Malcolm Dawson writes…..it was like old times yesterday with a packed house to welcome our visitors from Bradford, which included more than 2,000 in the North Stand Upper, who had made the Boxing Day trip from West Yorkshire.
Half time included a perfect rendition of “Shipyards” by Martin Longstaff, who performs as The Lake Poets. The song is used as the theme music for the Netflix docuseries “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” and credit to the Bradford fans, who could have tried to drown out a man in red and white stripes standing alone with a guitar in the centre circle, but the stadium was almost silent throughout before erupting into a huge cheer and round of applause when he finished.
If you haven’t seen the series it is well worth a look and you can get a full month’s viewing with no commitment for free.
In it Aiden McGeady criticises Chris Coleman for asking him to play in a 4-3-3 system without explaining what his role was. I have to admit I found it difficult to understand how a professional footballer who has played for his country, couldn’t work that out for himself, but the Irishman, nor any of the others in this squad, appear to have any problem with Jack Ross’s different set ups. Luke O’Nien for example putting himself up as a right back, even though he’d only ever played there on FIFA, looked as if it was his natural position.
I thought we were the better side yesterday and deserved to win, and for once we had the rub of the green and the Bantams’ fans will feel robbed. What did Pete Sixsmith think?
Well after having a drastic trim of his beard so the young people of Shildon don’t work out his secret identity and a triste with the local district nurse, she works for the National Elf Service of course, he found enough time to e-mail his thoughts which we can share with you here.
They have a lot to answer to do that Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven.
Here we were, slipping into the third level of English football and looking forward to rolling up to the ground at 2.45, lolling around over two or three seats, watching a side which another no hoper of a manager had put together with a load of deadbeat players who clearly despise each other, allowing the opposition from Rochdale, Accrington and Gillingham to bamboozle us every week.
After the game, we would slip out with the other 7 or 8,000 who had hung on until full time to berate the alleged players and the latest managerial team (the first sacked by October) and back to the car and home before the BBC Newcastle local football round up has finished.
Instead we get a bright, sharp manager who conducts himself well, a team where the players actually seem to like each other and a crowd of 46,309. I got home in time to watch the second half of Brighton and Hove Albion v Arsenal, with Paul Dixon’s dulcet tones a distant memory.
The stadium was full if not quite bouncing. Some regulars were missing because of Christmas, but seats were taken and there were very few gaps other than in the re-opened Premier Concourse. The Bantams had brought a good and noisy following and Christmas jumpers, new scarves and new hats were on show.
I even wore a new hat myself as my concession to the capitalist con that is the (alleged) season of goodwill.
If people went expecting a rout, it was never going to be that. City are much better organised than they were in October and if the returnees were expecting a typical “Oh my god, it’s a big crowd, let’s do our collective impersonation of a rabbit caught in headlights,” this group of players have no collective experience of the stigma that has run through this club for far too long.
What they got was a decent game, three controversial refereeing decisions from Darren England who had a good first half and a second half that means he will not be welcome in any of Bradford’s excellent curry houses for quite a while and a performance from Luke O’Nien that is a testimony to him and to the scouting staff who identified him as the right kind of player for this manifestation of Sunderland AFC.
Let’s start with him. He had big boots to fill in this game as Adam Matthews has done very well in the right back position so far and young Luke is a midfield player. Matthews is injured, Love cannot escape the treatment room so rather than moving Flanagan across and bringing in Ozturk, Jack Ross asked the former Wealdstone and Wycombe Wanderers man to do a job there.
And do a job he did. City play a midfield diamond (Jack Payne was the outstanding member of it) and don’t appear to employ wingers, so it gave O’Nien the opportunity to break forward and to help out wherever he was needed in defence.
He backed up Gooch and McGeady brilliantly and in the second half, when we were searching for the second goal to kill off the spirited fightback from the visitors, he was outstanding. His passing was neat and precise, his presence was authoritative and his tackling highly effective.
I commented in my usual wise and considered way that he must be pinching himself at the moment, having exchanged life in Wycombe for life on Wearside. He probably looked around the packed stadium and wondered what he was doing here in front of a crowd that would be the equivalent of eight or nine home games at Adams Park and two whole seasons full of crowds at Grosvenor Vale, Ruislip. Wealdstone, of National League South, lost 0-3 at home to Slough on Wednesday in front of a respectable crowd of 1059. We owe them a pre-season friendly for bringing up Luke so well.
The three fortunate decisions went to us for a change. City fans will have been fuming all the way home, having had a penalty turned down, seeing a Sunderland player remain on the pitch when he could well have been sent off and having what appeared to be a good goal not given.
Mr England’s thinking may have gone like this:
“For the penalty, I didn’t have a clear view and I thought that Max Power went for and won the ball so I didn’t think it was a penalty. And he got sent off at Bradford, so it would have been nasty to award a penalty against him, especially at Christmas.”
“Tom Flanagan had a bit of a dust up with Nathaniel Knight-Percival and my assistant said that NKP was holding on to Tom’s leg, so Tom gave him a playful push when they got up. It was a bit like a Christmas party game, so I told him off and gave him a yellow card.”
“As for the goal that wasn’t, I couldn’t see very clearly, but the other assistant was right in line and he said that he wasn’t 100% sure that it had crossed the line, so we couldn’t give it. A Bradford player said it was but he may have been telling me a big fib so I didn’t give it.”
There were good performances all over the pitch with McGeady being another stand out. He looks a happy player and he works hard even though he does appear to be jiggered for the last fifteen minutes. He passes the ball really well and he pounced on the City keeper’s fumble to slap the ball into the net and put us ahead. (Ed. – After the initial diving save the keeper’s foot somehow stabbed the ball away from Maguire but straight to McGeady.)
Josh Maja continues to be a player who is improving. His movement is excellent and he was just off target twice in the first half before his shot caused the keeper to fumble for the goal. Once again, there are regulars sat behind me who think that he should have the touch of Messi, the pace of Usain Bolt, the heading ability of Tommy Lawton and the strength of Tyson Fury and I hope that the attitude shown to him by some does not contribute to him not signing a new contract. My advice to him would be to sign up for another two years and continue to learn. Interestingly, when he went off with fifteen minutes to go, he seemed to go without the disappointment he has shown on other occasions. Read into that what you will.
It was good to see Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke get game time. Both need it and both will play a key role in the games to come. A shame that Duncan’s header didn’t go in – that would have been the cranberry sauce on the Christmas turkey.
Bradford played well but without a great deal of punch. They work hard and will be gracing this division next season. David Hopkin and Jack Ross guided their respective teams to promotion last year – Hopkin won’t this season but he may next.
Jack Ross will….…. I hope.
It took ages to get out of the ground and back to the car – another black mark against the owners and the traffic was heavy. But I suppose you have to put up with some inconvenience if you want to win promotion and see the ground full. It may be not quite as hectic on Saturday, but I am looking for at least 33,000.
Our biggest gate of the season (so far). Will it produce more votes on the Ken-meter than the 42 we got between the poll going live after Portsmouth and the site crashing?
Some of those 42 may have been Portsmouth fans, judging by the range of ratings. It was the first time the full scale was used, which means some people thought the ref was absolute perfection while others thought he was, in Ken’s words, Coote-like (or in plain English, abysmal)
Pete Sixsmith, Santa duties over for another year, was among the bumper Boxing Day crowd of 46,039 for the important match against Bradford City. Portsmouth losing at Gillingham in the early game provided a great opportunity to make up lost ground – and we did it, if only just.
Monsieur Salut could not be among those packed inside the SoL – a quite extraordinary statistic for the third tier of English football – and could only listen to Barnes and Benno and will the Lads to victory. Sixer saw it all, including the Bradford ‘goal’ – McLaughlin fumbling and appearing to recover only after the ball had crossed the line. We often enough find themselves on the wrong end of bad decisions but seem to have got away with this one.
This is just his instant, seven-word verdict. His fuller report will make interesting reading …
John McCormick writes: This is the second time I’ve set up this post. I spent hours working round the site problems and embedding files from a remote server so I could do Pete Sixsmith’s effort justice and then it disappeared, presumably never to return. But as my granny may have said, if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing well, and Pete’s stuff is certainly worth the effort. So here we go again.
I’ve scheduled this to launch a bit earlier than normal for the series so if there are more issues – the site’s still undergoing rebuilding – I’ll have a chance to put up a third copy before Boxing Day.
Well we’re back but only after a fashion, says Monsieur Salut. There are still gremlins at work. We hope a horridly frustrating few days, the loss of articles already published or prepared and a real fear for the site’s future, may soon be behind us.
But some functions still seem not to be working – I could not expand articles from the home page samplers for example – so the best we can say for now is that at least we can be seen.
If and when you are able to do so, Guess the Score in the important Boxing Day match against Bradford City at the Stadium of Light.
Update – currently at 1.30 am on 26th December it appears that the reply boxes are not functioning correctly (Malcolm)
Charlie Methven asked for a 40,000+ gate and he’s got it. There could be no finer occasion or setting for the Lads to bounce back from disappointing but honourable defeat at Portsmouth.
I shall dig out the entries posted before our site crashed and those scorelines will be considered taken, so look out for any reply inviting an alternative if you post yours before I get round to that.
There’ll be the traditional Salut! Sunderland mug for the first to post the correct result. You’ll need a UK delivery address and we’ll find a suitable alternative prize for a Bradford winner.
It remains only to offer a hearty Merry Christmas to all – contributors, advertisers, sponsors, all connected with SAFC and, above all, our readers.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..there is an air of quiet satisfaction floating around Sixsmith Towers this morning, as the staff quietly go about their duties, secure in the knowledge that their young master is full of the joys of the season following his charabanc trip yesterday and with the prospect of Toronto Wolfpack and Featherstone Rovers, both in action later today to keep him occupied.
Following his civic duties, bringing the news of the day to the good folk of Shildon, but before his Sunday morning breakfast of kedgeree, devilled kidneys and chitterlings Peter Sixsmith found time to dash off his account of proceedings in what was an eventful day in West Yorkshire.
My age-old newspaper reading habits have taken a knock recently. The Northern Echo is a mere shadow of its former self and is often finished before my bowl of porridge and round of toast have been devoured, while The Guardian Sports section is full of the usual Premier League guff so it is largely ignored.
On Saturday, while cruising down the A1 and after having avoided pieces on Jose Mourinho and how difficult it is spending money like water and then dropping the players that money has been spent on, how a new Arsenal are evolving at Ashburton Grove and the trials and tribulations of Tottenham at Wembley (all to be repeated ad infinitum), it was a pleasure to read about how Jack Ross has settled into the job at Sunderland and how, every time that we win, an anonymous Sunderland supporter donates a goat to a charity that distributes them to villages in Africa – or maybe Eldon Lane.
After a thrilling game at Valley Parade, the African goat population has increased by one and, if the season continues in this vein, there will be a surfeit of goats in villages and the locals will be urging the donor to send PlayStations instead.
This was the proverbial hard-fought win. We went in 1 up at half time, never looked in trouble, conceded a poor equaliser, retook the lead within two minutes, saw our new captain give away a penalty and get sent off, watched as the penalty was saved, comfortably survived an aerial bombardment not seen at Valley Parade since the days of Ian Ormondroyd before we closed the game out while witnessing a brawl that was more in keeping with the original use of the ground as a rugby league venue. No wonder the coach travellers slept on the way home; we were knackered.
The first half was another example of how Ross would like us to play. The ball was knocked about, forcing the City players to chase and harry and use up lots of energy while we passed and passed. At times we stretched their defence and chances were missed although the referee did not pass up his chance to book Cattermole with a mere ten minutes on the clock.
It was for an innocuous foul, one which other players would have got away with (and did) but it seems that there is a policy amongst the lower league referees of “let’s see how early we can book Cattermole.”
He now had to play 80 minutes without one false move, something which he accomplished with considerable aplomb and made some of us believe that the earlier the yellow card for Cattermole, the more effective he is because he has to concentrate on his game and not do anything silly.
He contributed to the opening goal with a fierce shot which was going fractionally wide until Maja turned it in as it brushed past his left kidney. The Goat Shop were preparing the next departure to Africa by half time as we controlled the game and Bradford’s huffing and puffing barely disturbed anxiety levels amongst the 2,900 who had made the trip.
The second half was a different experience and the goat looked as if it might be staying in the UK when we failed to defend a long throw and O’Connor hooked the ball into the net. However, its passport was out again two minutes later when the ball bounced around in the box and Jack Baldwin opened his account for the club with a firm shot.
In the next ten minutes we could have wrapped the game up and the goat could have caught an earlier boat. Max Power had a shot well saved by O’Donnell and Tom Flanagan (who formed a very effective central defensive partnership with Baldwin) had a header pushed over.
It all changed in the 66th minute when Power was sent off. Being at the other end and thinking of the goat saying its goodbyes, I did not see what had prompted the newly appointed skipper to kick out at Jack Payne. But I did see the kick and the subsequent red card for Power who will have now missed more games through suspension than he has played. I foresee an anger management course for him before he returns and he may not get his place back if we continue to purge the national goat herd.
Up stepped Payne, the protagonist in the Power situation, to take the penalty. He is a confident, nay cocky, youngster, but he was not good enough to beat the Magnificent McLaughlin, who pulled off a tremendous save or the Fantastic Flanagan, whose tackle as Payne lined up to slot home the rebound was as good as the original save.
Maja was replaced by McGeouch and we proceeded to give an almost master class in game management. The ball was retained when we needed to and despatched to the other end of the field when that was necessary. Honeyman came on for McGeady and his running and energy played an important part in preventing a limited home side from putting any real pressure on us.
When he signed for us, some supporters were distinctly underwhelmed by Chris Maguire, claiming that a man who had flopped at Bury was not for us. He has shown that if he is on the right stage, he is a match winner. That turn against Peterborough where he set up Sinclair was a as good as anything I have seen since the halcyon days of Johnson and Summerbee and today, he made sure that the sting was taken out of City by holding the ball up, winning free kicks and generally winding up players who were unsure of how to handle him. He is enjoying being at Sunderland and we are enjoying watching him.
Both full backs did well. Matthews has formed a good partnership with Maguire and gets forward well while Reece James, now third choice in that position, was targeted by Bradford and Sean Scannell in particular, never missed an important tackle and did really well.
In fact, there were no weak links in this team. All worked hard, none more so than Lee Cattermole, who won umpteen headers and tackles and was always there to fill a gap, pass a ball and generally wear down the opposition. I gather he is happy at Sunderland but the size of his wage packet and the length of his contract may be a factor in any possible transfers to a higher division.
After Mr. Backhouse had added on seven minutes and Ross showed his tactical acumen by sending on Ozturk to bolster the defence, the final whistle went and, at a certain goat farm somewhere in England, a Ms. N. Goat was shaking hooves with her friends and hugging her family as she began the long trek to Africa. Her final words were “Don’t worry. We won’t be apart for long. I can see another 25 of you joining me before the first week in May. Ha’way the Goats.”
My journey home was a pleasant one. All on the coach behaved, there was good conversation and the icing on the cake came as the we paused at the traffic lights at Thinford and Alexis Sanchez scored the winner at Old Trafford.
If we fail to win promotion at the first attempt this season, it may not be because of our inability to keep a clean sheet or hold onto a lead but through a lack of discipline. For the third time this season we had a player sent off and for the second time our keeper has to save a penalty. Listening to Barnes and Benno, the closing minutes of this game was real heart in the mouth stuff. Would we hang on? The final minutes were made just that little bit easier when the hosts also had a player shown the red card.
Pete Sixsmith was there and as always will bring us his detailed report of what was a nail biting game tomorrow. But for now make do with his instant seven match summary of a game in a league which is anything but boring.
John McCormick writes: some 15 years ago, perhaps a few more, I almost went to see Bradford play. It was a Valentine’s weekend and the family had decamped to a hotel in the region, 10 of us altogether, mostly from my wife’s side, for a reunion of some sort. We arrived on the Friday and going to the match was one of the possibilities raised while having a few drinks on the Friday night. Come the Saturday, no one felt like going. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that my share of the bar bill alone was in three figures when we checked out on the Sunday.
Pete Sixsmith appears to have had no such problems in getting there:
John McCormick, associate editor, writes…. a century ago Bradford was both a new city and an industrial power, able to compete with anywhere in the world. As befitted its status it had two professional football clubs, one of which had won the FA Cup in 1911 by beating Newcastle United, who had won it the previous year.
Then came decline, of the city and of its football clubs. While close neighbours Leeds United became mighty and cross-Pennine rivals in Manchester achieved great things, Bradford Park Avenue – Len Shackleton’s first club – went from playing in an Archibald Leitch stadium to Sunday league football before returning as far as the Vanarama League (North).
The other club, cup-winning Bradford City, were relegated in the 1920s and never regained their pre-war glory. But, despite trials and tribulations that make our recent troubles seem trivial, they remained in the Football League.