Malcolm Dawson writes……”he’s gone too wide, he’s gone too wide.” Memories of Sunday evenings and the voice of Phil Drabble commenting on the fact that Gip, the welsh border collie, wasn’t going to get full marks on the fetch in the grounds of Chatsworth House, where a frisky flock of border Leicesters were refusing to co-operate during another series of “One Man and His Dog”. I’m not sure why the son of a miner from a North East pit village should have been so fascinated by such a rural pursuit but I was. Now as the population of the UK becomes ever more urbanised one of the most popular programmes on TV is “Countryfile”. Would Pete Sixsmith rather have been watching it on “catch up” or at least been somewhere other than the Stadium of Light last night? Read on to find out.
“Better than Saturday but still about as entertaining as watching a load of sheep running round a field” said the man in the gents to his mate as we availed ourselves of that facility after another desperately disappointing evening at The Stadium of Light. And he was right.
That it was better than Saturday is damning it with faint praise. Had it been any worse, they would have been fishing people out of the Wear for hours as even the diehards gave up and settled for death by drowning rather than suffering by a thousand cuts. We can now give up any hope of being restored to our rightful place in the bottom six of the Premier League in the foreseeable future and focus on what could well become our new traditional place – bottom half of the Championship. A quick return to the top table is about as likely as Rick Stein opening a restaurant in Shildon or Harrods taking over the old Co-op Department store in Bishop Auckland as we look more and more like the Flying Dutchman – cursed to sail around aimlessly until the end of time.
There was a better shape to the team – it helps to choose proper full backs. There was plenty of effort – loads of scampering about and the odd flash of skill. There was some solid if basic defending – for 85 minutes at least.
What there wasn’t was any kind of guile and creativity in the middle of the park or any focal point up front. A goal never really looked likely and it was heading for a goalless draw until………….
Daryl Murphy suffered at the hands of some of the support towards the end of his time here. That was unjustified as he was one of the few players who actually improved over the years, going on to score some very important goals for Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane. Never a genuine top notcher, he has not been short of a good contract and managers like Neil Lennon, Mick McCarthy and Rafael Benitez have employed him and have been pleased with him. He did nothing for 85 minutes but when presented with Forest’s only chance of the game he drilled it into the net with some aplomb and had us thinking if that would have happened if our on field striker had been in a similar position. Answers on a postcard please.
The goal came from a catastrophic error from Tyias Browning who had done all that had been expected of him up until then. He defended solidly, booted the ball away when he had to and seemed to link well with Marc Wilson. But, with a tedious game drawing to an end and a point seemingly in the bag, he decided to pass the ball to Matthews and instead gave it to Barry McKay. The former Rangers man moved it onto Murphy who avoided Browning’s desperate attempt to retrieve the situation and before you could say “I think the phrase rhymes with clucking bell” the ball was in the net and the game was lost.
We had a flurry at the end but I don’t think that anyone in the ground really expected us to score and even the introduction of goal machine Billy Jones and the presence of Mart Poom wannabe Ruiter in the box for a couple of corners and free kicks, failed to cause Forest any real concern.
The difference between the two sides was in the substitutes. We have a bench that mimics the line up. Gooch and Vaughan came on for a wide man (McManaman, exhausted) and a forward (Grabban injured) but there was no discernible change to the pattern of play.
Forest, who had come to make sure that they didn’t lose, took off Bouchalakis, who had played as a holding player and sent on McKay who played wide and then switched the ineffective Brereton for Cummings, giving them more width. That altered the balance of the game as by then we had run out of steam and ideas. Losing Grabban gave Vaughan the opportunity to become a hero but he reinforced the view that we have another Prica, Graham or Tom Ritchie (what no Jozy? MD)– all forwards with decent scoring records until they pitched up here.
The midfield worked hard but to what effect? It never put an incisive move together, never put their midfield on the back foot and never opened them up once. Cattermole rolled his sleeves up, did OK (and got booked). Ndong seems to want too much time, McManaman may be a good outlet when he is up to speed and Honeyman scampered about. At the back, Matthews and Oviedo looked a respectable full back partnership in that both can defend. Oviedo can also get forward whereas Matthews can but doesn’t really like to. He plods quicker than Jones.
The situation is serious but not quite critical – yet. The great worry is that the home form continues to be dismal and an attendance of 26,061 shows that many no longer keep the faith. A lot of people I know (not just Malcolm) have not renewed and have stopped going this year. At least there was a more positive feel from those who braved a wretched night and the booing was restricted to a few seconds at the end.
The Hull game is of massive interest now as we need to show that like Forest, we can absorb pressure and catch a home team on the break. We did it successfully at Norwich and reasonably well at Hillsborough. Barnsley was different. We folded there and deserved the hiding that we got.
Grabban’s injury is a worry and we are desperately short up front. Neither Maja nor Asoro should be thrown into a struggling team and the return of Watmore is desirable. The Under 23s are playing Annfield Plain tonight and he may have a run out. It’s at Hetton but I am tired of all things SAFC at the moment and may well opt for Esh Winning v Tow Law.
Talking of Hetton, the Sunderland Ladies team have now moved to Mariners Park, South Shields and will train at Northumbria University rather than the Academy of Light. It looks as if the club have waved goodbye to them for the second time in recent memory as part of the inevitable cost cutting exercise. Perhaps they could ask some of the first team squad, wallowing in top level wages for third level performances if they would be willing to make a regular contribution to keep the only successful squad we have had for years on Wearside.
More chance of James Vaughan scoring a goal!!!