Malcolm Dawson was about 6 when he went to his first ever live football match. He doesn’t remember much about it except that the home team was Eppleton Colliery Welfare and they played in light blue with two maroon bands – like the old West Ham change strip of the sixties. Following the disappointment of Saturday, he returned on Sunday to see if the Under 21s could show the big boys how it’s done.
Sunderland 3 Manchester City 0
While Peter Sixsmith was wending his way back from sunny Dorset, Sunday saw myself under cloudy skies, heading for the place of my birth and the Eppleton Colliery Welfare ground in Hetton-le-Hole where the Under 21s were taking on their counterparts from Manchester City.
Hetton has changed since I was growing up – but not that much. Back in the day whenever I returned to the family home, either from college or in later years when I lived in the East Midlands, the village was dominated by the massive pit heap – an edifice to the years of toil at the colliery which opened at Eppleton in 1825, where my father worked for more than thirty years and which was the first thing I saw every morning when I drew back the curtains in my bedroom. Now there is no evidence at all of the industry that dominated the whole of that part of County Durham. Instead a row of wind turbines silhouettes the skyline on the drive in through Moorsley. Both Anglican churches and a couple of the Working Mens’ Clubs have gone, but I still get a feeling of belonging in a place I was happy enough to leave behind in my teenage years, though never really put behind me, returning several times a year for family visits.
The football ground, tucked away behind the swimming baths, the bus station and the Hetton Centre and backing onto the park, is a decent enough place to watch football. In the old days it shared its space with Eppleton CW Cricket Club, one of three in the village, but now it is a tidy little ground with a single stand and pop up sprinklers. It’s just a shame that Eppleton Colliery Welfare F.C. like the cricket club, is now defunct and it is only the involvement of SAFC and especially the Ladies’ team which keeps the ground viable.
Amazingly I managed to park up right outside the ground as there was a decent enough crowd there and found myself a seat just before kick off. The usual crowd of Hetton Irregulars were there, standing on the far side, but being a lazy sod with an arthritic knee I grabbed a chair from the outside dining/smoking area and settled in behind the goal. Sunderland legend Kevin Ball was also there and good man that he is always says “Hello” to me. I’m not sure if that’s because he actually remembers meeting me at various supporters’ functions or if he is just very good at his ambassadorial role. The latter I suspect.
Good job I wasn’t late because like the game at Dean Court the previous day the match was more or less settled in the first ten minutes. Duncan Watmore, had recovered from his bout of illness and was in the starting XI along with Charas Mavrias but there was no sign of Buckley, Bridcutt or Roberge which may be indicative of the club’s efforts to send them out on loan somewhere. (And Buckley is now off to Leeds I hear.) And it was to be Watmore’s day. Within three minutes he had his first of the afternoon. A sliced attempt at a clearance by the City number 3 saw the American Lynden Gooch burst into the box only to be tripped by the keeper who was fortunate not to get booked. A clear penalty, well dispatched by Watmore who hit it hard to the goalie’s left. The keeper guessed right and got a hand on the shot but it was hard enough and low enough to find the back of the net despite that. One Nil.
Not long afterwards it was two nil. Good work down the left and some crisp close quarter passing led to a peach of a cross from Lynden Gooch who turned his man as easily as Younis Kaboul had been turned twenty four hours earlier. The ball hung teasingly for Mavrias who did enough to stop the centre half from getting in a decent clearance and as his sliced effort ballooned upwards in came Watmore to barge the Greek out of the way and grab his second.
Spurred on by coach Patrick Viera, City then had more possession but never really threatened Sunderland’s assured young Polish keeper Max Stryjek and two nil it remained as the players went in to suck on their half time oranges and the sprinklers popped up much to the annoyance of the City subs.
More of the same in the second half. Only a few minutes in and another misplaced attempted back pass from City’s number three who seemed to stroll about issuing orders to his team mates without actually contributing much himself, left Watmore one on one with the goalie. He clipped the ball past him and though the ball looked like it was running away from our ginger headed hero the goalie’s lunge ended up in a clear trip, another penalty and a yellow card. It could, maybe should have been a second yellow but the ref had a decent game and at this level a sending off would have been harsh. Neither of the tackles were malicious, just clumsy. Big Duncan stepped up to complete his hat-trick with an almost identical penalty. This one was slightly higher and even closer to the post and evaded the diving keeper who once again had read Watmore’s intentions correctly.
That was more or less it. The Sunderland lads kept control of the match and Watmore nearly had a fourth when a delightful chip landed on the roof of the net and the crowd went home happy.
This performance will no doubt increase the clamour amongst certain sections of the SAFC faithful for Watmore’s increased involvement with the senior squad and whilst that can only do him good he is in my opinion, still a work in progress. He may not be just a very naughty boy but neither is he the Messiah. He will progress and learn but it will take time. I can’t see him doing for us what Harry Kane did for Spurs last season but handled properly should have a part to play as the season progresses. As I see it, it is the American Lynden Gooch who is closer to stepping up a level. He is small but strong. He holds off defenders well, keeps possession and with his low centre of gravity is able to turn them and create space for himself. He has good feet and can create chances for others as well as showing the ability for cool finishing himself. Will he get a chance tonight against what should be a much more experienced Manchester City side? I’ll see later but of several of the Under 21s who might make the grade, he’s my tip for the top.