Pete Sixmith reflects on a great day out and that rarity: three points from an opening game away from home…
Where were you on the August 19 1989? If you were at the County Ground, Swindon, you saw our last away win on the opening day of the season. Eric Gates and Warren Hawke scored on a day that featured such luminaries as Tony Cullen and John Cornforth. I was in Greensboro, North Carolina and I remember making frantic transAtlantic phone calls in order to get the score in those pre internet days.
You have to go back to the August 28 1982 for the last opening day away win in the top league. We won 3-1 at Aston Villa with goals from Colin West, Ally McCoist and Nick Pickering. Missed that one as well as I was in Edinburgh getting a dose of culture (and alcoholic poisoning) at the Festival.
So, it was a real pleasure to come away from the Reebok Stadium in beautiful, downtown Horwich having relieved a very limited Bolton side of three points and given the 5,500 Sunderland fans a tantalising glimpse of how the Steve Bruce era could develop.
At the end we were hanging on for the win and Marton Fulop’s reflex saves denied the Trotters a point. But before the first of those saves on the stroke of half time, we absolutely butchered them and could have been three up. Some wayward shooting and the usual excellent goalkeeping from Jaaskelainen kept it at one, but there were so many positives to take.
Let’s start with the new central midfield. I’m not a great fan of Lee Cattermole (go back to Wigan away last season for my then assessment of him) but he made a great start in a red and white shirt. He tackled firmly but fairly and his distribution was excellent. His new best midfield mate, Lorik Cana was equally impressive. Solid, thoughtful and aware of all that is going on around him, he spent the first half turning Sean Davis into a quivering wreck and completely negating the influence he was supposed to have on the game.
Up front, we may well have a partnership that will frighten the life out of defenders in the bottom two thirds of the Premier League. I thought that Kenwyne was magnificent and doubly so for a man who had spent the best part of three days in the air. His flicks on to Darren Bent consistently opened up the Bolton defence and when he had to, he made some towering defensive headers. Great to have the old Kenwyne back and the ghost of Cisse appears to have been well exorcised.
As for Darren Bent, well, it doesn’t get much better than scoring what turns out to be the winning goal, five minutes into your debut. His movement was good and he was willing to run for the whole game. The future looks bright with these two up front.
There are still some areas that need to be addressed, particularly at the back, where the need for a calm head (and arms, body and feet) was evident at times. They did well enough, but better teams than Bolton (and on that showing there are likely to be 18 of them) will punish our tendency to panic. The word on the street is that John Mensah is on his way in. He may well give us that.
The other positive that came out of the day was the contrast between the two sets of supporters. Bolton needed drums, dancing girls and giant flags to wake their notoriously grumpy fans up. We need none of these. The noise we made was magnificent: a complete lack of the rather tiresome anti Mag stuff, all we got was 5,500 Red and Whites roaring the team home. Best crowd performance since the 1-0 win at Villa two seasons ago. The new players and management team must have begun to realise what a club this is. The strength and the feeling of the support for their club is second to none.
Stephen Wilson would have loved every minute of it!