Malcolm Dawson writes…..Pete Sixsmith is slipping. His trip to the south coast last week meant he missed yesterday’s Under 23 game at Eppleton CW (a 3-0 win v Southampton) and this Bank Holiday Monday he will only make three games. The long journey back yesterday means that his much awaited match report from St Mary’s has taken a little longer than usual to reach us but here it is.
SOUTHAMPTON (a) August 2016
Three years and four managers ago, Pete Horan and I discovered Salisbury. We found a Bed and Breakfast that suited us perfectly fifteen minutes’ walk from the city centre, with a good beer pub just around the corner and the railway station within sight and sound.
This was our fourth visit to St Mary’s Stadium. The previous three had gone like this;
1) late equaliser after taking an early lead.
2) a hammering which we shrugged off as “Just one of those things” while quietly seething.
3) and a very late equaliser after taking a late lead which was far, far worse than the 0-8 as this one was towards the end of the annual relegation battle , provoking fears that this was one struggle too far.
This year, we hoped for a win, feared a defeat and would have been satisfied with a draw.
There were two taboos that nagged away at us as we discussed the game in The Platform Inn on Southampton’s waterfront. Could we shake off the stigma of failing to win a game in August since the days of Steve Bruce and could Jack Rodwell, quietly impressive this season, actually start a game in a winning team? Add to that the goalkeeping situation, the Kone situation and the Lens situation and we had more situations than the BBC Comedy Department.
The Sausage Festival at The Platform went down well. I eschewed the Llama, Alpaca, Zebra and Camel varieties, opting for Venison (a trifle de(a)er I thought) and Lamb and Mint while PH went for a Continental approach, opting for Toulouse and a Bratwurst – a mix of last season’s midfield of M’Vila and Kirchhoff.
The bus ride to the stadium was interesting. Tony the driver, a lookalike for Bernard Cribbins, he of the Spoons salesman in Fawlty Towers, novelty discs like Hole In The Ground and Right Said Fred, railway hi-jinks in The Railway Children and Wombling narrator, eventually got us there after a half hour wait outside the Isle of Wight ferry terminal.
It meant that we missed the kick off, something which some fans regard as sacrilege while others merrily amble in five or ten minutes late having finished off their pints. We were in time to collect our red envelopes containing a tenner courtesy of Virgin Media, the Saints new sponsors. Jeremy Corbyn supporters refused the Branson shilling and suggested it would be better spent by using it to buy bigger carriages on the East Coast Main Line.
We walked in just as Pickford was making the first of a handful of decent saves and we saw plenty of the action in the opening fifteen minutes as Southampton attacked our “new” defence. Manquillo was tested and came through, Kone and Djilobodji began to gel and with Rodwell, Gooch and Pienaar beavering away in midfield, we gained a foothold in the game. The longer it went on the better balanced we looked and the more ragged the Saints became. Opportunities began to present themselves as Kone headed wide when he should have scored as did Rodwell but as the half ended, the team in the spanking new all white with a bit of blue in it strip, looked the more comfortable.
The second half reiterated that fact as we began to take control. Januzaj slalomed his way through a number of tackles and was brought down on the edge of the box only for Borini to take a feeble free kick and injure himself into the bargain. Watmore, on for Borini, delayed his shot after Lens, on for Pienaar, had played him in and gave a poor ball to Defoe. We kept pressing and then the breakthrough came. Lens broke down the left and played a smart ball into Defoe. The former England man moved into the box and encouraged Southampton captain Fonte to foul him. The Portuguese Euro Winner, who was sent off for a foul on Defoe last season, promptly did and it was a clear penalty. Up stepped Jermain to nearly lift the net off its supports. Ten minutes to go.
Could we hold on? Would we win in August? Would Jack have that elusive victory?
Of course not – this is Sunderland we are talking about. Southampton pushed forward and we were pushed back. With four minutes on the clock, Jay Rodriguez lined up a shot, hit it well and beat Pickford, who allowed it to go under him and into the net. Frustration on the pitch, much wailing and renting of garments in the away end and the home team pressed for what would have been an entirely undeserved winner. That we prevented that is a positive to take.
At the end, some of the players came over and Defoe gave away his shirt, prompting thoughts amongst one of the party that he was on his way to Palace or some other such third rate club. There was sympathy for Pickford, a Sunderland supporter since childhood and there was hope that a solid performance from Kone indicated that he wanted to stay – although Moyes’ press conference afterwards made that look less likely. PH was impressed with Djilobodji and I was impressed with Manquillo. All of a sudden, things began to look better as we reached the dizzy heights of sixteenth in the first proper league table of the season.
It was a much more balanced team than the one selected for the Middlesbrough game. The back four looked solid, albeit against a Southampton side who like us, have hit the road stumbling. I think we can get better. I am not sure about them.
The transfer window will hopefully see a forward and a couple of midfielders in and Kone staying. If he stays and plays, we are a side who will be on the up. If he leaves and we have nobody to replace him, we may well see sixteenth as the optimum position.
The night continued in jolly style back in Sarum. The Turkish restaurant we ate in was interesting. The food was fine, the décor a tad faded and the front of house entertaining. The card machine didn’t work and the couple on the next table had to go to the Convenience Store next door to get cash. Mr Front of House had no change so they tipped him more than they might have done.
A brisk walk back to the Duke of York, a splendid pub if a bit quiet for a Saturday night, led to Matt the Landlord placing a whisky bottle on the bar and encouraging us to partake of it. Pete then fell into conversation with a surfing hippy who had been in France and I chatted to the drummer from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch. He was called John, the original drummer had been Stan and, although Dave Dee had died a few years ago, they still got together to play. He had fond memories of Sunderland Empire and liked “that thing opposite Newcastle that looks like a huge condom.” I assumed he meant The Sage and not Mike Ashley.
A good weekend ended with the sight of bleary eyed and gravel voiced Hull FC supporters making their way home from Wembley having won the Rugby League Challenge Cup. Horan and Sixsmith, the Old Firm, were not quite in that category but we were two tired pensioners when we got home. Listening to the stinker between The Baggies and The Smoggies didn’t help. May the transfer window bring us all we need in the form of arrivals and non-departures. I shall be consulting the various web sites with growing frenzy as Wednesday night approaches.
Finally, a happy birthday to M. Salut, who reaches the splendid age of 60+ a few today. Have a grand day down there on the Cote d’Azur.