A raw Monday night and a match of spectacular mediocrity at The Stadium of Light has Pete Sixsmith wishing he could have been occupied with more mundane matters
Monday night at Sixsmith Towers is usually a time for domestic duties or for popping over to Darlington to see an art house film like Pan’s Labyrinth, I’ve Loved You So Long and Sex Lives of the Potato Men, all classy movies with intense acting performances from the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas, Marion Cottillard and Johnny Vegas. I like a bit of culture, me.
Domestic duties usually mean doing the ironing, listening to Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie on Radio 2. Shirts are neatly folded, trousers are pressed and socks are correctly matched up, as the contents of the basket are transformed from a tangled mess into a tidy pile, ready for the airing cupboard. Ironing is a kind of therapy for me; you get to see the results of your labours, which is a reward in itself.
However, this Monday, the delights of getting a crease in a pair of pants was replaced by watching possibly the worst and almost certainly the most worrying game I have seen at The Stadium Of Light. Thirty five thousand fellow sufferers had to sit through 90 minutes of alleged football from two teams who made any claims that the Premier League is the best in the world look as risible as a promise from John Terry to keep an eye on the Missus while you are away.
It really was awful. Both sides seemed to think that lumping the ball up field might produce something. We were the biggest offenders. and that is why it was so worrying. Where was that crisp, attacking football that we saw in August and September? What had happened to the penetrative through balls from Reid and Malbranque that took us to within two minutes of a famous win at Old Trafford?
Last night, absolutely nothing. Reid gave ample evidence as to why Trappatoni prefers the far more prosaic but far more effective Glen Whelan in the Ireland midfield. A collection of misplaced passes, over ambitious through balls and miserable crosses had the crowd ( and Kenwyne Jones) shaking their heads in despair. The fact that he lasted until the hour mark says everything about the lack of options on the bench. Malbranque ran around a lot.
The back four did ok and at least managed to keep a clean sheet. But they were up against Stoke City, whose forward line is as subtle as an Alan Partridge interview. Kilgallon looked decent, tackled efficiently and hoofed the ball into the stands whenever he had to. Ditto Turner. What a quick thinking, fleet footed forward like Rooney or Arshavin might well do to them is frightening.
Jones had a sound game and was extremely effective in his own box, making some fine headers. Unfortunately, the quality of our crossing was so wretched that he hardly had a chance to show his prowess at the other end.
There is no craft and no guile in this team. The central midfield works hard and Cattermole was probably our most effective player for an hour. He should have seen Whitehead sent off for the kick that was aimed at him and he covered a lot of ground before he tired in the last quarter. Cana managed not to pick up a yellow and looked happier having his sidekick back with him to resume their Regan and Carter bad cop bad cop partnership in the middle.
But it is a real worry that in 90 minutes we did not create one worthwhile chance. Stoke had a couple but Whitehead fluffed his and Kenwyne cleared the other off the line. We look bereft of ideas and if I had any optimism about the rest of the season, that was dispelled by 10.00 when this wretched impersonation of The Beautiful Game was finally put out of its misery by Howard Webb.
Saturday is another crucial game which may lift us out of this torpor. But I won’t be there to see it; I have the sweet smell of success in my nostrils and I’m heading for St Ives with Shildon, weather permitting. It’s sure to be an improvement on last night.