The first sentence of Pete Sixsmith‘s report from last night’s Reserves game may be evidence that he is finally losing it. He either doesn’t really mean it, or is about to undergo a significant life change. All because he joined a few hundred other souls at SAFC Reserves 0 Bolton Wanderers Reserves 0 …
Sometimes there are better things to do than watch midweek football. Last night was one of those nights. I could have stayed in and watched Mr H D “Dickie” Bird and the terpsichorean terror who is Lionel Blair, struggle to keep up with the tasks they were set.
Or, I could have gone into licensed premises, enjoyed a pint and watched Manchester United Odds and Sods play a Rangers side who adopted the type of tactics that a Division Two side would display on a visit to Old Trafford.
Instead, I made my first visit of the season to Eppleton CW in Hetton, home to Sunderland Reserves and Sunderland Ladies FC. Last night’s visitors were Bolton Wanderers; the result was 0-0; it wasn’t an exciting evening.
We fielded a strong side with four international players in Carson, Angeleri, McCartney and Healy, plus a couple who are on the edge of the first team in Colback and Noble.
Bolton had a bunch of youngsters, including Tom Eaves who they signed from Oldham Athletic for a decent fee. We were supposed to be interested in him in the summer.
If the game was unremittingly poor, the company was unremittingly good and it is this that draws me to reserve games rather than the promise of sparkling football. Ian Todd made a guest appearance, hotfoot from the cricket at Chester-le-Street and was a most welcome addition to the Last of the Summer Wine group.
The oldies in the crowd were counterbalanced by the gilded youth of Hetton taking their regular promenade around the ground. Despite the chilly wind, the young ladies in particular were determined to make it a fashion show of sorts. The similarities between them and the two youthful harridans in Stephen Frear’s excellent film Tamara Drewe came to mind.
Reserve team football is dying out. An increasing number of clubs in the lower divisions have scrapped their second teams and have focused on their youth teams. In Scotland it has gone completely. I remember the halcyon days at Ferens Park, where 1500 was considered a small crowd. Last night fewer than 300 hardy souls turned up for this lacklustre clash (I trust Pete isn’t suggesting the official SAFC site can’t count: they had it as 697 – ed).
The main attraction may have been to have a look at Marcos Angeleri, the former Estudiantes player who has found the transition from River Plate to River Wear difficult. He wasn’t very impressive last night, I’m afraid. His tackling was poor, his distribution patchy and his heading wayward. And he was pushed off the ball very easily. Apart from that he was fine. He clearly needs more time to settle in and it could be a long process. Onuoha and Bardsley have little to worry about if his first two reserve team appearances are anything to go by.
Up front, we had David Healy MBE, a player who is as desperate to get away from Sunderland as we are to get rid of him.
Any scouts watching his feeble performance last night would be reluctant to recommend him to their managers. If his wages are proving to be a stumbling block, the anodyne performance he turned in last night will not make it any easier for him to get fixed up. The highlight of his performance was when he kicked the ball halfway to Easington Lane after being caught offside. I doubt we will see him again.
Colback and Reed were neat and tidy, Noble had few opportunities while skipper Michael Kay worked hard without ever convincing me that he has a glittering career in the game. McCartney did well, but must have wondered where it had all gone wrong for him – from player of the year at West Ham to this in two years. Where does he go from here?
Tonight there is cup action at Shildon as they take on Tadcaster Albion in an FA Cup replay. For the winners, a cheque for £3,000, which often means the difference between survival and struggle. I would imagine that some of the players mentioned above would not regard that as a living wage – which is why they are stuck in the reserves.