Malcolm Dawson writes…..I was originally supposed to be otherwise occupied this week but my prior engagement was cancelled so I could have gone once I realised there were still tickets on sale. Expecting to be in Lancashire until Friday of this week, I had ordered a ticket for Rochdale and planned to spend an extra evening in that fine county but finding myself back in the wilds of County Durham, I thought that two drives in a week was a bit much after my Wembley jaunt, so I decided I would use the safsee coverage to follow the game. But even though the club website said live streaming was available, it turned out that a dispute over a payment to Stanley to allow a beam back to the SoL, meant it could only be seen by overseas viewers. <strong>Pete Sixsmithg/strong> was there of course to witness a fine victory which is a step in the right direction if we are to finish in one of the automatic promotion places. Here’s how Pete saw things at The Wham.
ACCRINGTON STANLEY (away)
There were worries that this game could prove to be a defining one on the road back to the respectability of the Championship.
Would there be post Wembley blues from the players?
Would Stanley use this game as an opportunity to start their own revival as they slid towards the relegation zone?
Would the weather and a sticky pitch stop us from playing the quality of football that we know this side is capable of?
The answer can be found in the Amy Winehouse song that we adapted and sang about Nyron Nosworthy in our last successful promotion campaign. No! No! No!
The players showed their commitment to the cause and shed off the blues as quickly as many of the 1,650 followers who had trekked over to this post-industrial part of North East Lancashire. They looked determined to put the (mild) disappointment of Sunday behind them and start on the task of pegging back Barnsley and possibly, Luton Town.
The opposition were nowhere near good, clever or fit enough to stop a Sunderland side that treated this game as if they were visitors from another world, determined to show the locals how to play football and to put them firmly in their place. The home team resorted to a not very pleasant combination of long balls and undue physicality as they adopted an approach which can be characterised in the damning indictment of the man behind me as “ale-house football ».
And the weather, although by no means an early indicator of global warming, was nowhere near as ferocious as it had been in December, when Malcolm and John sat huddled in the Peel Park Hotel and I entertained children and their parents with a few jolly “ho, ho, ho »s in Jesmond.
As with the Nyron song, there were three outstanding performances from a team that saw five changes from the Wembley disappointment. Denver Hume came in for the injured Reece James, Max Power took over from Lee Cattermole who had an ankle problem, Grant Leadbitter was rested which allowed Dylan McGeouch to start, Lynden Gooch came in for Lewis Morgan who was on the bench and Charlie Wyke replaced the still suspended George Honeyman.
The changes worked with Wyke and particularly McGeouch having good games, while the third member of the triumvirate, Aiden McGeady, was outstanding, as he has been for much of the season. Happy 33rd birthday, Aiden. Don’t break a rib blowing out all the candles.
As an elder statesman surrounded by mostly young players, McGeady has been a credit to himself. He is clearly well respected as a man as well as a player and when he scores goals like the one that opened the scoring after four minutes, he is the difference between winning and not winning. That was his 14th of the season and he won’t have scored many better ones as he smacked home a fierce shot after creating space for himself.
Thereafter, he tortured the Accrington defence who resorted to kicking him and he remained in the changing room at half time complaining of a sore ankle. Lewis Morgan, who improves by the game, replaced him and although not as tricky and as wriggly as McGeady, did well.
Charlie Wyke got a start in a new system where we played two up front. It worked and Charlie was the main reason why. He played like a centre forward should, barging into defenders, holding the ball up and laying it off to team mates. Granted, his shooting was a tad wayward (alright, a lot) but he won over the crowd who gave him great support and who clearly want a player who looks like a real trier to succeed. We need to be careful though as if Newcastle fail to follow the Rondon deal through, the Tactical Genius That Is Rafa, may see Charlie as an ideal replacement.
Finally, Dylan McGeouch. When he came from Hibs, he was seen as a marquee signing, but he never quite got into things as the season unwound. The bench and his bottom have been well acquainted and he must have been disappointed not to get on to the pitch on Sunday. If he was, he responded in the perfect way by running this game.
He was the complete opposite of Macavity the Mystery Cat who, you may remember, “was never there ». Dylan was. Every time I followed the ball, he was in the vicinity. He brought the ball out of defence, he won tackles and headers, he helped team mates out of tight situations and he drove us forward. That’s the best we have seen from him so far. I look forward to seeing much, much more.
The other two goals were well taken. Will Grigg looked happier alongside Wyke and got onto the end of a long clearance by the always excellent McLaughlin to slot thee ball into the net and effectively win the game. I had just prepared my half time seven which said “Good performance but second goal remains elusive.” Shows how much I know.
I was pleased to see Kazaiah Sterling notch his first senior goal. He got on the end of a fine, low cross from Morgan and slotted the ball in before nearly jumping over nearby Pendle Hill and disturbing the sleeping witches that dwell there.
As for Stanley, they are in trouble. They were a shadow of the team they were a few weeks ago when they put the wind up us on Wearside. Paul Smyth was their most dangerous player but he spoiled himself by diving and by committing a series of fouls including a nasty one on Luke O’Nien which deserved a booking at the very least.
It was an enjoyable day. Refreshments were taken in Colne where I sampled a splendid pint of George Wright’s Plum Porter from nearby St Helens at Boyce’s Barrels, a micro pub in a street of micro pubs. I wandered around the town which still has a pride in its civic buildings – the Town Hall, the former Co-Op department store, the civic buildings and a memorial to the bandmaster on RMS Titanic, Wallace Hartley, who hailed from the town.
Like that ill-fated ship, Accrington look like they are going down.
We could help them by banging a few nails in Rochdale’s coffin on Saturday.