As a tough Saturday afternoon looms, Pete Sixsmith wonders whether the return of football has come too soon …
Two weeks away from the Premier League is good for the sanity, the blood pressure and the cat, who does not have to dodge a stray boot when I come in from the latest defeat. However, a week spent watching Northern League and FA Vase football comes to an end as Arsenal ride into town on Saturday.
It has been an interesting couple of weeks. For me, I got to visit Penistone, one of those towns like Scunthorpe which hyper sensitive search engines will not allow you to access via the internet. It’s a pleasant town, home of Kate Rusby (we were served tea by one of her classmates and cousins) and the base for Penistone Church F.C. who play in the wonderfully named Pete’s Patisserie Sheffield County League and who were making their debut in the FA Vase at home to those giants of non-league, Rossington Main.
It cost me £3 to get in and I won’t see many better games this year. Penistone stormed into a 2 goal lead, but their more experienced hosts came back to wear them down and win by the odd goal in five. Fish and chips at Wetherby rounded off a splendid day.
Then we had the World Cup Qualifiers and what appeared to be a routine win over Moldova and a goalless draw in Ukraine, the kind of point that we sometimes get at Arsenal or Liverpool and are roundly castigated for. This time it was Roy Hodgson who faced the flak from Gary Lineker, who is becoming rather controversial in his dotage. All part of an attempt to rev up interest for Match of the Day or am I being cynical? The game in Kiev sounded an absolute stinker.
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This was followed by Paolo Di Canio walking into the lion’s den at St James’ Park when he played for Milan against a team made up of players that Steve Harper has admired from benches all over this country and Europe. I can’t imagine Mick McCarthy or Roy Keane doing what di Canio did and if they did, would they have lasted a full 90 minutes as he did?
Predictably, Joey Barton crunched him from behind to uphold the spirit of the game Barton style, but Paolo had the last laugh when his penalty sealed a win for the Rossineri as the game went to a shoot out. Well done to Steve Harper for having the game as a charity match – I am sure that Mike Ashley, John Hall and Freddie Shepherd contributed to the good causes having taken a few quid out of the Mags over the years.
And now we come to the first of a series of home games that should excite us but probably leave us cowering behind the settee with our hands over our eyes, circa “Doctor Who” 1963. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, the riff-raff, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham make up the run of home games up until Christmas. There are some who think that we will do well to take 4 points from that lot, while even the most wildly optimistic struggle to see more than ten.
Arsenal will have the representatives of the press following them in droves tomorrow as Mesut Ozil is likely to be in the visitors 17 man squad. He is a very good player and could play a part in helping the Gunners to win a trophy for the first time since Tony Blair was a fresh faced politician and Dave Cameron was an unknown back bencher and part time restaurant wrecker.
Sunderland will be there to make up the numbers and you can guarantee that most of the press will have written their stories now, hailing Wenger as the kind of manager who wins Monopoly by purchasing Park Lane and Mayfair, while Di Canio buys whatever he lands on without thinking about it.
We shall see and no doubt all the Arsenal “fans” scattered throughout the northern part of the country will welcome Ozil to the self-styled best league in the world. I find it very hard to understand how someone living in, say, Ferryhill or Barrow-in-Furness can swear allegiance to a team in London, a place that, as we all know, is made up of spivs, skinheads and Monty and Ruperts. My book says that you should support your local team – give me a Mag above a County Durham based “Gooner” while a Boro fan comes way ahead of someone who “follows” Liverpool because they once had a decent team and decent managers.
The form book and the press suggest that we will lose comfortably tomorrow. This is a great chance for the players and the manager to show the world that we are a club that has pride and that red blood runs through our veins. The team selection will be interesting; let me go for Westwood; Celustka, Cuellar, Diakite, Colback; Giaccherini, Cabral, Larsson, Johnson; Altidore, Fletcher. That may well be a team that will go down in the annals of Sunderland AFC as the ones who stopped the rot and sent us on our way to our seventh league titile.
Pass the absinthe, nurse.
** And check out what Monsieur Salut makes of this week’s challenge at ESPN: http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/2037?cc=5739
Arsenal, the reigning champions, were torn apart in the first-half as Raich Carter, considered by many to have been one of the finest players of all time, scored two of the goals that gave Sunderland a commanding 4-1 lead. Arsenal’s second-half recovery took them close to finding an equaliser. Sunderland, unsettled by injuries, lost the “penetrative power” of the first half, “throwing more work on the rear divisions and allowing the initiative to pass to Arsenal”. The game ended 5-4.
Come Saturday, at the Stadium of Light, I expect a great deal of work to present itself to Paolo Di Canio’s rear divisions. Leaving aside that opening day defeat at home to Aston Villa, Arsenal have made a bright start to the season and can reasonably look to Mesut Ozil, their frighteningly impressive new recruit from Real Madrid, for the sort of attacking midfield display that would stir the soul of Raich Carter’s ghost.