Pete Sixsmith is a hardy soul. Point him towards a match and he’ll be there whatever the time, whatever the weather. Mind, this was one to shake his resolve …
My hope was to bring you tales of derring-do from Eppleton Colliery Welfare, where the Under 21s played Chelsea at the strange time of 11.45 on Sunday.
It necessitated an overnight stay for those who represented the London club, presumably at the Radisson in Durham, although the friendly substitute warming up could only tell me that “it was near a river”. The mention of the nearby World Heritage Site of Cathedral and Castle merely elucidated a shrug of the well paid shoulders and the recognition of the word Radisson.
Why should they know any different? Here were 30+ young men, cocooned from the real world, making sufficient money to set them up for life if they were sensible and all with the hope (faint in some cases, very faint in others, imperceptible in most) that they would become established Premier League players.
We have a better record than the Pensioners for bringing players through from the academy. Since John Terry, they have nurtured hundreds of youngsters and the only one who looks as if he will make it is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He finds himself in the first team squad and getting half an hour here, 20 minutes there and he is not sent out on loan like the majority of Chelsea youngsters.
Jordan Pickford and Duncan Watmore have made it from this group with Lyndon Gooch not far behind. He has gone to Doncaster Rovers to toughen him up and to give him an idea of what men’s football is really like.
There was little to encourage the dedicated followers of Sunderland who delayed their roast beef and Yorkshires to watch this one. The pitch was bobbly, it was cold (although the wind was pleasingly absent after it had cut through a similar sized crowd at Sunderland RCA the previous day) and there was a veritable jamboree of scouts scattered around the perimeter, notebooks in hand looking at potential signings for their clubs.
Adam Matthews may well have been their target. The Welshman is clearly a long way down the pecking order with regard to the first team; indeed, there is more chance of Jeremy Corbyn appointing Peter Mandelson to the shadow cabinet as there is of Matthews getting a first team game.
He looks a neat and tidy player who could do a job in the Championship or, more likely, back in the SPL. In this game, he used the ball intelligently and read the game as an experienced full back should, but we saw nothing to suggest that he was anything other than a player who should never have been signed.
The same could be said of Ola Toivonen, who played up front. When he arrived in August, he looked decent and his first half display in the West Ham game was excellent. Now, he too appears to be a player who will draw his salary for playing in front of the Hetton Irregulars as new players arrive and he is forgotten about.
Apparently Rennes do not want to take him back, so we are saddled with him until May. He did nothing in this game to suggest a first team re-call.
It was a poor game that ended with that dreaded 0-0 score line. Neither side looked like breaking the stalemate, neither side played much football and there were few who looked like potential Premier League or Championship players.
Beadling and Brady were solid in the middle of the back four for us, while Greenwood showed a bit of go in the second half. For Chelsea, the very tall Tammy Abraham looked as if he might get a loan spell somewhere half decent and goalkeeper Bradley Collins impressed me.
The game petered out and the crowd went home to their Sunday dinners having failed to be satisfied by the fare on show at Hetton. It certainly wasn’t Heston Blumenthal, more Mary Littlefair, the cook at Bishop Auckland Grammar School in the 1960s, a woman who specialised in lumpy potatoes, even lumpier custard and who could work wonders with gristle.
We await “the slamming of the transfer window” with interest.