Soapbox: Blackburn’s Rovers return empty-handed

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Pete Sixsmith worries about the lack of a Spurs angle (yesterday’s throwaway on the Hon Alan Hutton inexplicably drew in readers in their thousands, albeit mostly from Tottenham’s tower blocks). But he still manages to capture the essence – and the fight for half-time chips – of a satisfying night with the reserves …

Monday night reserve games always bring back waves of nostalgia for the Reidy days when it looked like we had made the breakthrough as a serious contender in the Premier League.

New Ferens Park was the venue in those days and the reserves then were a mixture of fringe players (Oster, Dichio, Marriott), up and coming youngsters (Ben Clark, Paul Thirwell, Chris Lumsdon) and Reid misfits (Fredegaard, Helmer, Peeters). Games were frequently entertaining and the opposition would usually have a smattering of ”stars” turning out.

Paul Gascoigne appeared for Boro one night and got a standing ovation as he went off early, presumably for a pint or two, while on another occasion Paul Merson stood shaking his head in disbelief, as Villa’s stiffs were routed 7-1.

The pitch was always immaculate thanks to Tommy Porter, the chips were good and it was there that I came across the likes of Dave Lish, Willie Fyfie and co, Sunderland fans par excellence.
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Now, the games are played at Hetton, often on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, which are Northern League nights for me, so the rearranged visit of Blackburn on a Monday was a real bonus.

Hetton is a good venue. The pitch is of a high standard, there is a decent stand, plenty of places to watch from and the café does a mean plate of chips if you can fight your way through the gilded youth of Hetton.

The football is usually half decent, although it’s rare that you see the likes of Alex Rae storming through the centre midfield. Nowadays it’s mostly younger players making their way in the harsh world of professional football.

A number of the Sunderland youngsters had been told that they would be released at the end of the season, so it was goodbye to David Dowson, Jamie Candler, David Brown and a couple of others who are not going to make it at top level.

No players with first team experience on our side, but Blackburn had a couple, including a man who had a third place medal from the 2002 World Cup.

Step forward Yildiray Basturk, German born but of Turkish stock and a valuable member of the national side that came third in the Japan/South Korea World Cup. From Honshu to Hetton springs to mind!

It was a decent game on a pleasant night with Sunderland taking an early lead after Dowson charged down Blackburn keeper Keanes’s poor clearance and the ball went into the net off his arse.

We could have been further ahead by the break: our French forward Oumare Tounkara missed two good chances.

Tounkara, a signing from Sedan in Ligue 2 has made progress this year, but his finishing skills could best be described as “must do better”.

He did win a penalty for us after the break, however, which Liam O’Mahoney tucked away nicely, and then put a great pass in for Dowson to score a third just before the final whistle. Rovers had pulled one back from their centre half O’Connor after a typically Allardyce-inspired aerial bombardment, but his joy was short lived as he was sent off for two yellow cards.

Rovers could have finished with nine men as the referee was remarkably tolerant of Franco Di Santo, on loan from Chelsea.

He spoke to him four times in the first half alone for fouls and seeing as the norm is four before a booking (Howard Webb counted out Steed’s fouls on Saturday before he booked him), Di Santo was a very fortunate young man not to have got at least a yellow. I don’t think he will be pushing Didier Drogba for a place next season.

So, a pleasant evening and a good win in front of a small crowd of diehards, some of whom can be seen in the pictures taken on my new digital camera. The 21st century comes to Soapbox …

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