As soon as Pete Sixsmith and the trusty Mazda returned from Luton he was under the bonnet, checking the oil, putting air in the tyres and refilling the tank. For there was no time to rest, no time to reflect on the gardens, gnomes and conservatories of Old Oak Road. The Under 23s were playing on Monday and Pete needed to be there.
And now he’s here:
The Hetton Irregulars gathered in (relatively) large numbers for the opening game of the Premier League 2 Division Two game at the Eppleton CW ground on a pleasant August night. Billed as an Under 23 game, for Sunderland at least, it was virtually an Under 20 side that turned out against an older, bigger and more streetwise Stoke City squad.
Many of those we would have expected to play were not available. Elliot Embleton, Denver Hume, Luke Molyneux, Balli Mumba and Max Stryjek are all part of the first team squad while Andrew Nelson, currenty injured, is likely to go out on loan, so the bulk of the team were fresh faced youngsters in their late teens and early 20s.
One exception was Reece James, the left back signed from Wigan Athletic in the summer and who picked up an injury in the opening game at Darlington. He played for 45 minutes, looked a cut above the rest and will probably be back in the squad, if not in the team, for Thursday’s League Cup tie.
We lined up:
Max Johnstone; Jordan Hunter, Brandon Taylor, Jack Bainbridge, Reece James (sub Williams Kokolo 45); Adam Bale, Lee Connolly, Jake Hackett; Jack Diamond (sub Alex Storey 83), Jack Conolly, Connor Shields.
There are some new faces in the group. Max Johnstone has arrived from Manchester United and underwent an extensive warm up with coach Mark Prudhoe before the game.
Prud is walking with a roll as pronounced as that you would expect from a sailor who had spent all his life being buffeted a by the High Seas and who has been Round the Horn(e) several times (Oooh, isn’t he bold) but he could spin a yarn or two. He turned in one of the greatest goalkeeping performances I have ever seen when, in his Darlington days, he single handed thwarted Hartlepool on a quagmire at Victoria Park.
|Johnstone did reasonably well on his debut but questions may be asked of him about the two goals we conceded in the last quarter of the game. He misread a cross for the equaliser, allowing Oliver Shenton to head home and then tried to shift the blame on to his defenders, while he made a good save to parry a shot eight minutes later but the ball went straight to the impressive Tyrese Campbell who thumped home a deserved winner for the Potters.|
|We had taken the lead with a spectacular shot from Jake Hackett (what a pity he wasn’t the fourth Jack in our team – Drink, Feck, A***, Girls) but we never really looked like adding to it. We defended well and both central defenders stepped up and tried to play the ball into the front players.|
The 316 in attendance were a bit downhearted at the end but old acquaintances were renewed, the craic had been good and there was a hope and an expectation that the club was rebuilding sensibly. That applies to the Under 23s as well as the first team, as Johnstone, Hunter and Bainbridge have all joined from Premier League clubs – although Bainbridge’s former employees Swansea City have now dropped down to the Championship.Connor Shields, who had been taken to Luton, worked hard up front as Diamond and Connolly played as wing backs but the Stoke defenders were bigger and stronger than he was, which is just what you would expect from Stoke defenders.
Many were also pleased that Monday night games would now be the rule rather than the expectation. Sunday dinners can now be eaten on time. Another marketing triumph for Messrs Donald and Methven.