John McCormick writes: At the start of the year I was at White Hart Lane, subbing for Sixer. I saw Jordan Pickford and the Hoff make their Premier League debuts, some six foot backs crowding Jermain Defoe out of the game and some soft goals after PVA put us in front.
The final score was 4-1, which I don’t think anyone predicted.
John McCormick writes: Another cup weekend means we can take a break from the “Guess the score” and “Who are you” features which signal our build up to games. We have a chance to look at some other aspects of our club and of football in general.
Which brings me to Wrinkly Pete and a thought producing opinion on the loan system. It was written before we beat Man United. I wonder if that game will have made Pete want to add Dame N’Doye to the list.
Pete Sixsmith has been more selective in the season that ends today, especially with London away games and ripoff ticket prices. He still got to most matches – including White Hart Lane this afternoon – and, as often happens, The Observer came calling for his appraisal of what he had witnessed, asking him to award marks out of 10 and nominate the season’s best this and that. All before today’s game, of course. Pete wil be back to round off our own series of end-of-season reviews …
Hardly the words Sunderland fans want to hear. Not the dreary north London bragging rights – life’s so much more exciting at the bottom – but we want Danny, Danny Rose to see his future with Sunderland and Spurs to let him move. Our final “Who are You?” candidate of the season, the Tottenham-supporting writer Dan Fitch*, founder and owner of TottenhamBlog (“the Spurs news site that expects the worst and is rarely disappointed”) wants him back and hints that Andre Villas-Boas does, too …
Peter Sixsmith was down at Brantham watching Shildon progress to the next round of the FA Vase so it was left to Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson to get off the subs’ bench and climb on the soapbox to present his View from the North West Corner.
They say that by the age of five an average English speaking child will have a vocabulary of around 1,800 words.
The bloke who sits near me at the Stadium of Light gets by with approximately eight, although to be fair he can make nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and expletives from the same root word and in his capacity of chief moaner is doing a great job training up his young apprentice. It takes an outstanding effort from the team to shut him up but even then, in his eyes, the players rarely get it right. Sometimes this makes watching the game difficult, especially when he’s not far wrong!
Last Monday, Pete Sixsmith and I went to the Sage at Gateshead to watch a live performance of “The Transatlantic Sessions”, an eclectic mix of traditional musicians from all parts of the British Isles and North America. They bring their various talents together in musical arrangements that cross the various genres so that some Cajun accordion playing will blend with Uilleann pipes and the poems of Rabbie Burns, sung by a young woman from Dumfries and Galloway, will be accompanied with steel guitar and Kentucky style banjo. You always know what you are getting and you aren’t constantly disturbed by people getting up five minutes before the interval and the encore.
You can’t say the same about watching Sunderland. They too have an eclectic mix of performers who can gel and produce the most entertaining and rhythmical football, but at other times the players seem to be on different pages, out of synch and unable to harmonise.
It isn’t easy to predict which team will turn up although history seems to have started repeating itself far too frequently. A criticism of mine for all of this season and some of the last one too, revolves around the tactic of playing deep right from the off, soaking up pressure and waiting to break down the opposition defence. Add to that the lack of movement off the ball, a lack of penetration in attack and a preponderance of sideways and backward passes and I can almost see what the bloke near me is on about. But then there are times when the side shows aggressive, attacking intent, a commitment to hard work and individual flair and at those times we are a match for any side.
Today was a case in point. For much of the season the manager’s choices have been restricted by injuries to key players. Danny Rose’s inclusion should have been a reason for optimism because apart from Simon Mignolet and Stephen Fletcher he has been head and shoulders above the rest. But instead of bringing a smile to my face it produced a sigh when I realised that this would mean Jack Colback moving back to midfield, paired with a returning Lee Cattermole and the as yet unproven Alfred N’Diaye. I envisaged the tried and tested tactic of stifling the Arsenal midfield to make the defence difficult to break down, as the more forward thinking pairing of Vaughan and Larsson were relegated to the bench. Recently Colback has shown a desire to get forward from the fullback position but when he’s in midfield his orders seem to be to keep possession at any cost and play according to the Ray Wilkins’ Book of Midfield Passing Options
See also: ‘Sunderland meet Arsenal flair with heart and soul, but no goal’ – ‘ Monsieur Salut’s immediate post-match thoughts at ESPN: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739
There are those who argue that if we start off with a more creative midfield and attacking intent we’ll find ourselves out of the game before half time. It’s a theory but personally I feel it better to keep the opposition out of our half as much as possible and that we will be more likely to get something from the game if we create chances rather than never threatening the opposition’s goal.
In the opening minutes however, I thought that maybe my prayers had been answered as Gardner and N’Diaye linked up for the first opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net. But it didn’t take long for the visitors to take control. They passed the ball much more fluently and players moved into space so that the man in possession had options, allowing them to develop the play quickly and create goal scoring chances. Once again our keeper showed that he is worth two or three goals a game to the team, bringing off a couple of excellent saves early on and another just before the interval. The first after 82 seconds was an instant after Lee Cattermole’s clumsy mistimed tackle on Jack Wilshire which earned him an early card in less than the time it takes to get a Big Mac at a drive through. No surprise there then! Not long after Wilshire took another clattering from Bramble although from my seat it looked like a good old fashioned tackle which won the ball. But after Wilshire’s long layoff I can understand Wenger’s apprehension whenever he is challenged firmly.
As they settled into the game Arsenal moved the ball about at will, putting it into spaces for others to run onto with Walcott showing why he has been held in high esteem for a number of years now. Bramble was having another solid game in the heart of defence, though his hoofs upfield, whilst clearing immediate dangers, inevitably conceded possession. On one of our forays forward the young fullback Jenkinson made the first of two mistimed tackles when he upended Colback and got a yellow card for his rashness. It would have an effect on the latter stages of the game although ultimately didn’t affect the result.
Maybe it’s the “bloke behind me” but I’m going to turn a positive into a negative. One of the strengths of Sess, AJ, Danny Rose and Fletcher is their ability to keep the ball and beat players in mazy little dribbles. But (and here’s the negative) this is because when they get the ball to feet no-one is moving into a space where they can deliver a defence splitting pass. They get the ball, they twist and turn but without support end up in blind alleys and either end up losing the thing or going backwards. With only one up front we never seem to have enough of an attacking threat, especially when Norman Stanley is drifting out wide.
Eventually Arsenal’s movement and positive approach brought them their goal with Wilshire and Walcott involved before Santi Corzola drilled the ball through a crowd and past Mignolet. The Londoners deserved their halftime lead and my half time 7 stored in drafts read “Pedestrian Sunderland outrun by slick moving Arsenal.”
The second half, like the first, began brightly. Sess got into the Gunners’ penalty area and looked to have a goal scoring opportunity before going to ground. A penalty could easily have been given but I would have been annoyed had a similar one gone against us. To my eyes Sess is trying too hard to win free kicks and penalties. He must listen to Alan Hanson every week but I’d much rather he stayed upright.
Both sides were now creating chances and in fact Fletcher had a goal disallowed but as he was clearly offside no complaints. After 62 minutes there was the potentially game changing sending off when Jenkinson again mistimed a tackle, this time bringing down Sessegnon and the inevitable second yellow followed.
Despite this Arsenal still pushed forward whenever they could and several shots were just off target, including one from Walcott which hit the base of the post. But now at last Sunderland were also pressing and Szczensy impressed as much as Mignolet had done. The introduction of Graham for N’Diaye who despite his promise had a quiet game was the second potentially game changing event. Once we had two up front, we seemed to exert much more pressure on the Arsenal goal and were unlucky not to get an equaliser but a game is played over 90 minutes, not 45 and it frustrates me that time and again this season we only seem to threaten after we are behind.
Can we afford to start with two up front? Most of us have an opinion. Martin O’Neill’s is the one that counts but I’d love to see Fletch and Graham start a match. They certainly look as if they can gel and after a run of defeats it may well be time to try something new. Also Martin, when you read this, try playing Colback behind a fit Danny Rose down the left. No game next week so you’ve plenty of time to try things out on the training ground.
Malcolm Dawson writes….The result at Southampton brought us some Christmas cheer but if truth be told I wasn’t full of optimism (when am I you may well ask) as I took my seat before the Boxing Day game. After all we were facing a quality team whilst our boys had been misfiring all season long, only showing their true capabilities in patches. If we couldn’t beat Aston Villa, QPR, Middlesbrough at home then surely the League Champions would turn us over. The one glimmer of light was that they had only just scraped a win against a poor Reading side, but surely Mancini and his team would respond. In my piece about MON’s first year I remarked that I thought our squad was good enough to be in the top half of the table, providing they played to their potential. Well that’s what they did in this game. Make no mistake, Man City’s quality was evident but Sunderland played as a team, showed 100% commitment and a desire that earned them the three points. What follows is Pete Sixsmith’s welcome take on the Boxing Day celebrations.
CAN WE PLAY YOU EVERY WEEK?
Science tells us that lightning never strikes twice. WRONG!!!! It does in fact strike three times, as once again we beat cash loaded, super star heavy, Manchester City 1-0. The name of Adam Johnson will now go down in Sunderland folklore along with Ji Dong-won and Darren Bent as the man who showed City that money can’t buy what Sunderland had in abundance – heart, spirit and dedication.
This was different from last year where we defended and hung on for grim life and then caught them in the last minute. This one was a performance of no little skill from the players and superb preparation from the coaching staff. Homework had been done on City, players had listened to what they had to do and then went out and did it.
City did start well and put us on the back foot. But the difference between this and other games is that we refused to stay there and, once we had settled, we came back at them and unsettled them.
The discipline shown was phenomenal. Every player knew what he had to do and went out and did it. The ball was rarely given away. Tackles were made crisply and cleanly. Wingers ran at defenders and the ball was moved around quickly.
Compare this with the QPR game, where we looked a side who had lost its way. This time we looked a side who genuinely believe they can move up the league. The second half at Old Trafford must have provided a lift and the win at Southampton gave them belief.
Along come City, not in the best of form, hanging onto United’s coat tails and looking over their shoulders at a resurgent Chelsea. I don’t think many of us were particularly confident of even taking a point. What fools we were.
From Mignolet to Bardsley, all 13 involved made us proud to be Sunderland fans. Our Belgian keeper was immense, not just with his excellent first half saves, but also with his immaculate handling of the ball and the aura that has grown around him as he protects the goal. This surely is a goalkeeper heading for the very top.
In front of him, the back four drew confidence from him and returned it. Great call by MON to bring in Kilgallon who tackled and tracked as effectively as he did on New Years Day. Gardner had a fine game at right back and Cuellar produced a captain’s game in the middle.
And then there was Danny Rose who was, quite simply, sensational. This may be his last game as a Sunderland player and if it is, what a way to go. His tackling, interceptions and surging runs were as good as anything I have seen in a Sunderland shirt and MON must be desperate to sign him up on a long contract.
Few of us would have imagined that a central midfield of Larsson and Colback would have triumphed over physical giants like Yaya Toure and Javi Garcia – but they did. Garcia looked another expensive misfit, while an abiding memory of this game will be of Colback chasing and harrying the giant Ivorian into giving the ball away on several occasions.
Larsson had an excellent game, particularly when we moved forward. There were some very astute passes, particularly to James McClean, who turned in his best performance in a Sunderland shirt. He was helped by City picking a back three and pushing their wing backs up, but his running, his energy, his passing and in particular, his superb tackle on the wretched Tevez showed a welcome return to form that has been coming over the last three or four games.
On the other flank, Adam Johnson looked much more like the player we hoped he would be and his goal was really well taken. Hart was expecting a cross, left a gap at his near post and Johnson went for it. 1-0 to the Lads!!!
Sess looked more like the old Sess and Fletcher looked like a very good footballer who works hard and can produce something out of not very much. His shot in the first half, which Hart just got a hand to, was a perfect example of how Norman Stanley operates; nothing much is happening, but he sees an opportunity and goes for it.
What of City? They looked like a team who really would rather be anywhere than Sunderland – it must be a place they hate coming to. There was plenty of intricate pattern weaving but not a lot at the end of it – neither Aguero nor Tevez looked particularly dangerous. The introduction of Dzeko made little impact.
But it was at the back and in midfield where they looked vulnerable. I am a great fan of Vincent Kompany but he looked a struggler here and could have easily been sent off for a cynical body check on McClean in the frantic closing period. Yaya Toure looked muscle bound, the Spaniard alongside him didn’t look up to it and Milner played as we love to see a former Mag perform. Mancini has good cause to be worried; they have tricky games against Norwich and Stoke coming up.
Today was what we expect from a Martin O’Neill team; effort, intelligence and a touch of quality. All that O’Neill stands for showed on the field today for probably the first time this season, and people like me, who have not been over enamoured by the fare on display in this campaign, can spend the next couple of days hoping and dreaming once again.
And I gather we are above Newcastle United in the league table. Now that is what I call a very Merry Christmas!!!!!
See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739
Malcolm Dawson writes …
It was cold last night at the Stadium of Light, when Reading came into town. It began like a dream, when our own James McClean put the visiting side one nil down. After such a great start, the defence played their part and Mignolet seldom looked troubled. Before very long, with our wide men on song, Sunderland’s lead was doubled. Young Danny Rose as his confidence grows, gets forward more and more. It was his measured kick and Fletcher’s deft flick, that effectively slammed closed the door. There was more of the same as we went through the game, Reading rarely looked in it. And how the crowd roared when Sessegnon scored again in the ninety third minute. So with a win to our name, we can face the next game, with hopes and ambitions anew. Our hiccups now cured, three points are assured – after all it’s only Man U.
Peter Sixsmith, whilst delighted with the result is however, not going overboard…
THE BEGINNINGS OF A REVIVAL OR PAPERING OVER THE CRACKS?
It was a pleasure to get up this morning and select a white shirt for work. That, along with a Sunderland tie, is my usual apparel after a win. They have been lingering at the bottom of the shirt draw since March, making only fleeting appearances.
As are Reading in the Premier League if last night was anything to go by. They were as poor a side as they were the last time they visited us and they went down at the end of that season, while we finished 15th. I can see the same happening this year.
Our performance was good enough to beat Reading. We scored three goals for the first time since Manchester City away last season.
(except for Fulham - thanks Sobs for pointing that out - ed) That all three came from players we expect to score is a bonus. No own goals or spectacular attempts from full backs, but solid goals from McClean, Fletcher and Sessegnon, names that should be appearing regularly on the scoresheet, gives some grounds for optimism.
McClean took the first one well, courtesy of some wretched goalkeeping from Federici. He should have caught the corner from Johnson and should have reacted quicker to the Derry man’s shot. He didn’t, and that gave us a perfect start.
Fletcher’s goal was a real striker’s goal. He reacted quickly to Rose’s through ball and finish was a sublime flick that left the keeper standing. At 2-0, it would have taken a Herculean effort by our defence to allow the Biscuitmen anything but crumbs.
We did help them by giving the ball away with regular monotony. It is infuriating to watch the players retain possession by playing it sideways and backwards and then, when the killer ball is required, giving it back to the opposition. All four midfielders were responsible for this and they were aided by O’Shea, whose distribution is on a par with Gary Breen of the fondly remembered 15 point season.
The back four were rarely threatened by a limp Reading attack and this gave Rose plenty of opportunities to move forward. He really does look a good player and my initial doubts about him are disappearing rapidly. He tackles well, goes forward effectively and excites the crowd – something that the likes of Gardner, Colback and Larsson rarely do.
I am sure that MON would like to put him on the permanent staff in January, but that depends on Spurs willingness to sell at a reasonable price and if Rose is willing to come to a club that still has a relegation battle on its hands. His Northern roots will hopefully pull him towards Sunderland rather than any other London club.
However, the real priority is a midfield player who will energise us. The current centre midfield pairing of Larsson (who had a good game last night – but he should have scored) and Colback, does not play at a high enough tempo. A player who can seize a game and score a couple of goals is required – from where I know not. It’s time for Pop Robson and Gordon Chisholm to rack up a few air miles to find us a Ukrainian or a Belgian who can do it.
Our rhythm, what there was of it, was not helped by injuries and subsequent reshuffles. Adam Johnson failed to reappear after half time due to a mean and unpleasant tackle by Jodi McAnuff, who put his leg across Johnson to stop him moving sideways.
It was a nasty challenge, totally unnecessary and reminiscent of one that I made on Barry Thompson in the school yard circa 1967. Barry picked himself up and punched me hard, three times, before saying “You won’t do that again, will you?” Had we a Kevin Ball or Jimmy McNab in this team, McAnuff would have spent the second half hiding in the showers. We are a bit of a soft touch at times.
So, we are out of the bottom three and trail our (allegedly) illustrious neighbours by a point. There is still a long way to go and we must start to pick up points between now and the end of January.
We go to Old Trafford on Saturday. I don’t think the white shirt will be needed on Monday.
See also: Monsieur Salut at ESPN FC. Click on extract for full article:
“In no sense can O’Neill dare to believe the corner has been fully turned. Indeed, he could do worse than invoke that Churchillian mixture of spirit and realism, which can be trimmed for these purposes to ‘not the end, not even the beginning of the end but perhaps the end of the beginning’.”
A look at our week of derby-related wisdom and fun – and a marvellous 93rd minute climax to the Spain-France World cup qualifying game. There was more – catch Goldy’s analysis of the really big football story of the week (Danny Rose and Serbian racists) and more besides by going to the home page and pottering around …
There are moments in football that stick in the memory a long time, even forever. They do not have to involve your own team, though it is all the better if they do.
So Sunderland supporters recall Gary Rowell’s completion of a hat-trick at St James’ Park, each of the four goals we slammed past Chelsea on an unforgettable first half, Larrson’s winner on Martin O’Neill’s managerial debut, Richardson’s free kick against Newcastle … and the final whistle at Wembley on May 5 1973.
Watching Spain v France live on French TV the other night, I saw another. Not entirely neutral – living partly in France, half-French family by marriage – I still didn’t attach too much importance to the outcome but wanted France to get an improbable result provided they earned it. Which they did, restricting Spain to a one-goal lead (thanks greatly to Hugo Lloris, with his penalty save and other heroics) at half time and carving out chances of their own.
“Allez, allez” yelled the TF1 commentator as Patrice Evra’s crucial block dispossessed the advancing Juanfran and France launched a last-ditch assault. The screen showed the minimum three minutes’ stoppage time to have passed. Could there still be a storming finish?
Expecting the whistle at any time, I saw the possibility as Sissoko powered forward and supplied the ever-menacing Ribery whose exemplary cross from the left was dispatched with strength, direction and aplomb by Olivier Giroud. If if was a riveting experience for someone hoping but not praying for an equaliser, it must have been a feast for one member of the TF1 panel in Madrid, Arsène Wenger OBE. Arsenal fans who have given Giroud and, by extension, Wenger so much grief should think again. See the clip in the footnote.
Sunday’s match is bigger, of course. And to mark the occasion, Salut! Sunderland has done its best to bring you some tip-top build-up coverage, which I now summarise (click highlighted text for full articles):
* Bill Taylor’s wry look at Newcastle United’s tie-up with Wonga. Sample …
Some cynics are saying the renaming (or should that be de-naming) of the Sports Direct Arena is a ploy by Wonga to cast a cloud of sentimentality over the whole vexed question. Not everyone is fooled. The BBC reports that, for one, Ian Lavery – MP for Wansbeck and a Mags season-ticketholder – won’t be returning to the stadium, saying, ‘A city like Newcastle and the region should not have any ties with an organisation like Wonga. This business makes profits off the back of deprived people who are desperate and who are the most vulnerable in society.’
* David Athey’s fascinating memories, as a lifelong NUFC supporter, of derby day banter minus “naked hostility”. Sample:
When the Magpies (we didn’t call them the Toon in those days did we?) played Sunderland at Roker Park, we would hire a bus and the 50 of us, both Newcastle and Sunderland supporters, would not only travel to the game together but we would also stand together in the Fulwell end, sporting our respective colours and cheering ourselves hoarse. On one occasion, a pal of mine even “borrowed” the school bell, which he painted red and white and rang enthusiastically throughout the match.
* John McCormick reinvents himself as Shakespeare for a foray, once more, unto the breach. Extract:
Let Sessegnon run at the Magpie team
with Adam Johnson, let Fletcher o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth young McClean
O’erhang and jutty their confounded backs,
Swill’d with the dead ball skill of Larssen.
* Guess the Score. Still time to have a go at winning a Salut! Sunderland mug:
… occasional series, and it is open to supporters of both sides – and of neither – to enter.
* Mick (not Micky or Mickey) Gray’s tremendous set of answers, from a Newcastle-supporting perspective, to the Salut! Sunderland “Who are You?” questionnaire. Example:
Q: Many players have done well for both clubs, sometimes having to put aside personal allegiance. Do you have first-hand or received wisdom on any of them – Bracewell, Chopra, Clark, Given, Moncur, ‘Pop’ Robson, Shack, Venison, Waddle and Stan Anderson spring to my mind?
A: As an older fan – I saw all of that list play except Shack. Bobby Moncur has to be my favourite – great player and the last United skipper to lift a significant trophy. Bryan “Pop” Robson was a good player, as was Barry Venison. By the way, Robbie Elliott who played for both clubs is doing a 1,500 mile bike ride for cancer charities, starting this week in Lisbon and visiting all the cities where Sir Bobby Robson was a manager. If anyone would like to support this great cause just Google “bike for bobby”.
* And if you want even more, Monsieur Salut has also been kept busy at the ESPN site’s Sunderland pages:
1 … Great to win but should draws be made compulsory? Sample (quoting Keith Topping, writer and broadcaster (and Mag), from a previous season’s “Who are You?”:
I don’t really like derby matches. I have to be honest. I know the atmosphere is good … and, if you win it’s, like, the greatest day ever. But it really is a ‘so much at stake’ thing. I mean, I work in an office three-quarters full of Mackems. I know the true cost of defeat on a highly personal level. I tend to have the attitude of just wanting to get them out of the way, have two 1-1 draws and then get on the rest of the season.
2 … Derby cult heroes. A parade of Sunderland stars from Wear-Tyne and Tyne-Wear encounters dating back 104 years:
Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn, Thomas Sorensen, Gary Rowell, Stan Cummins, Kieran Richardson, Len Shackleton, Patrice Carteron, Eric Gates, Marco Gabbiadini and George Holley.
Stephen Goldsmith writes: This is the second time Danny Rose has appeared in a Salut! Reflections feature in the space of about three weeks. Both topics are based around Danny trying to do what he enjoys the most – play football. The issues raised, however, branch and contrast away from each other in startling fashion.
Stephen Goldsmith writes: I was slightly confused when I was asked this morning if I had done the Salut! Sunderland’s week review.The requisition e-mail was always there as it happens, but akin to an opportunity for Titus Bramble to clear the ball sufficiently in the danger area, it must have passed me by. There may be more on Bramble next week in Salut! Reflections, as the gaffer’s (Martin O’Neill, not Colin Randall) newly found confidence in the player is either some sort of delusional utterance or a genius method of motivation. Saturday will begin the judgement of which.