With Pete Sixsmith otherwise engaged on family matters, once again Supersub Robert Chapman steps up to the plate with his thoughts on the game at Bolton. It’s fair to say that he wouldn’t have been the only Sunderland fan in a good mood as kick off loomed, as the not unexpected news from Brighton got the afternoon off to a fine start. Certainly the BBC Newcastle team were in upbeat mood about the Black Cats’ cahances as the teams were announced but as Nick Barnes warned, potential banana skins await the overconfident.
And so it proved, as once again the Sunderland team put its supporters through the gamut of emotions with relief and renewed expectation of a 40th anniversary FA Cup run as the final whistle blew. Mind you had we known in advance the identity of our potential 4th round opponents there may have been a little less confidence. Still bogey teams are there to be beaten but first there’s still a tricky replay to negotiate.
My first ever visit to Bolton was on the 27th December 1975.
A bullet ‘Charlie Hurley style’ header from a young Sam Allardyce was enough to win the game for them. It was a Division 2 fixture in front of a 40,000 Burnden Park crowd. The goal itself is one of those moments hardwired into my brain. What is certain though is that for the first 60 minutes of this F A Cup tie there will be no memories stored alongside that goal.
As usual I was in my ever optimistic mood prior to kick off. Although we have lots of injuries, the 11 we put out were all experienced Premiership players. On the other hand Bolton had Chris Eagles and Kevin Davies on the bench. Both of these have caused us problems in recent times.
For the first 10 minutes of the game Sunderland seemed in control of their own destiny. Without putting undue pressure on Bolton I felt we had another gear to go if we needed it. Then calamity struck. Mignolet passed the ball to Cuellar in the left back position close to the corner flag. Instead of clearing the ball up the line he decided to pass to Bramble in a central position, just outside the penalty area. The ball never reached Titus and Lee had the easy task of putting the ball in to an empty net. Schoolboy error springs to mind.
Within minutes of that disaster Mignolet and Bramble conspired to almost give another goal away. Bramble had to clear a loose ball which Mignolet should have dealt with. The two of them stood arguing with each other and I thought that only way this game could go was downhill. Half time couldn’t come soon enough, though the pace Bardsley walked off the pitch suggested a severe dressing down was definitely on the cards, but to be fair to him he was one of the better performers.
I spent the first part of half time trying to count the home supporters in the stand opposite. I got to 64. The upper tier of the North stand was closed altogether and I couldn’t believe how few Bolton fans had bothered to come. The fact we took 5000 in a crowd of 12000 suggests that relegation has had a disastrous effect on them. Bored with counting fans I then began drafting for Sixers Sevens. I came up with ‘Worst performance of the season so far’ and ‘Cuellar disaster leads to early Cup exit’.
We had lost Danny Rose so Colback had replaced him and just as I was thinking that things couldn’t get any worse, the second half kicked off. Well of course this being Sunderland anything could happen, and another piece of shoddy defending led to Sordell heading in their second and suddenly things had worsened.
I never leave a game early but I was sorely tempted with this dreadful performance. I could always go and pick up my winnings from the Bookies having predicted a 2-0 Brighton win and go and have a couple of pints before catching the train home.
But then Martin O’Neill decided to go on the offensive. Cue Connor Wickham and a change of formation. Slowly we began to get a grip. Vaughan and Gardner started to dominate and the wide men were getting good balls into the two strikers. Lonergan made two excellent saves from Fletcher before Wickham scored his first of the season.
How things can turn around! We were now well and truly on top and I just knew that we would go on to get another and so we did. Gardner got the equaliser when he picked his spot with a dipping shot from the edge of the box. We then pressed hard for the winner and came close when a glancing header from Wickham went just wide of the post. Now we were in the ascendancy and had there been another 10 minutes I am sure we would have gone on to win.
Connor Wickham definitely deserves a chance. He came on at both Norwich and Man Utd and made a difference. He and Fletcher are both good technical players and both would be quite capable of operating in a MON preferred 4-5-1 formation or as a two man strike force.
After that first half the result was certainly unexpected and I am sure the supporting 5000 certainly played their part. I am glad I didn’t leave early. It’s back to work on Monday. I shall go with a spring in my step, safe in the knowledge I will not be ridiculed as my team was not knocked out by a Championship side. I will also pick up my winnings from the Brighton match. That should do nicely to cover my costs for the replay.
Ha’way the Lads!