Pete Sixsmith‘s wisest decision on Saturday was his choice of pub, the trick being to beat the ploddish Met Police anti-supporter radar, get a good pint and not still have miles to make up to reach the ground. Notting Hill Gate, the Commissioner will doubtless be surprised and relieved to hear, survived the visit from a dozen or more Sunderland fans. Then it was time to head on to White City and the day went downhill, as Pete describes …
Two consecutive Saturdays in London, two different feelings after the game ended.
The first brought me elation and pleasure as Leeds claimed the Rugby League Challenge Cup against a dogged and determined Castleford side. The second saw disappointment and frustration as Sunderland fell to their first defeat against a dogged and determined Queens Park Rangers side.
The readership (many thanks to both of you) will want to concentrate on the second Saturday. It would give this scribe much more pleasure to write about the win at Wembley than the loss at Loftus Road, but we are Salut! Sunderland not L’amour Leeds.
This was a game that could and should have been won and a game which shows up some of the flaws in our game plan and in some individuals. We dominated the first 20 minutes and came back strongly in the last 15 as Rangers desperately and ultimately successfully, held on for their first win and points of the season.
The goal that they got was yet another one conceded from a set piece. A corner in the 45th minute, taken by Joey Barton (who had a good game) went across the box to Leroy Fer, who had taken a step away from Seb Larsson. He headed it back into the box where Charlie Austin was standing unmarked and he thumped it into the net.
Look at Larsson’s reaction on the video clips. He knows that he should have stayed with Fer. It was a serious error and coming as it did in the 44th minute, it sent us into the half time break very much on the back foot.
The first 20 minutes were the best we have played this season. Wickham and van Aanholt rampaged down the left, tormenting the elderly Clint Hill. Chances were created for the Dutchman (Fer’s cousin) and Fletcher and, with a little more care and power they could have gone in.
Cattermole was excellent in this opening period, winning the ball, pushing forward and looking every inch a prospective England player – as long as he signs for Newcastle. Then, he was booked for a non-foul by referee Robert Madley, causing him to realise that the next mistimed tackle would end up with him departing for the metaphorical early bath.
Take his tackling and competitive edge out of the game and he visibly shrinks. Rangers proceeded to try to get him sent off, particularly the wretched Jordon Mutch, once of relegated Cardiff City. Some may remember his futile attempts to wind up Cattermole at the SoL in April as City collapsed.
It allowed Rangers to come into the game as neither Larsson nor the disappointing Rodwell could fill the boots of the Teessider. They impressive Fer had already rattled the bar and that combined with Cattermole’s caution seemed to make us nervy and edgy.
The second half was a disappointment as the time dripped away and we barely troubled Robert Green in the Rangers goal. Fletcher faded away to nothingness, Wickham produced very little and the only shot we had on target until the very end, was a half hit shot from Vergini.
Rangers dug in and defended stoutly. The experience of Rio Ferdinand and the impressive positioning of Steven Caulker negated much of what we knocked forward, while our midfield made little progress against Fer and Barton – oh how it hurts to write that name in such a positive context.
The substitutions, when they came, were too late. Our performance cried out for a player with the quality of Giaccherini to create something from deep. An extra 10 minutes might just have made that difference as, by the hour mark, Rodwell was practically invisible.
When the Italian did come on, he came closest to scoring, forcing a fine save out of Robert Green seconds after looking on despairingly as Adam Johnson faffed around with a corner kick. We need to see more of him and give him the Borini role if, as seems likely, that transfer is not going to happen.
Mannone was fine; the back four looked good with van Aanholt having few problems with QPR’s show pony wingers. The five-man midfield started well but failed to impose itself on a home team who could have buckled had we taken the lead. They didn’t because we didn’t.
The main plus of the day was discovering the Uxbridge Arms, a splendid pub 100 yards from Notting Hill Gate Underground. Three very drinkable cask ales and a great ambience set us up nicely for an away win – or so we thought.
For Monsieur Salut, this was his usual chastening first glimpse of the season. Swansea last year, a debacle (and a deluge) against Manchester City a few years ago.
He must wonder why, 50 years on, we signed up for half a century of disappointment.
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