View from the West Stand: did the tide turn as the Blackpool Seasiders came to Wearside?

Jake: ‘is this called the start of a revival?’

Who’d have thought not long ago that we would be feeling happy with another one all draw? It may not be ideal but at least it represents an improvement on recent results. Pete Sixsmith was off on Santa duties but Malcolm Dawson was in his usual seat. How did he see things? Read on…..

SUNDERLAND 1 BLACKPOOL 1

Jake does his bit for the seat change

The weather first thing seemed promising yesterday but I’ve lived in the North East long enough to know that’s no guarantee that it’ll stay that way. Accuweather may have been telling me it was 10° and I may have gone to school with no coat whatever the weather, but it was on with the thermals before I set off and what a good decision that turned out to be. It was freezing and despite my layers I was never that cold last February when I was in Norway, high above the Arctic circle being taken for a trip on a Reindeer sleigh by members of the Sami community who had decided that cashing in on tourism was probably a more preferable lifestyle than following their herds across the tundra in 22 hours of darkness.

Might have felt at home on Wearside yesterday

Twelve months ago Blackpool was a club in turmoil and many of their supporters were only going to away games. They’re going back to Bloomfield Road again but still had a good turn out yesterday, who out sang the mostly quiet home support for much of the game. The impression I was getting from those of a red and white persuasion, on the Park and Ride and in and around the ground was subdued but not overtly negative. There wasn’t an overwhelming feeling of confidence, but nor was there an air of despondency before kick off. More of a “here we are again, what’s today going to bring?” sort of feeling.

Phil Parkinson decided to stick with five at the back with Flanagan Ozturk and de Bock forming the central three. With O’Nien and Hume as wing backs there was potentially more pace on the flanks than there had been at Gillingham. Power and Dobson were the midfield two with Watmore and Maguire playing off Charlie Wyke, starting for the first time in ages. Wyke is a big, physical hard as nails character who might well have linked up well with Roy Race at Melchester Rovers. Marco Gabbiadini did the half time draw and how we could do with someone who can stick it away like he used to do at the moment.

Is the 70 year old still playing?

Blackpool had a big tall, soft as clarts centre forward in the Cotes d’Ivoire, Frenchman Armand Gnanduillet who was to make significant contributions in contrasting ways throughout the game.

We started off as we so often do, attacking the Roker End and within the first two minutes had won two corners and seen Charlie Wyke head just off target. But as seems to happen quite often having failed to convert an early chance we end up on the back foot when the visitors take the lead immediately afterwards.

From the resultant goal kick Blackpool keeper Jak Alnwick pumped the ball forward to their right wing where de Bock brought down the aforementioned clarty bloke. It was probably a foul (though from where I sit it looked as if de Bock might have actually played the ball around the legs) the linesman flagged and a foul was given. The subsequent rolling around, clutching his ankle was unwarranted, but obviously something the man whose surname reminds me of a particularly unsavoury French sausage, considers a legitimate tactic. We’ll return to that later.

M Salut is known to eat these!

But free kick it was and the ball was sent high into the box, past the outstretched leg of Alim Ozturk beyond the far post. A player in a blue stripy shirt hooked it back in front of goal, clarty French bloke headed towards goal and this time Ozturk headed it out to the edge of the box. From there it was played back out to the Blackpool right, swung back in, cleared by de Bock but only to Matthew Virtue-Thick who curled a lovely shot into the top corner from outside the box. McLaughlin, preferred to Burge for this one had no chance but once again our failure to clear our lines quickly had cost us a goal.

It soon became apparent that we did not have a great official in charge of this game. Both Wyke and Maguire were on the wrong end of some physical manhandling yet nothing was given. Then he would blow for the most innocuous of challenges. Sometimes a push in the back would be penalised then other times an arm around the neck and a judo throw deemed acceptable. If we are going to have poor referees at least let them be consistent please. Add to that linesmen who seemed to lag behind play and then give offside decisions based on guesswork, having failed to spot players getting behind defenders after the ball had been played and even I was getting animated.

We still have a preference for the slow build up and sideways and backward passing, rather than going for the quick attack, but a quick interception from Max Power found Charlie Wyke who tried to backheel it into the path of Watmore on the edge of the box, but it was well defended by an alert Jay Spearing. Watmore had another chance a little later after Hume’s cross made its way to O’Nien on the opposite side. His dink back across goal found Watmore but he was only able to head it over from the edge of the six yard box. McLaughlin made a decent stop from Gnanduillet and the follow up drive across the face of goal pinged harmlessly out to the touchline.

On thirty five minutes we got another corner as Hume again looked for O’Nien. Our first efforts with the dead ball had come to nothing but this time Maguire sent in a hard cross at around knee height and Wyke managed to get ahead of his marker to stick a side foot volley firmly home.

First goal since August

Wyke’s celebration seemed to be more one of relief than ecstasy but at least we were back in the game.

Unlike the Burton game we didn’t immediately concede this time but we nearly did as the ball broke to Husband but with McLaughlin nowhere near his shot hit the big clarty Frenchman on the knee and went wide. He was standing on the goal line and clearly offside but had he been able to get out of the way the goal would probably have been given.

Not long after Watmore and O’Nien linked up. O’Nien was brought down but the referee waved play on, probably correctly, though it was the kind of tackle where despite the player playing the ball, it is often deemed a foul. Anyway it broke to our French friend and George Dobson tried a similar tackle, brought the player down and was rightly penalised and booked. Gnanduillet obviously took exception to this and forgot about falling down and rolling around and grabbed hold of Dobson and gave him a shake. He also got a yellow for that, again probably correctly, though I’ve seen the red card shown for less. Mind you he might have got a second yellow straight away for dissent as he purposefully walked away when the ref was calling him for a talking to. Later he was to get Dobson sent off after our man appeared to win the ball cleanly. The ball bounced into Gnanduillet’s legs and he did his rolling around in agony act. The ref fell for it and produced a second yellow. Dobson couldn’t believe it and several Blackpool players appeared to console him as he made his way to the dugout. This was later in the second half. Wyke had headed against the bar and Grigg only just failed to get a foot on a hard low cross from O’Nien but the stats will show that Blackpool had more shots than us and we only managed two on target all game.

This was a better result but over the entire 90 minutes not a lot better than the Burton game performance wise. It’s easy to let the result cloud one’s judgement but we actually had a decent spell against Burton without making it count. Yesterday there were positive signs but also areas of concern. There seems to be a lack of attacking intent and a passing game that seems more intent on keeping possession than finding ways to threaten the opponent’s goal. There are still too many misplaced passes (Flanagan being especially culpable yesterday) and an inability to clear our defensive areas quickly. No more games until after Christmas and the prospect of a transfer window which may allow Parkinson (or whoever is in charge then) to address some of those issues but at least the home crowd was generally supportive, if subdued yesterday.

The official attendance given out was 30,595. Yeah right! There is a difference between tickets sold and bodies through the gate. To my eyes 23,000 would be nearer the mark as presumably a considerable number of season card holders decided they had better things to do and gave our last match before Christmas a miss. Judging by the atmosphere in the ground yesterday, these might well have been those types who seem to feel that anything other than an easy victory is sufficient to induce acts of aggression – physical and verbal.

Twelve months ago we appeared to be a club in a good place. We had a new triumvirate of owners who appreciated the place a football club holds in the lives of those who show their allegiance to it. They had gone out of their way to reconnect with the fans, on social media and in the flesh. Interaction with supporters on Twitter and in the media, regular attendances at supporters’ group meetings, invitations for fans to join them in the boardroom and turning up in local pubs and in the fan zones pre-match were just some of the ways in which they showed they got what football is all about.

They had also taken a firm stand on those players who had shown no desire to be at the club, installed an enthusiastic young manager and brought in a recruitment policy which brought along a whole load of players who, although limited in ability, were players who could do a job at the level we found ourselves, were happy to be paid League 1 wages but who, most importantly, wanted to be at the club. Things were good in the run up to last Christmas. Despite the fact that his team selections had been hampered by injuries, Jack Ross had seemed to find a system that made us favourites to get out of this division at the first attempt.

Then it started to turn sour. After the Burton game I wrote that I wondered if I wanted to endure many more evenings and afternoons at the Stadium if they were going to be like that. What I perhaps didn’t make crystal clear was that it was the toxic atmosphere created by the boo boys and girls and the negativity I was encountering when going to away games. Wrinkly Pete echoed my feelings and I am in no doubt that whilst not directly responsible for team selection, tactics or performances on the pitch, these vociferous and frankly unpleasant types who vent their spleen at any opportunity, are in danger of destroying the very thing they claim to love.

No more Tweets from Stewart Donald, no more Charlie Methven visiting the Branches or popping into the pub before away games. Apparent discord in the dressing room and an already beleaguered manager, who is probably only there because of the impatient minority who cannot see the bigger picture. As a player, manager, coach or owner, how enthusiastic would you feel if, despite your best efforts, people were gesticulating in your direction and telling you to eff off? Add to this a proliferation of websites, presumably run by these types or possibly Mags, who dominate the News Now Sunderland pages with critical headlines drawn from negative social media types and it all gets into the subconscious and inhibits maximum efficiency.

Hard as it sometimes is the Lads need us behind them.

This wasn’t a great performance yesterday but on the whole the crowd stayed behind the team, without getting too carried away. There were a few half hearted boos at the end, but the majority were in the direction of the referee who had not endeared himself to the home support.

Rant over.

I shan’t be at the Bolton game as I will away for the Christmas period but Peter Sixsmith will be to bring you what may well be the last Salut! Sunderland match report. Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and wishing us all good fortune and success for our club in the future.

Ha’way the Lads

Highlights via safc.com

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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

 

Sixer’s Play Off Soapbox: 1-0 at half time as Portsmouth up to their old tricks

Malcolm Dawson writes…..thanks to the Lads’ inability to get anything from their two days at the seaside at the end of the regular season, this was to be my last live game of the campaign as I have a hospital appointment for an old man’s scan on Thursday and a pre-arranged commitment back in Lytham, should we have to make a return trip to Wembley. Thanks to SKY TV and the armchair football fan it kicked off at the strange time and doubtless there were more than a few season card holders who refused pay the extra for this game or to give up their Saturday night at the pub and watched proceedings there. As much as I dislike the way fixtures are arranged for the benefit of TV, at least it means I shall be able to follow our progress in the quest for promotion.

I’m not sure if Pete Sixsmith was at the Bradford Bulls v Leeds Rhinos game yesterday afternoon. I know he was thinking of going, so if he did he was probably fuming on the drive back up the A1, after the Bulls, once all conquering and mighty, but now massive underdogs put their near neighbours to the sword.

Would events at the Stadium of Light cheer him up? Let’s find out

PORTSMOUTH SENT PACKING.

Played four, won one, lost one, drawn two. Goals for 5, goals against 6.

One penalty shoot out (lost), two red cards, one flare thrown, two decent performances, one disappointing one and one – this one- that had us reaching into our souls, dragging up almost the last reserves of energy and taking a lead into the second leg of a play off game. The previous three games had been memorable in their own way.

By all accounts, Portsmouth played well at Fratton Park and deserved their 3-1 win, albeit all of their goals came after a contentious red card for Glen Loovens and the Wembley final was the proverbial game of two halves, with us dominating the first 45 and them the second before extra time and penalties.

The league game two weeks ago saw a blinding performance from their keeper to keep out efforts from Wyke and McGeady and the general feeling was that we were the better side and certainly the one who declined to extend the limits of “acceptable” gamesmanship, particularly in the second half.

Both clubs would have been a tad disappointed to be in the play offs, especially as perceived “smaller” clubs had bagged the automatics by dint of being better. That was reflected in a reduction of spectator numbers from both clubs, with there being a good 15,000 less than those who turned out on the last Saturday in April. No doubt they will all have good reasons for not being there. Some of them may be genuine.

Having said that, their choice not to attend appeared to be vindicated in a tight and rather turgid first half. It was as cagey as one would expect a semi final first leg to be between two sides who know each other pretty well and who are both desperate to re-join the money loss machine that is The Championship with its 5.15 Saturday kick offs, ailing former giants and a whole hour of Colin Murray on Quest. Maybe we should stay where we are…..

Portsmouth made changes. In came Hawkins, a threat at Wembley, and Evans started, but our old favourites were still there. Thompson, he of the most conspicuous dive of the season, Lowe, the man who kicks the ball away at every opportunity and Burgess, a petulant child inside the body of a man, who thinks it is fine to manhandle Wyke but who squeals like a frustrated six-year-old when anything happens to him.

Sorely missed last night

We had changes as well after last week’s debacle at Southend.

O’Nien and Oviedo came in at full back, Morgan returned for Grigg and, prior to kick off, we thought that McGeady was back for Gooch. Alas, no. His foot was still giving him pain and he withdrew. Cue frantic tactical revisions in away dressing room as Portsmouth decided who to kick the most seeing as McGeady wasn’t playing and Maguire was only on the bench. Wyke got the short straw.

Stakhanov

He had the kind of game that we have needed from him all season. He was brave, he worked so hard that he put Stakhanov, the Soviet Hero of Labour, to shame and he had Christian Burgess to contend with. The constant fouling was bad enough, but for a lad brought up in Middlesbrough, it must have been the constant whining that got to him:

“Please Mr Referee, he stood on my foot. He’s not being fair. I only tried to pull the shirt off his back.”

“Shut the f*** up and get on with it.”

“Mr Referee, he sweared at me. That’s not nice. You should tell his mammy what he been and gone and done.”

Enter Captain Mainwaring type figure in referee’s kit;

“Yes, I will, Christian. Wyke, behave yourself and no more of that rough type of play. This is a game for gentle boys with man buns not craggy oafs like you.”

And so it continued ad nauseam.

We huffed and puffed and didn’t do a great deal in the first half, but they did even less and looked happy to settle for a 0-0.

The King was back!

Enter Chris Maguire. He replaced Lewis Morgan, who has ability but who does not relish a physical challenge – so Portsmouth will not be his favourite opponents. Maguire’s arrival came after McGillivray had made a blistering save from a Honeyman header and within minutes of coming on, the former Portsmouth loanee had won the game for us.

Wyke put pressure on the Portsmouth defence, a weak header landed near Maguire who produced a stunning volley to settle the game. Brilliant goal from a player who has dazzled and frustrated in equal portions this season. Should he start on Thursday, they will target him continually and he will have to keep control of himself.

Then we lost Ozturk to a poor decision by another poor referee.

Andy Woolmer had a decent first half but he must have had a message at half time from friends and family saying that they were disappointed that they hadn’t seen much of him, could he do something about it please because all the neighbours were round and Mrs Baker from Number 22 thought he wasn’t doing enough to get in the cameras. So he sent Ozturk off for denying Evans a clear goal scoring opportunity – except that it wasn’t. It was a foul and a yellow card, but Evans did not have the ball under control and was heading away from goal. The “last man” argument is redundant now – it has to be a clear opportunity.

Mr Woolmer got his moment of fame and Ozturk, who had been excellent and had many wondering why he hadn’t been in the team earlier with his lusty tackles, excellent positioning and competitive attitude – although he does lack pace – trooped off to the dressing rooms. Flanagan has looked far more confident alongside the former Hearts man and there were worries that Dunne may flounder. He didn’t and, apart from the subsequent free kick hitting the bar, the consistently excellent McLaughlin had little to do.

Jackett sent on the cavalry to try and take advantage of our numerical deficiency but we held on, with Cattermole and Power shielding the defence, the full backs working hard and Honeyman turning up everywhere. Maguire hit the post and we saw the game out successfully.

We go to Fratton Park and its decaying infrastructure on Thursday for what will be a very difficult 90/120 minutes. There are no away goals counting double, so we need to draw or win to go through. It will be difficult. They will have their usual 19,000 crowd baying for blood and putting pressure on the referee. It will be difficult, but the only time we have gone into a second leg without being a goal down, we won. Newcastle 1990 – Gates 13, Gabbiadini 85.

The home crowd for that tie was similar to the one on Saturday. The moaners who inhabit the seats behind me were not there and the whole experience was an improvement. The support roared the team home in the second half which is what support is supposed to do rather than moan and criticise. Few left before the end and many stayed to revel in a win. Biggest is not always best – as the actress said to the bishop.

Train tickets and hotel booked for Thursday.

Ha’way The Lads………

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Sixer’s Sub’s Doncaster Rovers Soapbox: it’s a good Friday on Wearside

The games are coming thick and fast as we get to the fag end and business end of the season. Pete Sixsmith and Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson are sharing match reporting duties and Pete will be back for his take on the Peterborough and Portsmouth clashes, but today it is Malcolm who brings us his view of the goings on at the Stadium of Light on what turned out to be a pretty decent Good Friday.

If you needed any proof of the influence of Salut! Sunderland the evidence was there to see yesterday, as we put the debacle of the previous weekend behind us.

In my match report following the home defeat by Coventry City, I suggested it might be time to give Alim Ozturk, the second most forgotten man of the Sunderland squad (after Donald Love) a game and in midweek, Wrinkly Pete called upon the home support to get behind the team and make some noise. With the Dutchman recalled to the starting XI the crowd, especially in the recently renamed Roker End, produced their loudest and most sustained support of the season.

While on social media Baldwin and Flanagan shouldered most of the blame for the inept defensive performance against the Sky Blues, that was far too simplistic an explanation for our first home defeat of the campaign. Though it was no surprise to see them both “rested” for the visit of Doncaster, it was other changes to the side and organisational adjustments which got us back on track. Coventry had no recognisable target man and as such moved the ball quickly, kept it on the ground and turned the two centre backs inside out. But there was precious little support for them from either midfield or on the flanks. With Grigg and Wyke both starting, Honeyman and Morgan had been told to play narrower and the width came from O’Nien and Oviedo who both started that game higher up the pitch. The central midfield pairing of Power and Leadbitter also appeared to have been given instructions to be positive going forward with the result that Baldwin and Flanagan were frequently exposed and Coventry exploited this.

Yesterday, we played with a flat back four and though the full backs still supported the attack when they could, with Morgan and McGeady in wide positions, they could apply themselves more to their defensive duties. The return of Lee Cattermole also strengthened the central defensive midfield position and with just the single striker, Power and Honeyman  helped to break down potential Doncaster threats at source.

Decent return to the starting line up for Alim

That’s not to say we were totally dominant but Ozturk and Dunne were fairly comfortable against the pony tailed John Marquis, who is more your traditional striker than those employed by Coventry, though he might have won a free kick on the edge of the box on six minutes when he was hauled to the ground. But I thought both centre backs played well and dealt with the Donny attacks efficiently in the main.

There was one occasion when McLaughlin had to race off his line and throw his body in the way and another occasion when Ozturk maybe got away with a bit of holding. Donny manager Grant McCann certainly thought they should have had a penalty when, following a free kick and an almost inevitable yellow card for Lee Cattermole, Ozturk and Butler practised their moves for the upcoming series of Strictly Come Dancing and the Doncaster man went to ground. It might have been given on another day, but referee Andy Woolmer deemed it six of one and half a dozen of the other and throughout the afternoon he had refused to give a number of free kicks, mostly when Charlie Wyke had been held as well as that early one against Ozturk. But at least he was consistent.

So we started off with four across the back, but that didn’t mean to say there was no attacking intent and we might have scored twice in the first thirty seconds. Attacking the North Stand for a change, both Power and Morgan had decent chances blocked. After all the pre-kick off flag waving the crowd was up for this and it was just the start we needed.

But Doncaster in a rather smart blue and red change kit were soon on the counter attack and a long diagonal ball from Herbie Kane on the right wing found John Marquis running into space. It was then that the covering Ozturk impeded the Donny man while the referee waved play on. That was on five minutes and we were to go ahead immediately. George Honeyman who showed great energy all afternoon, buzzing about behind Wyke and behind the wingmen played the ball out wide to Aiden McGeady on the left wing. McGeady did what he does, rolled the ball, shimmied, beat his man and delivered a beautiful cross from the corner.

Charlie another MoM type display

Charlie Wyke, who nearly didn’t play as he was suffering from a migraine as kick off time approached, rose high between two defenders and nodded the ball down and back for Lewis Morgan who struck a powerful half volley inside the left hand post and halfway up the side netting from 16 yards. Exactly what was needed to settle any lingering nerves after the news that both Barnsley and Portsmouth had collected all three points.

We were definitely on the front foot and with 14 minutes on the clock, Honeyman was again involved, this time on the opposite side as he fed Morgan. His deep cross was headed back by Mcgeady and with Wyke lurking the Doncaster defence hacked it away, but only to the onrushing Luke O’Nien. His powerful drive swerved towards the top corner, but there was a bit too much swerve and it went high and wide.

Donny weren’t totally out of it but we were clearly on top at this point as Honeyman had a shot blocked, and both Power and Morgan had further chances. The second goal came from a corner, though only indirectly. Power played it short to McGeady, whose cross was headed away by the Rovers’ defence. It was like a bit of head tennis as at least two defenders headed it out of the box, Cattermole then headed it back towards halfway and a diving Honeyman stretched and headed it to Oviedo out wide. He in turn fed Max Power who sent a long diagonal ball towards the penalty spot. Donny keeper Marko Marosi came to punch it but in truth got nowhere near as his route to the ball was blocked by one of his own defenders and Jimmy Dunne who leapt highest of all to head it goalwards, where Charlie Wyke was on hand to ensure it found the back of the net.

This was another fine display from Wyke who is showing the qualities which made him our marquee signing of the summer. Not only is he strong with two good feet and has a decent touch, but he is also by all accounts a top bloke. If only he had a bit more pace.

All game the Lads had shown an intensity and a desire to win the ball and after another crunching tackle Lee Cattermole won the ball in the opposition half, fed Charlie Wyke who after playing a short pass to Aiden McGeady, who in turn found Oviedo on the overlap, continued his run into the box to get on the end of the Costa Rican’s cross, but his stooping header was gratefully clutched by the Slovakian keeper.  We were well on top yet almost conceded just before the half time whistle sounded.

The Roker End pre-kick off

Herbie Kane nutmegged Max Power then tried to run by him. Had Power simply stood his ground and Kane run into him, I might have felt aggrieved that the free kick was given, but as it was the ex Wigan man raised his arm to block the run, dragged Kane down and I couldn’t argue with the decision. The left footed shot from full back Danny Andrew was powerfully struck and rattled the foot of the post. A couple of inches to the right and it would have bounced harmlessly out of play for a goal kick. A couple of inches to the left and it would have gone in. As it was it came straight back off the woodwork and fortunately there was a player in a red and white shirt in the right place to hook it to safety as the whistle blew.

Doncaster needed to do something and half time brought a double substitution with forward Alfie May and attacking midfielder Allie Crawford, replacing Coppinger and Whiteman. My brother, watching the game on TV in the Three Horsehoes somewhere in Spain, texted me at full time to say he thought the second half had been a bit more scrappy and so it was, as Doncaster had more of the ball in our half of the pitch, but we defended resolutely and apart from the penalty shout I never really felt any apprehension, although I can never really settle when we are only two goals to the good.

We had in fact almost got a third five minutes into the half when the ball broke for Oviedo who ran at pace down the left wing, cut into the penalty area and shot for goal from distance. The ball seemed to take a slight deflection off a defender and just like at the end of the first half, the ball hit the post in more or less the same place but this time, went safely behind. A goal kick was given and no-one seemed to contest the decision so maybe a trip to the opticians is in order.

We had other chances, McGeady and Wyke might both have found the target, Wyke making space for himself after a lovely ball from the Irishman and producing a decent save from Marosi but it was Doncaster who arguably came closest as Dunne, misjudged a high ball and let May in behind him. Fortunately McLaughlin was alive to the situation and came rushing off his line to block the shot.

There was the penalty shout when Ozturk wrapped his arm around Andy Butler but Butler was leaning into Ozturk. Some refs would have given it – this one didn’t.

We had other opportunities. Wyke was sent clear in the first half but he wasn’t quite quick enough to get one on one with the keeper and eventually played it to McGeady who was closed down and late in the second half substitute Will Grigg had a decent shot saved. In truth this was a fairly comfortable win, though by no means a walk over. But once again the commitment was there from these players. Let’s hope that will stand us in good stead for the remaining four fixtures.

The one refereeing decision which didn’t go our way was at the Pirelli Stadium where Portsmouth’s 94th minute winner against Burton should have been ruled out on two counts. Those two points mean that we still have the same total as next Saturday’s opponents, although we have improved our goal difference.

Of course we still have Monday’s games to go but with a game in hand on Barnsley, Pompey’s visit could possibly be the defining moment of the promotion campaign but I suspect there will be a few more twists and turns to come before we head to Southend on Darth Vader’s birthday.

Ha’way The Lads.

Highlights of the game via safc.com

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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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Sixer’s Rochdale Soapbox: a victory won on the playing fields of Cleadon

Malcolm Dawson writes….this was a pretty good day all round. The sun was shining as we left County Durham and it stayed that way as we made our trouble free journey down the A1 and M62 arriving at Brighouse just as the sun climbed above the yardarm. Surprise, surprise the pub was awash with red and white striped shirts enjoying a beer and a Wetherspoons breakfast. I’d hazard a guess that most other pubs near the roads leading to Rochdale in this part of West Yorkshire and over the county boundary would have been the same.

We managed to get parked close to the ground and I got myself a commemorative mug.

There are many different ways to win. The home game with Rochdale had been relatively straightforward and provided the satisfaction of a comfortable victory, but there is a different kind of contentment that comes from conceding early then sealing victory in the dying minutes. As we saw in that first game of the season against Charlton, and last week at Wembley, this is a team that will keep trying until the final whistle and testament to the work ethic that Jack Ross and his backroom team have instilled at the Academy of Light.

And still the sun shone.

I was home by 7.30 which is not much later than many a journey back from the Stadium of Light when there’s been a big crowd. On the whole a pretty good day.

Rochdale might be struggling near the foot of the table but there have been few easy games in this league and this was another where our boys had to dig deep to get a result. How did Pete Sixsmith see things and what sort of day did he have? Read on to find out.

ROCHDALE (away)

The Duke of Wellington was not a great football fan. As a pupil at Eton College, he was probably more inclined to the eponymous Wall Game before he became an eminently quotable soldier and politician.

He preceded the European Reform Group by two centuries when he said “We always have been, we are and I hope we shall always be, detested in France.” His view of railways was spectacularly wrong – “Depend upon it sir, nothing will ever come of them” – but he was often succinct with his advice. When, in his dotage, he was asked by Queen Victoria how to rid the Crystal Palace of sparrows, he replied “Sparrowhawks, Ma’am, sparrowhawks.” It worked.

His best known quote relates to Waterloo – the battle not the station – which he described as “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life” and that could well be a summary of the win at Spotland on Saturday, a win that left us maintaining our lead over a dogged Portsmouth, breathing down the necks of a worried of Barnsley and putting us within catching distance of long time leaders Luton Town.

The Iron Duke

It was by no means the footballing master class that we produced on Wednesday. This was a win that had to be dug out after we went into the break a goal down to an invigorated Rochdale side who gave everything and ended up with nothing. Had I been a neutral, I would have felt some considerable sympathy for them and their newly appointed manager, Brian Barry-Murphy, but sympathy is of no use if you are in the relegation zone.

It needed a performance of some character to overcome them and we got that in the second half, with Charlie Wyke, Dylan McGeouch and Luke O’Nien leading the way as we stormed back to take three oh so valuable points and send a shudder down the spines of Tykes’ and Hatters’ fans and management.

Aiden McGeady, the catalyst of the splendid win at Accrington on Wednesday, was missing and was replaced by Lyndon Gooch. He lasted half an hour before he limped off and was replaced by George Honeyman. Cometh the hour, cometh the man as they say in the gentrified parts of Southwick, Shildon and Shotton.

By half time we were a goal down and struggling. Rochdale had absorbed our early pressure, with keeper Josh Lillis making a fine save from Will Grigg and when our defence committed its only serious lapse, Ian Henderson was on hand to take advantage of a Joe Bunney cross to put Dale ahead.

Henderson formed a striking partnership with Aaron Wilbraham, a partnership with a combined age of 73. The former is a mere stripling of 34, the latter a venerable 39 and they caused us some problems, mainly by denying both Baldwin and Flanagan the space to move forward. At Accrington on Wednesday and at Wembley, both had brought the ball out. This was denied them here.

Henderson’s shot was the only one on target from a Rochdale player and McLaughlin had a relatively quiet afternoon although he did make a fine second half save when a clearance from Baldwin ballooned into the air and he had to be quick to push it over the bar.

The players did the usual “girding up of loins” and showed their character and fitness in the second half.

Dylan McGeouch was outstanding, fetching and carrying and wearing out Camps and Rathbone, who had thwarted him in the first. His drive and energy enabled us to spend the entire forty-five minutes on the front foot and he will continue to play a major part in the promotion push.

Charlie Wyke had won many sceptical fans over on Wednesday with a thundering performance at The Crown Ground. He did it again here and was rewarded with the kind of goal that he scored for fun at Carlisle United and Bradford City.

Denver Hume played him in and he rolled a Rochdale defender before turning and tucking away a well-placed shot beyond the keeper to level the scores and create an impetus that ended up with a late, late winner. He looks fitter and more up for it and he appears to enjoy working with Grigg. There is less pressure on him and Grigg is a much more straightforward player to link up with than Josh Maja was. The sound of his name ringing around Spotland will have done him a world of good.

We pressed for the winner.

Denver Hume, a tad disappointing today, was replaced by the returning Bryan Oviedo which meant that the thrust of our attacking came from the full backs. By this time, O’Nien was running Joe Bunney ragged down the right hand side and it was from here that the winner came.

In the 89th minute, O’Nien once again got past Bunney and into the box. His low cross was picked up by George Honeyman who turned it past Lillis to send the 3,500 Red and Whites into a frenzy and to heap despair on the Blue and Whites who were preparing to celebrate a point well taken.

Skipper goes wild at Spotland

We closed the game out comfortably and news came through that Luton had drawn and Barnsley had lost so there was joy unconfined amongst the hordes as they poured back to the buses and cars scattered around the residential streets of Spotland – although in my case I missed the street where the bus had parked and had to be collected on the main road having walked a mile away from the ground. My face was redder than a Sunderland track suit top. Silly old fool…….

Sometimes promotions are won when you have to dig a win out. We are good at come backs and have a reputation for resilience. Late goals at Walsall, Wycombe and now Rochdale have put us in a strong position. The squad is the deepest in the division and players who have come with strong reputations and had not so far lived up to them, have stepped up and shown why Jack Ross and Tony Coton brought them to the club in the first place. Others have improved as the season has gone on and have played major parts in continuing this promotion push.

The only drawback in going up is that it takes away the visits to places that we have rarely been to before. Rochdale was a pleasure. The sun shone, the town looked good and there was plenty to do pre match.

Many headed for a large Wetherspoons where a customer came in, took his coat off and revealed a Newcastle United top. He was ushered out by staff as the Greater Manchester Constabulary arrived and called him an idiot.

My wanderings took me past the site of a theatre where Gracie Fields made her first public appearance, I gazed in wonder at the Gothic splendour of the Town Hall,

Hitler’s favourite Rochdale landmark

so admired by Hitler and spent a pleasant hour in the Rochdale Pioneers Museum where I bumped into Gary and Jane Stout. He has just retired from teaching so I was able to assure him that it was a time to look forward to.

The Baum next door to the museum fed and watered me with a cottage pie with pickled red cabbage and a pint of Admiral from Rochdale’s Pictish Brewery. Should you find yourself in the town I heartily recommend this fine pub with its cheery bar staff and excellent food and drink.

The Baum

So, apart from wandering the roads of Rochdale post match, a grand day out and a pleasant journey back in the light. Home by 8.00, I even stayed up to watch the highlights on Quest. I shan’t be bothering with that any more.

We now go into a sequence of three successive home games which will define where we finish up. Let’s get behind the team and roar them home. Near run things are fine once in a while but straightforward victories are much better for the blood pressure.

I don’t know what the First Duke of Wellington would have made of all of this, but he would have admired the fighting spirit of Jack Ross’s troops.

“Up Guards and at ‘em” seems a fitting way to end.

Ha’way The Lads…..

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Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox:comprehensive win keeps Lads on track

Malcolm Dawson writes…..I was originally supposed to be otherwise occupied this week but my prior engagement was cancelled so I could have gone once I realised there were still tickets on sale. Expecting to be in Lancashire until Friday of this week, I had ordered a ticket for Rochdale and planned to spend an extra evening in that fine county but finding myself back in the wilds of County Durham, I thought that two drives in a week was a bit much after my Wembley jaunt, so I decided I would use the safsee coverage to follow the game. But even though the club website said live streaming was available, it turned out that a dispute over a payment to Stanley to allow a beam back to the SoL, meant it could only be seen by overseas viewers. <strong>Pete Sixsmithg/strong> was there of course to witness a fine victory which is a step in the right direction if we are to finish in one of the automatic promotion places. Here’s how Pete saw things at The Wham.

ACCRINGTON STANLEY (away)

There were worries that this game could prove to be a defining one on the road back to the respectability of the Championship.

Would there be post Wembley blues from the players?

Would Stanley use this game as an opportunity to start their own revival as they slid towards the relegation zone?

Would the weather and a sticky pitch stop us from playing the quality of football that we know this side is capable of?

The answer can be found in the Amy Winehouse song that we adapted and sang about Nyron Nosworthy in our last successful promotion campaign. No! No! No!

The Nozzter:

The players showed their commitment to the cause and shed off the blues as quickly as many of the 1,650 followers who had trekked over to this post-industrial part of North East Lancashire. They looked determined to put the (mild) disappointment of Sunday behind them and start on the task of pegging back Barnsley and possibly, Luton Town.

The opposition were nowhere near good, clever or fit enough to stop a Sunderland side that treated this game as if they were visitors from another world, determined to show the locals how to play football and to put them firmly in their place. The home team resorted to a not very pleasant combination of long balls and undue physicality as they adopted an approach which can be characterised in the damning indictment of the man behind me as “ale-house football ».

And the weather, although by no means an early indicator of global warming, was nowhere near as ferocious as it had been in December, when Malcolm and John sat huddled in the Peel Park Hotel and I entertained children and their parents with a few jolly “ho, ho, ho »s in Jesmond.

Charlie is the darling – well he was last night

As with the Nyron song, there were three outstanding performances from a team that saw five changes from the Wembley disappointment. Denver Hume came in for the injured Reece James, Max Power took over from Lee Cattermole who had an ankle problem, Grant Leadbitter was rested which allowed Dylan McGeouch to start, Lynden Gooch came in for Lewis Morgan who was on the bench and Charlie Wyke replaced the still suspended George Honeyman.

The changes worked with Wyke and particularly McGeouch having good games, while the third member of the triumvirate, Aiden McGeady, was outstanding, as he has been for much of the season. Happy 33rd birthday, Aiden. Don’t break a rib blowing out all the candles.

As an elder statesman surrounded by mostly young players, McGeady has been a credit to himself. He is clearly well respected as a man as well as a player and when he scores goals like the one that opened the scoring after four minutes, he is the difference between winning and not winning. That was his 14th of the season and he won’t have scored many better ones as he smacked home a fierce shot after creating space for himself.

Thereafter, he tortured the Accrington defence who resorted to kicking him and he remained in the changing room at half time complaining of a sore ankle. Lewis Morgan, who improves by the game, replaced him and although not as tricky and as wriggly as McGeady, did well.

Aiden McGeady – finding the net on a regular basis

Charlie Wyke got a start in a new system where we played two up front. It worked and Charlie was the main reason why. He played like a centre forward should, barging into defenders, holding the ball up and laying it off to team mates. Granted, his shooting was a tad wayward (alright, a lot) but he won over the crowd who gave him great support and who clearly want a player who looks like a real trier to succeed. We need to be careful though as if Newcastle fail to follow the Rondon deal through, the Tactical Genius That Is Rafa, may see Charlie as an ideal replacement.

Finally, Dylan McGeouch. When he came from Hibs, he was seen as a marquee signing, but he never quite got into things as the season unwound. The bench and his bottom have been well acquainted and he must have been disappointed not to get on to the pitch on Sunday. If he was, he responded in the perfect way by running this game.

He was the complete opposite of Macavity the Mystery Cat who, you may remember, “was never there ». Dylan was. Every time I followed the ball, he was in the vicinity. He brought the ball out of defence, he won tackles and headers, he helped team mates out of tight situations and he drove us forward. That’s the best we have seen from him so far. I look forward to seeing much, much more.

The Mystery Black Cat

The other two goals were well taken. Will Grigg looked happier alongside Wyke and got onto the end of a long clearance by the always excellent McLaughlin to slot thee ball into the net and effectively win the game. I had just prepared my half time seven which said “Good performance but second goal remains elusive.” Shows how much I know.

I was pleased to see Kazaiah Sterling notch his first senior goal. He got on the end of a fine, low cross from Morgan and slotted the ball in before nearly jumping over nearby Pendle Hill and disturbing the sleeping witches that dwell there.

As for Stanley, they are in trouble. They were a shadow of the team they were a few weeks ago when they put the wind up us on Wearside. Paul Smyth was their most dangerous player but he spoiled himself by diving and by committing a series of fouls including a nasty one on Luke O’Nien which deserved a booking at the very least.

It was an enjoyable day. Refreshments were taken in Colne where I sampled a splendid pint of George Wright’s Plum Porter from nearby St Helens at Boyce’s Barrels, a micro pub in a street of micro pubs. I wandered around the town which still has a pride in its civic buildings – the Town Hall, the former Co-Op department store, the civic buildings and a memorial to the bandmaster on RMS Titanic, Wallace Hartley, who hailed from the town.

Like that ill-fated ship, Accrington look like they are going down.

We could help them by banging a few nails in Rochdale’s coffin on Saturday.

Match highlights 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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View from the Avenue: a Sunderland rallying cry to still half-term wobbles

Paul Summerside hoping for calmer waters – and a new man on the bridge

Monsieur Salut says: Paul Summerside and I joust regularly at Facebook about Brexit, a subject I broadly feel wisest to avoid at Salut! Sunderland. But he confesses, as a man who more than anything shares the thought that politicians should sort out the wretched mess they created, that this week’s turmoil also prompted some reflection on how things are going at the Stadium of Light …

Read moreView from the Avenue: a Sunderland rallying cry to still half-term wobbles

Sunderland 4 Newcastle U21s 0: experienced Black Cats polish off young Magpies

SUNDERLAND AFC 4 NEWCASTLE UNITED U21S 0 – EFL TROPHY

I switched on Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport as I set off for this Checkatrade Trophy game just in time to hear an interview with the young Dane, Elias Sorensen who yesterday signed a new contract with our friends up the road. Those of you old enough to remember Jan Molby will recall how perfect his Scouse English is. The Danes must have a good ear and an ability to reproduce the intonations they hear, as Sorensen spoke with an impeccable Geordie twang and littered his responses with the phrase “and stuff”.

Sorensen has scored 19 goals for the young Magpies this season, prompting calls for his inclusion in the first team from some supporters of the black and whites, much to the disdain of John Anderson who pointed out, that whenever he had asked those doing so how often they had seen him play, invariably received the response “never but he scores goals”.

One of the reasons I can rarely listen to more than 10 minutes of Total Sport before either shouting at the radio or switching off, is the number of “experts” who know exactly what the manager should do who never even go to games. As it was Sorensen was more or less invisible and was subbed after 56 minutes or so. Maybe Rafa wants him in the first team after all.

Our own “boy wonder” Duncan Watmore started and was made captain for the night but was on the pitch for even less time than Sorensen, not returning for the second half. Jack Ross said afterwards that he had a slight groin strain but although he had shown flashes of his pace and ability, he too had had a quiet half. With his absence from the starting 11 at Charlton and the squad at Blackpool, I wonder if he is finding the return to first team action after two bad injuries more of a psychological hurdle than a physical one. Jack Ross seems to be taking no chances with him, showing perhaps a more considered approach to the way he handles his players than some of our more recent managers.

In fact the whole of the first half was fairly low key with few chances. As you would expect from a side comprising regular first team players, playing a young, inexperienced team, our boys controlled the game without really looking threatening. Indeed the best chance of the half fell to the visitors when Callum Roberts drove the ball across the face of goal from the right hand side of the penalty area, but there was no-one in pale blue near enough to get the decisive touch.

Bali Mumba so nearly on the scoresheet

We thought we’d scored when Bali Mumba (younger than all of the Mags of course) found the net but the assistant on the far side had raised his flag deeming that Chris Maguire had taken the ball out of play and signalled a goal kick. It was close.

The same official was also quick to raise his flag when he thought an attacker had come back from an offside position to collect the ball. It used to be that you could tell how well someone knew the game by their understanding of the offside law, but these days I don’t even think the officials can be sure. There was one occasion where Maguire, received a pass from Ruiter while in his own half but was flagged for offside with the linesman indicating that he had previously been ahead of the Newcastle defence, even though that had been some seconds before and there were at least four blue shirts between him and the goal when the ball eventually got to him.

It was a quiet first half on the pitch but less so in the stands. Before the game I had feared that there might be a few idiots there to see if they could cause a bit of bother but as it turned out I saw nothing untoward. There was a massive police presence for a crowd which numbered less than 17,000 and they were obvious both inside and outside of the ground. A couple of fireworks were set off in the North Stand Upper and the expected disparaging chants came from both sets of supporters. But in between the unsavoury references to paedophilia and sexual proclivities, there were some quite witty exchanges too. It was noisy but never intimidating.

Beforehand I was of the opinion that we would have to win at least 3-0 to come out of the game with any sense of achievement. I still thought, as the teams came out after the break, that was within our grasp but although Charlie Wyke and Tom Flanagan had chances Mumba’s disallowed goal had been the only time we had looked like scoring in the first forty five. Despite the persistent drizzle, the sprinklers were employed during the interval.

The second half kicked off with just the one change and it didn’t take long to break the deadlock. Sinclair had been playing in a much more right sided position than he has recently and hit the post almost immediately after the restart, the ball eventually going for a corner. Maguire took it from our side of the pitch and from where I was sitting it was difficult to be sure what happened next. It looked to me as if it had bounced off a defender’s leg and into the net. The bloke next to me thought Maguire had scored direct and though the scoreboard changed to show 1-0 the stadium announcer said nothing and no goalscorer’s name was flashed up. Turns out my eyes hadn’t deceived me and the goal was credited to Kelland Watts. Sighs of relief around the East Stand and what is now The Roker End.

Ruiter was called into action shortly afterwards as Roberts got a shot on target for the Magpies, but the Dutchman made himself big and got enough of a leg in the way to preserve the lead and soon after Charlie Wyke got a welcome second. Some neat, if somewhat over intricate build up play, saw Wyke set up Maguire when an earlier shot might have been a better option, and his shot was blocked. Maguire took the resulting corner and Wyke rose above the crowd to head home to double the lead with just over 50 minutes on the clock.

From then on the home team’s experience really denied the bairns from Tyneside any chance of getting back into the game.

Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka

I’ve said this before and last night confirmed my impression. Benji Kimpioka is ungainly but deceptively skilful in a Peter Crouch sort of way. He often appears to trip himself up yet somehow keeps control of the ball and he’s got pace and enthusiasm. Having replaced Watmore, he was creating confusion whenever he got the ball. I’m not sure the Mags’ defence knew what to make of him. I’m not sure Jack Ross knows either.

With 15 minutes left the gaffer obviously decided that two goals was a big enough cushion and 75 minutes was a good enough run out for Charlie Wyke as he was replaced by Bishop Auckland born Luke Molyneux who Sixer tells me is a polite, well mannered lad and Kevin Ball thinks needs to find a bit more aggression in his play. But then Bally would say that.

Another inspired substitution? Not really but a goal followed almost immediately when Chris Maguire collected the ball on the right and we could all see that he only had one thought. His well hit curling effort beat the keeper all ends up. Hopefully getting another crackerjack under his belt will reignite the man who some have dubbed king, as he seems to have gone off the boil a bit in recent games. I feel we’ll need his flair and commitment in the second half of the promotion push.

“We always win 3-0” was the song from the home fans now as Maguire cupped his hands to his ears in the direction of the North Stand Upper.

Another cracker

With ten minutes to go Kimpioka added a fourth with a scrappy header. The visitor’s goalkeeping coach might well be reviewing that with young Nathan Harper today, as he probably could have been more positive in his attempt to clear the ball. But credit young Benji for his desire and commitment. He enjoyed his moment – quite rightly.

And so 4-0 it finished. A result which means that even though we can expect any local Mags to remind us we were only playing their bairns, the margin of victory is such we can be smugly satisfied and Wembley is a step closer.

And as far as I’m aware, no police horses were harmed in the process.

Ha’way the Lads.

Match highlights available via safc.com