Monsieur Salut writes: The last I saw of Pete Sixmith was when he boarded one train, and I another, at Southampton Central. It’s fair to say our spirits were not high. As we await our Mannone payouts – Sixer reckons £500 would cover his extended south coast stay; mine involves diesel and motorway tolls for 1,200km through France and the south-east, one overnight stop, travel and beer on Saturday and the old codger’s ticket but I’d accept even less, say £300) – he takes in a Sunderland return to winning ways, unfortunately at the wrong level to ease our Premier worries …
They say when you fall off a horse, you have to get straight back on or else you will never ride again. An 8-0 defeat is not exactly a horse, but things have to be faced and it was with some reluctance that I pointed the trusty Mazda in the direction of the Stadium of Light for last night’s clash with Leicester City.
The club are intending to play more games at the SoL this season in order to give younger players the experience of playing in a big stadium. Hetton hardly qualifies for this, despite its excellent playing surface and rumours of games being played down the road at Bishop Auckland have not yet been confirmed.
So it was that we turned out a mixed team on Monday in front of a sparse crowd, albeit one sat in the comfortable padded seats.
The coach Robbie Stockdale named the four from Saturday’s bench who were not part of that debacle – The Giant Pantilimon, Cabral, Mavrias and Graham – plus the regular Under 21s minus the injured Honeyman and Mandron, who both seem to be in danger of disappearing.
In the past Under 21 games have been similar to croquet on the vicarage lawn, all good manners and nothing to frighten the ladies, but with the introduction of two divisions and an acceptance that Under 21 football did not prepare players for the hurly-burly of the senior game, there has been a change of emphasis and tackles are now being made.
None of which excuse the shocking challenge that Hamza Choudhury perpetrated on Charias Mavrias a mere 10 minutes into the game. He caught the lively Greek winger late and on the shin, prompting a bout of pushing and shoving led by Cabral which, although not quite in the Wigan v St Helens category, was unsavoury enough.
That Mavrias got up as soon as he could probably saved the Foxes’ midfielder from a red card. Many in the crowd thought that the yellow was simply inadequate and there were numerous mutterings that included the words “Cattermole”, “certain” and “red”. Young Choudhury was a fortunate man still to be on.
We dominated most of the game. Mavrias and Watmore were lively and ran at defenders without ever quite making the killer pass. The former Panathinaikos man has bulked up over the last year and looks fit enough to compete at the physical levels demanded of the Premier League. I hear that his former club are keen to take him back but also that Poyet thinks he might blossom. His chance may come sooner rather than later.
Cabral moved around easily and showed that he is a decent player while Danny Graham contrived to hit the keeper with a chance that he really should have put away amid much shaking of heads in the comfy seats. He tries hard but …
TGP had little to do and as the game drifted to a close, the three bench warmers went off to be replaced by three youngsters in Smith, Greenwood and Lawson.
It was Rees Greenwood, an 18-year-old from Winlaton, who played a major part in the winning goal. He ran at the Foxes defence and was tripped inside the box. He looks a promising player and is described on the club website as “the ideal No 10”, a kind of Johnny Crossan player who can make them and score them. Liam Agnew, Sunderland born and bred and a hard working midfield player, calmly slotted home the penalty and this particular fox had been shot.
There was lots of endeavour but some careless passing from both sides which may or may not be down to nerves at playing on the big ground. It would be good to see local lads like Agnew, Connor Oliver (good footballer, but a bit short of pace after a nasty injury last season) and David Ferguson make the leap upwards.
A win is a win and the same would be welcome on Saturday. I am abandoning the SoL in favour of Shildon’s FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round game at Norton United in the Potteries. I hope for a double but fear the worst.
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