Malcolm Dawson writes….I switched on MOTD last night, not to see Gary Lineker in his underpants, but to play spot the celebrity in the crowd. And there he was – not Liam Gallagher, not Sam Allardyce, not comedian Jason Manford but our own Pete Sixsmith clear as day in amongst the Sunderland fans in the pre-match shots of the away end. And because he was there he brings yet another first hand account of the day’s proceedings in the land of barm cakes and Betty’s hot pot. Now I’m off to dig out my autograph book before the two of us head off to Hetton to watch a depleted U23 side (depleted because it seems half the side have been put on 1st team stand-by) take on Chelsea.
MANCHESTER CITY (a) 13/10/16.
As far as opening day defeats go, that wasn’t a bad one. It was far better than the debacle at Leicester last season and light years away from the 5-0 thumping we took at the Baseball Ground in 1993. But it was still a defeat and it means that we haven’t won an opening day game since Darren Bent scored at Bolton Wanderers back in the days when Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister and the thought of a Match of the Day presenter hosting the show in his pants was, well, unthinkable.
The team selection was interesting, not least the inclusion of the greatest potential traitor since Lord Haw Haw, Lamine Koné. The runes were read to see what it meant. Was it reconciliation between him and the club? Had Ronald Koeman dashed over from Merseyside to have a proper look at him, the way that a potential buyer takes a car or a horse out, before coughing up £20m? Whatever it was, there were sharp intakes of breath as I conversed with fellow Sunderland supporters as we followed the tram tracks to Eastlands.
Donald Love made his debut at right back and Lynden Gooch came in to the midfield. The first one was predictable in that he is a right back and we didn’t have another fit one, the second was an interesting call. Gooch is a player that I have admired and enjoyed from the grassy bank at Eppleton – it’s a huge step up from there to the forced atmosphere of Manchester’s second biggest stadium. The set up saw John O’Shea playing in front of the back four a la Kirchhoff, with Borini sitting in front of the midfield three to try to get up and support Defoe. The planning had been done and Moyes comes across as a man who thinks carefully and plans meticulously. The press conference on Friday when he dealt with the Konégate affair showed that.
However, as the poet Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang awry.” Scotland’s finest may well have been writing about the effect of the harvest on the life of a wee field mouse – we are looking at it from the point of view of Patrick van Aanholt.
After a bright start, where we forced a save and a tip over the bar from Willy Caballero (he always sounds like a failed Flamenco singer), Raheem Sterling ran at our left back and skipped past him into the box. The PVA of the closing stages of last season may well have passed him on to another defender. Unfortunately, he tried to tackle him and gave away a penalty that was so cast iron that a whole lorry load of Agas could have been made from it. Up stepped Aguero to tuck it past Mannone. Up went the flags and the barrage balloons. The music played and the stadium announcer shouted out the name of the scorer. The crowd cheered, although not very loudly, and sat back to watch City demolish Sunderland.
For twenty minutes, they almost did. Sterling played well and Villa (a lovely footballer) made Love work hard to stay in the game. Watmore covered the young Scotsman, a man with the kind of name that Burns could have written a poem or song about, and we rarely got out of our own half. But they didn’t create much. They were slick and moved the ball well. Aguero’s touch is still a delight and the new man Nolito looked useful. Clichy did well in midfield, but we hauled ourselves back into the game due to diligent defending by Kaboul and Kone and some lung bursting work in midfield by Borini. Oh for a Cattermole or a Kirchhoff or an M’Vila to help us seize control.
We hung in until half time and, having dampened the crowds’ expectation, came out with more of the same in the second half. Off went Gooch and Watmore and on came Khazri and Januzaj, both far more experienced and far more technically accomplished. At first, it looked as if the balance had been disturbed, but both got into the game and Januzaj in particular changed it. He moved across the box, played a good ball to Rodwell, who in turn played a wonderful ball to Defoe. The man who should have been in France in the summer, got in front of the defender and slipped in a splendid equaliser, leading to celebrations on and off the pitch. When the hubbub died down the thought on everyone’s mind was: “Can we hold out for the last 20 minutes?”
Er, no. We tried. The defending was committed and the work rate was tremendous, but the introduction of Navas made the difference.
City now had two wide men and it was Navas who was causing more problems for van Aanholt. With three minutes left, his low cross was turned into the net by the unfortunate Paddy McNair (surely the name of a man from a poem by Seamus Heaney) and we were done for, despite Mannone attempting to do a Mart Poom at the end.
The sheer relief from Guardiola and the City crowd was testimony to a job almost but not quite well done and he was gracious in victory in his post-match summary – far more gracious than his counterpart across the city would have been. A pal of mine, a City supporter since the days of Les McDowell, Harry Dowd and George Heslop, agreed with my observation that we had scored the only “proper” goal and that we would not struggle this season.
The game cost BT £11m to televise all over the world. Viewers in Kazakhstan or Bolivia would have never heard of Lynden Gooch [surely the name of a character in a Richard Ford novel – and certainly not the son of Graham, as Monsieur Salut was misled by online references into having him in his ESPN report, albeit briefly until the player himself graciously corrected it] and Donald Love. But they may have been impressed by the obduracy of a Sunderland side that worked hard, showed some flashes of brilliance and who looked comfortable under the tutelage of their new manager. The expectations facing Moyes are nowhere near as great as those facing Guardiola. He would not be satisfied with finishing 10th and having a cup run – and nor would the Emirati owners.
The day was an enjoyable one. I declined the attractions of Bury and took the 135 into Manchester. The trip lasted 50 minutes, cost nothing and took me through Cheetham Hill, spiritual home of the novelist Howard Jacobson. The upper reaches of the hill are populated by Manchester’s Jewish population, many of them Orthodox or Hassidic. As the bus descends, it enters a polyglot community made up of all races, colours and creeds with their distinctive foods, places of worship and styles of dress.
Coming from a town where someone from West Auckland is regarded as a foreigner, these cosmopolitan areas make me realise that this country should be proud of the welcome it has given in the past to those from other countries. It has affected our football. On Saturday we had two Italians, an American, a Tunisian, a Cote d’Ivorian, a Frenchman, a Dutchman, a Belgian, two Irishmen, a Scot and three Englishmen on the field at one time or another. I remember when Dariusz Kubicki was regarded as an esoteric signing. We have come a long way since then.
Ha’way The Lads.