Malcolm Dawson writes……I half expected Pete Sixsmith to go up to Whitley Bay yesterday to watch the Northern League Cup Final (the last game of the Northern League season) in which South Shields hammered their rivals from ower the Tyne, North Shields by five goals to nil. But no! Peter is made of sterner stuff and made the journey down the East coast to Kingston upon Hull and for once didn’t come home wondering if he shouldn’t be finding more entertaining ways of spending his Saturday afternoons.
HULL CITY (away)
In a dismal season we clutch at anything that reminds us that watching football should be a pleasure rather than a chore that has to be endured and the win at the KCOM Stadium fell into the category of mild ecstasy rather than the usual deep despair. It made for a pleasant journey home – a first for me this season.
We came away from the City of Culture (of which more later) with three points and some pointers towards next season, whether under the supervision of Gloomy Dave and the ownership of the Absent Missourian, or perhaps new owners with new managerial ideas. There are indications that there are two consortia interested in buying the club (and its huge debts) and that they may want their own man in place. We shall see. It maybe that M Salut, financially fat on his ESPN earnings, is one of the consortia members. Or, then again, maybe not.
We had it confirmed that we have in Jordan Pickford (He’s One of our Own), a top class goalkeeper. This was the best I have seen him play for us. It was a flawless performance, one that should comfortably boost his stock within the game and his transfer value.
There were three things that really struck me about him yesterday. First of all his ability to come for the right ball at the right time as he now had an idea of what his defenders could and couldn’t do. His judgement was spot on and he caught, punched and palmed away as well as any Sunderland keeper I have seen.
Secondly, his positioning. There was a spell in the second half when the Tigers were well on top and were pushing for the goal that may well have saved their precarious Premier League place. A cross came in from Elmohamady and was met with a thumping header by Liverpool loanee Lazar Markovic. It looked a certain goal but Jordan (He’s One of our Own, ya knaa) had positioned himself superbly and made an outstanding save to keep it at 0-0.
Thirdly, his distribution. One pass from him in particular stood out. His amazingly accurate kick went over the head of centre half Rannochia, leaving Jermain Defoe with a clear run at goal. It should have been the opener, but Jermain took a second too long and his shot was saved by Jakupovic. It was a pass not a clearance, something he has been doing all season. Throughout the game, he dropped the ball on Anichebe’s head or put it just in front of Defoe and that meant that Hull could never relax at the back which contributed to the tension that stifled their game.
Top marks to Jordan – those of us who have watched him since he made the Under 21 team years ago are not surprised at how well he has done – neither are the fans of Darlington, Bradford City and Preston North End whose clubs helped to nurture him and show the advantages of the loan system. And, of course, He’s One of our Own…..
We had two loan players performing in our Real Madrid strip at Hull. For Javier Manquillo it must have been galling wearing the all-white as Real had walloped his parent club Atletico in the all Madrid Champions League semi on Tuesday night. He looks a decent footballer but suffers from being a right back playing at left back. Every time he gets the ball he has to transfer it on to his right foot and that often means that his final pass or cross is intercepted by a recovering defender. When he returns to Spain, he will understand the meaning of the word adversity.
Jason Denayer has been a decent player for us this season and, although probably not good enough for Manchester Coty, he will make progress in the game. He is enthusiastic (I have likened him to a sheepdog chasing sheep over the fells) and is not frightened to make a tackle. Employed in midfield above Larsson, Rodwell and Gooch, he did his job well tackling, heading and generally running about with none of the world weariness that two of the three aforementioned names too often exhibit.
He was joined in the team’s engine room by George Honeyman who justified the faith that Gloomy Dave placed in him by turning a solid performance which may bode well for him getting a new deal for 2017-18 (the Comeback Year). He was neat and tidy, picked out a couple of really good balls to Defoe and in what will probably be a Championship clash next season, showed that he may well be an important player. Like Jordan, he’s One of our Own, albeit from Mag (and Ruth Archer ) territory in Prudhoe.
John O’Shea showed that he deserves another contract with an impressive display of football and captaincy. The more I see of him, the more I like him as a player and as a man. He has the attitude to go on and become a coach and manager, possibly with us. He likes the club and the support and I expect to see him making his Championship debut on the first weekend in August.
He played a key part in the opening goal. He dropped short to Honeyman at the corner and was not picked up. His flicked header bamboozled a static Hull defence and there was Billy Jones, who had previously been given a torrid time by Grosicki, to turn the ball into the net and send the 2,500 fans wild. I thought that we deserved to be ahead as we had played the more controlled football while Hull seemed to think that if they fell down in the box, Neil Swarbrick would eventually give them a penalty. Their antics reminded me of Norwich last season – and look what happened to them…..
The second goal was a sharp ball by Larsson which Hull failed to read and it was bundled home by a relieved Jermain Defoe. He has stalled recently but he has been an excellent player for us and wherever he goes in the summer, no Sunderland supporter will wish him anything other than success and happiness. Like O’Shea, he has been more than a footballer at Sunderland.
Apparently, City manager Silva and striker Niasse had both predicted a comfortable win for what turned out to be a toothless Tigers team. They overstepped the boundary between cockiness and confidence and looked deflated at the end. With a trip to Palace and a home game with Spurs to come, they needed this one and although not certain to go down, they will have to play much better than they did against us. Former Sunderland player Alfred N’Diaye was eclipsed by the quietly influential Didier Ndong and the Tigers offered little craft or guile in midfield. The much vaunted Harry Maguire looked as if he was going to cry when the first goal went in.
As for The City of Culture, it was a disappointment. I fully expected to see street corners full of mime artists climbing out of imaginary boxes, artists wearing smocks sitting at easels frantically painting and poets in floppy hats and bow ties extolling the virtues of Spurn Head and Hull Kingston Rovers. Instead, the entire population appeared to be eating fish and chips on the cold, wind-blown streets of a city that I really like and shall be revisiting in the summer to look at some of the exhibitions and events that we may be seeing in Sunderland in four years time.
The journey home was saddened by the demise of Hartlepool United as they slipped into the National League and who will be exchanging visits from Luton and Portsmouth for those of Bromley and Guiseley, hopefully only for a year. We wish them well. Relegation can be a cleansing process as our Tyneside friends have shown.
Our support was magnificent at Hull, with no aim other than to show people that whoever owns, manages or plays for the club, it is our club. We are there for life – even if it is in the Championship.