John McCormick writes: Pete Sixsmith wrote this a couple of days ago but for some reason it didn’t reach me. Not to worry, it’s here now, and it’s up to his usual standard.
Over to Pete:
PROGRESS IN EUROPE
There’s a headline Sunderland fans haven’t seen since 1973 when we put Vasas Budapest out of the European Cup Winners Cup. Those of us old enough to be there will remember that the club were heavily criticised for charging £1 for standing tickets and being rewarded with a crowd of less than 30,000.
Last night, 42 years on, I produced a shiny £1 coin at the turnstile and gained admittance to the West Stand of the Stadium of Light for the Premier League International Cup Group Game against Athletic Bilbao. The crowd was a symmetrical 888 (bet you it was) and we enjoyed a decent game between two contrasting styles – the urgent, hurried style of the English Premier League and the slower, more aesthetically pleasing of La Liga.
We were without 4 regulars. Liam Agnew and Lyndon Gooch were injured while Duncan Watmore and Charis Mavrias were away on international duty. Valentin Roberge seems to have disappeared off the face of the Sunderland centred earth but Danny Graham and Patrick Van Aanholt both turned out. It may have been to let Sam Allardyce have a look at them or to get then up to match fitness or there may have been scouts watching them.
If it were the latter, they would have been impressed with the way that Graham held the ball up and tried to bring others into play and by the well taken goal that he scored in the 34th minute. Our Flying Dutchman worked well down the left flank with young Thomas Robson, one of three Robsons in the team. All three have potential and one of them may well make that elusive breakthrough.
Bilbao levelled just before the break with a well worked goal, finished off by Rodriguez and had played the more controlled football. Clad in all blue with no sponsors name on the front of their shirts, they had players who had been given very clear instructions about what to do and in centre forward Inigo Belar, they had the best player on the park. Playing on his own up front, he twisted and turned, producing a very good performance which drew warm applause from the crowd when he went off.
We played a 4-2-2-1-1- formation with Smith and Ethan Robson anchoring the midfield and Greenwood and either Van Aanholt or Robson wide. Greenwood has done well for an 18 year old but this was not his best game as he seemed hesitant and did not show the pace that he usually does.
Mikael Mandron played behind Graham and worked hard in an unfamiliar position. He is used to being the spearhead and having a good supply of passes from Watmore and Gooch; here, he had to drop in to bolster up Robson and Smith who were in danger of being overrun at times. Any scout watching him would have been impressed with his work ethic and his acceptance of a role that was foreign to him.
Both centre halves, George Brady and Michael Ledger were thorough and precise and similar to O’Shea and Coates in that they stuck to their tasks and did nothing extravagant. The fact that Belar was taken off looking tired was testimony to their diligence.
The winner came in the 84th minute when Van Aanholt burst into the box chasing an excellent pass from Smith and was pulled back. Smith took over the penalty duties after Mandron’s last minute miss against Borussia Monchengladbach and drilled home a penalty as good as the one that Tadic had put in the same net on Saturday.
It was a good win over a side that played football but who also had a tendency to go down too easily, particularly in the closing stages of the game. There was nearly a nasty accident at the end when a couple of their players were hurt as the entire team tried to go down the tunnel all at once. You should never put all your Basques in one exit.
I’ll get my coat.