Malcolm Dawson writes…….there was a gathering of the clans in Accrington on Saturday. A veritable Salut! Sunderland fest before kick off.
At this time of year Pete Sixsmith is otherwise engaged bringing joy to the young of the North East so I arranged to meet up with associate editor John McCormick (who was making use of Sixer’s ticket) in the Peel Park Hotel, adjacent to where Stanley used to play many years ago. It’s a very cosy boozer with a good selection of real ales and it worked out that John and I found ourselves sitting next to Rob Hutchison and his daughter Olivia, both of whom contribute to the pages of our humble website from time to time.
At the same time as the Accrington branches of Wickes and B&Q were rapidly running out of stocks of gopher wood, Rob was nervously checking his phone to see if the game was still on.
We decided that if it should be called off before 2.00 p.m. Rob would have a few more pints before making his way back down south and as I had driven there, I would see if the Peel Park Hotel was an actual hotel that did bed and breakfast, so at home did we feel and so quaffable was the Copper Dragon Best Bitter – brewed to suit that special Northern palate according to the tasting notes I read.
But the news came through as the downpour subsided to a drizzle that the game would go ahead so John and I took the car nearer to the Crown Ground (WHAM Stadium) and making the last part of our way there on foot, bumped into one Paul (Sobs) Dobson. Sobsy is better known for his contributions to ALS and seems to be the BBC Look North’s go to guy when they need a vox pop of a Sunderland fan. Sobsy will be contributing something to our advent calendar on Christmas Day, so don’t miss that when it will be a bumper edition. Take a look while the kids are tearing the Christmas wrapping off their prezzies, while the sprouts still need another hour of boiling or when Her Majesty is rabbiting on about Brexit or whatever else is on the agenda this year. Oh and be warned “The Great Escape” is a film with Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasence and not a biopic about Paulo de Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat or Sam Allardyce.
The rain had subsided briefly but it started again as John and I entered the ground, and got heavier as we passed the double decker bus selling beer and the row of portaloos supplementing the normal facilities. Taking my seat who should I find next door but one? None other than Peter Lynn, “Wrinkly Pete” of this parish. It got even more torrential as the players were trying to warm up and just before kick off Heart of England branch stalwart Terry took his seat next to me, looking like the proverbial drowned rat, took one look at the state of the pitch and predicted there would be some shenanigans in front of goal later. He was remarkably accurate.
I’m finding it difficult to recall a lot of detail about what there was of the game yesterday, partly because of where I was and partly because of the weather. As usual at away games the whole of the away crowd was standing, and despite being in a section of the ground with seating I had to put my arthritic knees to the test, but being almost at the end of the stand, the far nearside corner was completely out of my line of vision and a lot of the play seemed to take place there.
The conditions were making play difficult. On a couple of occasions a high ball played towards McLaughlin just didn’t bounce. The ball was sticking in the clarts so some short passes were not reaching their intended target, some balls which initially looked to be over hit stopped dead allowing the player to recover and sometimes if McGeady, Gooch or Oviedo went off on a run they would leave the ball behind.
It looked to me that Stanley had adapted to the conditions better though I don’t remember McLaughlin having to make a save in the first half, whilst Power sent a rasping shot wide and McGeady saw a powerful effort fly over the crossbar after some good work from Maja down the right wing and Oviedo hit a free kick through the legs of the Stanley wall, after Maja had been brought down on the edge of the penalty area, forcing Accy keeper Ripley into low save, which I think was the only shot on target all half. Nil – nil at the break.
The rain really came down second half and at times it was like watching through one of those metal beaded curtains that you see in butchers’ doorways, designed to keep the flies from the dead meat. John’s mobile footage shows just how bad conditions were, but please note, the slope is just from the angle of the camera – the pitch itself does not resemble Lords or the home grounds of Yeovil Town or Tow Law.
We took the lead when Maguire showed his energy and sprinted yards to close down their keeper, who had started off in acres of space controlling a long back pass. As the Scotsman quickly closed him down he went to hoof the ball upfield but Maguire jumped, turned and the ball hit the back of his shoulder. We watched as bounced into the net much to the chagrin of Ripley who tried to convince the ref it had struck Maguire’s arm and to the delight of the Sunderland support. The Accy fans behind the goal, who had been noisy all game with their two drummers leading the way, went silent for a time as Maguire celebrated in front of them before running across and doing the same in front of us.
We just about deserved the lead I thought, though we by no means were dominating in the Lancashire mud bath. Not so long after Stanley equalised and it could all be put down to the conditions. McLaughlin failed to hold on to a low shot from close range, Flanagan slipped trying to get to the rebound, a third effort was scrambled off the line before the ball was finally bundled into the net with James (or it might have been Gooch) just failing to do enough to prevent the equaliser.
Not long after referee Oliver Langford had a word with both managers and the fourth official before taking the players off. Mixed comments from the Sunderland contingent leaving the ground, most seeing it as a sensible move but some complaining that the ref should have ended the game when we were ahead in the misguided belief that the result would have stood.
So another rearranged game to fit into a busy programme and a Checkatrade draw that pits us at home to the Mag’s U21s. I bet after what went on at Port Vale in the week, the club and the local police can’t wait for that.