we want to perform better.

After the alarming defeat to Burton Albion, prolonging a calamitous opening (5-0 vs Tranmere apart) for Phil Parkinson, Peter Lynn, aka Wrinkly Pete, wanted to get this off his chest …

Read moreWrinkly Pete on Sunderland’s crisis: ‘an element of fans could drive me away’

View from the West Stand: Burton Brewers leave Sunderland fans with bitter taste

    Jake: The darkest of dark days. Martin Harvey RIP.

Burton Albion came to Wearside knowing that they had never lost there and left with that record intact. The result left the home side in their lowest ever position since joining the Football League in 1890, after a performance which was as grim as the weather.

The phrase “gone for a Burton” is thought to have originated in WW2 when the euphemism was used to explain the non appearance of RAF pilots after skirmishes during the Battle of Britain. Burton Ales were popular at the time and rather than report that a pilot was missing in action or had been shot down it was suggested that they had popped out for a pint.  It was SAFC that went for a Burton last night.

Marmite is a byproduct of the brewing industry and is also produced in Burton on Trent. It might be said that Jack Ross was a marmite manager, liked by some, loathed by others and earlier in the season it was those who found him distasteful who got their way. So how might we describe Phil Parkinson in terms of  stuff to spread on our breakfast toast? Not Gentleman’s Relish it would seem, if the dissenting voices in the Roker End are anything to go by. 

Malcolm Dawson and Pete Sixsmith were both there, suffering with the rest and with them sharing the responsibility for reporting on home games this season, it is Malcolm who drew the short straw and is forced to recall the events of last night over his scrambled eggs.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

ENOUGH TO DRIVE A MAN TO DRINK

Well let’s start with the positives:

It didn’t rain.

The queue for the park and ride was non existent.

I was back in my car just after 10 o’clock.

I was having a cup of tea with my sister in law in Houghton just 35 minutes after the full time whistle and the dog was pleased to see me.

Ten years ago Sunderland, managed by Roy Keane were a Premier League club and Burton were in what was then known as the Conference. Last night those of us unfortunate enough to be there saw two League One clubs (and let’s face it not even very good ones) playing in a Premier League Stadium.

Twenty years ago I was living in a small rural, former mining village, not that far from Burton on Trent, regularly making the 380 mile round trip on a Tuesday night to the Stadium of Light, to see a team with the likes of Niall Quinn, Kevin Phillips, Eric Roy and Stephan Schwartz finish 7th in the highest division of English football. Now and then when Sunderland didn’t have a game, I would occasionally go to Burton’s crumbling ground at Eton Park, to see them in the Dr Marten’s League face the might of such teams as Ilkeston, Atherstone United or Rothwell Town. How times have changed.

Eton Park

Last night the teams met on equal terms, but only a handful of Burton fans made that journey to see a Sunderland team with the likes of Conor McLaughlin, Will Grigg, Joel Lynch and Chris Maguire drop to 11th place in what many of us still like to think of as the Third Division.

Meanwhile I have moved to a small rural, former mining village somewhat closer to the Stadium of Light and am left wondering why I bother to make a round trip of less than 40 miles.

Make no mistake, it’s not the fact that the club finds itself in the lowest league position in its history and has gone out of the FA Cup in the first round for the first time ever since the Football League was extended and teams in the top divisions were excluded from the early rounds. No it’s the fact that I’m not sure I want to endure any more afternoons or evenings like last night.

So to the football. It was not good last night – there’s no getting away from it. The team performance was not good enough to take the three points from a club that is hardly setting this division alight.

With Conor McLaughlin back from suspension, it allowed Luke O’Nien to play in his more favoured midfield role, just behind the lone striker and ahead of Leadbitter and Power. Watmore replaced Maguire on the right and not only injected more pace into the team but was also more disciplined in his positioning, giving us more width down that flank. Both Maguire and McGeady look to drift inside as soon as they can and not only does this make us play too narrow and easier to defend but ends up pushing Will Grigg who, reputation would have it, is a proven goalscorer, away from the predator’s natural habitat in front of goal. I have been patient with Grigg, pointing to a lack of service, but to be honest Josh Maja, frequently also had to cope with little in the way of quality balls but somehow developed the knack of making space and finding the net. Whatever confidence Grigg brought with him from Wigan has surely gone now. Many are calling for Kimpioka to start and they may be right but my feeling is that he isn’t the answer to our problems and a run in the team may actually knock his confidence. Still I thought that about Maja as well before he proved to be a goal machine.

Is Benji ready to fill that striker spot?

I have noticed a change in the pre-match warm up since PP has replaced JR and while the starting XI still indulge in a bit of small sided two touch possession passing drills, they do it in a marked area which is roughly ten yards square, rather than a much smaller two by two and they are bringing this into games. Under Ross we would often see two or three players, almost on top of each other tippy tapping the ball between them in tight situations, allowing opponents to get close. This has the advantage of creating more space away from the ball but more often than not resulted in our conceding possession. Now the players appear to be trying to make more medium length passes of six to twelve yards. This has the advantage of making opponents space out but unfortunately many of our players don’t appear to have the ability to make these kinds of passes with sufficient accuracy. Combine this with a lack of understanding as to where passes will go and we are conceding possession far too easily.

Coventry’s goal on Saturday came after a woeful back pass from Maguire put Burge under pressure and the keeper did well only to concede a corner. But that needless corner resulted in the Sky Blue’s opener. That had come after several other poor passes, often just outside our own penalty area, Leadbitter and Hume being especially culpable in those early stages. Leadbitter was at it again last night but he was by no means alone.

One incident in the second half summed it up for me. Joel Lynch, in space and with time, air kicked at a ball that was no more than a foot away from him, then tried to recover by playing the ball to Jordan Willis, but his pass was woefully short and it was easily intercepted as Burton bore down on goal. Lynch to his credit, got back and put in a saving tackle but a side more clinical than Burton, would have got a third. In fact on at least two occasions I remarked that the Burton forwards looked as poor as ours.

Kenny Lynch might be able to help Joel with his footwork.

But it started so well! Though we were by no means dominating the game we weren’t second best either in the early stages. A good cross field run from Watmore saw him pass for once and send the ball out wide left. It reached Aiden McGeady who played the ball into the box where O’Nien had his heel clipped and the ref pointed to the spot. The lad that sits next to me couldn’t look, recalling McGeady’s previous effort which had been one of the worst penalties I’d ever seen. No such problems this time as he spurned the fancy stuff to drive it hard and low into the bottom left hand corner as O’Hara moved in the opposite direction. One – nil and with the players celebrating my neighbour decided it was safe to dispose of some pre-match lager. When he got back to his seat he had missed seeing two goals as the visitors were back on level terms after less than thirty seconds of actual play.

A throw on their right was moved quickly and accurately and a neat back heeled flick from Boyce found Wallace in space inside the box. He side footed firmly towards goal and though Burge did well to get two hands on it, could only palm it out to Edwards who had got in front of Denver Hume and he had the easiest of tasks to stick it away with a simple header.

When we weren’t misplacing medium length passes we were trying the route one approach which was equally inaccurate and kept the ball boys busy. The Brewers on the other hand, whilst hardly world beaters were at least able to pass the ball to players in the same colour shirts and created a decent chance when Boyce was put into the box. The Burton fans will probably think he should have done better with his left foot effort, while we can credit Burge with another decent save which this time was cleared to safety.

In one of our better moves, Hume who had been trying to run at defenders all half, carried the ball infield and slipped it through to O’Nien who had a decent enough effort but one which O’Hara was able to turn round the post with a diving save to add to his DvD CV.

It doesn’t take much to knock the stuffing out of the side at the moment and for the most part we huffed and puffed our way to half time with those around me increasingly frustrated. There were a few boos from the south end of the ground as the sides walked off for their half time energy drinks and hair dryer avoidance tactics, though this manager does not appear to be that animated, so maybe they just settled for the Lucozade or Carabao.

Luke O’Nien – a bright spark on a grey evening

On around about 48 minutes the Roker End decided to get behind the team and for the next quarter of an hour or so were as vocal and supportive as I’ve heard for a while. It was during this air of positivity that we were at our best (though that’s not saying much) and took the game to Burton without ever really looking like regaining the lead, although at one point McGeady teed up McLaughlin whose powerful drive just cleared the crossbar instead of breaking the net bringing back memories of Chris Makin. Then Hume and McGeady combined down the left hand side and the Scottish Irishman whipped in a cross from the by line which found O’Nien but his bouncing shot was easily collected by O’Hara at the second attempt after taking the pace off it.

With the crowd starting to quieten down again it was inevitable that we would concede a second as Burton took control. They had broken and found space a number of times, often as a result of our players’ inability to keep possession and eventually they were able to finish off a move and finish off our hopes of a win. That it was such a soft goal, lacking in any sort of defensive challenge was too much for the home fans. The ball was collected by the Burton left back who played a simple ball to Scott Fraser, just inside the centre circle in his own half of the pitch. Fraser ran unchallenged all the way into our box with no red and white shirt ever getting within a yard of him. A simple ball across the face of goal and the onrushing and unmarked Liam Boyce had the simplest of finishes and the boos started.

It wasn’t just the goal that created the unrest. It was such an easy goal of the sort we seem to have forgotten how to create ourselves that summed up the way the side is performing at the moment. When the ball went past Burge there were more yellow shirts around Boyce. Far too often we just fail to create meaningful opportunities from decent positions. Far too often, we try hopeful long balls that come to nothing. Far too often we make things easy for opponents. The visitors continued to find space and create chances, one long range effort rattling the cross bar with Burge beaten and if anyone was going to score again it would be them.

And so another miserable night wound down. I was getting frustrated in my own quiet way. Others were more vocal. Singing “sacked in the morning” and booing the team off the field may be a way of showing dissatisfaction but it’s not going to get us out of this mess. It will, if anything have the opposite effect.

Twelve months ago we had an owner, a manager and players who wanted to be here. People who were looking to get the club out of the mess it had found itself in and who wanted to give something back to the fans. We had an opportunity then to build on what we had – excellent facilities and a large and passionate fan base. Unfortunately some of that passion is expressed in less than helpful ways. I’ll not forget the way some in the Sunderland end have berated our players in angry and aggressive ways at places like Fleetwood and Accrington. We saw at the beginning of last season how far owners, management and players would go to develop the relationship with supporters. Even last night Max Power and Chris Maguire found time between the warm up and kick off to pose for selfies with young fans but there seem to be too many who were too quick to seize the opportunity to do the club down.

These people may purport to care about the club but the way they show their passion can only in my view, end with the complete opposite result to that which they crave. Twelve months ago playing in front of 30,000 at the SoL must have seemed like a dream to many players. Playing in the toxic atmosphere that hung around the ground after that second goal went in will hardly inspire any player or manager to want to come here. Stewart Donald must be beginning to wonder if his effort and investment is worth it in the face of such ingratitude. How attractive will potential investors see the club now? As a going concern with the potential for success or as a source of asset stripping after running down the playing side of things?

Once again we see and hear their simplistic solutions. Sack the board, change the manager, get rid of the players and bring in the names that the press bandy about, whether or not those names are open to a move to Sunderland. I’m not saying fans are to blame for our current predicament but I don’t think a section of them are helping or doing themselves any favours. At the root of the problem is this notion that we are a “big club”. We may be in terms of facilities and the amount of people that come through the turnstiles but we are hardly a successful club in modern times.

Six times we have finished as the top club in English football.

The last Sunderland captain to lift the League Trophy

Five of those times were more than a century ago. The last time was 84 seasons ago and we won the Cup for the first time the following season. The only other occasion the FA Cup was brought back to Wearside was 47 seasons ago. It’s going to be a long time before we get back to those heights. It’s not impossible but it will need time and patience, qualities which some amongst the Sunderland fanbase seem to lack. Just 11 years ago Leicester City were relegated to the third tier and nine years later won the Premier League and are currently sitting second in the top flight. It didn’t happen overnight and their fans are loving it.

Now I’ve got that off my chest I need to reiterate that the way we are playing at the moment is nowhere near good enough to take us on a similar journey. There are plenty of reasons other than negativity in the stands, in the pubs, on the internet and in the press which have brought us to this nadir. We can look at tactics, individual players, recruitment and a whole host of other issues.What is clear is that just now we are simply not good enough to get out of this division and I’m not looking forward to my next game. I’ll still be there though.

Ha’way the lads!

Highlights if you really want to watch them via safc.com

If there is any copyright claim, not answered by “fair use”, on the images used in this report please let us know and we will acknowledge or remove as requested

As readers know, we have been unable to publish comments for some weeks and this seems likely to remain unresolved as we wind down the site (which will remain visible until the hosting period, already paid for, expires).

Each post we publish allows a solitary response, which does not appear but can be seen by Salut! Sunderland’s editors behind the scenes. Afterwards, anyone hoping to comment is prevented from doing so and sees an automatic message about a ‘critical error’ on the site. Phil Davison’s was that single response to this article. It read simply: ‘Malcolm and Pete. I will miss the voices of reason regarding SAFC’.

IF YOU WISH TO MAKE CONTACT WITH US, please us this e-mail address or visit our Facebook group at this link . It is open to all; if you receive a prompt asking you to join, be assured that it is a simple process and approval is very quick

Sixer’s Burton Albion Sevens: ‘no sign of any style or cohesion’

John McCormick writes: three days ago I commented that Pete Sixsmith  would be happy to have a break from poor defending and inadequate forwards when he assumed his customary Santa duties.

He must be looking forward to donning the red and white even more as we managed to hold on to a lead for mere seconds this evening, and I imagine he will also be relieved that Malcolm Dawson will be doing the match report;  his seven words at half time (in the title) and and in the text (below) that winged its way to Salut! HQ on the final whistle said enough, and that’s without those that came between them.

Read moreSixer’s Burton Albion Sevens: ‘no sign of any style or cohesion’

Martin Harvey RIP. A Sunderland name that flies off supporters’ tongues

Martin Harvey: a SAFC giant

FOR A MESSAGE ABOUT OUR INABILITY TO PUBLISH COMMENTS, PLEASE SEE THE FOOTNOTE WHERE YOU WILL ALSO FIND LINKS TO ENABLE YOU TO MAKE CONTACT WITH SALUT! SUNDERLAND …

Monsieur Salut writes: to Sunderland fans of a certain age, Martin Harvey epitomises all the was good about our club. He was a dependable, cultured footballer and, by all accounts, a throughly decent man. I once met someone in a Belfast pub who, on hearing I supported Sunderland, told me with obvious pride that they were cousins. The sad news is that Martin has died, aged 78. Here, Pete Sixsmith rues the passing of a man SAFC fans of our generation will never forget …

MARTIN HARVEY

I watched a documentary on BBC4 last week that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the film Kes. Greg Davies, the amiable narrator, spoke to Ken Loach and Tony Garnett (director and producer respectively) and Dai Bradley who played Billy Casper and who took Davies on a tour round Hoyland Common where the book and film were set.

The book was written by Barry Hines who, like Casper, came from that pit village in South Yorkshire. Hines was an authentic working class writer, a man who would have been campaigning for the Labour Party in this awful election campaign were he still with us. I can only imagine what he would make of some areas of Corbyn’s campaign like in his dallying with Johnson, Gove, Farage et al….

He was also a decent footballer, playing for Crawley Town while he was working in t’South and he wrote lyrically about George Best, something which gave the BBC a rarely missed opportunity to wheel out clips from a documentary made about Best.

The film was made in 1970 and there is a lengthy slow motion section of Best at his mercurial best as he dribbles round a succession of players clad in light blue shirts; those players are ours and the player who ends up plonked on his backside after Best has bamboozled him is Martin Harvey, who died yesterday. (I couldn’t find a clip with us in blue, but in this one – go in 2.00 mins it looks like Best in blue, plonking our players on their backsides. MD) YouTube Clip of George Best

Martin was a colleague of Best’s in the Northern Ireland team – he had made his debut for them long before he became a regular in the Sunderland side – and played for Sunderland from his debut at Plymouth in 1959 right up to to his final game at Norwich in 1972, where he scored a goal that put us ahead and possibly on the road to promotion.

Unfortunately, Jim Bone equalised and Martin suffered a serious knee injury as he stretched to keep out a shot that would have given the Canaries both points.

That typified Martin Harvey: unselfish, committed and a Sunderland man through and through.

There will be people at the Burton game tonight who will reminisce over the sliding tackles that he made, the remarkable ability that he had to hook his leg round an opponent and legitimately dispossess him and the fact that he replaced two international wing halves in a week, Stan Anderson at Roker and Danny Blanchflower for the Northern Ireland international team.

Not bad, eh.

He was a Belfast boy, deemed too small by Burnley and snapped up by Alan Brown as a full time professional at the age of 17; no ground staff duties for this Northern Ireland Schoolboy International.

Martin Harvey in NI colours

 

For five years he understudied the iconic Anderson, a Horden lad who was also Sunderland through and through, making his debut at Plymouth Argyle and starting that half back line that flew off the tongue of Sunderland supporters of our generation; Harvey, Hurley, McNab.

Stan Anderson

The three of them became the mainstay of Brown’s team that ended up dragging itself out of the Second Division in 1964. Charlie Hurley was the icon, Jimmy McNab the hard man and Martin Harvey gave the trio a touch of class with his subtle probing and passing and his brilliant tackling. Like a Bushmills Malt, he had quality and fire in equal parts.

He was a regular for nine years, sometimes in midfield, sometimes at centre half, sometimes at full back. He was the last of the promotion team outfield players in 1972 and the knee injury that he suffered at Carrow Road finished his career. He worked for the club, moved on to Carlisle as Bobby Moncur’s assistant, taking over as manager for a few months when Moncur left.

He teamed up again with Moncur at Plymouth Argyle and coupled this with a lengthy stint as Billy Bingham’s No 2 for Northern Ireland. He was sat with Bingham when they took the team to the second phase of the 1982 tournament and although they did not progress out of their group in 1986, it gave me much pleasure to see one of my boyhood heroes sitting on the bench at Zaragoza, Valencia, Madrid, Guadalajara and Mexico City.

He was back in management with another former colleague in Jimmy Nicholl at both Raith Rovers and Millwall before he retired to Devon in the late 80s.

Sixer: ‘an absolute linchpin in the finest Sunderland side I’ve watched’

The team he played in in 1963-64 was probably the best Sunderland team I have seen. Martin was an absolute linchpin of it, anchoring what is now known as the midfield. Pete Horan intended to call his first child Martin Harvey Horan had he been a boy; it was a girl and he resisted the urge to call her Martina and settled on Claire instead.

Our sympathies go out to Martin’s family. He was a fine player, a true gentleman and a Sunderland player who will always be remembered by those who saw him and those who have sat at their father’s and grandfather’s knee to listen to tales of the players from the past.

Thanks for some lovely memories Martin – and, if you ever bump into George Best in the afterlife, give him a damn good kicking.

If there is any copyright claim, not answered by “fair use”, on the images used in this report please let us know and we will acknowledge or remove as requested


As readers know, we have been unable to publish comments for some weeks and this seems likely to remain unresolved as we wind down the site (which will remain visible until the hosting period, already paid for, expires).

Each post we publish allows a solitary response, which does not appear but can be seen by Salut! Sunderland’s editors behind the scenes. Afterwards, anyone hoping to comment is prevented from doing so and sees an automatic message about a ‘critical error’ on the site. Phil Davison’s was that single response to this article. It read simply: ‘Malcolm and Pete. I will miss the voices of reason regarding SAFC’.

IF YOU WISH TO MAKE CONTACT WITH US, please us this e-mail address or visit our Facebook group at this link . It is open to all; if you receive a prompt asking you to join, be assured that it is a simple process and approval is very quick

Sixer’s Coventry Soapbox: grey skies as the Sky Blues come to town

Jake asks: ”did that late goal paper over even the smallest of cracks?

FOR A MESSAGE ABOUT OUR INABILITY TO PUBLISH COMMENTS, PLEASE SEE THE FOOTNOTE WHERE YOU WILL ALSO FIND LINKS TO ENABLE YOU TO MAKE CONTACT WITH SALUT! SUNDERLAND …

Malcolm Dawson writes…..on this day 12 months ago we travelled to Walsall full of optimism. Since the stewardship of the club had been handed over to new owners things were starting to look up. A new manager and a good set of results saw us undefeated at the Stadium of Light, starting with a victory over the Championship Champions Wolves, whilst the trip to the Midlands was on the back of four successive away wins. The way the new regime had reconnected with the supporters, their handling of highly paid non players, as well as good performances on the field from a group of players who clearly wanted to be at the club and it seemed the whole of Wearside and Sunderland supporting enclaves further afield was in good spirits. Fast forward 12 months and the mood has changed dramatically.

That game was the one where Max Power was sent off. Though the red card was subsequently rescinded, supporting the views of many of us at the time that the ref had got it wrong, there were plenty of Twitterers and other social media users who immediately took to the ether, demanding the sacking of Power and allowing their inherent negativity to start to take effect. Now I know that fans don’t pick the team, decide on the tactics nor go out onto the greensward in search of three points but I still believe that the mood they bring to proceedings can have an influence on the state of mind of the players, the manager and everyone else involved with the club.

It wasn’t long before Twitter, Facebook and those websites like The Boot Room and Transfer Tavern who seek readership by delighting in negative headlines and reposting simplistic comments from social media started to eat into that positivity. Negativity is pernicious and a vocal minority will have a greater effect than a largely silent majority who are satisfied with or at least realistic about things. When the GB cycling team were beating all before them they spoke about “the maximisation of marginals” and players, management and owners are people with feelings and it is my belief that undermining their self belief, even by only a tiny amount will impact upon the team’s performance.

The fact Stewart Donald has closed his Twitter account, has only rarely been seen recently at the Stadium and seems to have given up on socialising with the fans is one clue. The comment Jack Ross made when he described how, whilst signing autographs for a group of youngsters, a middle aged man had walked past telling him to “eff off back to Scotland” is equally illuminating. Well that man got his wish and how well that is working out eh?

Starting with that Wolves game, if my maths is correct, we have played 31 league games at the SoL and only lost once, yet yesterday the mood was sombre around me. Some disappointing results away from home and in cup games, but more so the way the team has played in those games, has done nothing to lift the mood. There are some who get angry and others like me who just seem resigned to the fact we are looking at a lengthy spell in this division. But like Pete Sixsmith I sense little optimism on Wearside at the moment and the mood around me yesterday was as grey and miserable as the weather. Coventry are the only team to pick up all three points on our home ground since that win over Wolves and they almost did so again yesterday. The home crowd were mostly relieved, rather than elated, when we salvaged something late on. 

Still somewhere between The Dance of the Knights and that rubbishy techno trash that the players walk out to, a peregrine falcon flew twice around the stadium in search of an ailing pigeon. It might have had more chance of finding a dead duck. Over to Pete.

THE END IS NIGH…….

When I made it clear to the powers that be that I was retiring from my teaching job, there was a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I told the head (decent bloke) that I would not be attending any more out of hours meetings, and became more relaxed in the classroom, allowing the students a little more leeway than in the past being less of the martinet and more of the benevolent old uncle who indulges his wayward nephews and nieces.

That is how it feels with regard to writing for Salut! Sunderland. It has been an experience which I have enjoyed immensely over the years even if what I have had to write about has in the main, been similar to being in a locked room with Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Prince Andrew without a pair of ear plugs.

I have ranted and raved over some of the performances, managers, players and owners, none of it to any effect. Some may say that it is the mellowing that comes when one realises that the years left are diminishing and that although one may rage against the passing of the light an association football match is not that important in the grand scheme of things.

A few years ago, a performance as insipid and stumbling as this one would have had me apoplectic with rage with steam coming out of my ears and my face turning purple a la crusty retired colonels/schoolteachers in The Dandy or Beano. The succession of misplaced passes, long balls hoofed up field for the lone forward to pointlessly chase and the complete lack of any creativity and oomph in midfield would have had me raging from my seat and cursing all the way back to Sixsmith Towers where the dogs would be kicked, the servants roundly abused and the brandy and soda quaffed all night.

It’s not that I don’t care anymore – as I write this, I have a heavy heart – it’s just that I feel that I have become immune to the events that unfold at the football club that I have followed since Monsieur Salut and I boarded the train at Shildon station in 1963.

I think most are agreed that automatic promotion is about as likely as Lord Buckethead forming the new government on December 13. In order to do that, we would have to win nearly all of our remaining games to catch those giants of football, Wycombe Wanderers, and join that group of long established “proper” football clubs – Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Stoke City – which currently languish in the Championship.

We could sneak into the playoffs should the manager be able to bring in the players he feels he needs in January. From what I have seen, that will be big men who get the ball forward quickly (a euphemism for lumping it forward) to a big, strong centre forward who will hold it up so that strong, mobile midfielders will support him. Throw in a couple of speedy wingers who will feed aforementioned centre forward with tempting crosses that can be headed in and all of a sudden, automatic promotion is back on the agenda.

However, we don’t have any speedy wingers who can plant a ball on a centre forward’s head. We have Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady, both of whom served us extremely well last year and both of whom are struggling to have any influence this year.

McGeady had one moment in the second half where he shuffled along the field and unleashed a venomous shot that Coventry keeper Marko Marosi did well to save. Other than that, the visitors kept him quiet. The McGeady of last season appears to have, er, disappeared…..

Maguire’s main contribution was to play a significant role in Coventry’s goal. An underhit back pass to Burge was intercepted by the impressive Amadou Bakayoko (a man who has spells at Southport and AFC Telford on his CV) and although his shot was put behind for a corner, poor marking and a spot of head tennis allowed Dom Hyam to open the scoring with a firm header. Other than that, the man who was so confident last season and who won us a number of games was anonymous and could easily have been replaced at half time.

George Honeyman – we miss his energy

It looked as if we were playing a 4-1-2-2-1 formation, with both full backs urged to focus on defensive duties rather than pushing forward. The fact that they were, in O’Nien and Hume, two of our sharpest players meant that the other, older, more ponderous midfielders were expected to inject pace and accuracy into the game. They didn’t.

Grant Leadbitter sat in front of the back four in order to tidy up. There was a lot of it to do in the opening 30 minutes as Joel Lynch had a shocker until he got his head right and put in a good 60 minutes – although we were a goal down by this stage. Without Jordan Willis we would have been down and out. He made at least four timely interceptions/blocks and looks to be by far the best of the summer incomings. Hopefully the injury that caused him to limp off is not serious.

Poor Grant struggled but at least we can point to his relative antiquity. Not so for Max Power or George Dobson who were collectively dreadful. They brought little energy to the team and consistently failed to support Will Grigg. The energy and general bustle of George Honeyman is sadly missed and I hope the keyboard warriors who played a part in forcing him out will be feeling suitably ashamed of themselves. Fat chance.

As for Grigg, I thought he did as well as he has all season. He is a player who thrives on the ball getting to him in the box which is where he scores the vast majority of his goals. Asking him to chase long balls is like asking Michael Gove to stop interrupting interviewers or (in the interests of political balance) pinning Jeremy Corbyn down on his Brexit intentions – it ain’t gonna happen.

There was one situation in the second half that summed it all up. A long clearance from Burge was won in the air by Grigg, who then got round the defender and chested the ball down with his back to goal. He looked up for midfield support only to see the three of them ambling forward. He must have had his Peter Glaze moment then and wondered why he bothered.

The changes made some impression. Duncan Watmore ran at tiring defenders and kept a well organised City on the back foot. Benjy Kimpioka notched the equaliser partly as a result of Coventry defending a cross as badly as we had an hour earlier. He’s an enigma. Whether he is also, to quote Churchill a riddle wrapped up in a mystery, remains to be seen. At the moment, he is a useful man to bring on rather than start with.

Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka

There are already calls for the owners, manager, players and tea ladies to go. Where to and who would replace them is never mentioned. We are where we are, a team that looks as if it is 10th in the league. There is only one relegation place available and we should avoid that as comfortably as we should avoid the automatic promotion places. Play offs it is then unless Phil Parkinson can conjure up a second half of the season akin to that of Roy Keane in 2007. Is Carlos Edwards available?

Coventry impressed me. They may be nomads at the moment but they have a manager who is clearly comfortable at this level. The worry for them is that they ran out of steam towards the end. I did feel that one goal was insufficient for them. I do get some things right.

Burton Albion come calling on Tuesday so we shall see if the management team have yet another rethink about the personnel and formation.

They must realise that Luke O’Nien is wasted at full back and that we need to inject some pace when we go forward. Mind, Luke needs to curb his temper. He had a couple of spats with Brandon Mason which a poorer referee than the excellent Scott Oldham might have looked upon in a less sensible light. Keep an eye out for this ref in the Premier League in the not too distant future. I saw him at Darlington v Walsall on Wednesday night and he impressed then with his cool and sensible approach.

We keep on going more out of habit than anything else. A third season at this level looks more likely now and should we lose to a Burton team who are undefeated at the Stadium, the mood will undoubtedly turn against manager, players and owners.

To quote Walter Gabriel, the great philosopher of Ambridge: “Oh dear, Oh Lord Oh Dear. What a roight mess we are in, eh, Tom Forrest?”

Highlights available in the UK via safc.com

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As readers know, we have been unable to publish comments for some weeks and this seems likely to remain unresolved as we wind down the site (which will remain visible until the hosting period, already paid for, expires).

Each post we publish allows a solitary response, which does not appear but can be seen by Salut! Sunderland’s editors behind the scenes. Afterwards, anyone hoping to comment is prevented from doing so and sees an automatic message about a ‘critical error’ on the site. Phil Davison’s was that single response to this article. It read simply: ‘Malcolm and Pete. I will miss the voices of reason regarding SAFC’.

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Sixer’s Sevens: Singing Sweating in the rain against Coventry City

Ho ho ho(a)’way the lads

John McCormick writes: Pete Sixsmith will be on Santa duty shortly. I suspect he will be happy to have a break from poor defending and poor forwards although we may have done just enough to stay in contention on a day when other late goals worsened our position.

Perhaps Pete will let us know in a match report tomorrow if Malcolm Dawson is not the designated provider. Whoever it is, until then we’ll have to rely on Pete’s seven word text from a very wet Stadium of Light

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: Singing Sweating in the rain against Coventry City

Salut! Sunderland’s 13 years, SAFC’s 13 managers. A Sixer series: (2) the Sbragia interlude

Ricky Sbragia

Monsieur Salut writes: no fairy godmother has appeared – though one did briefly hover – and the site is still in winding down mode. Pete Sixsmith, undeterred, presses on with one last series. He is tracing the 13 Sunderland managers who coincide with Salut! Sunderland’s 13-year history.

After a rousing start with the Roy Keane era, Sixer moves on to his successor …

Read moreSalut! Sunderland’s 13 years, SAFC’s 13 managers. A Sixer series: (2) the Sbragia interlude

Salut! Sunderland’s 13 years, SAFC’s 13 managers. A Sixer series: (1) Roy Keane

Roy Keane, as portrayed by Owen Lennox
Roy Keane, as portrayed by Sunderland artist Owen Lennox

Elections are a time for presenting old policies as new, re-announcing expenditure plans as if part of a bold, vote-winning new programme. Salut! Sunderland gets in on the act by re-announcing Pete Sixsmith‘s farewell series as the site winds down after very nearly 13 years.

Sixer came up with the idea of describing each of the 13 managers seen at Sunderland since the site first appeared at the beginning of 2007. For the first instalment, he recalled the towering ups and ultimate down of the Roy Keane era.

One of those annoying technical issues that have become so prevalent restricted readership of a typically fine Sixer read. Hence the reproduction of the piece today ahead of the second episode, which will look at Ricky Sbragia’s short spell in charge.

At the time, we longed for better. Keano’s pulsating promotion season was followed by tough struggles in the lower regions of the Premier League fixture. But we survived. And viewed from the closing months of 2019, when the team staggers from bad to worse and manages to exit three cup competitions before a new manager has his feet properly under the table, they were positively golden times.

As we lick our wounds after the latest abysmal performance, beaten 1-0 in the FA Cup first round replay at Gillingham (see Phil Parkinson’s reaction here), let Pete take up the story …

Read moreSalut! Sunderland’s 13 years, SAFC’s 13 managers. A Sixer series: (1) Roy Keane