How we wanted to rub the nose of Tim Farron, president of the Lib Dems, a possible party leader of the future and a passionate supporter of Blackburn Rovers, into something messy*. Pete Sixsmith explains why we couldn’t …
Many Sunderland fans are anxiously looking at the bottom of the Premier League table, not because our club is anywhere near it but because there is the worrying possibility that three Lancashire clubs could go down. To make it worse, they could well be replaced by teams from those footballing hotbeds of Hampshire and Berkshire plus the possibility of the Pie and Mash boys regaining their Premier League place.
So we can look upon last night as the players’ gift to the fans. They know that we like a day out at Blackburn. We get plenty of tickets, it’s not far to go and, for the Durham Branch at least, there is an opportunity to sample the waters in that finest of English towns, Skipton.
Three pints of splendid ales in the Narrow Boat preceded this disappointing game at Ewood Park. Had I dashed through from work in the car and grabbed a pie in the ground, I may not have been as tolerant of this disjointed and jaded display.
Saturday was another high energy game, a real tussle between two evenly matched sides. The mental strength and awareness of professional footballers has to be intense and with our players, even more so. We play a tight game which relies on us seizing the game from the outset and putting our opponents on the back foot.
That is what we did at Everton, at home to Liverpool, at the Sports Direct Arena and against Arsenal in the cup; when we are unable to do that, as at West Brom and at home to Middlesbrough, we can struggle. Add Blackburn (a) to that list.
Quite simply, we never got going. Blackburn had done their homework on us and seized control of the midfield from the start. Hoilet created a chance from nothing in the first two minutes and we struggled to get into the game. Kyrgiakos settled in well with Turner and although we were not in any real trouble after the initial Rovers flurry, we were never able to control the vital midfield areas.
The fact that their assistant manager is Eric Black might have helped them. He would know these players, their strengths and weaknesses, and he used his knowledge well. Their central midfield never allowed Vaughan and Gardner to run the game and both were disappointing, making a number of wayward passes and being caught in possession far too easily by a Blackburn side that have clearly bought in to Steve Kean’s philosophy, if not that of the Indian chicken men.
They had two and sometimes three men on McClean and it wasn’t until the second half that he began to influence the game. Bendtner played deep (and did very well – although I am sure that there are many who will disagree with me) and tried to spread the ball and bring in his strike partner. Alas, Fraizer Campbell looked like a forward running on empty now the euphoria of his return has worn off.
Rovers knew that this was a game that they had to win and that it was winnable. They worked very hard, making full use of their strengths. In Hoilet, they have a good payer, but for me, the Frenchman Sreven N’Zonzi was their man of the match. He is tall, strong and reads the game well. He may be one to look at for next season.
Both goals were avoidable. Mignolet showed that he is human, when he came for Pedersen’s long throw and missed it, allowing Hoilet to turn the ball in, while Yakubu was left unmarked when he headed in the clincher. These two will play a major part in keeping Rovers up. Yakubu looks a tad overweight, but he is a predator of the kind that we do not have. I don’t imagine that he would have missed the relatively easy chance that Ji scorned with the score at 1-0.
Not a great performance and one or two players must be worried for their places as Sessegnon and Cattermole prepare to return to the fray. I am sure the manager will have learnt a lot about some of them and will already be drawing up his plans for Everton and for next season.
Hopefully, that will include another visit to Blackburn via Skipton. I think that they will drag themselves clear, particularly if we beat QPR and they can take something from Bolton on Saturday.
* Our Tim – or maybe it’s his researcher – is not blessed with the most highly developed sense of courtesy. The Lib Dems’ press office promptly passed our request for a “Who are You?” interview, plus the questions, to the researcher together with one simple request: an early response even if the answer was No, so time would be left to find a substitute (I anticipated the rebuff and did so anyway: thanks Mike Delap from the Wild Blackburn Rover site). Result? Silence. I called this “staggering discourtesy” in an e-mail absolving the press officer, who tried his best to help even after starting a holiday. If only Sunderland had produced a performance enabling us to gloat in the general direction of the Farron office. No one is under any obligation to accept an invitation to be interviewed by Salut! Sunderland. But contrast what I have just described with the exchange I had yesterday with a Man City supporter; it took him no more than four hours to reply that he was too busy but hoped to be able to help out next season. The Hon Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale has a lesson to learn.