Malcolm Dawson writes….I was in the environs of Darlington yesterday afternoon and pondered whether to hang about and take advantage of the cash turnstiles to get my first look at the revamped (work in progress) Sunderland AFC but decided that whilst my mobility is a lot better than it was this time last year, my knees are still not up to a couple of hours of standing, so I went home and defrosted the freezer. Try as I might I couldn’t find any reference to the use of the essential tools in the instruction manual, but aren’t you supposed to use a bread knife and 12lb lump hammer? The France/Belgium commentary played in the background and Pete Sixsmith‘s short and sweet texts brought me up to date on events at Blackwell Meadows, whilst I worked feverishly chipping and thawing and wondering why I have so many tortilla wraps, hidden away amongst the frozen prawns and mixed veg?
This morning Peter brings me and you a more detailed view of last night’s proceedings and here it is……
BIT OF A SHAKER FROM THE QUAKERS
On a night when two of the finest teams in the world locked horns in Leningrad (St Petersburg if you must) in a tense and tight World Cup semi-final, 1,336 of us filed into Darlington’s relatively new stadium to welcome Jack Ross and a host of new players to the wonderful world of Sunderland AFC.
Instead of spending an evening in the company of Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe, Samuel Umtiti and Thibaut Courtois, we made do with Lee Cattermole, Anton Forrester, Tom Flanagan and Max Stryjek and we probably left the functional Blackwell Meadows on the banks of the River Skerne as disappointed as Le Diable Rouge did in the wonderful Zenith Stadium on the banks of the River Neva.
For Jack Ross, it was a salutary introduction to his new role as “Man Who Has To Get Us Out Of This Division – Preferably Upwards”. He was able to call upon all his new signings bar one as keeper John McLaughlin has a slight knock and he will have been able to see what talent there is still at the club, now. He may well be wishing that he was still in Paisley…….
To be fair, it was our first game, while Darlington had the benefit of a game against Motherwell on Sunday. They were thumped 5-1. They looked fitter and better organised than we did and had a clear game plan to execute. Like us, they had several new signings, some known to manager Tommy Wright, some not. And they are part time footballers. We are not.
What would Ross learn from this? He may have deduced that there are players at the club he does not want to keep. He may have learnt that the part time game in England is in rude health and that players like the Darlington centre forward, Reece Styche, could have made a comfortable living in the full-time game in Scotland. Hopefully he and his team will have realised that a much more solid performance is required at Hartlepool on Saturday if they are not to be the butt of heavy criticism from a support who were not particularly impressed last night.
The goal came early. Ethan Robson played the ball back to Alim Ozturk who dawdled and was dispossessed, allowing Jordan Nicholson to run on and beat a blameless Robbin Ruiter comfortably. Ozturk had a shot cleared off the line later before he limped off after a couple of robust challenges from the aforementioned Styche. His central defensive partner, Tom Flanagan, was also caught out a couple of times as he dwelt on the ball for far too long and his passing in the first half left a bit to be desired as did the performances of most of the team.
The second half was better and we certainly had more of the play. Styche took advantage of an error by Flanagan to hit the post, but we were equally profligate as Maja and Hume missed decent chances. However, the equaliser did not come and we trooped back to our cars on a lovely summer’s evening with much to think about. There are still many changes in the offing.
Asoro looks as if he is away to Swansea and Khazri and Kone are heading back to France. There will be others, Cattermole and McManaman being the most likely, while goodness only knows who will come in. Anton Forrester, released by Port Vale, played for an hour and looked a decent player at times but he does not have a prolific goal scoring record. Maybe Ross can conjure up another Marco Gabbiadini from somewhere.
Hartlepool are a league above Darlington and are full time. They too have overhauled their squad so Saturday’s clash between the third and fourth placed teams in the North East pantheon could be interesting. Just don’t expect a goal fest.