View from the West Stand: Willis and Maguire leave Portsmouth pointless

Malcolm Dawson writes……..In a week in which a young bride excitedly looking forward to her honeymoon, wakes to find she is a widow and a family man is stabbed to death with a screwdriver in a busy shopping centre, apparently trying to stop an altercation, I find it difficult to put any real significance on the result of a football match.

But I was there yesterday in my usual seat and found the experience somewhat more satisfying than that of a fortnight ago. It was no surprise to find us one nil down in the first half – when are we not? But up until that point we had looked more lively than we had in the opening minutes of either of the two previous league outings.

I won’t harp on about lax refereeing as the defence really should have dealt with the move that resulted in the Portsmouth opener, and which came from an error in midfield, but Maguire and McNulty were constantly being manhandled by the Pompey defence and a free kick should have been awarded to us, immediately prior to their goal. I’d like to see where in the Laws of the Game it says it is permissible to grab a player around the neck with one arm, whilst simultaneously pushing him over with the other but referee Michael Salisbury seemed to find that sort of thing allowable. That said Alim Ozturk quickly realised this and used a similar tactic when he could. Doesn’t make it right though.

But it didn’t take long for us to get back on terms, Leadbitter showing why he is such a threat in dead ball situations, then McGeady and Maguire combining nicely for the winner and I went home reasonably satisfied.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

I’m no fan of these early kick off times, even though now it is a lot easier for me to get to a 12.30 home game since moving back to the North East than it was when a trip to the Stadium of Light was a three hour journey on a good day. So it was at a relatively civilised time I left home with time for a latte and a bacon sarnie in the Roker End cafe. Pity the 800 or so Portsmouth fans who had travelled up for this one, though the two I spoke to were students at the Uni and had an even shorter trip to the game than I had.

As Mickey Gray and his co-commentator faffed about on the touchline there was relative satisfaction around and about at the team that was announced, with only a couple of changes from the side that started at Accrington in midweek. McLaughlin J back between the sticks was no surprise and with McGeady replacing Grigg it looked as if Ross had decided to stick with a back four, two holding midfielders, two wide men in Gooch and Geads with Maguire just behind McNulty to form a two man mobile strike force.

We set down a marker straight from the kick off as a long ball, directly into the path of McNulty looked momentarily threatening, but it was too strong and was easily collected by MaGillvary, whose bright green kit contrasted sharply with the insipid grey effort that the outfield ten were wearing. We were quick out of the traps and the M people up front were lively, in sharp contrast to the slow start we made against Oxford. For Portsmouth Curtis found some space in the box and outjumped O’Nien, back in at right back, but his header sailed high over the bar without threatening McLaughlin’s goal.

Marc McNulty thanks to bbc.co.uk

With 24 minutes on the clock, McLaughlin sent a high ball up towards McNulty who was on the end of a two handed push from Burgess, the Pompey number 6 but with those of us who had a clear view of the foul screaming for a free kick, the ref waved play on. Not a lot of danger in midfield apparently, but when Power tried to get a foot in, he just succeeded in playing in Marcus Harness who burst forward into the box. We had chances to clear it but a couple of unintended deflections later it broke back to Harness who drove the ball, through Power’s outstretched legs, across goal and into the bottom corner.

We are so used to going a goal behind at home now, that it is no longer a cause for concern, at least where I sit, when it happens early in the game. Frustration only kicks in later if it doesn’t look like we are going to get back on terms or push on for the three points. And it didn’t take us long. Immediately following the goal, McGeady and McLaughlin C linked up when the latter’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Then two minutes later after a bit of pressure from McGeady who had popped up on the right wing, Burgess ran the ball out for another corner, taken by Leadbitter. The new skipper brings us a quality set piece delivery and his pinpoint kick was well met by the run of

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

Jordan Willis who got there ahead of the surrounding defenders and powered home his header.

Game on. Ten minutes later a hopeful high punt forward from Alim Asturk was controlled by McNulty, who somehow found McGeady. An attempted clearance ricocheted off Geads’  shin and he was away. A delightful pull back across the face of goal found Maguire who slid the ball into the empty net and we were in front. Now the big question was would we hold onto that lead.

Half time came and went and not long into the second period, the ever lively McNulty chased after a long ball and pulled up holding his hamstring. He went off to be replaced by Charlie Wyke, whose greater physical presence brings a different dimension to our attacking play and after he came on we won more clearances and his hold up play was good. Let’s hope McNulty’s injury is not too severe though.

Apparently we tried to sign John Marquis in January, and he had a great opportunity to put McLaughlin under pressure when he latched onto a ball on the right of the penalty area but his shot was way off target. The next best chance that Pompey had came from a powerful diving header, from Grant Leadbitter of all people. Fortunately the diving orange flash that was Jon McLaughlin pulled off a fantastic save.

Chris Maguire

We had other chances. Wyke just failed to get his outstretched toe on the ball to flick it home. O’Nien and Maguire had penalty shouts waved away, whilst at the other end Ozturk got a foot on a decent effort from Harness after a piece of free flowing build up play but this was a good three points.

I can’t say we dominated the game but we certainly showed more positivity than we had against Oxford and in that first half at Ipswich. We still look vulnerable at times but this is League 1. The pairing of Willis and Ozturk looked solid enough for this level, though by no means error free. Leadbitter and Power in front gives us strength through the middle and Maguire and McNulty showed good movement and moved the opposition about. Gooch had a decent game and O’Nien does a decent enough job at full back.

We are still a work in progress but we have a squad with enough players who are good enough to get us out of this division. The effort is there, the commitment is there. Now it is a question of finding the right combinations of players, implementing the right strategies and finding ways to change things around when they are not going to plan.

This was no classic but in case you have forgotten, we are unbeaten this season. My worry now is that with Rochdale on Tuesday and Wimbledon next Saturday, we will be expecting to be on 11 points by this time next week and if past experience is anything to go by this is a sure fire recipe for disappointment.

Prove me wrong boys.

Ha’way the Lads.

match highlights via safc.com

 

 

The Chapman Report from Ipswich: Maguire makes a difference

Malcolm Dawson writes………..Pete Sixsmith is cutting down on his travelling to away games this season and e-mailed this afternoon to say that he is becoming increasingly disillusioned with SAFC and the game in general.

He’ll still be back on his soapbox after our Carabao Cup tie at Accrington on Tuesday, but gave yesterday’s long trip to the Suffolk wilds a miss, so Bob Chapman was our man at Portman Road. Bob doesn’t have many good memories of that particular ground (he must have missed the game in 1998 when John Mullin scored one of the best team goals I have ever seen MD) and yesterday was no different. His succinct summation was “absolute garbage again.” His more detailed report follows …



Bob Chapman: less than impressed

The last time I visited Ipswich was for a 3-1 defeat in 2006. I missed out on our last visit two seasons ago in the Championship as I was on holiday in Kerala, South India. I have followed Sunderland from this part of the world on a number of occasions. The most memorable being the win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in one of the great escape seasons of 2013/4. It was certainly a weird experience having to watch it in total silence to avoid waking my wife at the same time. There was no repeat for the Ipswich match. I had to follow it on the internet and gave up and went to bed when we went 3-1 down. I didn’t even check the final 5-2 score until much later the following morning. Already the rot had set in, I thought, and we hadn’t even got to October.

I have been to Portman Road numerous times over the years and to be honest I don’t have many good memories. I was there 15 years ago for a third round Cup win, but apart from that, defeats have been the usual fare. I well remember a marauding Titus Bramble in 2000 inflicting a 1-0 defeat on us. He was only a young lad at the time and I thought he would go on to be a top class act. Unfortunately he didn’t and ended up playing for us instead! By the way he was decent enough and I always quite liked him.

So, after last week I was pretty much expecting a similar result. I had so little confidence that I had compiled a Seven for Pete in advance on the journey there. I was going to go with “Tractor Boys plough Sunderland to another defeat”.

Arriving in town for 11.30 we headed to the Station Hotel. With parking nearby and only a five-minute walk to the ground it was an obvious choice. Decent beer and good company was spoilt by a lack of facilities. However that is no excuse for some men to think it is OK to use the ladies toilets and sinks as an alternative.

Off to the ground to find just two changes from last week.

Within minutes we were on the back foot. If you are going to score goals you need to get players into the box. We just don’t do that well enough. In fact the first half was so inept that the only point worth noting is their goal. Garbutt picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and ran with it before shooting between McLaughlin’s legs at his near post. The keeper will be disappointed no doubt, but we didn’t deserve any better to be honest. It really was dreadful stuff being served up for the travelling support.

As I made my way down to the concourse at half time I passed Gerard Woods. We greeted each other with the word shocking at exactly the same moment! Nothing else needed to be said, it really couldn’t get any worse. Having watched 135 minutes so far of a new season I had seen two shots on target of which one had been a penalty!

Made a difference second half

The second half couldn’t be this bad I thought and to be fair it wasn’t. Maguire was brought on and we had reverted to a more conventional back four. Like so many times last season we managed to get ourselves back in the game. A long clearance by the keeper was being shepherded out by Chambers for a goal kick. Perseverance by McNulty allowed him to get possession and then pick out Gooch who side footed the ball into the net.

Once we had equalised we picked up a little. The introduction of Maguire a half time had certainly made a huge difference. For the remainder of the half neither side’s defence was put under much pressure and the inevitable and all too common 1-1 resulted.

I am unable to get to the Accrington match on Tuesday, but I am sure I will see a number of changes made. Hopefully these changes pay off and the manager will have a side confident enough to tackle Portsmouth next Saturday. If there is no improvement then I can see there being problems and the change the manager bandwagon will understandably continue to roll on.

For myself, I hope he gets it right as this club needs stability and he needs time to build a side. However I am sure many will disagree and that we need to do the change now before it gets too late. If all we can hope for is a possible Wembley visit next May, I would be pretty confident of predicting the outcome of that!

Match highlights are available 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 Soapbox: Sunderland return to winning ways against Gillingham

There are a lot more games in the lower divisions than in the Premier League, and even more with our success so far in the Checkatrade Trophy, keeping Pete Sixsmith busy not only with his unique match reports, but also his reminiscences relating to previous encounters with our forthcoming opponents, so once again Malcolm Dawson has called round to Sixsmith Towers to borrow the soapbox with his view of events from his seat in the West Stand at the Stadium of Light.

When he arrived we were told that Jack Ross favoured an attacking style of football that would bring us plenty of excitement, a shed load of goals but might mean that at times we could look a bit shaky at the back. That’s certainly what we got in the early days. Good wing play, high pressing of the opposition when not in possession, attacking full backs and plenty of players getting forward and threatening the opponent’s goal.

That’s what we got in the first part of the season. But then for whatever reason, perhaps because of the frustration of our difficulties keeping clean sheets, perhaps because of the personnel that was fit and available, sometime after the defeat at Burton the set up changed, we looked to play a lower risk game, keeping possession whilst defending deeper and waiting for an opportunity to find the net. I’ve been trying to work out which game marked that sea change but it’s not jumping out at me – sometime around the FA Cup loss against Walsall perhaps – but I do recall mentioning a few weeks ago to anyone who’d listen that we seemed to be playing narrower and not getting behind the defence as much. Well that worked to an extent, because we still scored in every game, didn’t concede on several occasions and only lost once – away to (at the time) high flying Portsmouth.

However, in a way three successive home games against sides who we were expecting to beat has proved to be a two edged sword. Had we picked up maximum points all would be hunky dory but we have become the banker team for anyone who still does the pools and two points out of six against Blackpool and Accrington Stanley was frustrating.

The King was back!

But my feelings in those games (unlike some others) were echoed to an extent by Jack Ross in that I felt we looked more like the early season Sunderland, had got to the by line more, played good balls into the danger areas more frequently and created more opportunities to score than in the past couple of months. I also thought the team were still showing tenacity and fight in being able to come from behind in both games to avoid defeat. Yes it was frustrating and yes there are those supporters who feel we should be walking away with this league and for whom those results were unacceptable, but over the past few seasons I have got used to watching Sunderland sides who, on going a goal behind, capitulated far too easily. At least with this group of players I never see heads drop, nor ever feel we are completely out of the game.

That said, with this group of players I am never comfortable either until we are three or four goals ahead as we are always likely to concede possession and gift the opposition a goal or two. This is what we got last night.

Before kick off, chatting to those around me, I said I fancied us to get three or four and was hopeful that with Chris Maguire back in the starting XI we would make an early breakthrough and things started well. We were on the front foot and O’Nien threatened to make an early breakthrough in the first couple of minutes and it didn’t take long for the goal to come.

Our corner kicks have improved with Leadbitter’s return and we actually score from them on occasions now. It’s a few years since I remember feeling that a corner gives us a chance to score and after only 4 minutes, with the big men up from the back I was hopeful we’d get the early goal to settle the nerves. Leadbitter swung the corner in, Dunne and Flanagan were both manhandled to the ground and while we all screamed for a penalty, the returning Lee Cattermole came in from the back to stick the ball away. Who needs a penalty eh? (Watch this space).

Grant Leadbitter back in the day. His return has improved deliveries from the corner flag.

Yesterday morning I got a text from the GP’s surgery saying my blood pressure checks were overdue. They must have realised that it was match day and if it’s ever going to be too high that would be a good time to check as only a minute after taking the lead the game was back level. The Gills attacked down the right before trying to a play a low ball into the box. Flanagan didn’t deal with it too well, it broke for the pony-tailed man mountain who is Tom Eaves as Luke O’Nien was static and calling for offside. Eaves managed to nudge it away from the diving McLaughlin and stick it away before the despairing Tom Flanagan could do anything about it.

After a couple of poor performances, Jack Baldwin wasn’t even on the bench with Alim Ozturk named as defensive cover. Perhaps Baldwin needs a rest, physically and mentally, perhaps Ross decided that with such a big centre forward as Eaves up against us we needed more height at the back, but big centre halves can also be useful up the other end and it was Tom Flanagan who got the second, again from a Leadbitter corner, this time from the opposite side, and restored the lead with a powerful header into the roof of the net. Only ten minutes gone and three goals, two to players who had been brought back into the starting line up.

The third was Chris Maguire and he had come close to scoring just before Flanagan did so I was hoping he would complete the sequence, but unfortunately he got injured when attempting to win the ball back and was obviously hurt. He received treatment, tried to return but within seconds was back on the ground beating the turf in frustration, knowing he couldn’t run it off. Gooch was his replacement.

Though we were the better side, one goal is never enough and we all know there will be periods when we give the ball away too easily and that there will be opportunities for our opponents to find the net. On 40 minutes, a corner from the Gill’s left wasn’t dealt with. It wasn’t easy to follow the play from the opposite end of the ground but the ball bobbled around the box and eventually fell to the feet of Brandon Hanlon who equalised again in front of the 350 or so visiting supporters who looked lost and alone in the top corner of the North Stand Upper.

It’s a long way from Kent to Sunderland for a Tuesday night game but I suppose the fact that we couldn’t get enough tickets for the reverse fixture and packed out the away end is one of the reasons some fans feel we are too big for this division. But the reality is we are here because of past results and we all knew a third successive home draw would not be good enough to get us back challenging for an automatic promotion spot.

But the crowd and the Roker End in particular didn’t communicate this frustration last night and stayed behind the team. McGeady and Gooch both nearly put us in front again before the half time whistle but two all it was at the interval.

Plenty of this from the Roker End last night.

The half time entertainment now seems to consist of two ill matched people of various ages, running round the pitch before trying to score into an empty net at the north end of the ground. Last night pitched a Gills’ fan who was given a head start against a fund raising Mackem who had run a series of long distances in successive days. It’s not the most exciting of half time occasions but was of enough interest to stop the Gills’ sub keeper from doing his warm up. It would be the only other goal that someone in a Gillingham shirt would score.

We however, would get two more. Both from penalties and both the result of fouls on Luke O’Nien. The first was a push from the magnificently named Leonardo Da Silva Lopes after a Reece James’s cross evaded all the bodies in the box. O’Nien was charging in at the back post but for once the ref spotted the foul and awarded the spot kick. Immediately Will Grigg ran over and picked up the ball. Aiden McGeady is the appointed penalty taker but apparently was confident enough to allow Grigg to stick it away and hopefully ignite his Sunderland goal scoring career. I’ve seen penalties that are more difficult for keepers to save than this one, but the giant of a man who is Tomás Hóly went the wrong way and we were back in front.

I’ve said before that one goal is never enough for me to feel comfortable but I only had to wait ten minutes or so for the margin to be doubled. Lopes, who looks a bit like Miles Davis in his jazz funk period was substituted by Regan Charles-Cook who looks a bit like Miles Davis in his jazz funk period.

Miles Davis

So What? you may ask, but it was Charles-Cook who grabbed O’Nien’s ankle as he dribbled into the box to leave the visitors feeling A Kind of Blue when Aiden McGeady tucked away the second penalty in a similar fashion to Grigg’s. Mind you a finicky ref would have ordered it to be retaken as Cattermole was at least six yards inside the box when McGeady struck the ball. But he didn’t.

Honeyman could have made it five after good work from Aiden McGeady but sent it over the bar, rather than into the net. This was a more encouraging display and more like the early season Sunderland, although by no means perfect. We still have the propensity to give the ball away needlessly, the defence still looks shaky at times but that is the result of a more attacking mindset and personally I’ll be happy if we concede two every game as long as we score more than two.

Portsmouth and Barnsley both dropped points yesterday. Bristol Rovers on Saturday won’t be a push over – no games in this league are – and with us now in third place, four points behind Barnsley with a game in hand and the Tykes playing Portsmouth at the weekend the game at Oakwell in a few weeks could take on increasing importance.

Ha’way the Lads.

Highlights of the game via safc.com

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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

Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: a wet weekend in Accrington

Jake: ‘that wasn’t in the script’

Play this and read on!
LA = Lancashire – Accrington

Malcolm Dawson writes…….there was a gathering of the clans in Accrington on Saturday. A veritable Salut! Sunderland fest before kick off.

Fawlty Towers anyone?

At this time of year Pete Sixsmith is otherwise engaged bringing joy to the young of the North East so I arranged to meet up with associate editor John McCormick (who was making use of Sixer’s ticket) in the Peel Park Hotel, adjacent to where Stanley used to play many years ago. It’s a very cosy boozer with a good selection of real ales and it worked out that John and I found ourselves sitting next to Rob Hutchison and his daughter Olivia, both of whom contribute to the pages of our humble website from time to time.

At the same time as the Accrington branches of Wickes and B&Q were rapidly running out of stocks of gopher wood, Rob was nervously checking his phone to see if the game was still on.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Copper-Dragon-Handpump-e1544317953958.jpg

We decided that if it should be called off before 2.00 p.m. Rob would have a few more pints before making his way back down south and as I had driven there, I would see if the Peel Park Hotel was an actual hotel that did bed and breakfast, so at home did we feel and so quaffable was the Copper Dragon Best Bitter – brewed to suit that special Northern palate according to the tasting notes I read.

But the news came through as the downpour subsided to a drizzle that the game would go ahead so John and I took the car nearer to the Crown Ground (WHAM Stadium) and making the last part of our way there on foot, bumped into one Paul (Sobs) Dobson. Sobsy is better known for his contributions to ALS and seems to be the BBC Look North’s go to guy when they need a vox pop of a Sunderland fan. Sobsy will be contributing something to our advent calendar on Christmas Day, so don’t miss that when it will be a bumper edition. Take a look while the kids are tearing the Christmas wrapping off their prezzies, while the sprouts still need another hour of boiling or when Her Majesty is rabbiting on about Brexit or whatever else is on the agenda this year. Oh and be warned “The Great Escape” is a film with Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasence and not a biopic about Paulo de Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat or Sam Allardyce. 

Inside the away section

The rain had subsided briefly but it started again as John and I entered the ground, and got heavier as we passed the double decker bus selling beer and the row of portaloos supplementing the normal facilities. Taking my seat who should I find next door but one? None other than Peter Lynn, “Wrinkly Pete” of this parish. It got even more torrential as the players were trying to warm up and just before kick off Heart of England branch stalwart Terry took his seat next to me, looking like the proverbial drowned rat, took one look at the state of the pitch and predicted there would be some shenanigans in front of goal later. He was remarkably accurate.

I’m finding it difficult to recall a lot of detail about what there was of the game yesterday, partly because of where I was and partly because of the weather. As usual at away games the whole of the away crowd was standing, and despite being in a section of the ground with seating I had to put my arthritic knees to the test, but being almost at the end of the stand, the far nearside corner was completely out of my line of vision and a lot of the play seemed to take place there. 

The conditions were making play difficult. On a couple of occasions a high ball played towards McLaughlin just didn’t bounce. The ball was sticking in the clarts so some short passes were not reaching their intended target, some balls which initially looked to be over hit stopped dead allowing the player to recover and sometimes if McGeady, Gooch or Oviedo went off on a run they would leave the ball behind. 

It looked to me that Stanley had adapted to the conditions better though I don’t remember McLaughlin having to make a save in the first half, whilst Power sent a rasping shot wide and McGeady saw a powerful effort fly over the crossbar after some good work from Maja down the right wing and Oviedo hit a free kick through the legs of the Stanley wall, after Maja had been brought down on the edge of the penalty area, forcing Accy keeper Ripley into low save, which I think was the only shot on target all half. Nil – nil at the break.

The rain really came down second half and at times it was like watching through one of those metal beaded curtains that you see in butchers’ doorways, designed to keep the flies from the dead meat. John’s mobile footage shows just how bad conditions were, but please note, the slope is just from the angle of the camera – the pitch itself does not resemble Lords or the home grounds of Yeovil Town or Tow Law.

We took the lead when Maguire showed his energy and sprinted yards to close down their keeper, who had started off in acres of space controlling a long back pass. As the Scotsman quickly closed him down he went to hoof the ball upfield but Maguire jumped, turned and the ball hit the back of his shoulder. We watched as bounced into the net much to the chagrin of Ripley who tried to convince the ref it had struck Maguire’s arm and to the delight of the Sunderland support. The Accy fans behind the goal, who had been noisy all game with their two drummers leading the way, went silent for a time as Maguire celebrated in front of them before running across and doing the same in front of us. 

We just about deserved the lead I thought, though we by no means were dominating in the Lancashire mud bath. Not so long after Stanley equalised and it could all be put down to the conditions. McLaughlin failed to hold on to a low shot from close range, Flanagan slipped trying to get to the rebound, a third effort was scrambled off the line before the ball was finally bundled into the net with James (or it might have been Gooch) just failing to do enough to prevent the equaliser.

Not long after referee Oliver Langford had a word with both managers and the fourth official before taking the players off. Mixed comments from the Sunderland contingent leaving the ground, most seeing it as a sensible move but some complaining that the ref should have ended the game when we were ahead in the misguided belief that the result would have stood. 

So another rearranged game to fit into a busy programme and a Checkatrade draw that pits us at home to the Mag’s U21s. I bet after what went on at Port Vale in the week, the club and the local police can’t wait for that.

Sixer’s Substitute’s Peterborough Soapbox: entertaining night at the Stadium of Light

Malcolm Dawson writes…..I am not renowned for showing extremes of emotion and tend to just go with the flow for the most part, but last night I went through a whole gamut of emotions.

Firstly, as Pete Sixsmith and I travelled into town from the County Durham hinterland a listener called in to Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport programme to give Marco Gabbiadini a whole list of Adam Matthews’s inadequacies and why he should never be in the side. Easy to criticise but when Marco asked what the solution was his answer “well ahh din’t knaa but I just divven want him in the team” or words to that effect was anything but constructive. I get so annoyed by these types who only seek to criticise and fail to see a player’s strengths, to fail to grasp the point that at this level all players will have weaknesses but they are our players and the manager has to work with who is on the roster. As it happens I thought Adam Matthews had a decent game last night and combined well with Maguire who had been shifted over to the right to take up Lynden Gooch’s role.

A few weeks ago these same types were lambasting Lee Cattermole saying he was too slow, can’t pass the ball, is a waste of space and we need to get him out of the club. I hope those idiots (I’m too polite to use the term morons) are choking on their words as they eat their salt and vinegar deep crust pizzas and down their fizzy tasteless lager. Mmmmm that was a bit of a middle class rant for the son of a miner methinks. Never mind it’s staying in.

Decent performance.

The next thing that got me thinking was the announcement of the team. We knew that four players were missing from the side that started at the Ricoh and with Wyke, Love and Watmore already absent through injury, the news that George Honeyman wasn’t included was concerning to me, despite those who respect the opinions of social media more than the evidence of their own eyes, clamouring for him to be dropped too. Honeyman brings qualities to the side, that many of those who look for the flash footwork they see when playing FIFA 19 on the X Box don’t appreciate. Concussion in a training session must be frustrating for Jack Ross and his backroom staff but as someone who met Jeff Astle a few times and lost a mate aged 17 after he slipped and got a bang on the head in a pub toilet, I completely respect the safety first approach being adopted in cases of concussion.

I was also perturbed by the absence of Luke O’Nien who wasn’t even on the bench. Was this the result of some falling out with the manager, a touch of homesickness or a Didier Ndong type reaction because he hasn’t been starting. I hoped not but we were given no reason for his non-involvement though it later transpired that the simple explanation was that he was ill.

Then throughout the game some woman sitting in front of me (not the usual occupant of that seat I’m pleased to say) spent the entire game on her phone doing her best to distract me from what was happening on the pitch. She had obviously been gifted her friend’s ST as her first text read “Haven’t got a clue whos (sic) in the Makems (also sic) side.” She then went on to check the times of flights from Gatwick to Schipol airport and landing times at Charles de Gaulle and watched some game involving Southampton when the proper stuff was taking place a few yards away.

Anyway, I suppose I better tell you something about the game which again brought extremes of emotion. Anger at the ref. Anger at the Peterborough bench. Frustration with Josh Maja, ecstasy via Josh Maja, gasps of astonishment at Chris Maguire, frustration with Bryan Oviedo, hope via Jerome Sinclair, disappointment through a second equaliser mixed with relief when they couldn’t get a winner, pride with the team at the way they battled after being reduced to 10 men at home (again) and a sense of wish fulfilment not quite achieved when Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka was just inches away from scoring on his very brief League 1 debut.

On our walk to the ground Pete and I discussed how the team might set up and I felt that we might be 4-4-2 with Maguire in front of Matthews and McGeady on the left with Sinclair playing up front with Maja and so it proved, though I did think that it may have been better had Sinclair taken the more central position with Maja playing wider. But I wasn’t far off in my thinking.

Max Power courtesy of www.saf.com

Power took the captain’s armband in Honeyman’s absence and the holding midfield role in Cattermole’s. McGeouch was the other man sat in front of the defence and was busy all night, getting in the right place more often than not and putting in the sort of performance that teams need, but because it appears low key, doesn’t excite some of those watching who seem to think that all players should be like Pele in his prime or Messi at his majestic best.

We started off well and McGeady put in a couple of decent early balls which came to nothing, but hints at what could be once he gets totally match fit. Those who think that Sunderland should always have it their own way might have been surprised that Peterborough actually had the gall to come at us but they did and while our defence was looking more solid in the early stages than it has sometimes done, they still managed to create a chance which was just off target. Our players will rightly claim it was a mile offside and the flag did indeed go up.

Throughout that first period, we had the bulk of the play and the better play at that.

The young lad next to me was getting frustrated with Maja, imploring him to keep it simple and it was a fact that too often in those early stages he was trying the fancy Dan flick, shimmy or dummy when a bit of control and an easy lay off would have been a better option. But Maja’s in the team to score goals and score he did. I was just thinking (again) that we would be better off employing Sinclair more centrally when lo and behold, Maja drifted out wider right, took the ball into the penalty area and drilled a left foot drive into the bottom corner. Typical Maja and even the woman in front of me took her eyes off the phone for a few seconds.

They seem to have stopped showing replays on the big screen at the match, so you may have to wait for the highlights to see if my recall is as good as it was 40 years ago after only one look!

Max Power was like for like Lee Cattermole, both in his defensive play, his forward runs and support for those up front and for a needless challenge which saw him go into Mr Coote’s notebook. Mr Coote, who has a full head of hair incidentally, did not have the best of nights and I would expect him to get a mediocre mark at best when assessed, but there wasn’t much wrong with the yellow card to a man who has just returned from a four match, three match ban.

There is a lot to like in this Sunderland side. I like the way they play short intricate passes, even though sometimes they gift the opposition possession. I like the way they frequently look to change the direction of the attack with long cross field balls, though sometimes they give the ball away doing so and I like the way they work hard and press the opposition and it was because of this we nearly got a second before the break.

Sinclair pressed, Maja pressed and got the ball to Aiden McGeady who shimmied his way into the box and fired a left foot shot on the angle, just over the bar. It was looking good but as I said to the bloke who sits beside me – three more goals before I can relax. Of course I meant for us – not for them to be shared out. Maguire and Maja set up Sinclair, who went close and McGeady had another long range effort just off target before the players went in for the half time oranges and hairdryers – not that I envisage Jack Ross throwing any of them about. This had been a good 45 minutes against a good side well in the hunt for automatic promotion.

It seemed as if the Peterborough management team had instructed their boys to get in the referee’s face more after the break, perhaps sensing that they could influence his decision making. Also credit them for making two half time substitutions and changing their shape, just as JR had done v Charlton in that first game of the season. With such a youthful, inexperienced set of subs, our own manager was restricted in how he might respond.

Maja – goal machine

Much as I like the intricacy of some of our passing, sometimes it appears shooting opportunities disappear and after one such move, where Maguire and McGeady might have had a go, the ball broke for The Posh, Baldwin fouled his man and though the subsequent free kick was partially cleared McLaughlin had to be alert to make a diving stop from a long range shot from Joe Ward.

Flanagan disappeared briefly for some treatment after an incident which I missed left him with a head or facial injury, but he soon came back and we were still holding firm.

Oviedo had been posing an attacking threat down the left hand side and saw a decent shot blocked. He might have been a bit frustrated by that. The referee and the linesman on our side at least, had given some strange decisions all evening. That might have frustrated him too, but after some good work in the centre of the park the ball was fed out to him in space on the left wing and as he tried to take it past the onrushing Marcus Maddison, he appeared from my vantage point, to be obstructed and as he knocked the ball past, stretched (lashed maybe a better word) out a foot in the general direction of the ball and toe-ended the defender in the chest area. Oviedo must get his boot tips specially fitted with miniature Tasers by the Costa Rican Secret Service judging by the way the man in blue was rolling around in agony after minimal contact, but it was a red card – and even more stupid than Power’s had been.

And so on came Reece James to take up the position so recently vacated by Denver Hume and Bryan Oviedo, whilst the goalscorer Josh Maja was the sacrificial lamb made to pay the penalty for a crime he did not commit. Now apprehension took centre stage in my nerve cells as I wondered aloud if we could once again hang on a man short. We were soon to get the answer.

This is a chance for the Englishman with the Welsh name to cement himself in the side but he’d hardly had time to get his boots damp before the visitors equalised. The ball came very close to going out for a throw but was just kept in. The Posh moved forward, Baldwin mis-kicked his clearance and there was substitute Joe Ward to rifle home.

There was still quarter of an hour to go and now the apprehension was racked up a notch or two. Time to step up Chris Maguire and Jerome Sinclair. The former received the ball in the tightest of positions on the right wing. How he wriggled free and found space I’ll never know, but he did. What’s more he played a lovely ball into the box to the feet of latter who in turn swivelled on the proverbial sixpence and slotted the ball into the goal. Two – one and ecstasy again. The on loan Watford man celebrated with the fans and with ten minutes left, that brief moment of relief was again replaced with the anxiety of knowing we only had ten players on the pitch and Peterborough would come at us.

The nerves were there as McLaughlin tipped a header over but despite his heroics the win was not to be. The invigorated Maddison, revitalised by his electric shock therapy played a lovely through ball over Baldwin’s head, to find Toney, who might have been offside but probably wasn’t and the ex Mag needed no second chance to earn the visitors a share of the spoils.

McLaughlin still had one more decent save to make and Kimpioka on for Sinclair almost got a toe end on a McGeady cross to become an instant hero. Then after winning the ball in midfield, went on a mazy run with no support before being blocked off and that was that.

Flanagan got booked as he walked off for remonstrating with Mr Coote, who it is fair to say didn’t have the best of games, to join a few other names already in there, including members of the coaching staff from each side in the wake of Oviedo’s dismissal and I walked back to the car, relieved with a point, happy that we hadn’t lost, disappointed that we hadn’t won a game we might have done and reminding myself that if, before the Charlton game had kicked off, I knew we would be fourth at this stage of the season, undefeated at home and having only lost once in the first ten games I would have been more than happy.

I suppose I am really, but even so I can’t help thinking how close we have been to being up there with Portsmouth.

Roll on Saturday.

If there is any copyright claim, not answered by ‘fair use’ exemptions on the images used to illustrate this report, please make us aware and we will add credits or remove as requested.

 

Sixer’s Rochdale Soapbox: Oh oh oh it’s Maja…….and a dozen or so others!

Malcolm Dawson writes……..on the walk back to the car yesterday, I saw a yellow legged gull scrapping for a discarded chip near the sheepfolds. Yellow legged gulls look just like herring gulls, but are the Mediterranean species identified by ……you’ve guessed ……yellow legs rather than salmon pink ones. So it was miles away from its normal place of residence and this after a Sunderland performance that was miles away from the routine fare we have been used to seeing at the Stadium of Light for the past few years.

Before going too overboard and comparing us to Brazil in a somewhat cliched way, as one listener to Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport did, there are still areas that could be improved which both the manager and the players acknowledged in their post match interviews, but coming away from the Stadium of Light in an upbeat mood is something we rarely experienced since the day of Big Sam’s departure. It’s such a positive place at the moment that even Didier Ndong allegedly wants to be part of it! 

But someone who was of course there was Pete Sixsmith and he brings us his version of yesterday’s comprehensive victory.

Pete Sixsmith

ROCHDALE (HOME)

I would imagine that Jack Ross slept well last night. He’s had a tricky week. After having the temerity to actually lose a game to Burton Albion, the doom mongers and naysayers have been emerging blinking into the light, making it clear that managing Alloa Athletic and St Mirren is not the kind of pedigree required to succeed in England.

His team selections have been scrutinised by fans who may not go to games but who still have firmly held opinions on the players he has chosen – “Loovens is too slow, Maja’s not strong enough, Honeyman doesn’t contribute anything” – and the airwaves have been occupied by those who know better than a man who has played football for a living, got his UEFA coaching badges and a M.A. From Herriott Watt University and who now has jumped feet first into the snake pit of football management.

To all his critics, I think the words of the French guard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail are appropriate; “Go boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

Pete has a message for the grumblers and moaners

This comprehensive destruction of Rochdale is no large wooden rabbit intended to fool the world. It was a marker that has been put down, clearly and comprehensively, that Sunderland mean business in this league and that, with the right balance they are heading for the promised land of Sheffield Wednesday (away) next season.

The team selection was interesting. Both full backs from the disgraceful performance we apparently turned in at Burton were on the bench and in came Flanagan and Hume. Maguire was restored for the unfortunate Wyke (“a sick note” according to one correspondent, who clearly thinks that crashing into goalkeepers is something that is avoidable) and McGeouch was back in central midfield alongside Cattermole.

For thirty seven minutes, the game ambled along with little to excite the support. Then “biff, bang, bosh” and we went into the break three goals to the good and the visitors were wandering around as dazed as Tom the Cat when the anvil hits him.

The first goal was a superb cross from Chris Maguire which found Josh Maja unmarked with the ball almost begging to be headed in. It was. Were I a Rochdale fan sat high up in the South Stand, I would wonder about the marking. As a Sunderland supporter, I would place more emphasis on the fact that Maja had slipped his markers and that the excellent Maguire had delivered a cross that even Jozy Altidore could have converted.

Two minutes later, Maja turned provider, feeding Gooch in the box and Rathbone’s challenge was as clear a penalty as you will see. Up stepped the American to stroke it home and continue in the vein of Jim Baxter, Gary Rowell and Jermaine Defoe as Sunderland Spot Kick King.

Gooch has come in for some criticism recently, some of it considered. He does tend to try to do too much, not always a bad thing when you consider some of the players we have had who have got away with doing too little, but the manager appears to have instructed him to be more direct and play the ball early. Not bad advice from a man who has only managed Alloa Athletic……

The game was put to bed in the 45th minute as Maguire found the impressive Hume, Hume found the impressive Maja who moved the ball from right foot to left and into the net. Poetry in motion I would say.

The second half allowed McLaughlin to show what an impressive keeper he is by pulling off two excellent saves as Rochdale looked for some respectability. He is a keeper who has the confidence of his defenders, not something we saw last year. (There was also a cracker from a free kick in the first half – MD)

It also showed that referees can get things seriously wrong. When Henderson’s elbow caught Gooch full in the face, it was either an accident or a red card. I would suggest the latter, so why Mr Kettle waved a yellow at the Dale captain is a mystery to me. It was a flaw in another solid refereeing performance at this level.

Not that it worried Gooch. Ten minutes later, he took a fine pass from Maguire (who else) and drilled in number four, cementing the victory and making us dream of handing out the proverbial thrashing and keeping a clean sheet.

Gooooooooooooooch

It wasn’t to be as there was some hesitation by Baldwin (he may have been pushed by Williams in the build up) (he was….it was right in front of me and the linesman who chose to ignore a clear foul – MD) and substitute Done gave the visiting support something to cheer. Which they did. They brought a good following, about 40% of their home attendance, for what we hope is their only visit to the Stadium, unless we draw them in the Cup sometime.

Maja and Maguire departed early to rapturous applause from the crowd and Sinclair and McGeady came on to test their fitness. Both have attributes that will see us through a long season and when they are fully match fit, they will offer us alternatives which a former Alloa and St Mirren manager will be able to call on – if he is good enough to recognise their abilities.

Chris Maguire – MoM on a day when no-one put in a bad display?

Maguire had an outstanding game. He has been a bit of a wanderer in a career that has never really taken off but he has some memorable days. He hit the winner for Kilmarnock against Celtic, the team he supports, he rattled in a hat trick for Derby County against Pinxton in the Derbyshire Senior Cup and on his debut for Coventry City, he scored two free kicks late in the game at MK Dons to give the Sky Blues an unlikely victory. But a standing ovation from 27,500 Sunderland supporters must be very high up on his list of career highlights.

The whole team had a better balance about it and looked far more comfortable. The opposition were limited, neither as fired up as Oxford United or as competent as Fleetwood Town, and were never at any stage in the game.

And so we go to Coventry next week. It’s a game that will test us and our support. 5,000 tickets have been sold which will fill one end of the Coventry Arena and the expectations will be great. A win against a side who are struggling after promotion will be expected and, if we can show the clinical side of our game that was on display here, it is by no means beyond the realms of possibility.

I’m looking forward to events today and can’t wait to see Ndong back in the side.

Then bring on Peterborough……….

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Sixer’s Scunthorpe Soapbox: Iron can’t cope with the hard press

Malcolm Dawson writes……..two weeks ago we celebrated the first win of the Donald/Methvyn/Jack Ross era in a way that was hard to beat with a winner deep into time added on, having fallen behind in the first half. Today beat that. I’d like to say this was the perfect performance. It wasn’t and the manager admitted that there is room for improvement but hey this afternoon was the most enjoyable I’ve experienced at the Stadium of Light for I don’t know how long. It was better than the Charlton game because for this one the passing was crisp, the movement brisk, the energy levels stratospheric and we went ahead, then further ahead and after the third went in even I could relax just a little and savour the performance, with just the ever lingering apprehension that this is Sunderland and that anything can happen.

But this is a different Sunderland. Here is a group of players who seem to be revelling in playing for the club. They were organised, confident on the ball and worked for each other. Gosh they even moved about and made themselves available when we had a throw in and it’s an age since I’ve seen that!

The crowd was fantastic again and even sang Lee Cattermole’s name at one point perhaps showing those who were giving him some stick in recent weeks that he can still be an asset if an expensive one. The same goes for Oviedo who could have gone off following a painful challenge, but stayed on to finish the game. At the end Maguire, who had been subbed came back on the pitch to thank the crowd and was last off together with Loovens who looks as if he really can’t believe his luck at being signed.

Add to that the mentions the crowd got from Methven and McLaughlin in the programme for the roar of encouragement that went up following the Charlton goal alongside the piece from our own Pete Sixsmith.

Speaking of Pete I suppose I better stop eulogising and let him recount today’s proceedings in his own eloquent way. That’s what you are here for after all!

SCUNTHORPE UNITED

At half time, after we had stopped pinching ourselves about the score and the quality of football we had witnessed, Neil Scott, an irregular Hetton Irregular and who sits in front of me at The Stadium turned around and said, “When were we last 3 up at half time at home?”

Neither of us knew, although we both remembered that day in February 2017 when goals from Kone, Ndong and Defoe (2) put us four up at Crystal Palace in what was Bryan Oviedo’s debut.

We also remembered that glorious day in February 1964 when we were three up at home to League Champions Everton in an FA Cup 5th Round game in front of 62,817 thanks to goals from Jimmy McNab in the third minute, Charlie Hurley in the 27th and an own goal from Mick Meagan in the 32nd. We went on to win 3-1 and take on Manchester United three times in the quarter final. Some research back at Sixsmith Towers turned up a game against Stoke City in September 2011 when Titus Bramble., a Jonathon Woodgate own goal and a Craig Gardener free kick sent us into the dressing rooms 3 up. Seb Larsson wrapped it up in the 58th.

Since then, nothing – or at least until today, when Scunthorpe United were despatched in as comfortable a way as I have seen for a long time. Yes, it’s the Third Division, yes, they have lost some good players over the summer, no I am not going to get carried away – and yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So too did 28,000 Sunderland supporters as they watched a team that has been thrown together since July play in a swashbuckling way that has rarely been seen at The Stadium since the great days of Quinn and Phillips, Johnston and Summerbee and Makin and Gray.  Players looked comfortable on the ball. There was solid defending. The midfield moved quickly. There were spells of intense short passing and then, BOOM, a raking long ball from one side of the field to the other was played.

The goalkeeper was sound. Both first choice full backs drew on their considerable experience and went forward well. Oviedo was excellent both as an attacker and a defender. His cross for Max Power’s goal was as good as the one he put in for Gooch two weeks ago and he linked brilliantly with Gooch and Maguire.

Baldwin and Loovens looked as safe as the Bank of England at the back. Lee Novak, the Scunthorpe forward, had a very low rate of interest in this game, as Baldwin had him in his pocket for the entire ninety minutes and Loovens was calmness personified apart form a couple of minor blips.

But it was in midfield that the most pleasure was to be derived.

Cattermole – continually cajoling and directing affairs

Lee Cattermole’s recall was not greeted with universal approbation. Some thought it a risk. He had done well enough in the practice match that masqueraded as a League Cup tie on Thursday, but how would he cope with a league in which he had had no experience? Was he too slow? Would he be caught out? Was he a liability? “Nay, nay, a thousand times nay” as Frankie Howard used to say. Used in a role that suited him perfectly just in front of the back four and with willing youngsters there to do his running, he had a stormer and even got into the Scunthorpe box.

Aided and abetted by the impressive Max Power (crazy name, crazy guy), the industrious George Honeyman and the mercurial Lynden Gooch, The Iron were hammered into a shape akin to that of a flattened Tom Cat when Jerry Mouse cuts the rope thus allowing the anvil to fall on the foolish feline.

Chris Maguire popped up everywhere and Josh Maja produced some shimmies and moves that would guarantee him a place on Strictly were he ever to become really famous.

The goals were splendid. A powerful header from who else but Max of that ilk, reminded this watcher of Charlie Hurley in his pomp. The delivery by Oviedo was as out of place at a third level game as Richard Burton would have been at the Brandon and Byshottles Amateur Dramatic and Light Opera Group. It begged to be thumped in and it was.

Oviedo also played a part in the second, working the ball to Maja who whipped it into the net to keep up his average of a goal a game. He should have made it a goal every 0.75 of a game in the second half had he planted a ridiculously easy chance between the posts, But good players often miss easy chances – Kevin Phillips missed a few and Pop Robson once put one over the bar at White Hart Lane from two yards.

Will Maguire become a legend in the red and white?

The third was a sublime back heel by Chris Maguire after a wonderful one two from Honeyman and Gooch. Our American winger had destroyed the Scunthorpe full back, Lewis Butroid, a young player starting his second full season as an Iron first teamer. He will lock himself in a cupboard for the next few weeks whenever the name Gooch is mentioned because I have rarely seen a defender systematically destroyed as this young man was. Hopefully, his career will recover – or at least until January when we play them again.

Scunny were outclassed and outplayed. The penalty claims they made in the first half were genuine but a look at it shows that Baldwin got to the ball before George Thomas and headed it away before the forward tumbled over. The referee, who was at best ok, called that one right. But throughout the game the 10 outfield players pressed the men in yellow all over the pitch and never allowed the opposition to settle. Furthermore all 11 players made themselves available to receive a pass so there were always options for the ball carrier. Most times good decisions were made. Occasionally the desire to create openings and play the ball out from the back led to errors but Jack Ross is developing a culture where players are encouraged to play without fear.

One swallow does not make a summer but the signs here were very encouraging. When Matthews limped off and James came on, we switched to a back three and pushed Oviedo up. Would any of the previous three managers have done that? Answers on a postcard please.

There are two difficult tests looming next week. A minimum of two points is required and four or above would be more than satisfactory. Flanagan and McGeouch may be ready for one or both, leaving Jack Ross with some tricky decisions to make.

Good. That’s how it should be……….

 

Sixer’s Charlton Soapbox: breaking the mould of the first day hoodoo

Jake’s happy, too

Malcolm Dawson writes….this season sees a new chapter in my Sunderland supporting life. This time last year I was in despair at the way the club was being run. I felt marginalised and no longer part of a club whose teams I had followed since I was six and who I first saw play at Roker Park in 1964.

I had been uplifted and optimistic following the Sam Allardyce-led great escape and expected us to kick on from there. I saw a group of players and a manager who it seemed took pride in being part of the Sunderland AFC family and who were as one with its supporters. But we didn’t kick on. We regressed. While Allardyce had seemed to turn around a club which previous managers suggested had a fundamental flaw, without going into detail, I could sense that he wasn’t getting the backing he had wanted even before the England job was offered.

Under Moyes, we regressed not just as a team but as a club. The football was dire, the entertainment minimal and the enjoyment non-existent. Add that to what was for me becoming an increasingly painful walk from car to ground and I took the decision not to renew my season ticket for 2017-18. To be honest I no longer felt as if I belonged.

But healthy living has taken the pressure off my knees. A change of ownership, a new manager, a virtual 100 per cent change in playing personnel and an ethos that values supporters has restored my confidence and optimism. And so it was I took my new seat – in the West Stand this season – hopeful but also apprehensive. Apprehensive because the danger of too much optimism and expectation is that should success not be immediate there is the possibility of a return to the criticism, complaints and negativity that has infected the stadium over the past two years. 

This being Sunderland after a couple of early opportunities to go ahead were squandered, it was almost inevitable that we would go behind. I braced myself for a host of “here we go again – same old Sunderland” boos and jeers but it didn’t happen. Thankfully, as befits the best Sunderland crowds, the roar which followed the briefest of silences after we conceded was loud and encouraging and the support never waned. The team settled, a couple of substitutions and we all know what happened next. But even so we still want to read Pete Sixsmith‘s take on the game and here it is, as knowledgeable and entertaining as always……

The First Win is the Sweetest

The last time we won our first home game was when Bali Mumba was a diminutive five-year-old and Michael Chopra slotted home a last gasp winner against a bemused Tottenham Hotspur side in 2007.

Two years later, we won at Bolton on the opening day and since then, nothing. We have lost to Fulham and Leicester and had a host of draws against the might of Birmingham City, Derby County and West Bromwich Albion, but not a win. Until Saturday.

Opening day joy for Chopra.

Granted, it was in a division that is not one that we would wish to be in. Hopefully we will not be in it this time next year and we will be preparing for a Championship game, But it was a win and it sent us home happy, with a spring in our step and with a smile as wide as the Wear at Roker Pier.

It was down to two things that have been rare at the Stadium of Light in recent years: superior fitness and tactical nous. The last few managers have had one without the other on the odd occasion and on more frequent ones, neither. Here, all the hard work from manager, coaching and fitness staff and players came together after a shaky opening half hour, where Charlton ruled the roost and we were distinctly second best.

But even in that period there were things to admire. There was a willingness to get the ball wide and utilise the skills and trickery of Gooch and Maguire. There was a collective spirit that suggested that we were not going to be the pushovers that we have been for the last few years. When we went a goal down to a correctly awarded penalty by Lyle Taylor, we did not buckle. Last season and the one before and probably the one before that, we would have done. This time we dug in and kept on playing.

Was this the back four in the first quarter?

At times we looked as shaky as a Hartley’s Jelly in an earthquake as Loovens and Ozturk struggled with the pace of Taylor and Grant. Loovens makes up in nous what he doesn’t have in pace while Ozturk eventually settled and looked much more secure in the second half. But the first half of the first half was a bit of a worry…..

Love and Matthews were both mildly tormented by the Charlton wide men with Marshall being particularly active. When Love went off injured, the arrival of World Cup star Bryan Oviedo made a difference- particularly in the 96th minute. Midfield was controlled by Darren Pratley for much of the first half, although The Boy Mumba, Honeyman and O’Nien never stopped toiling and trying to set up a platform for Gooch, Maguire and Maja.

But when Mr Brooks, a reasonably competent referee, blew for half time, we were in familiar territory – one down to a side who seemed more streetwise, more savvy and with more fire power than we had.

The main difference was that the crowd (a magnificent 31,097 which is a record for this league), did not turn. Instead of booing and apathy there was a feeling that we weren’t that far away from getting back into the game. And we did.

Off went O’Nien, who had maybe tried too hard and on came Sinclair, a big physical centre forward, the like of which we have rarely seen these last few years. He scattered the Charlton central defenders and forced them on to the back foot. He had shots – some not very good, but he made them aware that he was there and that he was dangerous. He also took the weight of sole responsibility off the relatively slender shoulders of Josh Maja and the young Londoner responded with a splendid equaliser in the 65th minute.

In the past, we would not have kicked on.

We would have allowed the opposition back into the game (Norwich, Burton, anyone else you care to name) but this time we kept at them and had chances to go ahead. Mumba’s diving header from a sublime Maguire cross would have brought the house down if only he were a few inches taller.

It looked like a draw. Sinclair had limped off, some were leaving for a post-match pint or an appointment with Sports Report when Oviedo produced a cross that could not have been bettered by Nicky Summerbee in his pomp and there was the tireless Lyndon Gooch to wrap up the points for us.

Nicky Summerbee

The crowd reaction was rapturous. It was akin to the second coming of the Lord or the roar that used to bounce around the Stadium in the halcyon days of Quinn and Phillips. The place simply erupted in joy and pleasure and in the realisation that we may just have got a particularly uncomfortable monkey off our backs.

All credit to Jack Ross for the changes that he made at half time. Three at the back, two wide midfielders and two up front. Very few, if any, of our recent managers would have done that. All credit to the players for sticking at it.

Will Maguire become a legend in the red and white?

On this form, Chris Maguire could take this league by storm. He can use both feet, has a clever turn and almost scored with a free kick. What’s not to like (his tackling in the box, says a small voice at the back of my head).

Mumba looked precociously calm and, although knocked about by Pratley and co, was never bullied. He finished the game well and deserved his win bonus of a bottle of Pepsi, a jar of hair gel and a new case for his phone.

The walk back to the car was a heads up stroll rather than the head down trudge that we have become so familiar with. There was a feeling that this may be the start of a revival and that the support has bought into what the owners, the managers and the players have started. There will be tough tests for this squad. We are light on experience. But on a day when we finished with five Academy graduates on the pitch, two of whom had scored, there was a feeling of pride in a job well done.

And it’s a long time since we could last say that.

Is it too early to say bye bye to the monkey?

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