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

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

Who was that man?

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

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

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

STOKE CITY UNDER 21’S (HOME)

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

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

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

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

Soapy Souter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes we are thankful for small mercies

Sixer’s Sheffield Wednesday Soapbox: not enough to pass the test but A for effort

Malcolm Dawson writes……..there were plenty of positives to take from last night’s game, both on and off the field.

Off the field the new administration’s decision to seat the majority of fans in the East Stand made economic and logistical sense as well as projecting a better image to the watching television audience and creating a better atmosphere for the players to respond to. It is no secret that the club’s finances need careful husbandry and by reducing the number of turnstile operators, stewards and people manning the bars and refreshment kiosks there must have been substantial savings made for a fixture that rarely sees the ground one quarter full. It was last night, and though the vast majority of seats were empty, by concentrating the spectators in a smaller area the impression was of a less sparsely filled stadium. As it happens the crowd of 13,000+ wasn’t bad for a Carabao Cup fixture which included a good turn out of Wednesday fans. Not sure I saw any police presence either.

Those that were there were generally supportive and appreciative of the style of play, application and effort that Jack Ross and his squad seem to be adopting. At least that was how it was around me, notwithstanding a couple of blokes in the row behind, who after Ozturk’s part in the first goal decided that they would complain about him at every opportunity, even when it was the similarly bearded Jack Baldwin who was at fault. Well I suppose 15 looks like a 5. No negative vibes for Cattermole that I noticed either.

When Flanagan, Wyke, McGeouch Sinclair and Watmore are all fit to play, the manager will have many more options at his disposal than the rather limited choice he has at the moment. When I spoke to Pete Sixsmith as we made our way back to our respective cars we agreed that there was much to encourage us from the performance and here as always Pete brings us his insightful and articulate take on last night’s proceedings. 

THE VIEW FROM THE FRONT – SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

As part of the club’s newly found and entirely worthy desire to stop haemorrhaging money, the only part of the ground open for home fans for this game was the East Stand.

Consequently, the 12,000 or so Sunderland supporters who pitched up for this one were all sat together making it look like one of those reserve games from the early days of the Stadium when large crowds turned up to thrill at the sight of Neil Wainwright, John Oster and Milton Nunez.

My ticket moved me from Row 31 to Row 6 and from the North side to the South side and I enjoyed it. I was closer to the players and, although I could not see the game unfold as well as I can from my loftier perch, that (relative) intimacy is enjoyable. Of course, it’s not quite the Clock Stand Paddock. There is no clear view of the players calves, no Jeremy Robson barracking Tony Morley to the extent that he started to cry, no Ray (the man with the necklace made of proper nails) or the sight of David Speedie and Gary Bennett wrestling on the track with Benno desperately trying to stop Speedie from going over the fence, thereby preventing him from being torn apart by the frenzied occupants of the aforementioned paddock.

Nostalgia – not what it used to be.

Nostalgia out of the way, what about the game? Twelve months ago, we huffed and puffed to beat Bury at Gigg Lane in this competition with a team that we thought might just have the makings of a promotion side. This time we turned in a performance that was as fluent as the Bury one was disjointed and went out. C’est la vie.

There were some encouraging signs.

Reece James, fresh from his 45 minutes in the Under 23’s on Monday, made an impressive debut. He was energetic, pushed forward well, defended equally competently and looked a good replacement for Bryan Oviedo at left back.
He was aided and abetted at right back by Denver Hume, who becomes the first player to be named after a U.S city since Poughkeepsie Wilson in the 1920’s and the Greek winger Syracuse Papadopoulos in the early 2000’s. He has grown over the summer and, although he may be behind one or two in the pecking order, a good loan to a Division Two/ National League club where he will be playing regularly will help him to progress even more.

Ditto Elliot Embleton, a candidate for the FIFA goal of the season, who showed that he has an eye for a pass, that he can tackle and that he too has a future. Two good products of the Academy there. More please. He benefited from being alongside Lee Cattermole, who turned in the kind of performance that must have delighted Jack Ross and made any watching scouts think very carefully about revising their opinions of him. He conserved his energy, did simple things well and left to a warm round of applause from the faithful. He may well have a role at the club despite his astronomical wages.

Steady and sensible. A starter v Scunthorpe?

The running that he usually does was done by Max Power who made a good home debut, while his fierce tackling was done by Luke O’Nien who had a much better game than he had against Charlton. He followed in Cattermole’s footsteps by being booked for his third careless tackle and missing a good chance to equalise just before half time. He will have an important role to play as the season unfolds.

Some of the football was very pleasing on the eye and these players have been brought to the club to match the style that Jack Ross wants to play. That in itself is revolutionary for a club that had no discernible pattern or style for years and appeared to sign players for no good reason other than nobody else wanted them.

We know where the problems are.

There is a serious shortage of goals in the team and that was exacerbated in the absence of Josh Maja from the starting X1. Chris Maguire worked hard on his own and the midfield players tried to get up there to help him, but our threats were limited. The fitness of Wyke and Sinclair are essential for us and we may be able to hang on until they are ready without having to make another loan signing.

Unfortunately, there was one weakness on the night and that was Alim Ozturk, who followed up his shaky performance against Charlton with one that resembled a jelly caught in an earthquake. His dithering over a long ball in the 29th minute allowed Matias to score and he was understandably nervous after that. He may improve but needs to be aware that many in the crowd need a scapegoat and he looks to be a prime candidate.

The general consensus as we filed out was that Sunday’s game against Scunthorpe was of far more significance than a Tuesday night against Wolves. There will be a different side on show then and, we hope, a different result. But on a day when A level results were published, we come away from this game with a decent B grade with more rigorous tests to come.