Maja brings us some very late sunshine
And that sets the tone for a very enjoyable, not to say optimistic, match report:
Morecambe is a town that has seen the good days depart, has been to the depths and now looks to be making a bit of a comeback – a bit like SAFC.
It’s a town where one man’s image and memory dominate; everywhere you go, Eric Bartholemew, better known as Eric Morecambe, attempts to spread his own form of sunshine across a town that has seen precious little of it recently.
I’m pretty sure that Eric has hardly registered with Josh Maja, but this young man is playing an important part in bringing back the sunshine for Sunderland supporters. His well taken goal in the 89th minute seperated our mixture of returning first team squad men and untried youngsters from a Morecambe team who limped to a goalless draw with AFC Halifax Town on Saturday and who needed to put on a show for their 600+ die-hards who turned up.
The 1600 Sunderland supporters, housed in the main stand and the terrace behind the goal scratched their heads when the team was announced. All knew who Ruitter, Ozturk, Loovens, Oviedo, Power, O’Nien and Maja were and some may have heard of Diamond and Hackett, but Jordan Stewart and Jack Bainbridge were only familiar to the Hetton Irregulars while the bench was even more obscure.
Bainbridge arrived from Everton (shades of Galloway and Browning) while Stewart was released by Liverpool and both have been regulars in the Under 23s this season. Bainbridge was the third centre half in this line up and did well. He looked assured, tackled well and read the game. Stewart played as a wing back and got forward when he could. Defensively he was decent and both look as if they could go on.
Hackett and Diamond gave us energy in the forward positions and Diamond had the chance to open his account in the second half but he placed his shot too close to the Morecambe keeper and it was saved. In the absence of Embleton and Molyneux (on loan) and Robson and Nelson (injured) they may get more opportunities as we move through this competition.
Of the old(er) sweats, Ozturk looked steady, Loovens was strong when he had to be, Oviedo looks a lovely footballer who does not relish the agricultural challenges that are sometimes prevalent in the leagues we now find ourselves in.
Behind them, Ruitter still has a tendency to flap at crosses although he made one outstanding save just before we scored. The general consensus was it was a wise move to persuade Scotland to refresh their goalkeeping options.
Power made a good return to first team football, always wanting the ball and using it well. He has a sensible head on his shoulders (most of the time) and did not rise to some of the potentially provocative tackles that he faced. Much the same applies to O’Nien who relished the opportunity to push forward, cleared a goal bound header off the line and looks a very good addition to the squad.
As for Josh Maja – well, I think that we have something very special here. He has very quick feet and, when the ball is played to them in the opposition penalty box, he is sheer class. His goal came from a great cross by Oviedo, he controlled it, bamboozled a couple of defenders and placed a clinical shot across the keeper and into the corner of the net. He does that a lot. He’s good.
Towards the end we saw Brandon Taylor and Lee Connelly appear, and Connelly caught the eye with some darting runs. He is small but difficult to knock off the ball and he may well train on. We have some promising young players for a change.
For some, the highlight of the game was the booking of Morecambe player Cuvelier. He injured himself in the act of fouling O’Nien, went off and then came back on to dispossess a shocked Jordan Hunter. A goal looked a possibility until the referee stopped the game and booked the Shrimps man for re-entering the field of play without permission. Sunday morning stuff.
There were old friends in the crowd. Malcolm was there as was Dave, who I drank with in Rochester and Gillingham. It was good to see Joe Flatman from Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College and who is now filling in his UCAS forms.
It was also good to see Keith Scott, one of the Hetton Irregulars, now back watching football after an illness that has curtailed his football watching for the last five weeks.
I enjoyed Morecambe. The Midland Hotel is a gem if a rather expensive one. It is redolent of the 1930s and I expected Mr Baldwin to come on the wireless to inform us that the King was abdicating. The train trip over was lovely, especially the Bentham line between Skipton and Lancaster, the epitome of the rural railway.
And it was topped off with another ray of sunshine from Josh Maja. Let’s enjoy him while he we have him; PL clubs must have taken note.