Sixer’s Wimbledon Soapbox: mama told me there’d be days like this

Malcolm Dawson writes……….for the owners of a EFL football club hoping to persuade a consortium of hyper rich American businessmen to invest in its future, then yesterday could hardly have gone any better at the Stadium of Light. The sun shone, the fans turned out in numbers and impressed with the volume and level of support, the team turned in their best display of the season so far and came away with a deserved three points.

The visitors’ start to the season would suggest that they aren’t going to be one of the front runners in this division and the lone Wimbledon supporter I spoke to, having a pre-match tab by the aquatic centre, didn’t hold out much hope for their chances that afternoon, but we can only play against the opposition we face on the day and looked by far the better side, had the bulk of possession, created more chances and came away worthy winners. 

Shortly after Stewart Donald took control of the club, we were already destined to finish bottom but managed to beat a Wolverhampton Wanderers side who had been crowned champions even before kick off. Since then we have only seen one league defeat on Wearside and unlike the impression of negativity I have (fair or not) of those commenting on social media, the supporters in the ground no longer seemed to get fazed when we concede, as despite our home record this past 13 months or so, clean sheets are still something of a rarity.  

Had our American visitors wondered whether or not the passion shown by Sunderland supporters in the Netflix series was overstated, then the response of the crowd yesterday, including the rapturous applause given to the three substituted players can only have helped to convince them that what they saw on screen was no flash in the pan. 

Twenty nine thousand plus home fans went home happy, one of whom was Pete Sixsmith. How happy? Let’s see.

SUNDERLAND 3  AFC WIMBLEDON 1  24/08/19

THE GOOD AMERICANS – WE HOPE.

Messrs Donald and Methven couldn’t have hoped for a better day to show Sunderland off to the new investors.

They must have had a direct line to the weather gods and those deities in charge of the fixture list because our new majority shareholders arrived on Wearside on the warmest day of the season to see us play the weakest team in Division One – if you don’t include Bury and Bolton Wanderers and we may not be able to after Tuesday of next week.

Possible new investors

All three of them were in the Executive area, looking casual in their suits and open necked shirts (you can’t imagine Syd Collings dressed in such a way) and smiling as they looked at their potential new purchase, basking in glorious sunshine, with an excited buzz all around the Stadium. If they can be as successful as the finest half back line that my generation has ever seen in a red and white strip, that of Harvey, Hurley, McNab, they will go down a storm with the support.

That they saw their new investment ease to a comfortable win over a very limited AFC Wimbledon side can only be for the good. A hat trick from Chris Maguire, the first one at The Stadium since Darren B££t rattled one in against Bolton in 2010 and a highly competent performance against admittedly weak opposition, would give them food for thought as they slept in their beds last night.

Jack Ross would have been pleased too. He was immaculately dressed in suit and tie as he patrolled his technical area, looking more like a man attending an interview for a job with an investment bank, possibly Goldman Sachs. The contrast between him and AFC boss Wally Downes, who looked as if he was the stand in manager for The Dog and Duck FC in his shirt, loosely tucked into his trousers and in permanent danger of flapping over the waistband, was immense.

Of course, Ross has far more resources to work with than Downes. There are still a fair number of Sunderland supporters who remain to be convinced that he knows how to use them, but there were clear signs in this performance that the team is settling down. He left out Connor McLaughlin for Denver Hume and that worked, partly due to Hume’s energy and partly due to the fact that Wimbledon left him more space than a warehouse full of Dell computers in which to get forward. The youngster took advantage of the absence of a right winger and right defensive midfield player and pushed forward remorselessly in the first half, combining well with McGeady, less so whenever Gooch moved across.

The solidity of the two central defenders had also improved the mood. Both have the physicality that previous combinations appeared to lack. Willis is the more able footballer of the two and almost scored for the second home game running with a clever backheel flick that was well saved by the Wimbledon keeper.

Starting to become a fixture

His partner, Alim Ozturk, does the basics well. He clears his lines. He wins headers. He barges forwards out of the way. Last week he neutralised John Marquis. On Tuesday, he kept the prolific and dangerous Ian Henderson quiet. Yesterday, neither Kwasi Appiah nor Michael Folvi caused him any serious problems. The crowd have taken to him and see another Paul Butler or Gary Caldwell there – a strong defender who does his job and who is effective at this level of football.

We are not quite firing in midfield. Max Power had a disappointing game – busy but not particularly effective. He was needlessly booked and when he was replaced by Dylan McGeouch, we looked tighter and more compact. McGeouch nurses the ball and carries it, Power is stronger and links well with Leadbitter. Not a bad conundrum for a manager to have.

The big disappointment was Lynden Gooch, whose game has not really moved on. Here he was hesitant, lost the ball instead of moving it on and never convinced against poor opponents. With his pace and trickery, he should be going past opponents and setting up the forward players, but too often he cuts back in and tries to beat the man again. He should have scored just before he was taken off to be replaced by Grigg. He wasn’t best suited and there was no handshake between him and the division’s best dressed manager as he went to sit down.

McGeady was McGeady. He hit the post after a splendid dribble and contributed well. Leadbitter was effective and industrious, Wyke battled away well and could, nay should, have scored before and after the interval.

Got another ball yesterday

But Maguire was the difference.

There was a piece about him on the BBC Scotland website, trying to work out why things had not quite worked out for him after an impressive start at Aberdeen. He did well at Sheffield Wednesday and Oxford United, less so at Rotherham United (I saw him play for their reserves against Hartlepool at Billingham Town where he looked less than interested) and Bury, which was an absolute disaster for him. Messrs Donald, Methven and Ross salvaged his career by bringing him to Sunderland and he has proved to be a wonderfully enigmatic signing, impressive and frustrating in equal measures.

This hat trick (his first since he notched one against the mighty Pinxton in a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie during his spell at Pride Park) showed his talents off to a tee.

Welfare Ground Pinxton

Number one was a delightful chip over Nathan Trott after Jon McLaughlin’s long punt upfield had been missed by the Dons’ central defenders.

Number two came after a fine corner by Leadbitter was cleared to him as he lurked on the edge of the box. He drove it in and although there may have been a deflection, it was certainly his goal.

The clincher came when he deftly headed in a lovely chipped centre from Luke O’Nien to claim the ball for his trophy cabinet, where it will go alongside his two Scottish caps and (presumably) his Derbyshire Senior Cup winner’s medal.

The League’s best dressed manager sensibly withdrew him after 82 minutes and he did a half lap of honour as he left the pitch in sharp contrast to Gooch 25 minutes earlier.

We could have had more. Wyke, missed two, Grigg did well to get into position and then put it wide and I have already mentioned the ones from Gooch, Willis and McGeady that could have settled the game comfortably. We could also have defended Kwesi Appiah’s equaliser better. It was a well worked and well taken goal but he was given too much room and some think that McLaughlin(J) should have come for the ball. A clean sheet is but a mere fantasy for us at the moment. (It looked to me as O’Nien failed to track Appiah leaving him unchallenged – MD)

Another massive crowd for step 3

And what of AFC Wimbledon? They are a club that I and I suspect many other football supporters have a lot of time for. They did well to get away from the bottom last season but on this showing, only another two clubs doing a Bury/Bolton may be enough to save them. Their manager is a likeable old rogue who I saw get sent off on a rainy night in Darlington in the early eighties and I wish him and his club all the best. He’s certainly a better man than that sour faced Kenny Jackett who was in Wally’s seat a week ago.

The investors saw a Step 3 game attract a crowd of just under 30,000. They are shrewd men and must realise that if they can play a part in getting this right, there is big money to be made. Supporters won’t see any of that but we will be able to hold our heads up just a bit more. We love our club and we are proud to be Sunderland supporters and all we want is a tiny smidgeon of success. It’s not much to ask for is it, guys?

Oh and the Mags to go down – but that goes without saying.

Ha’way the Lads

Match highlights via safc.com

Van Morrison – Days Like This on YouTube

Sixer’s Sevens: Sunderland keep the momentum going against AFC Wimbledon

John McCormick writes: yesterday Pete Sixsmith’s piece raised plenty of questions about ownership and investment. Underlying them was the question of whether or not we’d go up this season. Have we developed the ruthless killer-off streak that was missing last year?

Charlie Wyke’s form suggests we might have but two games don’t make a season. Matches like today’s are key, given that we are on the edge of the kind of winning streak that was conspicuously absent last season, and a 3-1 went some way to answering the question.

As did the seven word text Pete sent immediately on the final whistle:

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: Sunderland keep the momentum going against AFC Wimbledon

Sunderland vs Wimbledon. Can we win this one in style?

Jake: ‘any win does the job but a thumping victory would do wonders for morale’

If you followed the game one way or the other, or saw Pete Sixsmith’s splendid match report here, you’ll know we gained three massive points at Rochdale without covering ourselves in glory.

Perhaps we should take comfort in the fact that successful teams have always had a knack of grinding out or snatching results when playing well below par or just being matched in all respects save goalscoring by opponents.

It is not sycophantic but a sheer matter of common sense to applaud a disappointing but winning performance, especially when it happens to be the third victory in a row. That level of consistency in results has been sorely lacking in recent seasons.

So without further ado, let us be having your feelings on whether, on paper, another highly winnable game – at home to AFC Wimbeldon on Saturday – will go to script.

Read moreSunderland vs Wimbledon. Can we win this one in style?

Portsmouth then Sunderland, Ipswich, Rotherham, Peterborough and Coventry top our poll. But where are Lincoln?

On Friday we had over 3,000 visitors, followed by a quiet weekend. Not everyone took part in our top six poll  but over 1200 votes (not voters) have now been cast. That’s not bad, I suppose, for a League One fans’ site but I am expecting a few more will chip in before the season kicks off.

Early results suggest the headline I used then – for which I visited a couple of betting sites to find the promotion favourites – was on the right lines. Of the six clubs I named five are in the top spots. Lincoln (currently lingering in 8th place) are the exception with Sunderland, unsurprisingly, replacing them. There’s a gap – slight but quite evident – between the top three and the next three,  after which numbers drop off, so Lincoln and Doncaster, who made last season’s playoffs and now lie seventh, have quite a bit of ground to make up.

All of the clubs in the League received votes, which I’m taking to signify that we  managed a wide reach. It will be interesting to see if enough fans of so-called smaller clubs, which are predominantly towards the bottom of the poll, visit in large enough numbers to move their favourites upwards. Crowdwise, numbers are against them but we have only small numbers voting so you never know.

Read morePortsmouth then Sunderland, Ipswich, Rotherham, Peterborough and Coventry top our poll. But where are Lincoln?

Ipswich or Portsmouth? Rotherham or Peterborough? How about Lincoln or Coventry? It’s your choice

Last season our punters got it more or less right and correctly predicted most of the top six. Luton were missed but that was mainly down to the Coventry Ninjas, whose hijack of last year’s poll pushed them (Luton) out of the top places.

Maybe the ninjas or another club’s fans will do the same again this season. As far as I’m aware the polldaddy vulnerability that allowed multiple voting still exists and all I can do is disable the ability of readers to see the results in real time. That might change how the poll coding works (it’s built-in and can’t be changed) but it takes something away. A pity, but there we go.

I’ve got a lot on for the next few weeks so I won’t be conjuring up a novel method of tracking and displaying our chosen clubs’ progress or the lack of it. All I’ll be doing is monitoring the accretion of points for now, though I might come up with something different later in the season.

As always, your comments are welcome. We hold posts for moderation but they do go up eventually, subject to meeting commonsense rules of decency, manners, libel etc.

Read moreIpswich or Portsmouth? Rotherham or Peterborough? How about Lincoln or Coventry? It’s your choice

Rambling through Accrington, Coventry and Ipswich to Lincoln. How do Sunderland’s rivals shape up financially?

League One comprises 24 clubs. Three of them, Bury, Bolton and Blackpool, are entering, exiting or plodging in the clarts of receivership. Leaving them and Sunderland aside gives us twenty clubs.

I thought I’d take a look at their finances. Nothing detailed, just a skim through any entries at Companies House and a quick perusal of a search engine, enough to kill some time I have and satisfy idle curiosity. My idea was to divide the twenty into two and cover 10 clubs each time. After that matters should have moved ahead with the Lancashire Bs and Sunderland’s takeover and I should be able to revisit these four.

Read moreRambling through Accrington, Coventry and Ipswich to Lincoln. How do Sunderland’s rivals shape up financially?

Sixer’s Wimbledon Soapbox: McGeady brings relief to aid Pete’s recovery

Malcolm Dawson writes……..in yesterday’s programme notes Charlie Methven spoke about the need for all those involved with Sunderland AFC to be seen to be doing their part, if success is to be achieved this season. While he talked about the manager, the coaching staff, the players, the board and the administrators it was really a plea to the fan base to put all the negativity to one side and get behind the team. I sympathise with him and agree to a large extent.

When I was working I found that very few people improved their performance when subjected to constant criticism. By far a better tactic in the majority of cases was to highlight the things that were going well before suggesting ways in which they could be improved and like Charlie Methven I am convinced that frustration and an overt show of disapproval from the stands transmits itself to the pitch, making it more likely that things will get worse rather than improve, but that a positive show of support, even when things aren’t going well, can help spur the team on.

But sometimes it is very difficult to highlight the positives and yesterday was one of those days. The crowd was quiet without being overtly negative and the team’s performance was decidedly lacklustre.

Yet we are still on course for success. It is usually said that winning your home games and avoiding defeat when playing away will almost certainly ensure one of the top spots in any league and while we are not doing that to the letter, we are averaging two points a game and should we maintain that with the games in hand we would be in second spot. It is also frequently said that good teams know how to win ugly and we certainly did that yesterday.

Were there any positives, apart from the result yesterday?

Sterling I thought looked like he could be useful. He’s not a lone striker or target man but he is quick and enthusiastic as is Luke O’Nien. Liam Morgan too looks as if he will be able to give us a bit of width. He wasn’t due to start yesterday but in between my getting out of the car and getting to the ground Lynden Gooch’s partner apparently went into labour and so the new loan signing was thrust into the starting line up. He looks OK.

Had the season so far been back to front I suspect most of us would be more than happy, but in truth, despite the fact we are still picking up results we don’t look as assured or as positive as we were were earlier in the campaign. Does Pete Sixsmith agree. Let him enlighten you.

AFC WIMBLEDON (HOME)

Four weeks ago, I commandeered my good friend Peter Horan to take me to James Cook Hospital at Middlesbrough in order for an “emergency procedure” to be carried out on a particularly sensitive part of the male anatomy.

The evening ended with your correspondent being taken down to theatre, where a very capable young Scottish surgeon gave me a local anaesthetic and performed a “dorsal slit” on the appendage that was giving me some serious grief as a result of a rogue catheter that was literally “taking the p*** “out of me.

James Cook Hospital

Most males of my age have relatively low thresholds to pain (although not as low as that of Kwesi Appiah, the AFC Wimbledon No.9 who squealed and writhed at every opportunity) and in those dark hours before falling asleep, I can still vividly remember the sound of the surgical instrument grinding away and the sounds of yours truly grunting and groaning for the best part of half an hour. Where was Florence Nightingale when I needed her?

Watching this game was somewhat akin to that.

Like the rush to hospital I went in anticipation of it being over quickly, hoping for an early feeling of relief and pleasure but instead having to settle for a gruelling 75 minutes, where the dorsal slit was almost preferable to seeing poor Charlie Wyke struggle to make any impact on yet another game. At the end of the day we came away with the three points, something that Portsmouth, Charlton Athletic and Peterborough United didn’t. We crept closer to an ailing Pompey and remain in very close touch with Luton Town and Barnsley.

Grant Leadbitter

We did this because of the anticipation of John McLaughlin, the control of Grant Leadbitter, the promise of Lewis Morgan, the belated arrival of Luke O’Nien and the one moment of true quality in the game from Aiden McGeady when he finally got a shot lined up and despatched it into the net.

The bottom team in Division One can feel a little aggrieved at losing although any chances they had usually came from errors that our players made. They worked hard, showed some good touches and in their captain Deji Oshilaja, had the most composed player on the pitch. If they go down, he will be on the list of a good many Championship clubs. He was certainly far too good for Charlie Wyke, who had a real stinker and who is beginning to look like another Tom Ritchie, Danny Graham or Jozy Altidore, names that must send a shiver down the spine of Ken Knighton, Martin O’Neill and whichever half-wit suggested that we sign Jozy.

Let’s start to see some of this please Charlie

I thought that Wyke would flourish at Sunderland. He was back in his native North East, had signed for a club far bigger than any he had played for before and he brought with him a good reputation for scoring goals at this level. He is a big man so he would not get bullied and he would lead the line well, bringing on Josh Maja and whichever other forwards played alongside him. Unfortunately, he was injured before he signed for us, appeared to be regaining his fitness after scoring on his debut and then got injured again at Burton Albion, an injury which put him out for weeks.

I had faith in him. “Wait until he gets back,” I told all and sundry. “He will butcher some of these defences and we will be scoring goals for fun.” Alas, at the time of writing, my faith has been misplaced. His contribution has been negligible and the crowd are beginning to turn against him. That awful header against Luton Town sticks in many memories and today, the post-match analysis in the Gents was not kind to him.

The whole performance was a stumbling one after the initial twenty minutes. In that opening period, we attacked with some gusto, George Honeyman looked bright and Grant Leadbitter made it perfectly clear that he was going to be in charge of the central midfield. His presence allowed Max Power to get forward and we saw some of those great runs into the box that thrilled us in the early days of the season.

Almost found the net from halfway.

But it faded. We allowed the visitors to come back at us and they could have scored at least once. An audacious 40-yard lob from Wordsworth (no daffodil watching aesthete, he) and a shot and header from Nightingale that both flew over the bar. Florence could have put the shot in, I think.

Could’ve – maybe should’ve got on the score sheet

Our attempts on goal in the first half were a big fat zero and the AFC keeper had not muddied his knees or even exerted himself as he went off for his half time orange. Despite the majority of possession, we looked toothless and lacking in imagination, At the back, Jimmy Dunne had struggled while Adam Matthews looked more like the Adam Matthews of the previous seasons rather than the much improved one we have seen this year.

The second half wasn’t a whole lot better.

Wyke departed on the hour to be replaced by Tottenham loanee Kazaiah Sterling. He looked busy and could be an asset as we get into the business end of the season. He appears (note that word) to have more composure and awareness than Jerome Sinclair and looks a useful man to have on the bench. Also off the bench was Luke O’Nien, who replaced George Honeyman and received a rousing welcome from the quiet and rather bored crowd. He is becoming a very popular figure and I imagine that 30,000 people were a little mystified that he was not in the starting XI. He brings energy to the midfield in that he looks for the ball, gets forward and can tackle cleanly and effectively. As a reluctant full back, he did well but it’s in midfield where he shows his abilities off best. Our performance perked up when he vacated the bench and within four minutes of his arrival, McGeady won the game for us.

I sat back and waited for the second goal to come but it didn’t and there was the usual last ten minutes when the eager but limited visitors pinned us back as we invited them to score by returning the ball to them with monotonous regularity. Many of us foresaw another Scunthorpe.

A cool finish to grab all three points – pic from You Tube and the lad who ran round the pitch at half time.

Better teams with more punch up front would have taken a point from us and Scott Wagstaff, a real hero the week before with his two excellent goals against West Ham United, should have claimed it but his tame shot was well saved by the ever-reliable John McLaughlin.

Referee Ben Toner (decent) blew his whistle to muted cheers from our support and loud ones from the noisy away following who clearly enjoyed their day on Wearside. We had the lot from them; “Is this a library,” “Your ground’s too big for you,” “Your support is f****** shit,” and some good ones about their return to their spiritual home at Plough Lane. They are a club I admire and I would love to see them survive but I fear not.

Plough Lane plans

The other results were OK. Portsmouth look as if they are seriously wobbling, Charlton Athletic lost ground again and I bet (geddit) that Barry Fry is cursing his suspension as Peterborough United crashed at home to Plymouth Argyle. But the Luton Town bandwagon rolls on and Barnsley continue to win far more comfortably than we do. That game at Oakwell in a few weeks’ time is looming and could be a season defining clash.

The squad that we have is a big one and could be described as top heavy. Players not involved yesterday (Oviedo, Ozturk, Cattermole, Mumba, Kimpioka, Grigg) would probably get into most teams in this league. The manager has a plethora of players to choose from and he and his coaching staff have to make some big decisions before we head for the dreaming spires of Oxford next week.

No doubt the redoubtable Brian will have something to say about that…….

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Sixer’s Sevens: Wimbledon make it hard for Sunderland

Pete Sixsmith sent a text at half-time: ‘A distinctly underwhelming and goalless first half’, at which point I had to head out to the railway station.

I suspect, from the little I picked up on my return, that the second half didn’t provide much of an improvement. But we won, and Pete’s instant post-game seven word text recognises that, if little else (and Gary Bennett made the obvious point at the end that with new men in the team and Honeyman just back from injury, it was natural that there would be rough edges) … :

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: Wimbledon make it hard for Sunderland

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: AFC Wimbledon

John McCormick writes. Like Pete Sixsmith I enjoyed watching Wimbledon v West Ham.  But with one eye on the weekend’s  League One results and next week’s fixture I couldn’t help wondering what effect their well-earned win will have on AFC Wimbledon. Will it have knackered them so they can’t compete with our well-rested heroes? Or will it bolster them for what is going to be a bumpy ride to May.

Pete, of course, doesn’t just watch Wimbledon on TV. Let him pick up the story, and tell you in his own inimitable words how he goes about things:

Read moreThe First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: AFC Wimbledon

Wimbledon Who are You? Should that West Ham upset make Sunderland wary?

Mark Sturges (right) with his supporters’ group banner

What a result that was, says Monsieur Salut. But why does it always seem to happen like this? A player goes months without scoring, a club keeps losing as if for fun, a manager is sacked … and then we come along. The variation of the theme this time is that Wimbledon,rock bottom of League One, suddenly hit a flash of form and dispatched Premier League opposition in the FA Cup. I heard a Hammers fan on TalkSport yesterday and he was apoplectic that his team – otherwise going nowhere special, upwards or downwards – couldn’t muster the spirit and quality to overcome such a modest obstacle to progress in one competition where glory might just be possible.

Our first of possibly two Wombling Who are You? interviewees, Mark Sturges*, answered the Salut! Sunderland questions before the FA cup tie, but his additional thoughts were invited. It’s fair to say there was an air of grim resignation about his original replies but he now adds ths: “The team played very well- surprising as we’d lost 0-3 at home to Fleetwood on the Tuesday. This team has proved we can compete so must start showing that in the league IF we are to have a chance of survival before it’s too late’ …

Read moreWimbledon Who are You? Should that West Ham upset make Sunderland wary?