He’s been threatening to cut back for weeks and with the prospect of a Northern League double header with Spennymoor and Shildon kicking off at 1.00 and 3.00 pm respectively, Pete Sixsmith decided against the long trip to Hampshire so we are grateful to Bob Chapman for filling Pete’s boots, so to speak. As it turned out the floods which affected so much of the country, devastated the non-league programme and disrupted the rail network, but the plastic pitch at New Feren’s Park meant Pete still got a game in and Bob made it safely to the South Coast to witness a welcome Sunderland victory, although that had nothing to do with artificial turf.
Here’s Bob’s take on the game.
It’s been hard work following Sunderland this season.
I honestly thought a top 10 finish would be achieved easily with the signings of Fletcher and Johnson. To be languishing towards the foot of the table is certainly disappointing, which made getting out of bed early Saturday morning, for a trip to Southampton very difficult. Well at least I didn’t have a 600 mile round trip to contemplate, only a mere 250 in the company of Mick and Andy and their two sons, Luke and Tom. Certain defeat can always be tempered when you are in good company.
Delayed at Bedford station, waiting for a driver for our train to London, didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. However my spirits were raised when a steam engine hauling a Christmas excursion roared through. I have a passion for steam engines and have even travelled to India a number of times to photograph them. Sadly, they are no longer with us, so the sight of a preserved one always brightens my day. To all you other ‘gricers’ the locomotive was A4 Pacific 60009 ‘Union of South Africa’. This loco was built at Doncaster in 1937 and will certainly have carried Sunderland supporters south on many occasions. Suddenly the day was getting better. Maybe the 1937 built engine was a sign. I remembered my Dad who always talked about that pre war Sunderland side and Raich Carter in particular as the best he ever saw. Maybe certain defeat could be avoided after all?
Despite floods and train cancellations we made good speed and in no time met up with Stew, (Sidcup branch chairman) at Waterloo. As usual with train trips the banter is engaging but always the same – predictions for the day, away trips, greatest players. By now I was beginning to think a draw could be possible.
Arriving in Southampton at midday, finding a pub with something to eat was a priority. Tom, Andy’s 12 year old son, suggested that we eat in ‘that lesbian restaurant over there’ but as the Lebanese restaurant had no beer Stew directed us to the Encore where we met up with John Marshall and his mate Mark. With a few pints inside my prediction had gone full circle within a few hours and I was now going for a 2-0 Sunderland win in the group sweepstake!
As for the game itself I always thought that Sunderland were the better side. We started so brightly with a tremendous strike from Sessegnon in the first minute. Had that gone in it may have been a different story, as if we attempted to defend the lead for 90 minutes we may have ended up drawing just like at West Ham. Fortunately we scored at exactly the right moment. It obviously had an impact on the Saints as they never really looked a threat in the second half.
However it was one of those games that I felt we could so easily lose had they managed to score. Although Southampton had good possession at times, they didn’t pose much of a threat up front. For once the defence looked solid with Cuellar and O’Shea both outstanding. Let’s hope we are able to keep Danny Rose for the rest of the season. Once again he had an excellent game. For such a small player I am always amazed by how much he wins in the air. It would be great to get him signed this January. Leave it longer and Spurs will want him back, as by the end of the season he could well be a part of the full international squad.
Ultimately the difference between the two sides could be summed up in two words- Steven Fletcher. Here is a quality player and a bargain at £ 12 million. Strong in the air, two good feet, holds the line, runs the channels; he has the lot. He has scored 8 goals this season despite having indifferent service. Personally, I feel he would get more scoring opportunities if Johnson played on the left and Larsson on the right. I know you get a tremendous defensive work rate from McLean but his offensive work has been patchy all season. Currently I think he would make a bigger contribution as an impact player coming off the bench.
Anyway what does it matter? Martin O’Neil and the team got it right. So, it was back to the Encore for a celebration pint before the journey back, happy in the knowledge that we are beginning to play better and have a chance of achieving a top ten finish. Ever the optimist me.
See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739