Malcolm Dawson writes……the bus from the business park off Wessington Way to the ground was packed yesterday but there was no buzz of conversation or air of excitement pre-match. Whether this is a reflection of the type of supporter who elects to use the park and ride, rather than sink a few in the hostelry of choice I wouldn’t like to say but it strikes me as a little odd that a bus load of mainly home fans, who witnessed a 5-0 victory the last time they made the trip to the SoL and who had only witnessed one home defeat in the previous thirty one league games were so subdued, though I confess I felt much he same.
The atmosphere outside the ground was not alive with anticipation either and even at 2.40 there were no long queues at the turnstiles, yet I had to stand in line for twenty minutes to get a ticket for next week’s cup tie and there were still more than 30,000 inside. In fact the only bit of the kind of banter I expect before a Sunderland game, came as I walked from the ticket office to the ground where a young lad (he’d have been about 20) complained to me that his mates who would have been about 40, (so maybe one was his dad) were calling him Harry Potter because he had started wearing specs. He should know better than to look to a man in a red and white scarf for sympathy. “Don’t take it,” I replied “turn them into frogs” at which point his mates creased up and he learned the lesson that you need a thick skin to be a Sunderland supporter.
Our technical difficulties mean that for some reason the first comment posted after an article seems to be accepted before disappearing into the ether and blocking others from adding their two pennorth. Yesterday we came up against the team that would have been rock bottom had Bolton not had all those points deducted so a win was expected and the team delivered. You can see what Chris Boyle (aka CSB) thought of it here as he tried to comment at the end of Sixer’s Sevens. You can find out what the man himself thought of the game by reading on.
SHRIMPERS SEEN OFF BY YOUNG GUNS.
“Oh well, at least it hasn’t rained” was the underwhelming assessment of this uninspiring win over a team who look destined for the basement league next season. It came from my brother, spending three weeks in the British Isles (two in Ireland, one in Little Britain) before he returns to Thessaloniki, where he has lived since 1997.
He times his visits to the North East to coincide with a home game. In the past he has seen the likes of Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea – the one where Eden Hazard delivered a master class a few years ago- but never the likes of Southend United. Trying to explain where Southend was to Veta, his Greek wife was a severe test of our geographical and linguistic skills.
The last time he was here, in November 2016, we beat Hull City 3-0 as we dared to hope that David Moyes could get us out of the quagmire at the bottom of the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored that day and Victor Anichebe fired a double in the second half as we strung back to back wins together for the only time that season.
Now, instead of such Wearside legends as Papy Djilobodji, Didier Ndong and Billy Jones, we have Joel Lynch, Max Power and Conor McLaughlin, all three honest and committed players (as was Jones) but all a long way from the quality that we had for a few years in the Keane, Bruce, O’Neill, Poyet period of our history.
At this level, we need commitment and energy and a touch of class to make us stand out.
What we got against a side who have managed but a single league victory all season, was a performance that could be deemed no more than adequate and made Phil wonder whether an afternoon in The Bridges and The National Glass Centre with Veta might have been more productive and enjoyable.
So, five games into the new manager’s term of office and with the prospect of the riches of Croesus to spend in January (relatively speaking), where do we stand and what can we see in his team pattern and selections?
He likes his full backs to get forward, hence the selection of McLaughlin (C) and Hume. Both had good games, with Young Denver turning in a sparkling opening half hour until Southend worked out how to stop his foraging into danger areas.
The cross that the Northumberland born wing back put in for the goal was a cracker and the one that Will Grigg headed on to the post was almost as good. He foraged down the left-hand side to great effect and is one very good reason for using a tranche of the U.S. investment to maintain and improve the academy. Home grown players like him, Lynden Gooch, Elliot Embleton, Bali Mumba and Ethan Robson are important for the future of the club. We are finding it difficult at Under 23 and Under 19 level at the moment – let’s hope for an upturn in the next two years.
Both McLaughlins were competent on their re-calls although (J) seemed to be a little less comfortable than he was last season. He had little to do but one excellent punch out in the 93rd minute, as Southend filled the box for a “Hail Mary” free kick, wrapped up the points for us.
We played a 4-2-3-1 formation, not quite a Christmas Tree (plenty on sale now – I expect to see the first one up on the paper round this week) but one that gives us options. The donkey work is done by the 2 and Parkinson has handed the opportunity to Max Power and George Dobson to claim those roles above Leadbitter and McGeouch.
Both performed as expected. Captain Power, resplendent in his orange boots, took the responsibility of moving the ball forward and his young, fresh faced subaltern did the hard yards in tracking back and winning the ball. Aesthetically, the former Walsall man is not pleasing to watch (he has a rather ugly running style) but he gets there and he tackles well. He fits into Parkinson’s game plan well and should improve.
Power has matured as skipper. There was an occasion in the second half when he was lining up a shot and McGeady took it off his foot. Twelve months ago, he would have been enraged. Here, he bit his tongue and applauded the mercurial Irishmen as he had forced a good save out of the Shrimpers keeper.
Two of the three that played in front of George and Max were not so impressive. Both Maguire and McGeady try too hard to bring that extra bit of special to the team, which I presume is what Parkinson wants from them. Both can do it, but not to order and both were disappointing, with Maguire being the winner of the Most Disappointing of the Midfield Three competition.
He works hard enough but got himself tangled up a few times and seemed determined to relive that glorious goal of twelve months ago when he finished off Southend. It just didn’t work for him in this one and he knew that he had not performed particularly well when he was replaced by a much sharper Duncan Watmore midway through the second half.
McGeady also tries to bring off the spectacular and on his day is a threat to any opponent. Like Maguire, it didn’t quite work for him and he almost played himself into trouble on a number of occasions in the later stages of the game. Like Maguire, when it comes off, it’s spectacular but maybe in the latter stages of his illustrious career, it just doesn’t come off as much as it used to.
That leaves the club icon and testimony to the club recruitment policy, Luke O’Nien.
His enthusiasm and ability to play at full back and further up the field is keeping us afloat at the moment and there will surely be clubs further up the pyramid monitoring his progress on a regular basis. Here, he took his goal well, converting a splendid cross from Hume (another one whose radar blip will be increasing in size) with a fine diving header. He defends well, picks the ball up and runs with it, tackles, harries and scores goals. Whether his future is in midfield or at full back remains to be seen, but he has a future and hopefully it will be a Wearside one.
And that brings us to Will Grigg. Like many before him, he has not made a great impression in his time at the club and the goals we hoped for have been like a shower in a cheap hotel – the water comes through in dribs and drabs rather than in a flow. It could be a good shower but it just doesn’t work properly so nobody gets much benefit from it.
There were a couple of flashes here – a decent header from a a Hume cross and he started a move with a ball to McLaughlin(C) which led to another header that just whizzed over the top. Parkinson will have to persevere with him while Wyke is injured. McNulty looks like a half hour man and there is nobody else to call up.
As far as games go, it was as dull and dreary as anything I have seen over the last few seasons. The opposition were limited and, apart from one early chance, never looked like scoring. Sol Campbell has organised them, but we struggled to break down a team who have conceded an average of 2.75 goals per game and who have taken one point from the last fifteen available.
The evening in Durham was an improvement on the afternoon in Sunderland. A fine fish and chip tea in Bell’s Restaurant in the Market Place was followed by a most enjoyable evening in the company of Show of Hands, Miranda Sykes and Cormac Byrne at the Gala Theatre.
When we left it was raining, but the brother was still on a high and hardly noticed it.
Had it been so after the game, he would have justifiably complained all the way home- to Thessaloniki, not Shildon.