Pete Sixsmith slogged back from Stoke, happiness at the well-won points a little offset by the rigours of seven hours on the road to get home. He reckons it was just after midnight, his text suggested just before; either way, it was beyond the call of duty or even love and his exemplary matchday assessment – a posting that would normally be held until Monday – deserves to go up immediately …
It was just past midnight when I trudged up the back street and through the snow covered yard to find Samson the Cat sat in the kitchen with a bib round his neck and a knife and fork in his paws, demanding to be fed. I realised I had missed MOTD and was too tired to rewind it to look at that tackle.
So off to bed I went, to sleep the sleep of the just, knowing we had thoroughly deserved our win and that I was a hero for sitting on a warm coach with a radio, MP3 player and book about Dr W G Grace’s 50th birthday match at Lords. It’s a hard life – although I did run out of apples.
It was an awful day for football. When we arrived at the Britannia, the snow was falling and it looked like we were in Ukraine or some industrial city in Russia. On the pitch, the ground staff were utilising modern technology in clearing the white stuff – a couple of bright red plastic shovels from the local branch of Homebase (there are other DIY stores).
The game was in doubt, partly for safety reasons regarding spectators, but Martin Atkinson and the local police commander decided to let it go ahead, saving 1he 1500 hardy souls who had travelled a wasted journey.
We have not done well at Stoke in recent years. Michael Bridges rolled one over the line in 2004 for our only win at the Britannia and since then we have lost on every visit, including last year, when we allowed the home side to walk all over us as we surrendered to their aerial bombardment.
Same place, new manager and different players and we showed a much more professional attitude to this game and deservedly won it.
We look so organised at the moment and are set up not to concede. Since the arrival of MON, we have kept five clean sheets out of the last eight games, mainly due to dogged and determined defending. As Brown and Bramble have succumbed to injuries, it has left O’Shea and Turner to hold the fort in the middle and they did it brilliantly yesterday.
They are a good combination, one brought up in a footballing culture at Old Trafford which discourages rash challenges and the other in the muck and nettles of lower league football at Orient and Brentford. Both turned out on a bitterly cold day in short sleeved shirts, a statement that said “we ain’t a-feared of you Potters” and they confidently absorbed all that Crouch, Jerome and Fuller could throw at them.
They were aided by both full backs, with Richardson completely dominating the waning Pennant, who would probably have been replaced at half time anyway had Pulis not taken him off in the wake of that sending off. Wayne Bridge is going to have to bide his time.
The midfield worked and worked, with Gardner supporting Sessegnon up front, Colback sitting in front of the back four and Meyler picking up anything loose (including tackles from Huth – nearly there, wait for it!). As usual, the two wide men were always available and McClean caused serious problems for Wilkinson with his runs.
He took his goal well, receiving a pass from the splendid Sessegnon and running at the Stoke defence, almost losing his footing on the treacherous surface before slotting the ball calmly and confidently past Sorensen. A fine goal and one that we defended well enough to claim a deserved three points.
Last year, even against 10 men, we would have buckled. Stoke had plenty of the ball and there were a couple of hairy moments, but there was little evidence of the panic that beset us 12 months ago as we saw out the game reasonably comfortably.
So, what of the sending off? It was down to two poor decisions.
First of all, did Huth have to go careering in like that, when he surely knew that Old Red Card himself was refereeing? A tricky pitch, the possibility of two feet off the ground and a ref stood yards away from him, all indicate that the player was not thinking – and when they do not think, they can cause injuries.
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Secondly, having seen it on TV, it looks a harsh decision by Martin Atkinson. A yellow would have been more appropriate, but in real time it looked a shocker. Certainly from the seat I was in, it had to be a red card. Like the ref, I don’t have the benefit of 16 different camera angles before I call a tackle. Atkinson took his time and thought about it before he sent him off, so he was convinced that it was a dangerous tackle. It may be overturned, but I doubt it.
Whereas Huth had a mere second or two to think about his challenge, his manager had much longer to consider his response to the media after the game. Unfortunately, he did not use that time profitably and came out with some potentially slanderous comments re David Meyler.
I would suggest that Tony Pulis should watch the video again. Huth charges in at Meyler; Meyler saw him coming, tried to get out of the way and was caught by Huth. He flies up in the air and hits the ground, rolls over twice and then lays still, possibly winded, possibly fearing yet again for his career after recovering from two serious knee operations.
No Sunderland players waved imaginary red cards at Atkinson (no need to, he uses the real ones frequently enough) and John O’Shea can be seen talking calmly to Huth and saying something like “it looked worse than it was, but you know what Martin is like”.
I suspect that Pulis has used this to;
* indirectly criticise a poor decision, knowing that venting his spleen (something he does very well) at Atkinson will land him in trouble with the FA
* divert attention away from the paucity of his teams performance in the first half
To slur a Sunderland player and then go onto disrespect him even further by pretending to forget his name brings no credit whatsoever to a manager who has earned respect (sometimes grudgingly) for what he has achieved at Stoke. Maybe he is beginning to realise that City are beginning to lose the fear factor that has got them through the last three seasons.
As for MON, he got his team selection absolutely right and we move on to the Riverside on Wednesday, hoping to put last Sunday’s mildly disappointing performance behind us. Who would have thought that we would be bouncing like this 10 weeks ago?