Pete Sixsmith was at the disappointing 1-1 draw in the ‘Donald derby’ – reflecting the divided loyalties of our Oxford-supporting owner Stewart Donald (and his executive director Charlie Methven) – and will be writing about his day at greater length over the next 12-24 hours
But with three home games coming up in quick succession, and assuming a slightly worrying degree of significance as Luton and Barnsley set the pace at the top, we need to get the usual features out of the way even if they upset the natural order of Salut! Sunderland business.
Monsieur Salut accordingly brings forward the Blackpool Guess the Score competition and thanks the many thousands of people who came here last week to sample the goodies on offer …
By now you should have read part one of this series, the preview of the Christmas period which I wrote for the SAFC programme. You might even remember some of the words I wrote, especially the conclusion:
“Christmas and early January remain crucial, which for us means holding our own away and completing doubles over Bradford and Shrewsbury at home. I’m not one for predicting results or tempting fate, and am all too aware there are no easy games in this league but I think we can do that, and I can see us still being in contention when the decorations come down.”
Malcolm Dawson writes…..you expect the roads to be quiet on a Bank Holiday and they were. I drive to Lytham ten or twelve times a year so this is a route I know well. Over the tops through Woodland, Egglestone and Brough I saw more buzzards and goosander than I did oncoming cars. Kirkby Stephen was busier than usual with loads of people in lycra wandering around with numbers safety pinned to their stomachs, but what constitutes a traffic jam in Westmorland is just a queue for the traffic lights in most built up areas and it took me all of two minutes to get through the town.
On the M6 south of Lancaster a caravan had overturned, blocking the outside and middle lanes with the bonnet of the car facing skywards. There were no police there, so it could only just have happened minutes before but no other vehicles were involved and there were two people standing in the central reservation so hopefully no-one was hurt and although it caused a slight delay the rest of the traffic was able to get around it with the minimum hold up.
There was a good, cheerful atmosphere as befits New Year’s Day and the ground was noisy. There was a moment pre-match which I thought was reflective of how the club is changing the nature of its relationship with the fans.
Towards the end of the warm up and after most of the squad had already returned to the dressing rooms, Chris Maguire hit a fierce shot at the extra goal that is set up for the purpose. Unfortunately he missed the target and the ball struck a grey haired, bespectacled lady full in the face. It would have hurt and the shock would have been greater than any physical injury, but immediately Robbin Ruiter, Craig Samson and Maguire himself were in the crowd, comforting the lady and calling the St John’s people over. They made sure she was OK before making their way back to the changing rooms – something which those around noticed and appreciated. This may have also been the case last season, but this was genuine concern and seen as such.
Once more the hosts showed that there will be few easy fixtures in this division and this was a close game. Indeed the pundits I was listening to on Wave and Radio Lancashire after the match were disappointed that The Seasiders hadn’t got a point (reasonable) or even all three (not so).
What did Pete Sixsmith think? Let’s find out.
BLACKPOOL NEW YEARS DAY
There are worse ways to start off a new year than a bracing trip to Blackpool – and then to return home with a hard fought and well deserved 1-0 win. Last year on the 1st of January we lost at home to Barnsley, a defeat which heralded a raft of loan signings, none of whom were any improvement on the poor players that we already had. We started 2018 shrouded in gloom – and it got worse.
Maybe 2019 will be kinder. We appear to have our club back and the team, although not world beaters, are playing with heart and passion and have bought into Sunderland AFC and what it means. Last year’s crop of players hardly seemed to care.
The journey over was an absolute delight. The coach was full – a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar faces and some returnees who have lost the habit of going to away games. The weather was glorious; clear skies and bright sunshine as we passed through Barnard Castle and over the A66. This is a road I use a number of times a year but usually as a driver. As a coach passenger, you see so much more – and on a clear day, it looks as if you can see forever.
Blackpool was reached before the designated time of 12.00 and the Lancashire Constabulary (out in force) cared not a jot. The town was busy. Our support had colonised the usual pubs – The Castle, The Manchester and The Albert and The Lion – with noise rather than hostility being the order of the day. I wonder if the fact that Charlie Methven pops up in to chat and have his picture taken calms the atmosphere. My travelling companions made for the pubs away from the front and had a jolly good time.
I am hors de combat at the moment as far as ale is concerned, so I went for a wander around the town in search of a late breakfast/early lunch. Blackpool, like many coastal towns, is struggling yet it still has an appeal.
The promenade is wide, the air is bracing and on a day like this there was no better way of blowing away the cobwebs than a stroll along the prom, prom, prom where the brass bands weren’t playing tiddley pom pom pom. I did spend a good quarter of an hour looking at the Comedy Carpet opposite the Tower. It’s a comprehensive list of comics who have appeared in the town over the years, from Frank Randle and Rob Wilton, through Tommy Cooper and Ken Dodd right up to modern comics like John Bishop and Micky Flanagan. I found it worrying that I had to explain to a callow youth who Rambling Sid Rumpo and Frankie Howerd were!!!!
I found a café that was open, opted for a late breakfast and shared my table with a couple from Leeds who could have been part of an Alan Bennett diary entry. They had booked a New Year’s Break at The Metropole, once a very important hotel in the days when party conferences were held in the town, and thought it had gone a bit downhill since last year. They were completely oblivious to the 8,000 Sunderland supporters who were in town saying only that they had “heard a bit of noise but we thought there were some bus trips in from Lancashire.”
To Bloomfield Road, where I bumped into a former colleague, nicely retired like me, was handed several leaflets by the Blackpool Supporters Trust explaining their reasons for not attending home games and took a (not very good) photo of Jimmy Armfield’s statue. A man of integrity if ever there was one.
And so, to the game……
There were two changes. Reece James came in for the injured Bryan Oviedo and Duncan Watmore was rested to allow Charlie Wyke to start a full game for the first time since the defeat at Burton Albion. Neither weakened the side and one could argue that the return of Wyke allowed Josh Maja more space to work in and meant that he did not have to do the donkey work up front.
It turned out to be a good game. Both sides have strengths and played to them. Blackpool are a big side but do more than just lump the ball up front. They have some good players at this level and whatever is happening off the field, on the field they work hard for each other. Our defenders had to work equally hard to keep them at bay, with the experienced Jay Spearing making them tick over and Nathan Delfouneso giving them a touch of quality up front. Throw in big men like Taylor, Bola and Gnanduillet and you can see why they are on the edge of the promotion race.
We had more of the ball than they did and created the better chances but there are times when we need a second or even third touch to get moving and this allows defenders to get into position and stop us. A cultured, controlled midfielder who can make that all important first touch pass could make the difference. In the absence of Cattermole (suspended) and Honeyman (injured) it’s an opportunity for Dylan McGeouch to step up to the plate and show us what he can do over the next couple of weeks.
Our goal was a good one. Baldwin (the pick of the centre halves) played a shrewd ball through to the impressive McGeady. He shimmied and shammied and put in an excellent cross which Josh Maja turned in for his 15th goal of the season.
This was Maja’s best game so far. He forced an outstanding save from Mark Howard in the second half and his ability to bring the ball down and then control it and move it on is impressive. We all know about his contract talks and I for one, hope that he signs up – we would find his goals very difficult to replace if he left now. There is talk of Celtic being interested and of paying £4.5m for him. We shall see. He linked well with Charlie Wyke who had a real tussle with centre half Paudie O’Connor.
Wyke had a good game and there are hopes that a goal will soon have him up and running. We think that he is the first Sunderland player called Charlie since The King in the 1960s.
We had a couple of breaks. Gnanduillet thought he had equalised but a combination of good goalkeeping by McLaughlin and excellent defending by Baldwin prevented another Bradford style controversy and a poorer referee than Mr Drysdale (who I thought had a very good game) might have sent Gooch off when he was involved in a scuffle with O’Connor.
The travelling support roared the team home to three very important points and there were smiles all round at the end of the game. I have never seen a stadium with so many away supporters in and so few for the home team and I don’t suppose I ever will again.
A truly unique day.
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Was it 7,000, 8,000 or perhaps even more Sunderland fans who made the trip to Blackpool for the New Year’s Day fixture at Bloomfield Road? Pete Sixsmith was among them and was delighted to record Josh Maja’s 15th goal of the season. Barnes and Benno kept those of us nowhere near the Lancashire seaside in touch and it was clear from their radio coverage that having been well on top, we proceeded as so often to live dangerously after going ahead.
Gary Bennett said repeatedly how important the second goal was to us (‘come on,’ he said before one corner, ‘score from one of these set pieces!’… the cushion never arrived, there was clearly an occasional threat to McClaughlin’s clean sheet, a Bradford-style goal-line incident and a lot of necessarily solid defending. And won. Not the most convincing of victories, but Sunderland stepped three points closer towards promotion. Sixer’s seven-word verdict – on which he will doubtless build for his full report – salute the massive contribution of the scorer, a man we desperately want to hang on to …
New Year’s day is part of a great English football tradition. Games are played on January 1 just as they take place on Boxing Day, so much better than the wimpish French trêve (it also means truce but here denotes a widwinter sporting break).
And Sunderland, accompanied by 7-8,000 supporters, are at Blackpool. A special Who are You?, to be published on Sunday afternoon, will combine answers from the Lancashire club’s mascot, the Bloomfield Bear, and another look at the smashing interview gven to us a few years ago by the Blackpool and BBC legend Jimmy Armfield, who died in January 2018.
Monsieur Salut writes: which of the Newcombes, father Gary or son Kieran, a) appears in the photo and b) answered our questions? Not sure about the photo but we can take it Gary answered the questions since the responses suggest a longer stint as a Blackpool fan than that of his lad. Kieran’s lips are sealed beyond saying ‘they’re the bear’s answers’ so here, before the exceptional treat of another look at replies the late Jimmy Armfield once gave us, is the Bloomfield Bear, complete with a succinct reference to the afternoon at Wembley that brought a fairytale season back in the top flight after 40 years, if one with no happy ending.
And then he can work out how to entertain home fans PLUS 8,000 Sunderland supporters on New Year’s day …
UPDATE: we saw the poll had grown, improbably, to 11,000+ votes with Coventry way out in front on 26 per cent. Couldn’t blame Jimmy Hill this time but something was clearly up. For the culprits, go to the Coventry site Sky Blues Talk … but don’t get too cross as our lot would gladly have done the same to them. The poll, unsurprisingly, is suspended …
After Colin reposted our “who’s going up?” poll (on the left, below) in one of the Question and Answer sessions with our owners there was brief flurry of voting, as you might have expected given the number of visitors we had. And then things slowed down until, by the weekend, things were at a trickle, although votes were and are still coming in. Again, this was to be expected as the eyes of the football world were on Russia, where eight or nine ex-Sunderland players were taking part in the World’s most prestigious competition outside the Third Division. We now have over 800 votes cast, which is enough to be going on with, although Colin in his gut feeling poll, had almost as many when only one vote was allowed per person.
When I first put this poll up, a mere week ago, I wrote
“this is predominantly a Sunderland site and we aren’t claiming results are totally unbiased… …Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that SAFC fans have not been blindly optimistic.”
After only a week I would not able to add a lot to this statement, were it not for two things. The first is that the poll was tagged to promote it to all League One fans for over 24 hours before it was promoted on our facebook page and then on Colin’s subsequent posts on this site. This gave us a small (very small, as it happens) hint of what the whole of the League One fanbase might think. The second was that Colin’s own poll closed, with some findings we can bring to bear on this one.
And so we have it: the fixtures are out. You’ll be getting your fill of dates, and conjecture from all over, no doubt, and enjoying the pre-season buzz of anticipation that it brings.
But when you’re tucked up under the sheets, reading Charles Buchan’s “Football Monthly” with a torch and reality bites, do you think you’ll win League One?
Or even get promoted?
If you do, please let us know. If you don’t, let us know who you think will make the grade.
Monsieur Salut adds some belated lines in homage to Jimmy Armfield – footballer, manager, sports reporter, NUJ member, broadcaster, church organ player, absolute gent …
The two news items seemed unseemly if read one after the other. Sanchez moved from Arsenal to Man Utd on a new weekly pay rate of hundreds of thousands. And word reached us of the death of Jimmy Armfield, whose biggest pay packet was £70 a week, as he told Salut! Sunderland back in 2011 (see the interview here).