With Peter (have Railcard will travel) Sixsmith off on one of his public transport jollies, travelling across country and national borders to witness lowly Annan Athletic defeat the might of Greenock Morton in the Ramsdens Trophy, it falls to deputy editor Malcolm Dawson to get up off the subs’ bench, take off his tracksuit and step into Sixer’s shoes to give us his televised take on events in the Far East, whilst the world eagerly awaits the next instalment of Paul (I was there) Goldsmith’s “Hong Kong Diary”.
(Phew! Is that the longest ever sentence in the history of Salut! Sunderland? – Ed)
I have a bone to pick with Craig Gardner. Knowing that the task of reporting on the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy was falling to me, I was hoping our stand in fullback would either score a forty yard free kick or else get himself sent off. You see I had a headline, paying homage to Siouxsie and the Banshees, all worked out. “Hong Kong – Gardner – Oh oh, oh oh oh oh!” but he let me down and I can’t use it now. Having said that the aforementioned player was involved in two heart in the mouth moments but more of that later.
Readers of a nervous disposition will be pleased to learn that yesterday wasn’t one of my volunteering days at the local naturist reserve, so it was a fully clothed me that turned on the TV to catch the last part of the third and fourth place play off match between Tottenham Hotspur and South China. At this point, it was 4-0 to the Londoners and I was thinking “As it’s only a pre-season game and Spurs have a reserve team out, there’ll be no dancing in the streets of Edmonton and Stamford Hill tonight.”
You see what those arrogant tosspots who came on here after we beat the “mighty Lilywhites” failed to realise is that following the mess Martin O’Neill left and after a complete overhaul of the squad, with a raft of signings many of whom we hadn’t even heard of, it was important to Sunderland fans to see how the team gelled and whether Paolo Di Canio’s methods might give us cause to look forward to the season ahead with optimism.
On the evidence of these two games I think we can. The manager obviously wanted to use the tournament effectively and took the games seriously and at this point I will apologise to the less bitter Spurs fans who visited us in the week and could see the bigger picture. All clubs have their share of tosspots.
I left the room and prepared some lunch as Trevor Francis came on, although I did catch him telling a tale about breaking a curfew with Graeme Souness while they were rooming together at Sampdoria. Now there’s a night out I’m glad I missed.
Di Canio started with the same XI that had begun against Spurs so it may be he is thinking this could be his first choice side – at least until we sign some proper full backs. On a pitch so reminiscent of the Baseball Ground in the 1970s I was half expecting Dave Mackay to turn up at anytime, I thought we started brightly enough.
There was plenty of early movement from our boys, some slick passing and both Colback and Wes Brown were pushing high up the pitch when they could. In these early exchanges I thought we looked the team more likely to score. Altidore was looking strong, playing with his back to goal and Adam Johnson looked lively enough.
Sess and Cabral were quiet in these early stages but it’s difficult on TV to get a true sense of just how much they were contributing out of picture. I sensed that Cabral was taking up positions and closing down players so that when City had the ball they looked for other options. Throughout the first half, Cabral would appear in the right place and he looks as if he knows how to pass the ball forward. Like Sess, Giaccherini was taking time to get into the game, but Colback, looking settled at fullback was supporting him well whilst not neglecting his defensive duties.
But it goes without saying that City have a quality squad and their forwards were causing us problems. Dzeko especially looked lively and the goal came just as the Sky Blues were beginning to assert some authority. Wes Brown I thought did well to get in his defensive header as the ball was a bit behind him. Unfortunately for him and Mannone, it only fell to Edin Dzeko who unleashed a cracker of a shot from twenty yards which fizzed past our new keeper, just inside his left hand post giving him no chance. A quality goal from a quality player.
Despite the persistent rain this was a game worthy of two Premier League sides. It was one of those games where at 1-0 I always thought we might get back into it, but where a second goal would take it out of reach. Giaccherini was now taking up some good positions and we were starting to see more of Sess. The two of them combined as the team broke forward and it looked as if we might create a scoring opportunity with a 3 v 3 situation, but the Italian’s touch let him down at the vital second and the chance went begging.
City had a few chances themselves, and the last action of the half saw a free kick lofted into the box but it was dealt with by Craig Gardner who took the unusual option of heading it across goal against the post to avert the danger. This proved to be the last action of the half and the whistle went as the ball was cleared to safety. Lucky escape number one.
Altidore and Cabral, who had been relatively quiet were replaced at half time by Wickham and Ba, giving ourselves and the manager a chance to see what they could do for the team. Westwood, who must have been disappointed not to start, also came on for Mannone. The game was pretty even at the beginning of the second period when John O’Shea announced himself to Negrodo with a powerful leaping challenge from behind leaving the City man spread eagled in the mud on the halfway line, looking for all the world like a tourist at the Dead Sea.
On the hour the left footed David Moberg Karlsson took over Adam Johnson’s spot on the right wing, and Ba was guilty of a needless handball inside the box. Up stepped the Bosnian to get his second from the spot and put the game out of Sunderland’s reach. Except he didn’t and blasted the ball high and wide thus securing himself a spot on You Tube’s collection of the ten worst penalty kicks ever. Let off number two.
Soon afterwards we had a penalty shout of our own when Giaccherini went over, but ref Anthony Taylor got it spot on as the tackle from Kolarov was a good one. And then City broke again. A flat footed John O’Shea allowed Nasri to get behind him and fire his shot beyond Westwood, who had come off his line to force the City player out wide and narrow the angle. This was enough to allow the back tracking Gardner to clear off the line. Narrow escape number three.
Truth be told we rarely looked liked scoring but unlike so many of the games I saw last season, it did look like goal scoring opportunities were only a touch or a pass away. Larsson forced a save from a free kick near the end and Westwood made one and City deserved their win. This could so easily have been a 4-0 defeat, yet there was never that much between the sides. Yes City are a better side. They have a greater depth of quality and will be challenging for the title once again. Yes it is only a pre-season tournament and yes the conditions weren’t great but compare these two games with last year’s outings at Derby and Leicester. I’m doing it again and thinking this year could be our year. Nurse!
See what M Salut made of it at ESPN: http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/1845?cc=5739#
Dzeko had a glorious chance to grab a second when City were awarded a penalty for a clear if unnecessary handball by El-Hadi Ba. He placed his kick somewhat higher than row Z and how the overwhelmingly pro-Sunderland Hong Kong crowd laughed and cheered.
[Then] … two Sunderland penalty appeals within three minutes.
Stephane Sessegnon was pushed in the back by City keeper Costel Pantilimon as plainly as Ba had earlier handled the ball at the other end. Referee Anthony Taylor barely looked at it. He was right, however, to wave away louder claims when Aleksandar Kolarov’s excellent tackle defied David Moberg Karlsson
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