Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox:Wham! Bam! Thank you Stan!

Malcolm Dawson writes……what a contrast between yesterday and my previous visit to The Wham Stadium. Less than twelve months ago I got absolutely drenched as we watched the Lads playing for 70 odd minutes in a mud bath before the game was eventually called off. What’s more my car had collected a slow puncture which meant that I had to stop twice on the way home to try and get some air in my tyres in Accrington town centre then somewhere near Skipton and I drove home in the pitch dark, through driving rain, with the air vents struggling to keep my windscreen clear of the steam rising from my soaking thighs.

Yesterday I sat in glorious sunshine in a tee shirt regretting the fact I hadn’t decided to put my shorts on nor brought along any factor 20 Ambre Solaire (other sun protection creams are available). They’ve done a bit of work to the ground too and I was disappointed to find the double decker bus that sold cheap beer had been replaced by a number of bespoke refreshment bars but with a pie and a pint deal costing only a fiver it was still an inexpensive way to take a break from the diet.

I couldn’t get to the two midweek games we have played since Noah and his sons were spotted doing a bit of DIY on the recreation ground next door but Pete Sixsmith did and he has yet to see us lose there. It’s not a big stand at Accrington and Pete was only a few seats away so I have a pretty good idea about his impressions of a performance which brought about another three points in another 3-1 win. You can find out too by reading yet another top notch match report. 

WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU STAN!

After a two-week break from the County Palatinate, it was back to Lancashire as we trekked over Blubberhouses Moor and along the A59 to Accrington via Colne.

For many of us, this was the fourth visit to the home of the Accrington Nori (it’s a brick) in 9 months. For part timers like me, it was the third one since April. Fortunately, all three have been bathed in sunshine rather than bathed in the precipitation that often hangs over Pendle Hill.

It was an important game for us after the unpleasantness at Peterborough. With more pressure on the ramrod straight shoulders of Jack Ross and players needing to cement their places in the team, it was a game we needed to win.

By 3.05, it didn’t look good. Accrington played a long ball forward, Willis and Ozturk showed perfect manners in leaving it for each other.

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

“After you, Alim.”

“No, after you, Jordan.” “

“I say Alim, what’s that cad, Jordan Clark doing thumping the ball into the net?”

“He’s not quite pukka, Jordan.”

The conversation on the terraces was probably not that polite.

(It wasn’t behind me with a proliferation of fs and cs and a bloke in front doing an impression of Bez from the Happy Mondays – MD).

The mood lasted two minutes. Denver Hume put a fine cross in from the left for Lyndon Gooch to volley home a spectacular equaliser, restore equilibrium and establish control.

Half an hour later we were well ahead with goals from Aiden McGeady and Mark McNulty and the game was all but over.

McGeady’s came after a penetrating pass from the lively Gooch. The mercurial Irish international used his twinkling feet to create space and scored for the third successive game in this little corner of North East Lancashire.

Ten minutes later, Accrington’s defence was wide open as Chris Maguire broke away, beat two defenders and slipped the ball to the industrious Mark McNulty who opened his league account for the club with a comfortable finish.

Kick off at The Wham

In between the two goals, Stanley could have equalised when a Cody Bishop shot struck Jordan Willis, fooled John McLaughlin, hit the bar and dropped just the right side of the goal line before being hoofed clear.

The second half was relatively comfortable as Accrington huffed and puffed and resorted to a long ball game, which Ozturk and Willis handled with reasonable aplomb.

McLaughlin had a couple of tricky moments but was never really in any trouble and we had opportunities to wipe out the three-goal deficit in our goal differences.

For Rob Mason, one of the Durham Branch’s intrepid travellers, emotions were split. Another goal or two would put a marker down with the other promotion rivals and quell some of the grumbling. On the other hand, he had 1-3 at 16/1 and with the Mason family mortgage riding on it, he exhaled loudly when Will Grigg fluffed a sitter that would have made it 4-1 and would have reduced he and the delightful Sandra to living in a cardboard box on the mean streets of South Hetton.

It was an adequate performance rather than a great one.

Accrington Market

The game was one that we needed to win and win we did, so what’s not to like about that? Well, it wasn’t the most coherent performance and there were some blips but we could put that down to being rusty after a couple of weeks off.

Stanley look like strugglers for the rest of the season. Without Billy Kee, currently having some serious mental health issues from which we hope he makes a complete recovery, they had little up front and, despite having a grip on midfield, never really threatened.

Sam Finley was the pick of their players and kept them ticking over. His career started at Everton and has taken in stints at Southport, Warrington Town, Wrexham, The New Saints and AFC Fylde before he pitched up at Stanley a couple of years ago. He is a busy player who can pass, tackle and move forward and I admired his technique and commitment. He may not go any higher than League One but it shows that there are players who deserve an opportunity at this level.

For us, Lynden Gooch made a massive contribution with a splendid goal and an excellent pass for the second one. He used the ball well and worked extremely hard. George Dobson, who replaced Max Power, drove us forward but this was not one of Grant Leadbitter’s better games as he was hustled out of it by eager if limited, opponents.

At the back, Denver Hume did well and once they had been re-introduced to each other, Ozturk and Willis looked comfortable. Luke O’Nien was as industrious as ever, but there is a feeling that a good winger will take advantage of him. Accrington didn’t have one.

I liked McNulty, who works really hard and who will score goals at this level, McGeady once again scored at The Crown Ground and Maguire did well enough. The arrival of McGeoch and Grigg reinforced the depth in our squad compared with the relative paucity of the opposition’s.

I enjoyed my day out. The bright lunchtime lights of Colne were not for me so I caught a train on the East Lancashire line that took me from Colne via Nelson, Brierfield, Burnley Central, Burnley Barracks, Rose Hill (change for the Todmorden Loop here), Hapton, Huncoat to Grand Central Station, Accrington before departing for (amongst others) Blackburn, Bamber Bridge and Preston. It crossed three splendid viaducts which gave a clear picture of theses old mill towns, tightly tucked into deep valleys where witches roam and Massey’s Ales are still fondly remembered.

Accrington is a small town of 35,000 people, slightly bigger than Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor and with a clear identity. They have a splendid classical style Town Hall, a shopping centre that has seen better days, a fine (but very quiet) market hall and tributes to The Accrington Pals and the groundsman’s dog from Peel Park.

Tribute to an Accrington groundsman and his dog

After three visits there, I hope not to be visiting again next season and will be happy to travel the rest of the East Lancs line through to either Blackburn or Preston. The two games this week, against Rotherham United and Bolton Wanderers may well define whether I am able to do this.

Ha’way the Lads (in American accent).

Highlights via safc.com

Sixer’s Rochdale Soapbox: pints and points on the wet side of the Pennines

Malcolm Dawson writes……..make no mistake. This was no walk in the park and Rochdale made us work hard for the three points. If I was a ‘Dale supporter I’d have been disappointed going home last night. The home side were organised, kept the ball well and moved it purposefully. They were a constant threat and if they play like that all season they could well be there or thereabouts come the playoffs at the end of the season.

There will be doubtless be some followers of SAFC who will not be satisfied with our performance last night, despite the three points, but that is doing a disservice to our opponents. Despite some people’s opinion that we should be walking this division, our opponents do not go into games prepared to capitulate without a fight. Indeed the majority are motivated to show that they are not overawed by the size of our following or past glories and many will raise their game accordingly.

To me, from my seat low down on the front row, we saw the same level of commitment from our boys that they always give. Charlie Wyke had perhaps his best game in a red and white shirt to date and those around him never gave up competing with a decent Rochdale side. We are not Brazil or Barcelona but there is no faulting the attitude of the whole squad, no matter who starts the game. Rochdale played well, but we competed and this was a close, hard fought game in which I thought we did just about enough to justify the win.

Of course that’s just my opinion and I expect there will be a few out there who will be ready with the insults, and tell me I know nothing about football, but the fact of the matter is we came away with all three points in a game that could have gone either way.

How did Pete Sixsmith see things? Let’s find out.

ROCHDALE 1 SUNDERLAND 2 20/08/19

ENJOYING LANCASHIRE – ROCHDALE.

I seem to be spending a lot of time in Lancashire recently. Colne and Accrington last Wednesday, Manchester on Friday, Rochdale last night (Tuesday), Burnley next Wednesday and Accrington again, three weeks on Saturday. As a Yorkshire born lad and intensely proud of it, it’s not good for my constitution to spend too much time on the wrong side of the Pennines.

So far, it’s been a successful series of visits. Colne and Accrington were a great combination of beer, pub dog and decent football, while Manchester was interesting if extremely wet.

I visited the home of rain, Holt’s Bitter and barm cakes for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, where the magistrates of Manchester, encouraged by the usual wicked Tory government in London, ordered that a peaceful crowd of 60,000 should be attacked by the local Yeomanry for having the temerity to ask for the vote, higher wages and decent housing so that they would no longer have to eat their own internal organs.

Lugubrious Mike Leigh

It was an interesting event which took place on the site of the slaughter at what was then St Peter’s Fields and is now occupied by hotels, offices, the City Library and Manchester’s magnificent Town Hall. It rained heavily all day which was disappointing and made Mike Leigh, the director of the film based on the events, look more lugubrious than usual.

Four days later, having dried out, I took to the road to Rochdale. The two- and a-bit hour journey passed quickly and soon the Brains Trust were assembled in the Flying Horse, opposite the Town Hall, supping Rochdale brewed beers from the four breweries situated in the town. I sampled one from Pictish Brewery, who specialise in single hopped beers and it was a pleasant drink, although I would have enjoyed a darker beer.

Leaving the boys discussing the price of fish and whether the sweeper system works, I set out to walk the 1.5 miles to Spotland and to find exactly where the coach would be parked. Keen readers (there might be one out there) may remember that I got lost in April, causing helicopters to be scrambled, lifeboats to be launched and police to tour the streets of Rochdale with loud hailers asking people to look in their sheds and coalhouses to see if I was there.

The Brains Trust

Spotland is a tidy ground, one of which the club should be proud. Although it has no distinguishing features, it serves its purpose, is neat and tidy and, on the evidence of this visit, friendly and welcoming. A healthy crowd of 5,258 turned up and witnessed a decent game and a bit of a smash and grab raid by us.

Few could deny that Rochdale were the more attacking side. They played some neat and tidy football, with former Manchester United man Oliver Rathbone and ex Liverpool player MJ Williams dominating the midfield. They moved the ball about well, not allowing Leadbitter and Power any real opportunity to get hold of the ball and do something with it.

As is often the case, the pretty patterns they weaved came to naught and we took the lead in the 28th minute with our first real attack. Luke O’Nien moved the ball across the edge of the Rochdale box and set up Aiden McGeady. He took a step inside and planted the ball past Brighton loanee Roberto Sanchez for his second Lancashire goal in a week.

Geads celebrates his opening goal

The 1800 Sunderland supporters sat back and waited for more goals to follow. After all, ‘Dale couldn’t keep that level of football up and now they were a goal down, their heads would drop, and we would pick them off. And they had a child playing at right back so, the logic went, when it got dark, his mam and dad would come and collect him and take him home, so in the meantime, McGeady could torture him.

Well, how much do we know. Within five minutes, the always impressive Callum Camps (crazy name, crazy guy) had levelled after our defence showed a fair amount of indecision and the home team went on to dominate the rest of the half.

Maguire appeared distracted by being so close to Bury where he spent a miserable year, the little boy at left back left his Lego to concentrate on squeezing McGeady out of the game and Gooch had one of those ineffective games that too often appear in his season’s schedule.

Wyke at Rochdale

All of this left Wyke battling away up front on his own, but the new, sleeker, fitter Charlie shouldered the responsibility well and looked like a man who could fire the goals that might just get us back into the second level and the tantalising possibility of local derbies with…..wait, I’m getting carried away here.

Half time came, pies were eaten, texts were exchanged and the word “sh***” was used on a regular basis to describe the performance, the catering and the general state of the world. And things did not really improve in the second half, as the home team resumed where they had left off and took control.

We had a good view of Luke Matheson, the left full back. He’s not 17 until October and he looked at least two years younger. He had made his debut last season in an EFL Trophy game against Bury and had been on the bench for the opening three games of this season. It must have been a challenge for him to make his league debut against a promotion favourite and to have to mark a player who is widely regarded as the best in the division. He thrived on it and looks as if he could go a long way in the game. The cheeky little lad even put in two excellent crosses late in the game that could well have given ‘Dale a probably deserved equaliser. I am sure that there is a myriad of scouts who have noted him in their little black tablets.

Too young to drink or vote – Luke Matheson Courtesy of Rochdale AFC

He lasted longer than Lynden Gooch whose disappointing game ended in the 55th minute when he was replaced by the enigma that is Will Grigg. His fire has barely smouldered at Sunderland and his arrival was not greeted with any great enthusiasm. That overworked “s” word was used again.

Of course, we were proved wrong and he probably had his best 35 minutes in a Sunderland shirt. He linked with Wyke, took pressure off him and, suddenly, Rochdale began to creak. Luke O’Nien burst forward, collected a well cushioned header from Grigg and delivered a decent cross which McGeady headed in the general direction of the goal. Wyke took advantage of some slack work in the box by the central defenders, turned and scored a goal like the one that he poked in in April.

And so, we sat back again and waited for Rochdale to buckle. They didn’t. Max Power was replaced by Dylan McGeouch to no discernible difference, while the home side sent on the experienced Calvin Andrew to put pressure on Willis and Ozturk. They dealt with it well but Andrew should have equalised right at the end when Matheson plonked a cross on his forehead, but he headed it straight at the excellent McLaughlin(J).

And that was how it finished. It took ages to get out of the town and onto the M62 as the Lancastrian rain fell from the skies. The consensus was that we had worked hard against a good side and that they would probably feel aggrieved that they had not taken at least a point, but that we were just that bit sharper and crisper than they were in the box.

We still need to improve. Our midfield was quiet, and Power had a disappointing game, while McGeouch did little to suggest that he was worthy of a regular place. Gooch was involved in the opening goal but not much else and McLaughlin (C) does not appear to be happy at left back.

On the other hand, the goalkeeper is outstanding, Ozturk and Willis were sound and Wyke looked a proper centre forward. Plus, we may have seen a turning point in Will Grigg’s Sunderland career. The fire could be re-ignited against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.

Let’s hope so…..

Ha’way the Lads

See match highlights here via safc.com

 

View from the West Stand: Willis and Maguire leave Portsmouth pointless

Malcolm Dawson writes……..In a week in which a young bride excitedly looking forward to her honeymoon, wakes to find she is a widow and a family man is stabbed to death with a screwdriver in a busy shopping centre, apparently trying to stop an altercation, I find it difficult to put any real significance on the result of a football match.

But I was there yesterday in my usual seat and found the experience somewhat more satisfying than that of a fortnight ago. It was no surprise to find us one nil down in the first half – when are we not? But up until that point we had looked more lively than we had in the opening minutes of either of the two previous league outings.

I won’t harp on about lax refereeing as the defence really should have dealt with the move that resulted in the Portsmouth opener, and which came from an error in midfield, but Maguire and McNulty were constantly being manhandled by the Pompey defence and a free kick should have been awarded to us, immediately prior to their goal. I’d like to see where in the Laws of the Game it says it is permissible to grab a player around the neck with one arm, whilst simultaneously pushing him over with the other but referee Michael Salisbury seemed to find that sort of thing allowable. That said Alim Ozturk quickly realised this and used a similar tactic when he could. Doesn’t make it right though.

But it didn’t take long for us to get back on terms, Leadbitter showing why he is such a threat in dead ball situations, then McGeady and Maguire combining nicely for the winner and I went home reasonably satisfied.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

I’m no fan of these early kick off times, even though now it is a lot easier for me to get to a 12.30 home game since moving back to the North East than it was when a trip to the Stadium of Light was a three hour journey on a good day. So it was at a relatively civilised time I left home with time for a latte and a bacon sarnie in the Roker End cafe. Pity the 800 or so Portsmouth fans who had travelled up for this one, though the two I spoke to were students at the Uni and had an even shorter trip to the game than I had.

As Mickey Gray and his co-commentator faffed about on the touchline there was relative satisfaction around and about at the team that was announced, with only a couple of changes from the side that started at Accrington in midweek. McLaughlin J back between the sticks was no surprise and with McGeady replacing Grigg it looked as if Ross had decided to stick with a back four, two holding midfielders, two wide men in Gooch and Geads with Maguire just behind McNulty to form a two man mobile strike force.

We set down a marker straight from the kick off as a long ball, directly into the path of McNulty looked momentarily threatening, but it was too strong and was easily collected by MaGillvary, whose bright green kit contrasted sharply with the insipid grey effort that the outfield ten were wearing. We were quick out of the traps and the M people up front were lively, in sharp contrast to the slow start we made against Oxford. For Portsmouth Curtis found some space in the box and outjumped O’Nien, back in at right back, but his header sailed high over the bar without threatening McLaughlin’s goal.

Marc McNulty thanks to bbc.co.uk

With 24 minutes on the clock, McLaughlin sent a high ball up towards McNulty who was on the end of a two handed push from Burgess, the Pompey number 6 but with those of us who had a clear view of the foul screaming for a free kick, the ref waved play on. Not a lot of danger in midfield apparently, but when Power tried to get a foot in, he just succeeded in playing in Marcus Harness who burst forward into the box. We had chances to clear it but a couple of unintended deflections later it broke back to Harness who drove the ball, through Power’s outstretched legs, across goal and into the bottom corner.

We are so used to going a goal behind at home now, that it is no longer a cause for concern, at least where I sit, when it happens early in the game. Frustration only kicks in later if it doesn’t look like we are going to get back on terms or push on for the three points. And it didn’t take us long. Immediately following the goal, McGeady and McLaughlin C linked up when the latter’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Then two minutes later after a bit of pressure from McGeady who had popped up on the right wing, Burgess ran the ball out for another corner, taken by Leadbitter. The new skipper brings us a quality set piece delivery and his pinpoint kick was well met by the run of

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

Jordan Willis who got there ahead of the surrounding defenders and powered home his header.

Game on. Ten minutes later a hopeful high punt forward from Alim Asturk was controlled by McNulty, who somehow found McGeady. An attempted clearance ricocheted off Geads’  shin and he was away. A delightful pull back across the face of goal found Maguire who slid the ball into the empty net and we were in front. Now the big question was would we hold onto that lead.

Half time came and went and not long into the second period, the ever lively McNulty chased after a long ball and pulled up holding his hamstring. He went off to be replaced by Charlie Wyke, whose greater physical presence brings a different dimension to our attacking play and after he came on we won more clearances and his hold up play was good. Let’s hope McNulty’s injury is not too severe though.

Apparently we tried to sign John Marquis in January, and he had a great opportunity to put McLaughlin under pressure when he latched onto a ball on the right of the penalty area but his shot was way off target. The next best chance that Pompey had came from a powerful diving header, from Grant Leadbitter of all people. Fortunately the diving orange flash that was Jon McLaughlin pulled off a fantastic save.

Chris Maguire

We had other chances. Wyke just failed to get his outstretched toe on the ball to flick it home. O’Nien and Maguire had penalty shouts waved away, whilst at the other end Ozturk got a foot on a decent effort from Harness after a piece of free flowing build up play but this was a good three points.

I can’t say we dominated the game but we certainly showed more positivity than we had against Oxford and in that first half at Ipswich. We still look vulnerable at times but this is League 1. The pairing of Willis and Ozturk looked solid enough for this level, though by no means error free. Leadbitter and Power in front gives us strength through the middle and Maguire and McNulty showed good movement and moved the opposition about. Gooch had a decent game and O’Nien does a decent enough job at full back.

We are still a work in progress but we have a squad with enough players who are good enough to get us out of this division. The effort is there, the commitment is there. Now it is a question of finding the right combinations of players, implementing the right strategies and finding ways to change things around when they are not going to plan.

This was no classic but in case you have forgotten, we are unbeaten this season. My worry now is that with Rochdale on Tuesday and Wimbledon next Saturday, we will be expecting to be on 11 points by this time next week and if past experience is anything to go by this is a sure fire recipe for disappointment.

Prove me wrong boys.

Ha’way the Lads.

match highlights via safc.com

 

 

Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox: You’ve got to eliminate the negative

Easy Peasy says Jake

Malcolm Dawson writes……like a lot of us Pete Sixsmith was underwhelmed by our performance against Oxford and after the Ipswich game he e-mailed me to say that he was becoming disillusioned with SAFC and the game in general. It’s a phase many of us have been through and while I was disappointed by yet another two draws, as I see it, it is better than being disappointed by yet another two defeats and I remain convinced that we have owners who have the best interests of the club and supporters at heart, and a manager and players who are striving for success and never give less than 100%. Disappointment I can deal with if I can see commitment. Despite the disappointment, for me the football at League 1 and Championship level is closer to the game I have followed for nigh on 60 years, whilst the top half of Premiership with its ridiculous transfer fees, wages and player power is now so far removed from the game that was created for the working man and it is there I lose interest.

It was the nature of our performance against Oxford and in the first half of the game at Portman Road that was so frustrating. Last night’s game, as reported by Barnes and Benno, sounded much more open and whilst there were still some defensive lapses was, by all accounts, a much more impressive and attacking display by our boys in blue, with the first shot on target coming in the first minute thus immediately equaling the total for the entire 90 minutes last Saturday.

Pete Sixsmith was there and having instructed his manservant Bruce to retrieve the soapbox from below stairs, then to give it a good wax and polish, is now ready to climb back on it for the first time this season. Was he more inspired by last night’s performance in hilly east Lancs? Let’s find out………

ENJOYING EAST LANCASHIRE – ACCRINGTON STANLEY, LEAGUE CUP 13/08/19

What’s not to enjoy about a Tuesday night visit to Accrington?

It’s a pleasant run over the A59, down to Skipton and then along to Colne for a pre-match pint in Boyce’s Barrel, a pleasant micro pub complete with Sam, the Golden Retriever who will turn on his sad eye look in return for a crisp or two.

Boyce’s Barrel and dog

The beer’s not bad either. The Robbie’s Porter from Ayr was a welcome change from all the hopped pales and bitters that seem to be in favour at the moment.

The Crown Ground is neat and tidy (although it would benefit from a cover on the away end) and the stewarding is friendly but effective. Once through the portals, there is a pleasant alfresco bar area with relatively cheap beer and a splendid selection of Clayton’s Pies for those who are hungry.

Being a Tuesday night League Cup tie after a rather underwhelming start, the turn out was less than it would be for a league game, but 41%of the crowd of 2343 stood in the uncovered end or sat down the side, which is not a bad turn out at all – just under 1,000 made it.

Of that 1,000 (959 to be precise), the vast majority were non beer chuckers, non singers of songs about players they never saw and non-moaners, so that made for a pleasant evening as well.

The other thing I like about Accrington is that Aiden McGeady does something special there. In March, he opened the scoring with a fantastic strike from the edge of the box. Here, five months after the crushing disappointment of last season, he opened his account by scoring an even better one.

He arrived to replace an ineffective Will Grigg in the 69th minute, nine minutes after Stanley had levelled. Within two minutes, he had played a killer ball to McNulty, whose shot hit the bar and bounced out and then five minutes later, along came a wonderful goal to restore the lead.

He picked up a loose ball just outside the centre circle and bore down on the Accrington defenders as if he were a lion attacking a herd of frightened wildebeest. As they backed off, the McGeady twinkle toes took him into the box, from where he placed a superb shot beyond Dimitar Evtimov and into the net, to prompt wild celebrations amongst the faithful 959 who had made the trip.

Oooh that McGeady!

It also prompted one elderly female Accrington supporters to say to her friend, “That’s why I said s*** when he came on,” a comment that was picked up by Barnsey and Benno’s mike and faithfully relayed by Malcolm in his fine introduction to the 7. The ghosts of Cissie and Ada stalk the Crown Ground. I wonder if they heaved their bosoms up as effectively as Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough did…..

Enough of large knockers – there are a few of them that sit near me. Let’s do what Bing Crosby said and “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative.”

There were first outings for Lee Burge, Alim Ozturk, Max Power and Grant Leadbitter. All did well, encouraging us to follow The Ole Groaner’s advice.

Decent return to the starting line up for Alim

Burge was a bit shaky at the start and was well away from a ball across the box that could have led to an equaliser, but as the game went on, he grew in confidence and showed that John McLaughlin has genuine competition for the goalkeeping spot this season. His distribution was excellent, if not quite Pickfordian.

Lee Burge – competition between the sticks

Alim Ozturk also did well as the second central defender in a back four. He looked fit and capable of forming a partnership with Willis. Both are strong in the tackle, neither gets pushed about and Ozturk clears his lines. He’ll probably have a stinker against Portsmouth (Remember – Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative).

The midfield duo of Grant Leadbitter and Max Power gelled nicely. This looks like a good pairing, as effective as the pairing between Bluetooth and the various devices that run off it. It will do its job for most of the time but will occasionally need a reboot – or whatever computers call it.

Leadbitter was competitive and sat a bit deeper than Max, who showed why we were all raving about him this time last year. The ball he played for Maguire to set up McNulty’s opener was excellent and he continued in that vein until he tired near the end. On this performance, Dobson and McGeouch will find it difficult to get into the starting XI.

They were aided by Maguire and Gooch, both effective at times. Gooch still seems to need an extra touch on the ball and Maguire is reluctant to go into a hard challenge after his broken leg last year, but both did well.

Up front, Will Grigg had a decent first half and could (should?) have opened his account for the season. In the second half, his game collapsed and once again, he was hauled off to be replaced by the man himself, Aiden McGeady. I’m afraid the sands of time are running out for Grigg with the support and maybe the manager as well. He seems a decent guy so let’s hope he can turn it round.

Mark McNulty looks a completely different type of player. He is physical, puts genuine pressure on defenders and seems very keen to show that his season at Reading was a waste of a year. Having to play at the dreary Majedski Stadium in front of dreary supporters and live in a dreary town must have taken its toll, although you would have thought he should have been used to it having joined Reading from Coventry City.

At The Crown Ground, he showed exactly why Ross brought him in. He scored an excellent opening goal, rounding off a fine move started by Power and extended by Maguire and finished off the game by bullying a Stanley defender off the ball, going to the by-line and giving Charlie Wyke a gilt-edged chance that he took gleefully to make it 3-1. Effective running from a Sunderland forward in the 90th minute is as rare as a thoughtful intervention into the national debate from Nigel Farage.

Poor Conor McLaughlin drew the short straw and had to play at left back. No doubt there will be some on social media lambasting Ross, Donald, Methven and the tea lady for letting Donald Love go, but we do need to bring someone in PDQ. The Ulsterman was bombarded with long balls behind him at the start of the second half and when Jordan Clark got in front of him, a needless penalty was given away. He may struggle to get his place back on the right as Luke O’Nien was his usual chirpy self on that side. We shall see….

Stanley were ok. A bit niggly at times, but no time wasting and for a team that is always being rebuilt, showed some cohesion. I liked the look of former Leamington forward Colby Bishop who converted the penalty with some power and Sean McConville was tidy and organised. With only two relegation places available, they should be fine. The league game in four weeks’ time will give a clearer indication.

On the way out, I dropped some coins into the bucket of a Bury supporter who was collecting to try and save The Shakers from oblivion. He was pessimistic about their chances of survival. In a world where huge amounts of money are paid out for decent but not outstanding players, the £3.5m that the Gigg Lane club need is a relatively insignificant sum.

Brian Clough

There is no chance of them getting any aid from a league where clubs have just spent £1.4bn in the summer. And you wonder why I am becoming disillusioned with a game I fell in love with when people gasped at the £42,500 we paid for Cloughie?

Let’s hope that we can continue the good work on Saturday and see off Portsmouth and some of the moaners and groaners. Remember what the oldest one of the latter said….

You gotta accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mister In Between.

Ha’way the Lads

 

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McGeady: Aiden and abetting a new Sunderland promotion push

McGeady: our best signing so far. Photo courtesy of safc.com

Monsieur Salut writes: we all love a marquee signing, the arrival at the Stadium of Light of Light of a game-changing player. I have no problem with bivouac signings, as our three new acquisitions so far, all frees, might be termed. As long as Jack Ross and his scouts have done their homework correctly, they may turn out to be important components of Sunderland’s forthcoming second go at getting out of League One. But the contract extension for Aiden McGeady is in a different league …

Aiden McGeady, indisputably one of League One’s classiest players last season, is staying at Sunderland.

Read moreMcGeady: Aiden and abetting a new Sunderland promotion push

Aiden McGeady: the easiest decision in any Sunderland player of the season award

Let Pete Sixsmith add his appreciation of our superb midfielder after what has been for him, come what may, an outstanding season …and he is picking up awards, starting with one from the SAFCSA branch liaison council (Luke O’Nien was the young player of the season)

Read moreAiden McGeady: the easiest decision in any Sunderland player of the season award

Sixer’s Sub’s Coventry Soapbox: Sunderland on the wrong end of goalfest

Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson writes…..with so many games to fit in between Wembley and the end of the season Pete Sixsmith and I agreed to job share the match reports so if you’ve come here looking for his erudite take on yesterday’s events at the soon to be renamed Stadium of Light, I’m afraid you’ll just have to put up with my version. Yesterday was a chance for me to catch up with some old mates from the Heart of England Branch while enjoying a couple of pints of Landlord in the Kings Arms. A couple of them I hadn’t seen since the Mick McCarthy days whilst the others, travelling up from Coventry of all places, were sent on a detour around Northallerton and other parts of rural North Yorkshire after an incident on the A1(M). They just about made it in time for a pint before kick off of what was to prove to be a pretty action packed game.

 

Bill Taylor, Bishop Auckland born, Sunderland through and through and still a devotee of all things SAFC, even though he is now domiciled in Canada, was mildly critical of my headline for Sixer’s Burton soapbox in which I described Tuesday’s result as disappointing. Well if I thought Tuesday’s result was disappointing I thought yesterday’s was equally so.

Equally so? Surely you are screaming why not more so? After all we lost for only the third time this season, the first time we have witnessed a home defeat in the league and we have slipped back out of the promotion places. The game against the Brewers could have gone either way as could yesterday’s. In truth we didn’t deserve to win yesterday but we could have on another day, same as Tuesday. Mind you on Tuesday we just about merited a point. Yesterday we didn’t.

In the introduction to yesterday’s Seven M. Salut mentioned the fact that social media was awash with angry, anguished messages about how wretched Sunderland’s defensive performance was. I don’t do social media. I can’t be bothered with it and while I have friends and family who tell me how useful it is my uninformed perception of it is that it provides a platform for the ignorant, the uninformed and the hard of thinking to air their simplistic views in language that often is hurtful and offensive without thought of the consequences. I accept that as in life, this is probably only a small minority but it’s something I feel I would rather do without. Another aspect of it which tries my patience is the lack of consistency in the views that are expressed by that vocal few – something which I glean from those sites and articles that seem to think people’s tweets and Facebook comments constitutes news.

Was yesterday’s defending shocking?

I knew our defence reminded me of something

Well yes it was and there is no getting away from that but why? Jack Ross is trying to deflect the blame from his players, which is not only good management but also pragmatic. The fact is that our defence was exposed and exploited and a large part of that was down to the personnel who were available and the way in which the team was set up. For most of the season we have seen a formation that employs a single striker. Often we only had one available but that didn’t stop armchair managers calling for a traditional 4-4-2 citing a lack of firepower with the 4-5-1 set up.

Against Coventry we not only set up in a 4-4-2 shape but we had Luke O’Nien and Bryan Oviedo as the full backs, both of whom had obviously been told to push forward and provide width in the attacking half of the pitch while Honeyman and Morgan played slightly narrower. Power too, though nominally a box to box to box midfielder was often pushed higher up the pitch leaving Leadbitter as the only protection for the centre backs. If this was always the pre-match plan or came about after we found ourselves a goal down early doors I couldn’t say for certain but it did look as if team instructions were to get forward at every opportunity.

As a pairing Flanagan and Baldwin have at times looked unbeatable but that has tended to be where opponents have lumped the ball forward and they have had a lot of high balls to deal with, or where they can attack the ball whilst going forward. Both Burton and Coventry had several, quick, mobile forwards who moved the ball quickly, turned both centre backs inside out and created space and shooting opportunities. Should Jack Ross who is meticulous in his planning been prepared for that? Had the whole squad been available I don’t think we would have seen that starting XI. Adam Matthews and Reece James, might have been preferred to provide a more defensively minded back four, Lee Cattermole or Dylan McGeouch could have provided more bite in front of the centre backs. A fit Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire could have allowed Honeyman to play more centrally. Morgan, who had a good game yesterday might have started on the bench but would have been an option to provide width on the opposite side to McGeady and Grigg, who looks as if he is playing through an injury might not have started. Ifs and buts and the manager had to pick a team from a seriously depleted squad. That doesn’t mean he got it right but could any of us have engineered a better result against the Sky Blues?

Lewis Morgan, our on-loan signing from Celtic.
Courtesy of safc.com,

We started off well enough. Lewis Morgan had a shot saved whilst Baldwin and Flanagan dealt with a City corner well enough but after only 12 minutes we were 1-0 down. Recently O’Nien has been the blue eyed boy, but he did what would have tuned Tommy Clish, my old PE teacher at Houghton Grammar, red with frustration when he tried to play a ball across the face of goal looking for Grant Leadbitter. It was a fair way out but an alert Amadou Bakayako cut out the intended pass, moved it quickly to Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila on the right. His first time pass inside found Bright Enobakhare who moved the ball quickly and side footed through a crowd of red and white shirts to find the bottom corner. One loose pass, one forward with quick feet. One nil.

Whatever criticisms can be levelled at this Sunderland team a lack of resilience and the ability to fight back after an early setback is not one (or should that be two?) and it only took four minutes for the Lads to get the first of their three equalisers courtesy of skipper Honeyman. Oviedo brought the ball out from the back and passed it forward to Morgan. The Celtic loanee made good progress down the left wing before cutting inside and looking up to see Honeyman just outside the box. Honeyman found the target via a deflection.

This might have been the start of the come back but those of us who were there on Tuesday and could see how much trouble quick passing movements could cause by dragging our defenders out of position recognised the threat and the next two Coventry goals were greeted with an air of resigned inevitability by those around me, whilst at the same time not extinguishing the hope that we might still claw this one back.

It was a quick, slick all along the ground passing movement that set up Bakayako for the second goal, with crisp movement and ball retention, the visitors economically bringing the ball out of defence, with no stop/start, have a look around and pass sideways thinking and finding himself running into space, the forward again stroked the ball, rather than blasting it into the net. It was a good run which left our defenders flat footed but to be fair was the type of move that needs to be cut out at source, rather than one where outright blame can be put at the feet of the centre backs. Sometimes you have to credit the opposition and had we scored it we would have been full of praise for our boys.

Their third came about when Grigg was dispossessed on the right of the half way line. Enobakhare again showed quick feet before slipping the ball to Hiwula-Mayifuila. It appeared he was looking for the far post but rather like the Burton goal on Tuesday and in almost the identical spot it was again deflected, this time off Jack Baldwin to wrong foot McLaughlin.

Four goals in the first 25 minutes had sent the 4,000 or so Coventry fans into raptures. In a funny sort of way this was a bit of a help to the home side. I doubt if there were many more than 100 sat in the North Stand Upper on Tuesday and while the home crowd were never overtly negative, the sense of frustration probably got through to the players. With such a good away following, the noise cranked up a gear while the hope in my section of the West Stand at least was that we could pull one back and go in just one goal behind. That we went in level was as pleasing as it was unexpected, though by pleasing I’m not saying it was deemed satisfactory, just an acknowledgement that things could have been a lot worse.

Charlie another MoM type display

Charlie Wyke continued his recent rehabilitation back into a goal scoring centre forward when Power, Oviedo and Morgan working down the left wing, got another cross into the box. The keeper should have dealt with it and though Grigg was hovering he was really under no pressure, but he flapped, the ball fell loose and Wyke was on hand to stick it in the net, then just as we were prepared to settle for a one goal half time deficit we equalised for the second time.

Once more it was Morgan who fired in a cross from deep just as we were preparing for the half time break. Wyke rose highest at the far post and his nod down found Grigg, who though under pressure from the Coventry centre back, somehow kept control and poked the ball home from close range. Six goals in the first forty five and the game was so open we expected more of the same after the restart.

I thought we were the better side for the first ten minutes but just as I was beginning to think we might make a remarkable recovery, Baldwin tried to play a through ball down the middle to Honeyman. It was intercepted, fed out out to the Coventry right and after a couple of touches from the impressive Bakayako, he rolled the ball to Jordan Shipley whose run no-one had tracked and the number 26 powered home a sweet left foot drive from all of 25 yards. Had Chris Maguire or Max Power produced a similar effort we would have been singing their praises. As it was it was another hammer blow. Surely we didn’t have it in us to get back on level terms again.

But we did. Jack Ross had made a double substitution and it was the returning Aiden McGeady who found Max Power just outside the box. He went for placement rather than power (sorry but I couldn’t think of an alternative) and like Honeyman his shot took a deflection which sent Lee Burge the wrong way. This was already a remarkable game which might still go either way.

Some Coventry fans I was talking to on the walk back through the Sheepfolds admitted that they were expecting us to score every time we got the ball, which is an interesting perspective as although at four all we were hoping that would be the case, it was no surprise when we ended up on the wrong side of a nine goal contest. The final nail in the coffin came after another low cross from Charlie Wakefield on the right wing. Baldwin stretched, went down and failed to cut out the pass and although he got to his feet quickly, Flanagan also failed to deal with it as substitute Conor Chaplin took control and stuck it home. There would be no coming back from that one.

After the January transfer window we might have had a massive squad in League 1 terms but yesterday we were missing Rose, I mean Love (see comments), Matthews, James, Cattermole, Maguire, Watmore, McGeouch and Gooch. Have I missed anyone? Add to that Grigg and McGeady are not 100% and we are a bit stretched. Benji Kimpioka also came off the bench but showed his inexperience and also perhaps the manager’s desperation.

Time to give the Dutchman another run out?

It wasn’t a good defensive performance, there’s no getting away from that but I’m not sure we had the right type of players to combat Coventry’s style of play. Hindsight is a marvellous thing and I’m left pondering whether or not we would have been better employing the lopsided flexible 3-4-1-2 system with Flanagan, Baldwin and Ozturk (who surely deserves a run out after recent events) in front of McLaughlin, Honeyman and Oviedo making up a back 5 when not in midfield, Power and Leadbitter sitting just in front of the back line with Morgan behind Grigg and Wyke, from those who were fit enough to start.

Automatic promotion is still in our own hands despite Barnsley, Portsmouth and Charlton all winning yesterday and in a way I am pleased we have three away games but none of those will be easy. We all knew that April would be a tough test after Wembley and we got off to a decent enough start with 7 points from 9 but we need a better performance on Good Friday against Doncaster to maintain the promotion push. Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways.

Ha’way the Lads.

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Ross and McGeady: deserving Sunderland winners

Jack Ross, eyes wide open

We do plenty for each other, SAFC and Salut! Sunderland, so no one will mind if we simply record the EFL League One Player/Manager of the Month awards – both going our way – by reference to the official club site. Jack Ross said the award to Aiden McGeady was a ‘no brainer’ and few who have seen his compelling technique in recent weeks would disagree; Ross himself deserves immense credit for moulding a viable League One squad that is just a whisper away from an automatic promotion place and – sorry to remind our churlish dissenter, ‘Brian’ – has reached a Wembley final for which every ticket will be sold.

As good as it gets it League One?

Read moreRoss and McGeady: deserving Sunderland winners

Sixer’s Soapbox: Sunderland return to winning ways against Gillingham

There are a lot more games in the lower divisions than in the Premier League, and even more with our success so far in the Checkatrade Trophy, keeping Pete Sixsmith busy not only with his unique match reports, but also his reminiscences relating to previous encounters with our forthcoming opponents, so once again Malcolm Dawson has called round to Sixsmith Towers to borrow the soapbox with his view of events from his seat in the West Stand at the Stadium of Light.

When he arrived we were told that Jack Ross favoured an attacking style of football that would bring us plenty of excitement, a shed load of goals but might mean that at times we could look a bit shaky at the back. That’s certainly what we got in the early days. Good wing play, high pressing of the opposition when not in possession, attacking full backs and plenty of players getting forward and threatening the opponent’s goal.

That’s what we got in the first part of the season. But then for whatever reason, perhaps because of the frustration of our difficulties keeping clean sheets, perhaps because of the personnel that was fit and available, sometime after the defeat at Burton the set up changed, we looked to play a lower risk game, keeping possession whilst defending deeper and waiting for an opportunity to find the net. I’ve been trying to work out which game marked that sea change but it’s not jumping out at me – sometime around the FA Cup loss against Walsall perhaps – but I do recall mentioning a few weeks ago to anyone who’d listen that we seemed to be playing narrower and not getting behind the defence as much. Well that worked to an extent, because we still scored in every game, didn’t concede on several occasions and only lost once – away to (at the time) high flying Portsmouth.

However, in a way three successive home games against sides who we were expecting to beat has proved to be a two edged sword. Had we picked up maximum points all would be hunky dory but we have become the banker team for anyone who still does the pools and two points out of six against Blackpool and Accrington Stanley was frustrating.

The King was back!

But my feelings in those games (unlike some others) were echoed to an extent by Jack Ross in that I felt we looked more like the early season Sunderland, had got to the by line more, played good balls into the danger areas more frequently and created more opportunities to score than in the past couple of months. I also thought the team were still showing tenacity and fight in being able to come from behind in both games to avoid defeat. Yes it was frustrating and yes there are those supporters who feel we should be walking away with this league and for whom those results were unacceptable, but over the past few seasons I have got used to watching Sunderland sides who, on going a goal behind, capitulated far too easily. At least with this group of players I never see heads drop, nor ever feel we are completely out of the game.

That said, with this group of players I am never comfortable either until we are three or four goals ahead as we are always likely to concede possession and gift the opposition a goal or two. This is what we got last night.

Before kick off, chatting to those around me, I said I fancied us to get three or four and was hopeful that with Chris Maguire back in the starting XI we would make an early breakthrough and things started well. We were on the front foot and O’Nien threatened to make an early breakthrough in the first couple of minutes and it didn’t take long for the goal to come.

Our corner kicks have improved with Leadbitter’s return and we actually score from them on occasions now. It’s a few years since I remember feeling that a corner gives us a chance to score and after only 4 minutes, with the big men up from the back I was hopeful we’d get the early goal to settle the nerves. Leadbitter swung the corner in, Dunne and Flanagan were both manhandled to the ground and while we all screamed for a penalty, the returning Lee Cattermole came in from the back to stick the ball away. Who needs a penalty eh? (Watch this space).

Grant Leadbitter back in the day. His return has improved deliveries from the corner flag.

Yesterday morning I got a text from the GP’s surgery saying my blood pressure checks were overdue. They must have realised that it was match day and if it’s ever going to be too high that would be a good time to check as only a minute after taking the lead the game was back level. The Gills attacked down the right before trying to a play a low ball into the box. Flanagan didn’t deal with it too well, it broke for the pony-tailed man mountain who is Tom Eaves as Luke O’Nien was static and calling for offside. Eaves managed to nudge it away from the diving McLaughlin and stick it away before the despairing Tom Flanagan could do anything about it.

After a couple of poor performances, Jack Baldwin wasn’t even on the bench with Alim Ozturk named as defensive cover. Perhaps Baldwin needs a rest, physically and mentally, perhaps Ross decided that with such a big centre forward as Eaves up against us we needed more height at the back, but big centre halves can also be useful up the other end and it was Tom Flanagan who got the second, again from a Leadbitter corner, this time from the opposite side, and restored the lead with a powerful header into the roof of the net. Only ten minutes gone and three goals, two to players who had been brought back into the starting line up.

The third was Chris Maguire and he had come close to scoring just before Flanagan did so I was hoping he would complete the sequence, but unfortunately he got injured when attempting to win the ball back and was obviously hurt. He received treatment, tried to return but within seconds was back on the ground beating the turf in frustration, knowing he couldn’t run it off. Gooch was his replacement.

Though we were the better side, one goal is never enough and we all know there will be periods when we give the ball away too easily and that there will be opportunities for our opponents to find the net. On 40 minutes, a corner from the Gill’s left wasn’t dealt with. It wasn’t easy to follow the play from the opposite end of the ground but the ball bobbled around the box and eventually fell to the feet of Brandon Hanlon who equalised again in front of the 350 or so visiting supporters who looked lost and alone in the top corner of the North Stand Upper.

It’s a long way from Kent to Sunderland for a Tuesday night game but I suppose the fact that we couldn’t get enough tickets for the reverse fixture and packed out the away end is one of the reasons some fans feel we are too big for this division. But the reality is we are here because of past results and we all knew a third successive home draw would not be good enough to get us back challenging for an automatic promotion spot.

But the crowd and the Roker End in particular didn’t communicate this frustration last night and stayed behind the team. McGeady and Gooch both nearly put us in front again before the half time whistle but two all it was at the interval.

Plenty of this from the Roker End last night.

The half time entertainment now seems to consist of two ill matched people of various ages, running round the pitch before trying to score into an empty net at the north end of the ground. Last night pitched a Gills’ fan who was given a head start against a fund raising Mackem who had run a series of long distances in successive days. It’s not the most exciting of half time occasions but was of enough interest to stop the Gills’ sub keeper from doing his warm up. It would be the only other goal that someone in a Gillingham shirt would score.

We however, would get two more. Both from penalties and both the result of fouls on Luke O’Nien. The first was a push from the magnificently named Leonardo Da Silva Lopes after a Reece James’s cross evaded all the bodies in the box. O’Nien was charging in at the back post but for once the ref spotted the foul and awarded the spot kick. Immediately Will Grigg ran over and picked up the ball. Aiden McGeady is the appointed penalty taker but apparently was confident enough to allow Grigg to stick it away and hopefully ignite his Sunderland goal scoring career. I’ve seen penalties that are more difficult for keepers to save than this one, but the giant of a man who is Tomás Hóly went the wrong way and we were back in front.

I’ve said before that one goal is never enough for me to feel comfortable but I only had to wait ten minutes or so for the margin to be doubled. Lopes, who looks a bit like Miles Davis in his jazz funk period was substituted by Regan Charles-Cook who looks a bit like Miles Davis in his jazz funk period.

Miles Davis

So What? you may ask, but it was Charles-Cook who grabbed O’Nien’s ankle as he dribbled into the box to leave the visitors feeling A Kind of Blue when Aiden McGeady tucked away the second penalty in a similar fashion to Grigg’s. Mind you a finicky ref would have ordered it to be retaken as Cattermole was at least six yards inside the box when McGeady struck the ball. But he didn’t.

Honeyman could have made it five after good work from Aiden McGeady but sent it over the bar, rather than into the net. This was a more encouraging display and more like the early season Sunderland, although by no means perfect. We still have the propensity to give the ball away needlessly, the defence still looks shaky at times but that is the result of a more attacking mindset and personally I’ll be happy if we concede two every game as long as we score more than two.

Portsmouth and Barnsley both dropped points yesterday. Bristol Rovers on Saturday won’t be a push over – no games in this league are – and with us now in third place, four points behind Barnsley with a game in hand and the Tykes playing Portsmouth at the weekend the game at Oakwell in a few weeks could take on increasing importance.

Ha’way the Lads.

Highlights of the game via safc.com

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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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