On a day when four of Sunderland’s most venerable players from an earlier generation were honoured on the pitch, Pete Sixsmith – who is of that generation – reports on how it took the current crop of old boys to claim our first home win of the season….
At half time, after a performance that was described by a friend as “like a light bulb being switched on and off”, three of the players that Colin and I grew up with came onto the pitch.
Cec Irwin and Len Ashurst were established full backs when we started going in the early 60s and Monty, who introduced them, had just broken into the first team. Jimmy McNab’s grandson joined this illustrious trio to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Cec, Len and Granda Jimmy’s debuts in 1958. All four of them went on to have outstanding careers at Roker Park – and you can be sure that we will be pushed to see many current players staying with one club for the length of time that they did.
Still, it was the Old Guard (relatively speaking) who won the game for us on Saturday. The starting line up consisted of two players who were here when Keane arrived, two that he brought in last season and seven players new to the club this year.
It takes time for them to bed in and that offers a partial explanation for a patchy first half, where we were struggling to keep up with a well organised Boro side who looked fairly comfortable without ever really threatening to control the game.
Gordon kept us in it in the first half with two outstanding saves, but the crucial moment came when Tainio was forced off. We expected Reid to come on in a straight swap, but the manager realised that Cissé needed support and sent on Chopra – and we never looked back.
As he had done last year, he worried and harassed the Boro back four, and Huth and Pogatetz began to look shaky. The introduction of Murphy and Reid for the tiring Cissé and Diouf put them under more pressure as we began to get a grip on the game, and it was looking as if the first team to score would go on and win.
Then, Nyron gave away a penalty that probably was but sometimes isn’t given and our heads went down. Up stepped Stewart Downing, England International who learned all that he knows at the feet of Mick McCarthy – and he blasted it over the bar into the crestfallen Smoggies.
You could see the confidence draining out of them and it gave Whitehead, Reid and the magnificent Malbranque the impetus that they needed to get hold of the game by the scruff of its neck and finish the chemically challenged visitors off.
Chopra deserved the two goals. His running both on and off the ball had been superb and he really seemed to want it. He took Richardson’s killer pass in his stride for the first one and was in a great position to receive Steed’s wonderfully unselfish square ball for the second.
Look at it; great saves by Gordon, outstanding defending (apart from the penalty) by Nyron, sheer hard graft from Whitehead and Murphy and deadly finishing from Chopra. Last year’s players are not going to give their places up without a fight and it shows the positive spirit that exists in the dressing room and on the training ground.
So, we may have been a little fortunate and yes, Boro did probably play the better football. But it’s all about taking your chances and making your own luck. Napoleon once said “Give me a lucky General any day” and we don’t turn down gifts given to us by opponents who are not as mentally strong as we are.
The drive home was made even more enjoyable by the capitulation of the Mags at Upton Park and the day was topped off by a magnificently tetchy performance by Gosforth’s King Creosote on Match of the Day.
Ray Stubbs had already upset him by forcing him to admit that the Mags were a complete and utter shambles, causing him to sulk. When asked about our game, he forgot that he shouldn’t show bias on the BBC and said something to the effect that we had been totally outplayed and the Smoggies had missed chance after chance.
Not quite, Alan, but we respect you for showing your true colours after your feeble attempts to ingratiate yourself with us last season. No doubt you went home and creosoted a life-sized picture of Mike Ashley – now, that would take you all afternoon!