With Ricky Sbragia taking his first game as manager of Sunderland, Pete Sixsmith remembers what it’s like to be the new man in charge, and reflects on the best match he ever saw. Unfortunately, it’s not Everton v. Sunderland.
When I started my first job in teaching in the dim and distant past, what you wanted was a good first day to stamp your personality on the students and the school. What I got was a group of boys who had been told by the government that they could not leave at 15 to go and work at Smart and Browns or Black and Decker, but they had to stay on until they were 16. They were quite happy to show the new teacher that they would not take a blind bit of notice of him; therefore, first day as a real teacher was a bit of a disaster.
I would imagine that Ricky Sbragia would have wanted a good first day as manager of Sunderland. He didn’t get it. Instead of D4 jumping out of windows, he got defenders and mid field players giving away senseless free kicks just outside the area, allowing Mikael Arteta to show just how he relishes playing against us. Last year he twisted Ian Harte inside out; this year he breached our wall twice to wrap the game up by half time.
Everton had no forwards but managed to score three times; we had two forwards who have great reputations and about whom we wax lyrical at times – and we didn’t manage a shot on target until the 70th minute. Says it all doesn’t it!
Sbragia’s first team selection was interesting. Richardson at full back (he did well enough) and Whitehead and Tainio in midfield, presumably to try to snuff out the influence of The Belgian With The Incredible Afro, Carsley and Arteta. It didn’t work.
Jones and Cissé were ineffective against Jagielka and Lescott, who are both physically strong enough to knock them off the ball and sharp enough to stop them getting in front of them. Two good Premier League centre halves – we had Nosworthy and Collins.
The game was over when the second goal went in and it left plenty of time to gaze around a crumbling Goodison Park and remember it in its heyday in the 60’s. The finest game I have ever seen took place there in the 1966 World Cup when the Hungarians took Brazil apart, and Janos Farkas scored a goal of immense quality. Florian Albert had such a game that day, that a cheery scouser with a fag hanging out of his mouth and a bottle of Higsons in his hand told Frank Bough that if he came home from work that night and found Albert in bed with his missus, he would go and make him a cup of tea. Whatever happened to the cutting edge of Liverpool humour!
So, only 1 point when we were really looking for four. The bottom is becoming ever more congested as even West Brom are winning games. Ricky needs to strengthen the back four in the window and make sure that Jones and Cissé get the balls they need. Feed them properly and they will score.
He must be wondering, as I was all those years ago, whether this job is going to be beyond him or not. The players wanted him; they must respond in a way that shows that they see him as a manager and not a sweet relief after the idiosyncracies of Keane.