Pete Sixsmith is beginning to see some Sunderland wins. Sadly, they are not so far in the Championship. Maybe that will change on Saturday when proper football returns after the tedious international break. The Under 23s overcame a strong challenge from Hertha Berlin and a returning Paddy McNair caught Sixer’s eye, as did Duncan Watmore and a young keeper he thinks we may hear a lot more of …
Last night saw a welcome return of the Premier League International Cup as we hosted Hertha Berlin at the Stadium of Light for our opening game.
You may remember that Sunderland Under 23s reached the final of this incredibly prestigious tournament last season and pushed FC Porto all the way in the final before they came away with a lucky 5-0 win.
It’s the same format this season. We get to play two European sides at home and one English one away.
This year it is Hertha Berlin and Legia Warsaw who visit us while we have to go to Leicester City. The group winners go through and then there are two knockout games before the final. All promoted by the Premier League to encourage the development of young footballers and to bring nations together before we turn our backs on Europe politically.
Hertha are one of Germany’s oldest clubs, founded in 1892 (the year we won our first League Championship) and becoming founder members of the German FA in 1902.
All football in Germany was organised on a regional basis until 1963 when the Bundesliga was formed and Hertha, romantically named after a blue and white steamship that one of the founders had sailed on, were, for football and political reasons, among the founders of that.
For 40 years they were a capitalist island isolated in the sea of socialism that was the German Democratic Republic. They drew huge crowds to the Olympic Stadium in the centre of West Berlin despite a lack of real success and when they were relegated in the 1960s the DFB co-opted another Berlin side to take their place.
From the 1970s onwards they have been regular Bundesliga members and finished sixth last season, which meant a place in the Europa League. They play Zoryha Luhansk from Ukraine next week after a league game with Schalke 04 on Saturday. Slightly more impressive than Queens Park Rangers at home followed by Brentford away……
I know little about their Under 23 team other than they were very polite and sporting throughout the first half but became increasingly bewildered by the refereeing and the antics of some of our players in the second. They lost their heads towards the end and were quite fortunate to keep a full complement on the pitch in the later stages of an interesting game.
The main topic of interest for Sunderland fans was the progress and fitness of Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair. The former now has three Under 23 games and a short first team cameo under his belt and it seems likely that he will resume first team duties on Saturday. He played up front as a lone striker and looked sharp at times as he chased every ball and looked to put the Hertha defenders under pressure.
For Paddy McNair it was slightly different. He took 20 minutes to get into the game – his first one since November of last year, but once he settled into the admittedly pedestrian nature of the half, he began to show that he could be an important part of the first team. He is a big, strong player and moves quickly. He took his goal well, reacting to a save by Hertha keeper Bruggemeir from Watmore and directing a looping header into the net.
Hertha should have levelled just before the break when Donald Love lost his player and Beyer headed against the post when he really should have scored. Love, Jack Rodwell and Brendan Galloway were 75 per cent of a back four that had first team experience; Rodwell looked assured at centre half (he started out at Everton as a central defender) and Galloway was able to get forward, but none of the three looked likely to be in Simon Grayson’s thoughts for a first team place.
McNair, Watmore and Ethan Robson went off at half time and the much hungrier Andrew Nelson, Jack Diamond and Owen Gamble came on. They began to rattle the German players and became quite aggressive in a game which had been the epitome of polite football.
The referee produced his yellow card a number of times and had a lengthy conversation with the Hertha coach.
His team looked for an equaliser and we saw a very accomplished goalkeeping performance from James Talbot – nothing spectacular but steady and reliable. The young Irishman looks as if he could be another Jordan Pickford; his distribution is as good.
The clinching goal came with the last kick of the game. Jack Diamond, busy throughout, dashed into the box and went down over an outstretched leg. Skipper Thomas Beadling stepped up to slot the ball into the net and bring the game to an end.
The next game is on November 15 when Legia Warsaw are the visitors. It may be the only chance we have to see European football on Wearside for many years.