Malcolm Dawson writes…..it was like old times yesterday with a packed house to welcome our visitors from Bradford, which included more than 2,000 in the North Stand Upper, who had made the Boxing Day trip from West Yorkshire.
Half time included a perfect rendition of “Shipyards” by Martin Longstaff, who performs as The Lake Poets. The song is used as the theme music for the Netflix docuseries “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” and credit to the Bradford fans, who could have tried to drown out a man in red and white stripes standing alone with a guitar in the centre circle, but the stadium was almost silent throughout before erupting into a huge cheer and round of applause when he finished.
If you haven’t seen the series it is well worth a look and you can get a full month’s viewing with no commitment for free.
In it Aiden McGeady criticises Chris Coleman for asking him to play in a 4-3-3 system without explaining what his role was. I have to admit I found it difficult to understand how a professional footballer who has played for his country, couldn’t work that out for himself, but the Irishman, nor any of the others in this squad, appear to have any problem with Jack Ross’s different set ups. Luke O’Nien for example putting himself up as a right back, even though he’d only ever played there on FIFA, looked as if it was his natural position.
I thought we were the better side yesterday and deserved to win, and for once we had the rub of the green and the Bantams’ fans will feel robbed. What did Pete Sixsmith think?
Well after having a drastic trim of his beard so the young people of Shildon don’t work out his secret identity and a triste with the local district nurse, she works for the National Elf Service of course, he found enough time to e-mail his thoughts which we can share with you here.
They have a lot to answer to do that Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven.
Here we were, slipping into the third level of English football and looking forward to rolling up to the ground at 2.45, lolling around over two or three seats, watching a side which another no hoper of a manager had put together with a load of deadbeat players who clearly despise each other, allowing the opposition from Rochdale, Accrington and Gillingham to bamboozle us every week.
After the game, we would slip out with the other 7 or 8,000 who had hung on until full time to berate the alleged players and the latest managerial team (the first sacked by October) and back to the car and home before the BBC Newcastle local football round up has finished.
Instead we get a bright, sharp manager who conducts himself well, a team where the players actually seem to like each other and a crowd of 46,309. I got home in time to watch the second half of Brighton and Hove Albion v Arsenal, with Paul Dixon’s dulcet tones a distant memory.
The stadium was full if not quite bouncing. Some regulars were missing because of Christmas, but seats were taken and there were very few gaps other than in the re-opened Premier Concourse. The Bantams had brought a good and noisy following and Christmas jumpers, new scarves and new hats were on show.
I even wore a new hat myself as my concession to the capitalist con that is the (alleged) season of goodwill.
If people went expecting a rout, it was never going to be that. City are much better organised than they were in October and if the returnees were expecting a typical “Oh my god, it’s a big crowd, let’s do our collective impersonation of a rabbit caught in headlights,” this group of players have no collective experience of the stigma that has run through this club for far too long.
What they got was a decent game, three controversial refereeing decisions from Darren England who had a good first half and a second half that means he will not be welcome in any of Bradford’s excellent curry houses for quite a while and a performance from Luke O’Nien that is a testimony to him and to the scouting staff who identified him as the right kind of player for this manifestation of Sunderland AFC.
Let’s start with him. He had big boots to fill in this game as Adam Matthews has done very well in the right back position so far and young Luke is a midfield player. Matthews is injured, Love cannot escape the treatment room so rather than moving Flanagan across and bringing in Ozturk, Jack Ross asked the former Wealdstone and Wycombe Wanderers man to do a job there.
And do a job he did. City play a midfield diamond (Jack Payne was the outstanding member of it) and don’t appear to employ wingers, so it gave O’Nien the opportunity to break forward and to help out wherever he was needed in defence.
He backed up Gooch and McGeady brilliantly and in the second half, when we were searching for the second goal to kill off the spirited fightback from the visitors, he was outstanding. His passing was neat and precise, his presence was authoritative and his tackling highly effective.
I commented in my usual wise and considered way that he must be pinching himself at the moment, having exchanged life in Wycombe for life on Wearside. He probably looked around the packed stadium and wondered what he was doing here in front of a crowd that would be the equivalent of eight or nine home games at Adams Park and two whole seasons full of crowds at Grosvenor Vale, Ruislip. Wealdstone, of National League South, lost 0-3 at home to Slough on Wednesday in front of a respectable crowd of 1059. We owe them a pre-season friendly for bringing up Luke so well.
The three fortunate decisions went to us for a change. City fans will have been fuming all the way home, having had a penalty turned down, seeing a Sunderland player remain on the pitch when he could well have been sent off and having what appeared to be a good goal not given.
Mr England’s thinking may have gone like this:
“For the penalty, I didn’t have a clear view and I thought that Max Power went for and won the ball so I didn’t think it was a penalty. And he got sent off at Bradford, so it would have been nasty to award a penalty against him, especially at Christmas.”
“Tom Flanagan had a bit of a dust up with Nathaniel Knight-Percival and my assistant said that NKP was holding on to Tom’s leg, so Tom gave him a playful push when they got up. It was a bit like a Christmas party game, so I told him off and gave him a yellow card.”
“As for the goal that wasn’t, I couldn’t see very clearly, but the other assistant was right in line and he said that he wasn’t 100% sure that it had crossed the line, so we couldn’t give it. A Bradford player said it was but he may have been telling me a big fib so I didn’t give it.”
There were good performances all over the pitch with McGeady being another stand out. He looks a happy player and he works hard even though he does appear to be jiggered for the last fifteen minutes. He passes the ball really well and he pounced on the City keeper’s fumble to slap the ball into the net and put us ahead. (Ed. – After the initial diving save the keeper’s foot somehow stabbed the ball away from Maguire but straight to McGeady.)
Josh Maja continues to be a player who is improving. His movement is excellent and he was just off target twice in the first half before his shot caused the keeper to fumble for the goal. Once again, there are regulars sat behind me who think that he should have the touch of Messi, the pace of Usain Bolt, the heading ability of Tommy Lawton and the strength of Tyson Fury and I hope that the attitude shown to him by some does not contribute to him not signing a new contract. My advice to him would be to sign up for another two years and continue to learn. Interestingly, when he went off with fifteen minutes to go, he seemed to go without the disappointment he has shown on other occasions. Read into that what you will.
It was good to see Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke get game time. Both need it and both will play a key role in the games to come. A shame that Duncan’s header didn’t go in – that would have been the cranberry sauce on the Christmas turkey.
Bradford played well but without a great deal of punch. They work hard and will be gracing this division next season. David Hopkin and Jack Ross guided their respective teams to promotion last year – Hopkin won’t this season but he may next.
Jack Ross will….…. I hope.
It took ages to get out of the ground and back to the car – another black mark against the owners and the traffic was heavy. But I suppose you have to put up with some inconvenience if you want to win promotion and see the ground full. It may be not quite as hectic on Saturday, but I am looking for at least 33,000.
Ha’way the Lads…….