John McCormick writes: it’s good to see Pete Sixsmith keeping up to date with education matters; that GCSEs are now graded 1-9 had passed me by. I bet M Salut knew, too, he might even have a maths grade to be proud of.
Pete also keeps up to date with football, of course, and although his Premier League season may be over he made his way to the Stadium of Light to join an impressive 18,000 others in watching the youth team take on a group of players who know what it’s like to play week in, week out, in a thoroughly competitive and professional setting.
Sometimes, you just don’t mind seeing your team beaten by opponents who play football the right way and who make you realise why you fall in love with the beautiful game. It hasn’t happened all season, partly because Sunderland were so awful and partly because I didn’t see one team that made me purr with anticipation at seeing them again. At least that was the case until last night…..
The one ray of sunshine in a season that has been reminiscent of a wet weekend in Bridlington has been the progress of the Under 23s in the Premier League International Cup. They have played Benfica, Athletic Bilbao, Norwich City and Swansea City and made their way to the final where they were to meet FC Porto. As the tournament is promoted by the Premier League, all games are played in England and Wales and Johnny Foreigner has to travel from his warmer climes, healthy Mediterranean diet and sophisticated political scene to the damp and almost permanently cold climate here, soggy pie and chips and an election campaign where the word Conservative is dwarfed by the name of the Great Leader, Kim Jong-May.
There have been discussions about which of the Under 23s might make an impact in the Championship over the (prolonged) recovery period. Max Stryjek, Ethan Robson, Elliot Embleton, Joel Asoro have been mentioned plus Lyndon Gooch, George Honeyman and Donald Love who have all had some first team experience this season.
FC Porto would be a good test for them; they play in the Portuguese Segunda Liga, currently stand eighth, as the extract below (from Ballhelper.com) shows, and won it last season finishing comfortably ahead of established senior sides and the B teams of Sporting, Benfica and Guimaraes.
Well, that was what we thought. Over 18,000 turned up at the Stadium to see if we could salvage something from a dismal and disheartening campaign. That we didn’t was due not to any major deficiencies in Elliot Dickman’s team but was to the absolute excellence of the visitors who gave a master class in well organised and well coached football that drew gasps and rounds of applause from the crowd.
One up inside five minutes from young Brazilian striker Galeno (Rob Mason’s swansong programme) said that he had a £40m exit clause written into his contract), we were never in the game and struggled to keep up with Porto’s slick passing, quick movement and ability to play a killer ball. Poor Denver Hume at left back had to attempt to stifle 22-year-old Belgian Joris Kambeye, a winger with pace and power and who ran the game for his side. That he had a penalty saved by Stryjek in the 30th minute was the one negative on his report card; the rest were straight As (Level 9 under the dear leader’s new GCSE grade assessments – grammar schools only need apply).
Galeno scored again then Andre Pereira wrapped it up on the stroke of half time when he turned in a low cross from Karembe. Unlike Saturday, the team were not booed off, nor was there a mass exodus as the support sat back and revelled in the top quality football that they were seeing.
The half time interval was taken up eating an incredibly watery Red Delicious apple which made me long for the arrival of proper English apples like Discovery, Worcester and the finest of all, the Egremont Russet. It was also spent watching a pathetic few children pretend to “attack” the 30 or so Porto fans situated at the front of the East Stand. One even managed to get himself ejected.
There was a flurry from our lads at the start of the second half but it was to no avail. Karembe got the goal he deserved and then a header from Chidozie Awaziem completed the scoring. Galeno and Karembe departed to huge rounds of applause as Porto coasted home and ended up deserved winners. At the final whistle, the crowd (the majority who had stayed until the end) gave the Portuguese team a warm ovation as they lifted the trophy.
It made me ponder the difference in quality and composure between the two sides. Our youngsters looked as much out of place as a cordon bleu chef in a KFC kitchen and there was little to be really enthusiastic about. Donald Love played at centre half and was poor. He gave away the penalty and had little idea of how to deal with Galeno. Granted he won’t come up against a player like that at Griffin Park next season, but his body language was disappointing and he may not be the player we thought he might be. Lynden Gooch looked tired after his four-minute exertions at Ashburton Grove on Tuesday while Embleton, Asoro and Maja are still developing – which is more than can be said of Rhys Greenwood who looks another player who has reached his peak.
The mood was lifted a bit this morning when the Northern Echo suggested that Jack Rodwell had been told that he could find another club, along with Kone, Khazri and Borini. These four players cost us somewhere in the region of £30m. The chances of getting back half of that are as distant as our (or any English) Under 23s reaching the technical level of FC Porto.