It seems an awful long way to go to see the Lads comfortably beaten in a friendly, depressing everyone about the start of the real season.
The trip is over. We are back in County Durham, tired and worn out, after a 70km detour through northern France, because the bloody navigator in the car thought Ghent was to the east of Brussels and not to the west.
Too busy texting and thinking about the splendid time they had had in Heidelberg and Sinsheim and about the miserable 90 minutes spent in the very impressive Rhein-Neckar Arena to look at the traffic signs. Idiot …
There was plenty to think about regarding the game, although and an 18-hour car journey means that too much of it goes on. It was a friendly and the manager has made it clear that he doesn’t much care for them. This approach to pre-season games was effectively transferred to the first half team, who looked about as interested and motivated as a group of beery football fans would be at a seminar held by Gok Kwan.
Let’s hope the inadequate performances of the likes of Richardson, Malbranque, Da Silva and Bent will be forgotten about on Saturday. On a more worrying note, Lee Cattermole struggled throughout and was nowhere near the pace of the game. He eventually hobbled off and something did not seem quite right with him. Last season’s injury problems appear not to be behind him.
The two goals conceded in the first half were awful. Jones completely missed Simunic for the first one, and a slick passing move that made Richardson look foolish set up the second – although it may have been offside; the referee did not make any controversial decisions and strolled through the game a la George Courtney.
The second half was a bit brighter as Al-Muhammadi, Henderson, Colback, Cook and Waghorn offered enthusiasm and effort, but revealed themselves to be way below the skill and control levels exhibited by the young Hoffenheim players who came on.
Henderson took his goal well, although it was from an indirect free kick, but shabby defending immediately afterwards restored TSG’s 2 goal lead. They played the game out comfortably.
They were a very neat and tidy side to watch. Passes were accurate, players knew where to go and those with the ball knew where to find them. They had two players of West African origins in Ba and Mlapa and they were the epitome of good footballers from that region. Tall, rangy and with the ability to control a ball and make a telling pass, they danced past our statuesque defenders and consistently outstripped them for pace.
The one positive to take out of this was Simon Mignolet. He had a very impressive game, making a number of vital saves. Like Craig Gordon, he spreads himself well and, less like Craig, he commands his box. He could well be in the starting line up on Saturday.
The game did not spoil another very enjoyable day. We gathered in Sinsheim, which is where Hoffenheim play, and ended up in a small, street corner bar, hunted out by Paul Dobson the previous day. Good beer, good conversation with the locals and fellow Sunderland fans and then a 10-minute bus ride to the very, very impressive stadium.
It is similar in location and feel to the Madjeski Stadium at Reading. Like Reading, they are a club without a history of top flight football and they intend to make the most of it. The whole area in front of the stadium is a fan zone, with bars, games, food outlets etc to service the huge car parks.
Inside they have standing areas that can be converted into seats with the turn of a wing nut. The rake on the terraces is steep, giving good sight lines for all. The pitch was in excellent condition mostly because the fresh air gets to it through gaps between the roof and the outer wall a la Ashburton Grove, and the atmosphere generated is pretty good due to acoustics that allow the noise to ring around rather than dissipate.
We walked back into Sinsheim and sat in the sun outside our new home. Eddie (a Mackem from Sunderland) and Dave (definitely not a Mackem from Boldon Colliery) and Peter from Morpeth made for excellent crack as the afternoon wore on.
Sobs retired to the Bear Hotel ( disappointingly named after Teddy Bears and not those that excrete in forested areas) , before we left for the train back to our beloved Heidelberg, where we witnessed a splendid fight between a grizzled philosopher, complete with matted beard and tatty denim jacket and one of the Younger School, who rode a mountain bike and wore a hoodie. It ended in a draw.
So, another pre-season over and the anticipation is now focused on Saturday. This was a most enjoyable trip and it is a great way to see parts of Europe that you may never get the chance to see again – the suburbs of Brussels, the Lille Ring Road and the services at Thurrock, which is quite the most ghastly place I have seen in my life.
Birmingham City up next …