Peter Sixsmith reflects on an ultimately comfortable passage through to the next round of the FA Cup – and looks forward to a comfortable-lookimg draw for the next one …
Well, the banana skin was negotiated and we are safely into the Fourth Round of the FA Cup in association with an American beer that includes rice in its ingredients, and with a decent home draw against Peterborough United or Kidderminster Harriers. The Fifth round looks a distinct possibility.
We came through without too much trouble against a Carlisle side who, for 50 minutes, gave us a game, but who were very much on the back foot after their skipper Shaun O’Hanlon had sliced Adam Johnson’s whatever it was intended to be into his own net.
Johnson had given us the lead 36 minutes in with a sublime free kick and that should have doubled our lead. Jozy Altidore (of whom more later) had missed as good a chance as he will get, when he failed to convert an excellent through ball from the former England winger, allowing the Carlisle keeper to save.
Our defensive indecisiveness popped up a few minutes after the goal when Dossena was beaten and the subsequent cross from Amoo hit the bar without a Sunderland defender reacting to it. It broke to former Poolie Matty Robson and it sent the Cumbrians in level at half time.
My darkening mood was not helped by this; in fact I texted M Salut the words “This is a disaster waiting to happen”, so disillusioned was I. Fortunately, former Hibee O’Hanlon gave us some breathing space and allowed Poyet to introduce some enthusiasm and pace in the shape of Duncan Watmore.
My first glimpse of him was at Harrogate Town in the summer, where he looked a very decent player indeed. He has pace and a willingness to take on defenders. He also has the distinction of scoring at Dean Street, Shildon, in the FA Cup last season, so he knows a good football ground when he sees one.
As his career at Sunderland got under way, the man he replaced may well have played his last game for us. Ji Dong-Won has made no progress in the three years he has been with us and I would be amazed if he survived the January cull that this win may herald.
Poyet made some interesting decisions for this one. Ji retained his place despite his average performance on Wednesday, but both central defenders were out and will probably not see out the season at Sunderland.
Wes Brown was back in, with Ki as his central defensive partner. The makeup of the Carlisle side, with only Lewis Guy a recognised forward, indicated that they intended to try and catch us on the break, so why employ two static central defenders. Ki can tackle and reads a game well and against a willing but limited Division One outfit, he had little difficulty in looking assured and competent.
Craig Gardner came into midfield and, I’m afraid, became another one who will definitely be looking for new employers sooner or later. He plays with his head down and seemingly knows that he will not be here much longer. His lack of pace was quite alarming and he cut a forlorn figure at times.
Fletcher was on the bench so there was another opportunity for Altidore up front. Apart from that very good pass from Johnson, he got no service whatsoever until Watmore and Ba appeared on the scene.
I don’t think that he is a great player but he has to look for scraps and he plays with his back to goal because this is the style of play we adopt. To do that, he needs quick midfield players to pick the ball up from him so he can turn and go. Gardner and Larsson do not fit that bill. They are slow and, when they get to the ball, they have to turn and lay it off backwards. By this time, Altidore may well be in a half-decent position, but the ball doesn’t get to him.
The difference when the two youngsters came on was clear to see. Altidore played Watmore in for a chance that the flaxen-haired youth should have scored from and the one two he played with Ba for his goal was excellent. Altidore is no world beater, but he is not used as well as he should be. Maybe we can start to do this in the remainder of the season.
Watmore was explosive when he came on, running at Robson and causing him some problems. Watching him for the Development Squad has been interesting; he has a good touch, he runs with the ball but his finishing can be a little wayward.
All of this was on show today; Altidore set him up for a debut goal and he pulled it too wide allowing the keeper to save and when he cut in and set up a shot, he put it into the crowd. But he will improve; unlike a certain Irishman who hit the ground running two years ago, he has his feet much more firmly planted on the aforementioned terra firma.
But it was El Hadji Ba who impressed me in his ten minute cameo. He too has looked good in the Development Squad. He covers the ground well, can tackle and will run at players in central midfield. When he came on, I thought that Poyet was taking a gamble – we were only a goal up and they were trying to get back into the game – but he told Ba what to do and the young Frenchman did it.
Prior to his arrival, we had been pedestrian and struggling to support the front man. He gave us that link and was able to move the ball quickly and smoothly in order to utilise Altidore to best effect. His runs were spotted and Ba’s desire to want and use the ball was like a breath of fresh air after seasons of seeing the other midfielders turn around and lay it off backwards or sideways.
In the end, the win was comfortable rather than easy. Liverpool struggled to beat Oldham and Sheffield United won at Villa – and both are in the same part of Division One as Carlisle, so that puts our win into some kind of perspective.
It will be interesting to see whether callow youth is employed on Tuesday night against a Manchester United side who are in danger of spontaneous combustion. Ba running at Ferdinand could be very interesting.
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