Sixer’s Blackpool Soapbox: travelling support makes Blackpool rock

Malcolm Dawson writes…..you expect the roads to be quiet on a Bank Holiday and they were. I drive to Lytham ten or twelve times a year so this is a route I know well. Over the tops through Woodland, Egglestone and Brough I saw more buzzards and goosander than I did oncoming cars. Kirkby Stephen was busier than usual with loads of people in lycra wandering around with numbers safety pinned to their stomachs, but what constitutes a traffic jam in Westmorland is just a queue for the traffic lights in most built up areas and it took me all of two minutes to get through the town.

On the M6 south of Lancaster a caravan had overturned, blocking the outside and middle lanes with the bonnet of the car facing skywards. There were no police there, so it could only just have happened minutes before but no other vehicles were involved and there were two people standing in the central reservation so hopefully no-one was hurt and although it caused a slight delay the rest of the traffic was able to get around it with the minimum hold up.

There was a good, cheerful atmosphere as befits New Year’s Day and the ground was noisy. There was a moment pre-match which I thought was reflective of how the club is changing the nature of its relationship with the fans.

Towards the end of the warm up and after most of the squad had already returned to the dressing rooms, Chris Maguire hit a fierce shot at the extra goal that is set up for the purpose. Unfortunately he missed the target and the ball struck a grey haired, bespectacled lady full in the face. It would have hurt and the shock would have been greater than any physical injury, but immediately Robbin Ruiter, Craig Samson and Maguire himself were in the crowd, comforting the lady and calling the St John’s people over. They made sure she was OK before making their way back to the changing rooms – something which those around noticed and appreciated. This may have also been the case last season, but this was genuine concern and seen as such.

Once more the hosts showed that there will be few easy fixtures in this division and this was a close game. Indeed the pundits I was listening to on Wave and Radio Lancashire after the match were disappointed that The Seasiders hadn’t got a point (reasonable) or even all three (not so).

What did Pete Sixsmith think? Let’s find out.

BLACKPOOL NEW YEARS DAY

There are worse ways to start off a new year than a bracing trip to Blackpool – and then to return home with a hard fought and well deserved 1-0 win. Last year on the 1st of January we lost at home to Barnsley, a defeat which heralded a raft of loan signings, none of whom were any improvement on the poor players that we already had. We started 2018 shrouded in gloom – and it got worse.

Maybe 2019 will be kinder. We appear to have our club back and the team, although not world beaters, are playing with heart and passion and have bought into Sunderland AFC and what it means. Last year’s crop of players hardly seemed to care.

The journey over was an absolute delight. The coach was full – a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar faces and some returnees who have lost the habit of going to away games. The weather was glorious; clear skies and bright sunshine as we passed through Barnard Castle and over the A66. This is a road I use a number of times a year but usually as a driver. As a coach passenger, you see so much more – and on a clear day, it looks as if you can see forever.

Blackpool was reached before the designated time of 12.00 and the Lancashire Constabulary (out in force) cared not a jot. The town was busy. Our support had colonised the usual pubs – The Castle, The Manchester and The Albert and The Lion – with noise rather than hostility being the order of the day. I wonder if the fact that Charlie Methven pops up in to chat and have his picture taken calms the atmosphere. My travelling companions made for the pubs away from the front and had a jolly good time.

I am hors de combat at the moment as far as ale is concerned, so I went for a wander around the town in search of a late breakfast/early lunch. Blackpool, like many coastal towns, is struggling yet it still has an appeal.

The promenade is wide, the air is bracing and on a day like this there was no better way of blowing away the cobwebs than a stroll along the prom, prom, prom where the brass bands weren’t playing tiddley pom pom pom. I did spend a good quarter of an hour looking at the Comedy Carpet opposite the Tower. It’s a comprehensive list of comics who have appeared in the town over the years, from Frank Randle and Rob Wilton, through Tommy Cooper and Ken Dodd right up to modern comics like John Bishop and Micky Flanagan. I found it worrying that I had to explain to a callow youth who Rambling Sid Rumpo and Frankie Howerd were!!!!

I found a café that was open, opted for a late breakfast and shared my table with a couple from Leeds who could have been part of an Alan Bennett diary entry. They had booked a New Year’s Break at The Metropole, once a very important hotel in the days when party conferences were held in the town, and thought it had gone a bit downhill since last year. They were completely oblivious to the 8,000 Sunderland supporters who were in town saying only that they had “heard a bit of noise but we thought there were some bus trips in from Lancashire.”


To Bloomfield Road, where I bumped into a former colleague, nicely retired like me, was handed several leaflets by the Blackpool Supporters Trust explaining their reasons for not attending home games and took a (not very good) photo of Jimmy Armfield’s statue. A man of integrity if ever there was one.

And so, to the game……

There were two changes. Reece James came in for the injured Bryan Oviedo and Duncan Watmore was rested to allow Charlie Wyke to start a full game for the first time since the defeat at Burton Albion. Neither weakened the side and one could argue that the return of Wyke allowed Josh Maja more space to work in and meant that he did not have to do the donkey work up front.

It turned out to be a good game. Both sides have strengths and played to them. Blackpool are a big side but do more than just lump the ball up front. They have some good players at this level and whatever is happening off the field, on the field they work hard for each other. Our defenders had to work equally hard to keep them at bay, with the experienced Jay Spearing making them tick over and Nathan Delfouneso giving them a touch of quality up front. Throw in big men like Taylor, Bola and Gnanduillet and you can see why they are on the edge of the promotion race.

Jay Spearing

We had more of the ball than they did and created the better chances but there are times when we need a second or even third touch to get moving and this allows defenders to get into position and stop us. A cultured, controlled midfielder who can make that all important first touch pass could make the difference. In the absence of Cattermole (suspended) and Honeyman (injured) it’s an opportunity for Dylan McGeouch to step up to the plate and show us what he can do over the next couple of weeks.

Our goal was a good one. Baldwin (the pick of the centre halves) played a shrewd ball through to the impressive McGeady. He shimmied and shammied and put in an excellent cross which Josh Maja turned in for his 15th goal of the season.

This was Maja’s best game so far. He forced an outstanding save from Mark Howard in the second half and his ability to bring the ball down and then control it and move it on is impressive. We all know about his contract talks and I for one, hope that he signs up – we would find his goals very difficult to replace if he left now. There is talk of Celtic being interested and of paying £4.5m for him. We shall see. He linked well with Charlie Wyke who had a real tussle with centre half Paudie O’Connor.

Brought a new dimension to the team

Wyke had a good game and there are hopes that a goal will soon have him up and running. We think that he is the first Sunderland player called Charlie since The King in the 1960s.

We had a couple of breaks. Gnanduillet thought he had equalised but a combination of good goalkeeping by McLaughlin and excellent defending by Baldwin prevented another Bradford style controversy and a poorer referee than Mr Drysdale (who I thought had a very good game) might have sent Gooch off when he was involved in a scuffle with O’Connor.

The travelling support roared the team home to three very important points and there were smiles all round at the end of the game. I have never seen a stadium with so many away supporters in and so few for the home team and I don’t suppose I ever will again.

A truly unique day.

Match highlights are available here via safc.com

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Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: Shrewsbury share the spoils at the Stadium of Light

Malcolm Dawson writes……..with games coming thick and fast at this time of year and with Pete Sixsmith having to come up with regular “First Time Ever” pieces we agreed on the way to the ground that I would relieve him of his Soapbox duties for this game.

For me this was a day of contrasts. For much of the game we looked by far the better side without ever appearing dominant at any time. We played some lovely possession football, with some marvellous flowing passing movements, but far more often were wasteful in possession. There was some stout defending, crisp tackling and players hustling the opposition, yet at other times The Shrews seemed able to break us down far too easily, as tackles were missed and challenges lost.

The crowd were patient and at times as loud as anything I’ve heard this season at the Stadium of Light, but for much of the game were quiet.

We scored as fine a goal as you are ever likely to witness. About twenty years ago I was at Portman Road as Danny Dichio, Nicky Summerbee, Alan Johnston, Mickey Gray and John Mullin combined to score such a fantastic goal against Ipswich Town that it still lives on in my memory. I suspect that Josh Maja’s bullet header yesterday will do likewise.

Oviedo, breaking from defence, played the ball down the line to McGeady, who passed it inside to Maguire. His flick towards Power was allowed to run on and Oviedo who had continued at pace crossed first time to Maja who running into the area at full pelt, headed home powerfully from inside the six yard box. This was one touch football at its finest, played at speed and incredibly difficult to defend. It epitomised the style of football that Jack Ross wants his teams to play and it came at the perfect time with half time approaching.

Oh wow oh it’s Maja – you know (again!)

Unfortunately, by then we were already a goal behind. No excuses. Just like they had against Walsall in the cup replay, for the first twenty minutes, I thought the team looked sluggish and off the pace. I can’t criticise their effort. It wasn’t like they weren’t trying but just that nothing seemed to be coming off. Maguire ran around a lot without really creating any threat. Gooch, dribbled and twisted and turned and inevitably tried to do too much and lost possession. Shrewsbury, who even at 0-0 and hardly any time gone looked intent on wasting as much time as possible were happy to defend deep and let Baldwin and Flanagan carry the ball out of defence, but far too often their passing let them down. It was if we were constantly looking for the game changing pass and it wasn’t working.

The visitors on the other hand were looking threatening on the break and had by far the better of that first twenty minutes or so but had failed to find the target. After only 4 minutes they looked to get on the score sheet from their first corner but Gooch managed to get the ball away after a bit of pinball in and around the penalty box. Cattermole won a challenge before bringing the ball away from the danger zone and Baldwin made a decent headed clearance following a free kick and Waterfall went close with a header. And that was just in the first ten minutes.

The pre-match minute’s silence had been respectfully observed but the crowd started off in fine voice. The travelling fans were also making themselves heard and at one point started singing “your ground’s too big for you” and I thought our fans missed an opportunity by not singing it back to them – The New Meadow having a capacity of less than 10,000 and an average home gate of only half that, thanks mainly to ourselves, Barnsley and Peterborough taking a large contingent to swell the ranks.

Our lack of penetration quietened the home support and the Shrews were closing us down in those early stages, when we weren’t giving the ball away needlessly. We had perhaps one effort but Maguire’s long range shot was wide and didn’t really cause Arnold in the Salop goal any problems.

We seemed to have weathered the storm and I was just starting to think we were getting into the game when we gave away a goal. Anthony Grant brought the ball into the Sunderland half and found himself confronted by make shift full back Luke O’Nien. He looked to knock the ball past O’Nien but it seemed to me that he knew he had no chance of collecting it before it would be cleared so he ran into O’Nien and fell over. No doubt there will be plenty of TV pundits and Shrewsbury fans who will insist it was a foul but to me it just looked as if our boy was static and Grant was looking for the free kick. The ref saw it his way. The resultant kick was knocked into the box, across the face of goal, a crowd of players jumped for it and it came off Waterfall and found the back of the net. A decent enough goal when it’s one of yours but one that you feel could have been defended better when it’s your side that have conceded.

Not for the first time we found ourselves behind in a game most in the crowd would expect us to win easily. Before the game I had said to Pete that this was one of those teams I always feel nervous about because I almost expect us to slip up. But this team don’t get phased when they go behind and stick to the game plan, but with 40 minutes on the clock we still hadn’t created a meaningful opportunity to score until Tom Flanagan latched onto an Oviedo corner which had been driven in low and hard. The Irishman controlled it well and broke into space by the right hand post, drove in a low shot which the keeper somehow got a foot to and sent it out wide to the left. The referee inexplicably gave a goal kick.

Charlie Wyke courtesy of www.safc.com

Things were about to change when Maja equalised in the 44th minute and with five minutes of added time I was hoping that we might even grab another before the half time whistle.

It wasn’t to be and we came out unchanged for the second period. Brian Oviedo spent the time when the linesman were checking the goal nets to supplicate himself, like Pope John Paul II getting off an aeroplane, but his prayers were in vain as he hurt his back falling awkwardly and was replaced by Reece James after only another five minutes. Whilst this was happening Charlie Wyke was warming up and once he’d put those elastic band thingies on his ankles I knew he was coming on and indeed he did for the industrious but somewhat out of sorts Chris Maguire.

We played much better in the second half and whilst Shrewsbury continued to waste time looked for a way to break them down. Although we had a succession of corners it was actually Shrewsbury who had the best chance in the first fifteen minutes of the second half but John-Lewis fired high and wide, whilst I resisted the urge to make a pun about him being a bit weak in the home and leisure department.

Welcome back Roadrunner

Haynes had had Lynden Gooch in his pocket all afternoon and eventually the American was taken off as Duncan Watmore was brought on. The Roadrunner’s pace is a threat at this level and Charlie Wyke gave us a physical presence we had been lacking, but we still weren’t getting much on target. Power had a couple of long range efforts, one too high and one blocked, Wyke put a header over and Watmore’s shot from outside the box was also too high.

There was plenty of added time and plenty of incident. From a corner on the right the ball fell to Tom Flanagan whose shot was blocked, then Baldwin had a decent sight of goal but his shot shows why he is a centre back and not a striker, as it went to the left of the post. MacGeady worked his way down the left, played a lovely ball to Watmore who got to the dead ball line and fired in a cross which looked certain to be converted by Wyke, but defender Mat Sadler somehow got in ahead of him and sent the ball over the bar from only a yard or two out. This after Baldwin had done his best to score at the wrong end when McLaughlin did well to save his mis-kick and was down quickly at the near post to collect John-Lewis’s back heel. The Lads kept plugging away, trying to find that last gasp winner, Maja and James both trying their luck but in the end we had to settle for a draw.

Disappointing but we are still unbeaten at home and with exactly half of our season gone we are still there or there abouts with games in hand. With a couple of away games in the next six days another four points would be a good return, but it is our home form that needs to improve because whilst we still haven’t suffered defeat at the SoL, Shrewsbury Town is just the latest in a succession of sides, that includes Fleetwood, Oxford, and Wycombe we would be have been hoping to beat. Those six points would have seen us just one point behind Portsmouth but there’s still a long way to go. With Wyke and Watmore getting back to full fitness Jack Ross will have more options available and who knows what the January window will bring.

I’m off to the seaside on Tuesday and hoping for a Happy New Year. Ha’way the Lads.

Highlights courtesy of www.safc.com here

Sixer’s Burton Soapbox: a bitter defeat at the home of The Brewers

Malcolm Dawson writes…..I spent the weekend catching up some of my old muckers from the East Midlands, two of whom have season tickets at the Pirelli and got me a ticket for this match in the home stand. It is a strange experience sitting with the home fans but I suspected I wasn’t the only Sunderland supporter there as quite a few people sitting near me failed to jump to their feet when Albion scored and had remained quiet throughout. Pete Sixsmith was standing down the red and white end where the support was vocal as ever. Here’s how he saw this one.

BURTON ALBION (away)

The first defeat of the season and I suspect, the first serious doubts about the manager and the players being aired in public. Certainly, the father and son combo stood next to me at the back of the terrace, made it perfectly clear that in their considered opinion, the lot of them were absolute s**** and they should be sacked/sold/ hung, drawn and quartered forthwith.

Allow me to take a more reasoned approach to what was a disappointing defeat against a hard-working side who were allowed to dominate the first half because our team selection handed them the vital midfield area.

A central midfield of Cattermole and Honeyman were unable to get any grip on the game, allowing Jamie Allen and the excellent Lucas Akins to dominate and control. Akins is a big man and covered ground well. Allen is much smaller and does exactly the same. Our two in that vital area are neither big nor particularly quick. Hence, we were outclassed and outfought in the opening period.

The experiment of playing three up front did not work. Even before Wyke was carried off, it appeared that the three were uncomfortable in this formation. Maja was pushed wide, Wyke was left in the middle and I am not quite sure what Sinclair was supposed to be doing. By the looks of it, neither was he.

For a tactic such as this to succeed, you have to play to strengths. Wyke had admitted that his best work comes in the 18-yard box. His one meaningful contribution was a clever flick to Maja which the youngster should have buried but dragged wide, much to the consternation of my young neighbour. Other than that, he got himself involved in some wrestling matches with Ben Turner, the Brewers centre half, grapples which he was always destined to lose. Turner looks as if he could make a living with Featherstone Rovers. Wyke doesn’t.

The injury looked a bad one. The tackle from Bulgarian keeper Evtimov could best be described as “fierce”. Stood at the other end, I couldn’t be sure whether it was dangerous, although the man next to me spent the rest of the game demanding that the keeper be sent off retrospectively. News filtered through that it was a broken leg, to be replaced by ligament damage and a review in the next day or two. Whatever it is, it’s a shame as Wyke looks desperately in need of playing time after missing the whole of the pre-season. (From my seat at the other end of the ground I can confirm it was fierce but fair in my opinion – the keeper and Wyke seemingly getting to the ball at the same time – MD)

His departure led to a re-think and a much better balance in the side. Maguire foraged down the right with the ineffective Gooch down the left. The full backs concentrated on defending, although neither are great at that.

Matthews was again booked for a needless challenge and is rapidly morphing into a poor man’s Billy Jones while Oviedo looked like a man who had just flown back from Costa Rica on a budget airline with his luggage on his knees. With hindsight (the greatest gift of all keyboard warriors), he maybe should have sat this one out.

The two goals we gave away were poor ones from our point of view, but good ones from Burton’s. The opener stemmed from some skilful play by Marvin Sordell. His low cross was missed by Jack Baldwin, looking fallible for the first time, and was drilled into the net by Jamie Allan.

The second came from a well worked training ground routine. A foul by Sinclair was punished with a free kick. David Templeton stepped up and delivered the kind of ball that we rarely do and central defender Kyle McFadzean, unmarked at the far post, thundered a header past McLaughlin.

The boos at half time were a reflex action and they turned to cheers nine minutes into the second half when Maguire, collecting a pass from the returning Aiden McGeady, brought the ball forward and hit a 20 yarder into the roof of the net.

After that, we had most of the play and had a couple of half chances which we failed to take. By the 50th minute, we had reverted to one up front as Sinclair had been replaced by McGeady, leaving Maja there on his own. The youngster was tracked throughout by either Turner or McFadzean and was unable to create the space that he needed to maintain his excellent scoring record. He will need to think a bit more carefully when up against physical defenders of this ilk. I suspect Rochdale may have a couple next week.

Ross now faces the first mini-crisis of his time at Sunderland. He has to be careful that it doesn’t blow up into the kind of crises that have done for managers in the past and I don’t see him playing with three up front again. It was a creaky performance and one that left some of our less patient support kicking the wall at the back of the Russell Tiles stand in frustration.

It spoiled a good day out as well. Burton is a solid town, dominated by the Coors Brewery and huge warehouses now used as offices. I strolled into the town centre, ate a couple of delicious cakes at the MacMillan Cake Stall, followed by a nice chat with one of the workers and then made it to The Dog.

A splendid pint of Henrietta from Welbeck Abbey Brewery in Worksop slipped down a treat in good company. I then sneaked off and caught a bus to the ground, calling into The Great Northern for a pint of Burton Bridge Bitter, as fine an ale as you will find in this land. True bitters are dying out and are being replaced by Pale Ales that are frequently heavily hopped and have “stuff” added to them. Not this one. Described as a “bitter beer with a lingering aftertaste” it was English beer at its best. Quaffed in the company of three Burton supporters of my vintage, it made for an excellent start to what I hoped would be a season defining performance.

I hope it wasn’t…….

Sixer’s Stoke City Soapbox: Cats get the point of the penalty shoot out

Malcolm Dawson writes……at only three quid admission plus a loyalty point to count towards away tickets this was a must not miss game. Well it was for me anyway and the three members of the Heart of England branch that I bumped into, who had made the trip up from Coventry, for what many would class as a meaningless game.

Who was that man?

It wasn’t meaningless for the club either because whilst this may not be the number one priority it did give Jack Ross and his staff the opportunity to give Robbin Ruiter, Charlie Wyke, Jerome Sinclair, Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan, Reece James and Dylan McGeouch some much needed match time and to have a look at some of players who will hope to step up from the U23s in Ethan Robson, Luke Molyneux, Denver Hume and Mbunga Kimpioka. The fact the competition rules state that the team had to include four outfield players who had either started the last league game or who will start the following match (or meet some other criteria in terms of games played) would seem to indicate that Charlie Wyke is already pencilled in for the weekend.

It wasn’t a classic but beat staying in and watching Emmerdale though I probably would have gone to see Esh Winning beat Durham City in preference.

Pete Sixsmith was there of course and here’s what he made of the night’s proceedings.

STOKE CITY UNDER 21’S (HOME)

The EFL trophy has been around for many years in its various guises. We played in it once in 1988 when it was The Sherpa Van Trophy, beating Scarborough and Crewe Alexandra before losing to a Brian Honour goal when Hartlepool United visited a windswept Roker Park in February 1988. I missed that one as I was moving into Sixsmith Towers at the time and was sitting polishing my balls in the Billiard Room – well, you have to keep the shine on the ivory.

For the last two seasons, we have turned out in the Checkatrade Trophy (it’s latest guise after various van manufacturers, windscreen repairers and paint makers) with our Under 23’s. I went to Rochdale a couple of years ago, working on the basis that I may never have the chance to see a Sunderland side at Spotland – that one came back to bite me – and witnessed a Donald Love goal in a 1-1 draw, although the pleasures of that particular evening were tempered by a penalty shoot-out loss.

Our fall from grace (or in Rochdale’s case Gracie) led to our first team playing at home to Stoke City Under 21s. They were representing a club who could well be on a similar trajectory to us in that they have a new manager, one who is used to the Championship but who is having difficulties with what appears to be a grumpy squad and a fan base that can be as intolerant and fractious as ours was after relegation.

They had won at Hetton a couple of weeks ago and we knew that they had some decent players. Tyrese Campbell (Kevin’s little lad) was one of them and he kept Alim Ozturk and Tom Flanagan on their toes. Centre half Harry “Soapy” Souttar, a 6’6” specimen of finest Aberdeen granite had also played at Hetton where he looked good. In the more opulent surrounds of the Stadium of Light, he looked even better. At 19, he is a name to watch out for and could form a double act for Scotland with his older brother John, who plays for Hearts and who turned us down a couple of years ago.

Soapy Souter

Jack Ross may well have been aware of the Souttar siblings and regarded Souttar Minor as a good opponent for Charlie Wyke to cut his teeth on. If Souttar is reminiscent of Aberdeen granite, Wyke is a piece of Teesside steel in that he has strength and presence if not a great deal of pace and mobility. On this evening’s showing granite beat steel but only because the alloy is regaining its fitness levels after injury.

The game was played at a pleasing pace but was reminiscent of Under 23 matches in the past. Tackles were gentle and caused no harm. The ball was moved around so that everyone got a touch and for Wyke and Ethan Robson, both returning from injury, this was exactly what was needed.

Dylan McGeouch skippered the side and moved the ball around quickly although to less effect than we hoped for, Chris Maguire behaved himself after a spell on the naughty step after his near red card at the weekend and almost scored when a well taken free kick curled onto the angle of post and crossbar.

Josh Maja found Souttar and his Irish colleague Nathan Collins much more effective than some of the Third Division defenders he has come across. He did have the best attempt of the first half, forcing a fine save from Hungarian keeper Daniel Gyollai, a man who made Souttar look like Charlie Drake.

Tom Flanagan looks a useful acquisition while Ozturk had another sound game and did much to win the crowd over. He appears to be the one to target this season for those who cannot rest unless they have someone to pick on. Honeyman is next in the queue and others may follow. I remember that even in the halcyon days of 1963-64, Brian Usher was the fall guy, being awarded the nickname “Mary.”

The outstanding performance of the night came from Denver Hume. He has been around for a while now and at 22, needs to make the breakthrough either here or elsewhere. The previous managers have not been able to use young players due to the precarious situations we have found ourselves in and for whatever reasons Hume has not gone out on loan and has stagnated in the Under 23’s a la Rhys Greenwood.

He played on his wrong side in this game but showed excellent defensive qualities and he pushed forward very well. He forced a good save from Gyollai and looked as if he was ready for first team football. The unconvincing form shown by Donald Love may see him get that opportunity sooner rather than later.

Jerome Sinclair got 25 minutes under his belt and gave us a different option up front. Whereas Maja approaches the game as if he were dabbing paint on a canvas with a fine brush in the mould of Vermeer, Sinclair is more like a Jackson Pollock, slapping it about all over the place and rolling around in it. There’s a place for both and Sinclair seems an ideal candidate for the replacements bench at the moment. Good to see him back.

Ruitter – came to the fore in the shoot out
Source: Wikipedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robbin-ruiter-1341165014.jpg

Kimpioka missed a clear chance from almost point blank range, managing to sidefoot the ball over the bar when it looked harder to miss than score and the game meandered to a goalless draw. Some of the 7,644 crowd (which included 21 Stokies) went home not realising that if there is a “u” in the name of the day of the week, it goes to penalties whereas if there is a “w” in it, extra time is played. The EFL do make the rules simple for a reason and that is to encourage people to attend these games. I am sure that Max Power was sitting in the stand watching rather than playing and that pushed the attendance up by 1.

On a more serious note, why did we kick off at 7.45 when most of the games in this competition were 7.00 kick offs? Hopefully the Carlisle game next month will revert to the norm and I can be home by 9.30.

The penalties gave Robbin Ruiter a chance to earn some glory. He saved a penalty at Scunthorpe in pre-season last year which led to being signed and here, he saved two – ironically from Campbell and Souttar, Stoke’s two best players (I don’t include Charlie Adam in that category as he has past form with me i.e. some nasty tackles in the past). The Dutchman also impressed with a good save before half time and some excellent distribution with his feet. McLaughlin, who looked a bit shaky on Saturday, has genuine competition.

Sinclair, McGeouch, O’Nien (he had a tidy game) and Hume converted theirs and we gained the bonus point that sets us on the road to Wembley, although we are a point behind Carlisle who beat Morecambe 3-2 in their opening tie at Brunton Park in front of 1,213.

Not a great game but the company was good and it didn’t rain.

Sometimes we are thankful for small mercies

Sixer’s Soapbox: Oxford United gain a point against powerless Sunderland

Malcolm Dawson writes……..in his programme notes Charlie Methvin spoke of the mixed emotions he would be feeling as a lifelong Oxford United supporter, now involved in the ownership and organisation of Sunderland AFC. I have to wonder what sort of mixed emotions he went through as the game progressed.

With his red and white hat on, I should think maybe a mixture of frustration at a team who were knocked off their preferred playing style by physical opponents not averse to employing underhand methods, abetted by as incompetent a refereeing display as I have ever witnessed, tension as we played out most of the match with only ten men and having equalised having to hang on with tired legs and opponents pushing for an equaliser and ultimately pride in a battling performance which saw us gain a point in the most trying of circumstances.

From his yellow and blue perspective I should think he would be encouraged by Oxford’s footballing display but I would hope have been embarrassed by their spoiling tactics and employing what appeared to have been a deliberate policy to con the referee. Max Power only has himself to blame for the red card and though some officials may have deemed it a yellow card offence, it was a reckless challenge, unlikely to ever win the ball cleanly. But the benchmark had been set as early as the twelfth minute.

In the type of incident that those in the ground could see clearly but which may not have been picked up by the TV cameras, Chris Maguire was trying to find space on the halfway line to offer Jon Mclaughlin an outlet to set up a quick counterattack. He was being physically held and manhandled by an Oxford defender, obviously worried by his pace and ability and prevented from going anywhere. Did the linesman see what we saw? If he did then surely it would have been a free kick to us and a yellow card to the man in blue. Instead, as Maguire tried to extricate himself the United player fell over clutching his face. The resultant free kick and yellow card against Maguire, was only the first of a number of poor decisions and our players were getting increasingly frustrated. 

I may question the morality of the Oxford United tactics but there is no arguing against their effectiveness. But then you haven’t come here to read my whinging on about referees and dubious opponents. You’ve come to read what Pete Sixsmith thought of a game in a league which is proving to be anything but boring. Over to Pete.  

Read moreSixer’s Soapbox: Oxford United gain a point against powerless Sunderland

One out and one in as Charlie Wyke unveiled

Though the club hasn’t realised anywhere near the £14 million that Everton apparently offered a mere 24 months ago it looks as though Lamine Kone’s hefty wages are no longer something the club needs to worry about as his loan deal to RC Strasbourg seems to be going through. (Now officially announced.) On top of that it appears that the French club will be paying a loan fee with an option to sign in a year’s time.

I don’t know if securing this deal was necessary before the club could announce the signing of a much needed centre forward but finally they have confirmed something that websites everywhere announced well ahead of his official unveiling. But now they have may we at Salut! Sunderland roll out the welcome mat for the eleventh time this summer and join in with the salutations for a much needed addition to the forward line. Read what the club has to say here.

Charlie Wyke in his Carlisle days

Although an injury suffered in a preseason friendly means we won’t be seeing him lead the line for a few weeks, the squad is beginning to look somewhere like what the manager wants. In a reversal of what we are often told about players coming to live in the North East, it has been suggested that Teesider Wyke was keen to move back to the land of three rivers, though Bradford is hardly a million miles away.

Doubtless there are still efforts being made for further incomings and outgoings but when all our injured players regain fitness, including the unfortunate Duncan Watmore, the revamped squad is looking more than capable for the challenge of the upcoming campaign, though I’m pretty sure a winger and another proven striker would be on the manager’s wish list.

Cattermole may yet go. Oviedo may yet go too and whilst O’Nien looks like a player who can step into the Cattermole role, it may be necessary to bring in another full back but with Love, Matthews and James and Flanagan all able to play there it may not be vital. The noises coming from the Academy of Light via the owner and manager are suggesting that both Cattermole and Oviedo are showing a good attitude and will feature as long as SAFC retains their registration.

The speculation regarding George Honeyman’s future seems to have ended with his appointment as captain. He is one of the few regulars who have featured over the past two seasons in Jack Ross’s plans and as someone who has been with the club since the age of ten he is doubtless keen to help drive the side onwards and upwards.

It’s all looking pretty positive. Win on Saturday and we go top of the division – for at least a couple of hours. Let’s hope it happens and that we can stay there for the whole season. This is the start of a new chapter and with Wyke’s signature meaning we have signed a whole new team, things may not happen at breakneck speed.

However after several years of underachievement things are looking brighter – but how many times have we said that!