Pete Sixsmith ponders the coming league cup final, tactics ahead of the trip to Arsenal and a spot of rugby, but also offers memories of a former Sunderland player who had just died …
Ten days to go before the League Cup Final and there are the beginnings of excitement here at Sixsmith Towers.
Pardew the butler (he brings a new meaning to the word obsequious) is polishing the family corncrake, ready for a good rattle on Wembley Way and Ashley the under butler (too fond of a little flutter on the Stock Exchange) is making sure that the red and white striped onesie has creases as sharp as Jozy Altidore’s finishing.
However before then, we have the little matter of a league match at Arsenal. Not an easy one at the best of times and certainly not a week before a cup final.
But league points are as important as winning a trophy, so we absolutely must go into this game with expectations of at least a point.
Were we Southampton the game would not amount to much as we strove to cement our place in the top two of the “absolutely nothing to play for table”, but there is a very intense relegation battle for Sunderland to be a part of.
It is so intense that five of the bottom six have changed their managers this season, with Fulham doing it twice. We were linked with Meulensteen when Di Canio deprated the scene, but plumped for Poyet and hopefully he will guide us to safety.
Fulham employed the Dutchman and a plethora of assistants, coaches and chief cooks and bottle washers – and then fired him.
He has been replaced by Felix Magath, a three times winner of the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg and a man with a disciplinary trait that makes Di Canio look like an absolute pussy cat. What the new Fulham players will make of it remains to be seen.
Seven years ago when they were in a similar situation, they sacked Lawrie Sanchez and brought in Roy Hodgson. He kept them up by winning four games out of five at the end of the season. A repeat performance would not be welcome.
The general consensus is that if we win our remaining home games (6 of them) we will be OK. A win at Norwich would be a real bonus. But we need to win those home games and this has been our Achilles heel this season.
Away from home we can create our own tempo when we respond to the opposition; at home we have to set that tempo and we have not been good at it. Many of those present on Saturday (it was almost possible to ask each supporter individually) liked the two up front option that Poyet introduced. Scocco looked quick and sharp while Borini seemed happier playing through the middle.
The team selection for Ashburton Grove will be interesting.
Saturday’s programme reported the death of Gordon Harris. He was the last player that Ian McColl signed for the club before his removal in 1968. He went on to play 134 times for Sunderland scoring 16 goals in his role as a thoughtful midfield general.
Pace was never Gordon’s greatest attribute, but he could make a telling pass and had he had decent forwards in front of him, would have contributed much more.
I remember Alan Brown playing him at centre half in an FA Cup tie against Orient in 1971 where he was run ragged by Mark Lazarus amongst others. He recovered from that to play the rest of that season in his usual No 10 role, but he left at the start of the 1971-72 season, another player whose career floundered on Wearside.
The rugby league season started last week. M Salut is as interested in the 13 a side game as Eric Pickles is in attending Slimming World, but for me it is the game that I was brought up on and retains an honesty and accessibility that top level football often lacks.
I took in two games over the weekend. After the horrors of Manchester, which were somewhat assuaged by the Hydes Bitter in The Jolly Angler, I took myself to Warrington to watch their clash with local rivals St Helens. Like The Sports Direct a couple of weeks ago, it was a gloomy place for the home fans as Saints wiped the floor with them.
On Sunday, I spent an enjoyable day in Hull as Leeds did the same to Hull KR. Both Hull sides were at home at the weekend with the crowds totalling 24,000 – which is about as many as City get for their home matches. Hull is and always will be, a city where 13 a side beats 11 a side.
I also found an excellent pub within walking distance of the KC where we should be able to retreat should we go down to eight men if we play them in the quarter final.
Pardew has popped in to remind me that he tea is being served. He is not, as the Sunday Express reported, one dropped cup from the sack. I contacted Lord Beaverbrook to complain about the inaccuracy of the story and promptly banned the paper from the village shop. That’ll learn ‘em!!!!