The Under 21s have done significantly better in their league than the senior Lads have in theirs. Pete Sixsmith, has been a regular at home games, caught their last of the season and paid proper attention – despite the competing instinct to ponder away trips to the Pirelli Stadium and Craven Cottage, not to mention SJP…
Sunday lunchtime at the Stadium of Light. The dust had settled on the bitterly disappointing 0-0 draw with Tony Pulis’s band of merry entertainers and the realisation that relegation was just that little bit more likely.
A smattering of supporters, including three of the Hetton Irregulars, sat in the West Stand to say goodbye to Liam Agnew, Mikael Mandron and George Honeyman who are being released by the club at the end of the season.
It was also an opportunity to widen the gap between us and Manchester United at the top of the Premier Reserve League Division One. With only one more game for us (away to Tottenham Hotspur) and with United having four games in hand prior to the Southampton game, a home win was essential if relegation was to …… sorry, force of habit …… if the league title was to be won.
The Saints showed more attacking intent in the first five minutes than the Baggies had in the entire game the previous day. They played some decent football as did we, but, like the Albion game, there was a sense of a wasted opportunity after the game.
The three destined to depart did well enough with Honeyman showing some of the touches that made the Hetton Irregulars wonder if he could be the next one to make it after Henderson and Colback. Mandron showed plenty of willing but he is not robust enough and was eased off the ball far too … er, easily.
Liam Agnew led from the front as he has done for the last two years. He could well make a success lower down the leagues, following in the footsteps of Blair Adams, Billy Knott and Liam Noble. He isn’t the most incisive of passers and he tends to move the ball sideways but he has a great engine on him and I, and the other HIs, wish all three of them well.
Of those who remain, the Polish keeper Max Stryjek has a future and has come along really well this year. The same applies to Thomas Robson and Thomas Beadling, both of who have been training with the first team, while Rees Greenwood is also well thought of. He has been away with the England Under 20 squad and, with some good advice and lots of hard work, he may well get his chance next year in whatever league we are playing in.
Some of the younger players made the step up and Carl Lawson had an effective game up front, while Richard Wright ran himself into the ground in the unfamiliar midfield position that he was asked to play.
The game ended 2-2. Southampton took the lead 10 minutes into the second half when George Brady was slow to react to Stryjek’s save and Sam Gallagher fired in.
Saints keeper Paulo Gazzaniga kept his team in it but Honeyman beat him with a crisp shot to deservedly level the scores. There was a fair amount of pressure, Gazzaniga saved well from Mandron and a home win looked the likeliest result.
With three minutes left, Ollie Cook headed the visitors back into the lead, but sub Luke Molyneux levelled a minute later with his first touch after excellent work by the impressive Greenwood.
The referee, a far more authoritative figure than Roger East – but then so is Mr Pastry – blew the whistle and, with only that last game at Spurs to play, the SoL curtain came down on another season for the Academy boys.
Considering that they have lost Watmore, Gooch and Mavrias since January, they have done well to remain at the top of the league for so long. It may well be that Manchester United, who have had the likes of Rashford, Blackett and Lingard in their squad, will win the league, but our lads and their coaches Robbie Stockdale and Andy Welsh, have had a season to be proud of.
Rumours are rife that Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland will stage some Under 21 games next season. I can see the ground from my front upstairs window if I stand on a chair and crane my neck, so next season’s reports may well come through the lens of a telescope.
Best wishes to all those who are leaving the club and here’s hoping that we can get some local lads coming through into the first team.
Robson(T), Greenwood, Stryjek, Beadling and Lawson are all possibilities, particularly if we do drop a league. Two of those would justify the academy and they couldn’t be any worse than some of the dross that we have shelled out big money on in the past. Will Buckley anyone?