Pete Sixsmith braved flooded roads, concrete cows and Cattermolian excesses to bring you this report of an otherwise satisfactory night out in Milton Keynes …
Progress made in the League Cup should be a source of satisfaction for Sunderland supporters, and for me there were many enjoyable aspects to this night out in Urban Bucks.
I suspect there was less cause for satisfaction in the O’Neill and Cattermole households than there was at Sixsmith Towers.
Since MON arrived at the club, the skipper has been on his best behaviour at least on the field. Roundly abusing the referee at the Sports Direct was not very sensible, but it looked as if some of the poor decision-making on tackles had been eliminated.
Until last night.
He was correctly given a red card by Stuart Attwell for a needless challenge on Adam Chicksen and will now miss the next three games – including the much awaited clash with Messrs Tiote and Cabaye at the Stadium of Light in three weeks.
That it was not done with malice but with enthusiasm matters not one jot.
Having lost control of the ball, he desperately wanted to regain it and he went sliding in with feet off the ground and studs up, giving the referee no alternatives to producing the fifth red card of his Sunderland career.
At the time, the game was evenly poised and it could well have run away from us. He ought to be grateful that excellent goals from Craig Gardner and James McClean bailed him out and that the likes of David Vaughan, Jack Colback, Sess and Louis Saha worked their proverbials off in order to cover for his absence.
The two goals were well taken, Gardner’s being a free kick similar to the one at Wigan last year, while the second was a lovely finish after the type of mazy run that typified McClean’s debut season.
The whole team worked hard to limit the home boys to the odd long shot. David Meyler did well as a makeshift central defender alongside the cool and thoughtful Matt Kilgallon and Danny Rose impressed again, with crisp tackles and neat passing.
O’Neill showed his man management skills by giving Louis Saha a full game. The Frenchmen started well, faded a bit at the end of the first half and then spent the second as a lone striker. The blistering pace may have gone, but he cushions the ball well with his chest and lays it off equally well with his head. He knows he is an almost permanent substitute, but I would imagine that this immensely dignified and articulate man (yes, I have read his book) would have enjoyed the 90 minutes.
It was good to see us win on a night where Everton, City and West Ham went out. It was also a nostalgic night for me as the evening turned into a Bishop Auckland Grammar School reunion.
Outside the ground I bumped into Alan Wanless, a fearsome and fearless centre forward in his Northern League days, and as we were chatting on the concourse inside, we spotted Phil Younghusband, a Shildon lad who has been in Bedfordshire for many years and is a long standing Sunderland fan.
A few minutes later, Geoff Mangan, oft of these pages, tapped me on the shoulder; he had driven over from Essex with his son. Like me, these two scions of South West Durham were retired teachers; Phil had ended up doing some work with the Watford FC Academy and had had the good fortune to meet the legend known as Nyron a couple of times.
Add to that the arrival of Keith Judd, a year above us at school and the fact that I was sat next to two former students in Gareth Walton and David Nunn, both cracking lads and that Stephen Norris, formerly of Ferryhill and now landlord of The Shovels at Squires Gate and you can see why I enjoyed the night so much.
The trip down had been difficult, taking an hour to get from Scotch Corner to Catterick, but plain sailing (almost literally) after that. I stayed at a Travelodge a cockstride from Northampton Towns Sixfields stadium, and had there been a reserve game on there this afternoon, I would have ticked it off.
Which is probably what Martin O’Neill is doing to Lee Cattermole right now.
* Buy the Louis Saha book for just £10.49 – ie best part of a fiver off – and all other SAFC-related needs at the Salut! Sunderland Amazon link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B005Z1UTYQ/salusund-21