Malcolm Dawson writes…..there were several compelling reasons which made me decide not to renew my season card for the upcoming campaign, but no such dilemma for Pete Sixsmith, who might not have been in his normal seat, but was there nevertheless to witness a reasonable display, which although didn’t break any records was a least a little better than many a first day performance. He’ll have been disappointed that he missed Durham’s one run win over Yorkshire but you can’t have everything. Here’s what he thought of his first view at the new look Sunderland in a truly competitive competition.
DERBY COUNTY (H).
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu writing over 2,500 years ago, said “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” which if you think about it, was best summed up by the great 20th Century philosopher Basil Fawlty as “stating the bleedin’ obvious.”
So for Simon Grayson, his new team and the 29,000 Sunderland supporters who pitched up at the Stadium of Light on Friday night, the journey has started. It may be a long trek back from the deep, dark valleys of the Championship to the sunlit peaks of the Premier League but that first step has been made and it was a positive one.
There was plenty of effort and an awful lot of running around. After a season of stultifying boredom where the ball was moved sideways and then backwards, it was refreshing to see it played out wide to Honeyman and McGeady and to see those two take on defenders and occasionally get past them.
It was by no means perfect. There were still weaknesses that need to be addressed either by a change of personnel or by some hard work from the coaching staff and individual players, but what we saw was 11 players doing their best and showing the support that even if they would rather be elsewhere, they appear to be prepared to put themselves about a bit.
After a bright opening we proceeded to give away a goal as bad as any we conceded last season and the season before.
Johnny Russell, the Rams best player, got past Brendan Galloway with consummate ease, put a low cross into the box which our central defenders missed and Bradley Johnson turned it in. Cheers from the Derby fans and heads in hands from the home support as we contemplated another morale sapping result.
But we came back. There was one hairy moment when a Tom Huddlestone shot was spilled by Jason Steele and we thought we had another Calamity Kelvin Davies between the sticks, but he gave his head a shake and grew in confidence as the game went on.
There were chances at the other end as well, with Lee Cattermole having a shot well saved by Scott Carson, Lewis Grabban firing over the bar and Aiden McGeady being thwarted by Andre Wisdom after excellent work by George Honeyman.
Those were the four players who caught the eye.
Cattermole is a perfect central midfield player if you want aggression and leadership. Those qualities were fully on display here as he charged about winning the ball, making tackles and rousing his team mates. He looks a Simon Grayson type and will be very important for us in the coming months. It’s a pity that after eleven years as a pro, he still cannot be relied upon to pass the ball with consistent accuracy and the less said about his heading the better. But he never ever gives up and that is a vital quality in this 46 game slog.
Lewis Grabban had an excellent game and on this showing, looks the business. He has a good goal scoring record at this level and brings a wealth of experience from his days at Rotherham, Bournemouth, Norwich and Reading to a forward line that is short of it. He took the penalty well and was unfortunate when after being set up by a lovely 5 yard pass from Captain Cattermole, he hit the post. He makes space well and has a physical presence. I enjoyed watching him.
McGeady also caught the eye. It looks as if Grayson has given him a free role and he switched wings with Honeyman on a number of occasions. He will take players on and is a bit of a throwback to the 60s when most teams had a Scottish “tanna ball player” in the team. He sometimes over-elaborates but as the team settles he will hopefully be more astute with his final ball.
Finally, George Honeyman fully justified his place above Wahbi Khazri with a solid performance which showed that he too can blossom at this level. Had we sacked Moyes earlier, appointed a decent manager (Mr Pastry would have been an improvement) and stayed up, Honeyman would have been away. Now he has an opportunity to establish himself in the team and there was a fifteen minute spell in the second half when he roasted a good solid Championship full back in Craig Forsyth. He finished strongly as well and produced a couple of really good runs to the by-line.
Of the others, Kone was solid, Ndong worked as hard as Cattermole and tackled well, Vaughan did an awful lot of running and disturbed Keogh and Davies just enough to open up spaces for others. Nobody did that last year.
The two Everton loanees struggled a wee bit. Galloway had a poor first half and could have been replaced but he showed real character in the second and competed well against the excellent Russell. There was also one storming run at the end as the Derby defence tired. Tyias Browning was steady but got caught a couple of times. He looks to be the “other” centre half alongside Kone or O’Shea and is worth sticking with.
As for the Rams, they looked a typical Championship side. They were well organised and players filled the roles they had been given. I liked Russell and thought that Keogh and Davies will prove to be a good partnership. Johnson worked hard as did Butterfield, the latter perhaps a tad unfortunate to give away the penalty. As I texted M Salut, I would have been Mr Angry had that been awarded against us. Oh and Chris Martin missed an absolute sitter near the end. As the man in front said “And that is Scotland’s first choice centre forward!”
It was my first game in the new seat, a move which has halved my season ticket cost. Those sat around seemed pleasant enough and Wood Major and Minor are a few rows in front. You could clearly see how much the pitch has been shortened and narrowed and we also appear not to be blowing the balls up enough to judge by the fuss that Scott Carson made in the second half – the more cynical may think that he was trying to take the steam out of a sustained spell of Sunderland pressure (don’t remember writing that last season).
The other good thing was that I was home by 10.45 although I would trade that off for an increase in crowds as people are drawn back by what appears to be an honest and pragmatic approach to football. That thousand mile journey already looks a little more manageable.