Sunderland easily see off the youth of Manchester City

Jake: ‘not so silly a cup after all’

SUNDERLAND 2 MANCHESTER CITY U21s 0 – EFL TROPHY

Sunderland got to within one step of a Wembley Final last night, with a victory in the Quarter Finals of the Checkatrade Trophy against a youthful Manchester City side, a win that was in truth, much more comfortable than the scoreline might suggest.

With Citeh defending a 9-0 lead in the other EFL cup competition tonight, and Pep Guardiola looking to give some of his fringe players a run out in that, it was unsurprising that few in the ground recognised any of the opposition squad, whose numbers were more appropriate for those playing the grid iron form of football than the one we are more used to. But there were a couple of names which stood out to those in the know.

The young lad captaining the visitors was the son of former German international Uwe Rössler and the number 69 Tommy Doyle was the grandson of former Man City captain Mike Doyle and another light blue legend Glyn Pardoe. PS – guess who enlightened me to those facts!

Jack Ross had made a whole raft of changes and of course in the days of social media and daily radio phone ins, it didn’t take long for conspiracy theories and uninformed opinions to be aired, but the manager was quick to point out he used all the first choice players who weren’t carrying knocks and it was still a strong starting XI. With Adam Matthews and Bryan Oviedo both fit again, we could revert to having two genuine full backs in their favoured positions. Alim Ozturk got another run out and was one of the stand out players. More on him later.

With Dylan McGeouch and Lee Cattermole occupying the holding midfield spots, Luke O’Nien was able to play in a more advanced attacking role and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet. He could easily have had a hat trick. The gangly Benji Kimpioka led the line and grew into the game while Duncan Watmore also started up front. For the first 45, Chris Maguire prowled the gap between the two forward players, with Jack Baldwin and Robbin Ruiter completing the line up.

City played the City way. They had plenty of skill and passed the ball about well but rarely threatened Ruiter’s goal. If my memory serves me well he really only had one decent save to make all night when late in the second half he was quickly off his line to smother the ball at the feet of an onrushing City player whose number I didn’t catch.

In terms of quality football the visitors were one of the more skillful sides to have visited the Stadium of Light this season. Comfortable on the ball, they worked hard and had a lot of possession, but where it counted they lacked a cutting edge. We seemed content to let them play the ball about at the back and though some around me felt that we should be pressing more and looking to regain the ball higher up the pitch, the fact our players were happy to defend our own half did mean that red and white shirts outnumbered the light blue ones where it mattered and there were few defensive gaps.

Solid Performance

Ozturk especially revelled in defending this style of play. He was composed, read the game well and made good use of the ball when he had it. He also made one fantastically well timed sliding tackle in the second half and showed why Jack Ross brought him to the club. If only the sides in League 1 adopted a slow methodical build up approach he may have had more game time.

The same applied to Dylan McGeouch who ran the midfield, looked composed and won the ball in important areas. He is a cultured player who may actually be more effective at a higher level, where technical skills are more developed.

Statistics will show that we had much less of the ball than our opponents but the reality is that we ran the show, which is what you would expect given the difference in experience and development. Watmore was making his runs but in the early stages both he and Kimpioka seemed to try to work the ball into better shooting positions and ended up losing the ball when an earlier attempt might have been better.

But it was Watmore who broke the deadlock on 20 minutes when Maguire out wide on the left, played the ball inside to McGeouch. The Scot played the ball into the box where Kimpioka, tried to set himself up for a shot before playing the ball back to McGeouch who had continued his run. He saw a decent shot blocked and was unable to do anything with the rebound which hit him on the chest before he had time to react. Fortunately the ball fell to the unmarked Watmore who hit a low drive across the goal into the bottom left hand corner.

First goal for three years

Not long after Watmore again made a good run down the right and cutting inside was fouled on the edge of the penalty area. From the resulting free kick Oviedo went for goal and was unlucky to see a lovely curling effort come back off the angle of post and crossbar. So a comfortable 1-0 half time lead and I wasn’t even feeling apprehensive that we might let the game slip. In fact I was expecting us to build on the lead and thinking that my 6-0 prediction might indeed win me a mug!

It wasn’t to be but could have been. Catts, had seen yellow early in the first half but wasn’t put off by that and another strong clean challenge saw him win the ball in midfield and play square to O’Nien, who played it forward to Roadrunner. Marked tightly, Watmore played it back to O’Nien whose long range effort whizzed over the bar. There were surely more goals in this team.

Watmore was starting to tire and on the hour was replaced by Gooch and it didn’t take long for the American to make an impact. An overlapping Adam Matthews played the ball back to Gooch from near the right hand corner. Gooch took a couple of steps infield before curling a lovely effort into the far corner to double the lead.

Gooooooooooooooch

After that O’Nien and Kimpioka both had multiple chances. One O’Nien shot from the 18 yard line seemed to have squirmed under Grimshaw’s body but somehow the young City keeper managed to reach back and claw back the ball just before it completely crossed the line. Unlike Bradford City’s on Boxing Day, this wasn’t in but my was it close.

With 15 minutes left Ethan Robson replaced Cattermole and just as Gooch had done made an immediate impact. He’d only been on a matter of seconds when he put in a crunching tackle in the middle of the park and almost immediately after that won the ball again and set Kimpioka off down the left and into space. It was a decent chance which Grimshaw did well to block.

The final chance came right at the end when Lee Connelly, brought on in the 89th minute almost opened his account with the last kick of the game.

It was an enjoyable match and the majority of the 14,679 spectators left happy, hoping for a home draw on Friday. Bury away on a Tuesday night is just about doable but having been to every Checkatrade game so far I don’t fancy a trip to Portsmouth or Bristol.

Ha’way the Lads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Wyke courtesy of www.safc.com

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

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

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

Welcome back Roadrunner

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

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

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

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

Highlights courtesy of www.safc.com here

Sixer’s Sub’s Walsall Soapbox: Saddlers unseat Sunderland in FA Cup exit

Malcolm Dawson writes……. Pete Sixsmith is usually very busy at this time of year, and although he was at the Stadium of Light last night is otherwise engaged this morning, so once again he has asked me to climb on the soapbox for the Salut! Sunderland take on our FA Cup defeat.

Make no mistake. Walsall deserved to win this game. They were busier, harried and hassled whenever we had the ball and looked dangerous on the break. Technically, I thought we looked to have the more gifted individuals, but Watmore apart, all seemed lacklustre and battle weary. This was certainly not a great display from the home side, though unlike some of the crowd around me, I didn’t feel it merited the four letter synonyms for manure and excrement that they chose to describe our performance.

With four fullbacks unavailable, JR chose to start with O’Nien on the right hand side of a 4-4-2, with the now regular partnership of Baldwin and Flanagan in the centre and Oviedo as an attack minded left back. Power and McGeouch sat just in front of the back four, Maguire nominally wide right and Honeyman buzzing about all over the place and Watmore and Sinclair up front but both playing more towards the flanks than providing any direct threat in more central positions

Luke O’Nien started at right back – image courtesy of www.safc.com

I am beginning to find Sinclair frustrating. I like his effort and industry but he seems to be having little effect on the play at the moment. I can’t fault his energy or willingness to get involved but he does appear to rely on his right foot. The fact that he often turned up on the left wing last night meant that instead of looking to play an early ball into the danger area, he would look to cut inside first which often resulted in the attack breaking down before there was any real danger of someone threatening Roberts in the Walsall goal.

The other threat down the left came from Oviedo but too often for my liking he appeared to want to beat his man once too often so after showing some fancy footwork to get into a position where a dangerous ball into the box looked on, the opportunity would vanish as the defence got into position and he was closed down.

Maguire’s ball retention wasn’t great. He never stopped trying but he will know this wasn’t one of his better performances. He was guilty on a number of occasions of trying the fancy flick or blind pass and ended up giving the ball away when easier options seemed to be on the cards. It was an ill judged back heel that led to Walsall’s goal. Hemmed in on the right touchline he gave the ball away and although we had plenty of defenders in position, the ball was pushed forward and bobbed about a bit until it was headed back from just outside the penalty area by number 3 Luke Leahy to Josh Ginelly on the left wing and his short side footed pass to Liam Kinsella saw the midfielder drive in a right footed thunderbolt from all of twenty five yards that Bobby Charlton in his heyday would have been proud of and gave McLaughlin no chance.

The goal came early in the second half and we still had plenty of time to get back into the game and whilst it was frustrating and our scoring opportunities were limited, just one goal would have brought extra time and the possibility of a penalty shoot out, so please explain to me the logic of those who started leaving the ground when there was still plenty of time on the clock. Unfortunately last night they didn’t get to miss another hour or so of drama but oh how I wish they had.

Walsall also had the most clear cut chance of the first half, which was entertaining enough without setting the pulses racing, when Osbourne played a short ball to Gordon just inside their own half. He in turn played a lovely forward pass to Ferrier on the left wing who got past Flanagan and squared the ball into the onrushing Gordon, five yards out in front of what looked to be an open goal. Somehow McLaughlin got down and smothered the Walsall man’s side footed effort from point blank range.

A bit ring rusty – unsurprisingly

We had a few chances of our own. McGeough, Honeyman and Sinclair all combined to set up a position where Power had a clear site of goal but his effort from distance went wide. Watmore who looked delighted to be back and why shouldn’t he after his injury nightmares, was willing to take on defenders and shoot whenever he could but in truth never really looked like scoring in that first half. Like McGeady did, he will need a couple of games to get back to his best but he’s a welcome addition to the squad.

A better opportunity came his way later on and his curling shot would probably have found the far corner or needed a smart save from Roberts, but number 34 Martin was in the right place to head Roadrunner’s right foot effort round the post.

Oviedo had a decent free kick which he fired in towards the far post later on and although it looked as if the Costa Rican was looking to score himself, neither Maguire nor Flanagan was able to get a head on it and it curled around the post with the keeper nowhere.

Maja and Cattermole had replaced Watmore and McGeouch but neither could exert any influence on the game. Mumba came on towards the end and looked lively enough to perhaps justify more game time but overall this was a more lacklustre performance from our boys.

Baldwin and Flanagan defended well enough last night but both were wasteful with the ball at times. I was surprised that Ross didn’t give at least one of them a rest last night. Loovens and Ozturk both looked OK last week and maybe instead of playing O’Nien in an unfamiliar role he could have played a back three with Oviedo and O’Nien or Mumba as wingbacks. Just a thought and perhaps he was taking the opportunity to take a look at a few options in case Matthews, Love, Hume and James are all out of action again.

Positives to take from last night?

  • The team didn’t panic and looked to play patient football and keep possession, even when we were behind, but too many times sloppy passes gave the ball away unnecessarily.

  • Portsmouth lost and so didn’t widen the gap at the top, though their result does mean Charlton are creeping up behind.

  • Exiting this competition doesn’t mean that we now have to fit in another fixture or two but does now mean we have only one chance of a visit to Wembley left this season.

  • With only the East Stand open to home fans I found that, unlike two years ago, I could get up and down the steps of the upper tier with no problems, the improvement in my mobility reflecting the improvement of the health of the stadium which looks so much better than not so long ago.

Well Bristol Rovers on Saturday is a game we would expect to win but is another of those slippery yellow fruit peelings that can cause someone to go apex over elbow. Let’s hope not.

Ha’way the Lads

Sixer’s Substitute Soapbox: Cats finish off Notts County’s Magpies in FL Trophy

 

We expect changes for the Checkatrade Trophy and here at Salut! Sunderland, with Pete Sixsmith otherwise engaged at what for him is busy time of year, Malcolm Dawson once again steps off the bench and onto the soapbox with his perspective on a cold night at the Stadium of Light.

Malcolm Dawson pushes Pete off today’s Soapbox!

Pete and I travelled in together and (as you do) spent part of the journey trying to predict which of the fringe players would start the game and bearing in mind that the competition has strict regulations about the make up of the teams clubs are allowed to put out, which of the more familiar faces would make the team.

The discussion was made somewhat easier by the fact that we knew already that Bali Mumba would start, that the three Dutchmen, Ruiter, Loovens and Ozturk would be given game time and that Duncan Watmore had been cleared to make a long awaited start after his second lengthy spell in the treatment rooms. We got it more or less 100% right as we both expected Jack Bainbridge, who had impressed at Morecambe, Brian Oviedo, Max Power, Luke O’Nien and Jerome Sinclair to run out for kick off. The one we didn’t get was Dylan McGeouch. The David Vaughan lookalike had missed a few of our recent games and had obviously been deemed fit enough to get 90 minutes under his belt for the hectic schedule ahead.

Vaughan incidentally, like McGeouch wearing number 8 got a good reception on his return to his old stomping ground as did substitute Jon Stead in recognition that both had been honest, hardworking performers during their times at the club. I can think of a few of our ex-players who might be considered more talented but who wouldn’t feel any warmth from the home faithful.

A caller to Total Sport as we drove into town suggested we go out and spend £10 million on Robert Huth and someone like the Barnsley centre forward Kieffer Moore. Marco Gabbiadini has more patience than either Pete or myself as he tried to explain that firstly the club doesn’t have that sort of money to spend, secondly that a player like Robert Huth is unlikely to sign anyway but that the club is subjected to restrictions on what they pay out in wages and thirdly that Charlie Wyke will be fit again soon. Marco must get fed up with the number of calls he has to deal with from those who see things in such simplistic terms without actually understanding the complexities of running a football club but then if you can do it on the Playstation or XBox why can’t it be done in real life?

James Fowler had done the pre-match press conference and had been on the sidelines at Morecambe but Jack Ross was much more visible for this game and unlike Morecambe (which had more or less been a dead rubber) this had his stamp all over it.

The boss by our graphics man, Jake.

We lined up in the unbalanced 4-4-2 or if you prefer the asymmetric 3-5-2. Ross obviously likes his players to be versatile and to be able to play in a variety of systems and they all appeared to understand what was expected of them. There was a fluidity in the shape with Oviedo and Ozturk especially, just subtly managing the areas of the pitch they were working. At times we appeared to have a back four, with wide left full back but with the right back tucked in a little more, then when Oviedo pushed higher up the field, Ozturk would drop into a slightly more central position to form a flat back three.

Power and McGeouch were the two midfielders in front of the back line, Mumba mostly played wide right, a role in which we have seen Maguire and Gooch this season, O’Nien linked the play centrally and was busy all night, while Sinclair and Watmore, both players who like to drag opposition defenders all over the place, started as a front two.

Ruiter was part of that disastrous triumvirate last season but has looked more assured when given an opportunity this time round. He had a relatively untroubled night against the Magpies but made a good double save, firstly from a Kristian Davis header which looked goal bound, then getting his body in the way to stop with his feet as County tried to put away the rebound. On his performances this season I wouldn’t be unhappy if Ruiter was kept on as McLaughlin’s back up but with his contract running out in the summer and Max Stryjeck on loan, getting match time and experience I expect the Dutchman to be on his way, possibly in the January window.

There was a lot to like about what was a professional and assured display from our boys last night.

Welcome back Roadrunner

Watmore looks up to speed, literally and he will have benefited from competitive minutes on the pitch. What his team mates, few of whom had played with him before, seemed not to appreciate was his pace and a few times he was forced to check his run when an earlier ball could have seen him burst through the County defence. That said he had a good game, wasn’t afraid to shoot on sight and will give JR alternatives and bring a new dimension to his attacking options. His goal was a bit fortunate. He burst clear on the left and fired in a good hard shot. Ross Fitsimmons made a good save but the unfortunate Daniel Jones, running back into the penalty box was unable to do anything about the rebound which struck him on the body and because of the force of Watmore’s initial shot still had enough momentum to fly into the net.

Sinclair as he always does worked hard and was always looking for the ball. He had a good chance saved in the first half and I said to the bloke next to me that I felt sure if he could bag a couple of goals it would do his confidence a world of good and he could be an important player as the season progresses. He’s not the greatest challenging for high balls and has a propensity to switch the ball to his right foot, when a earlier ball played into the box with his left, or a left footed shot may have been better options but he is a player who shows a good attitude and a desire to do well. I hope those so called supporters who always look for the negative and need a player to whinge about, don’t have an effect on his self belief and get him questioning his own ability. He doesn’t need that. He made sure he took the penalty in the second half and put it away well sending the keeper the wrong way and finding the opposite corner.

Loovens and Ozturk have both suffered from the social media self appointed experts who are quick to tell everyone about perceived failings – a bit like the bloke I talked to in the pub who knew that Loovens was too slow and Ozturk not up to the job, even though he hasn’t been to a game this season. As it happens both had good solid games last night. Loovens assured read the game well, Ozturk solid and always looking for a probing ball to get the attack going. Alongside them Jack Bainbridge didn’t look out of place and with Baldwin and Flanagan, social media favourites, both having shaky moments in recent games despite looking like a settled and effective partnership could find any of those three challenging their places on the team sheet.

Mumba was lively on the right. He has a good head on young shoulders and a lovely touch. He settled into the game well and became more influential as the game went on. Late in the game he found himself in front of goal with a great opportunity to score. His shot was blocked and his disappointment was plain for all to see as he lay on the ground and beat the pitch like Mickey Finn used to beat the congas in the early days of Tyrannosaurus Rex

Bali Mumba – good head on young shoulders

Power and McGeouch were calm in the centre and both will be pressing for starts even when Honeyman and Cattermole are fit. Power took the armband and directed the troops well, cajoling and encouraging. McGeough was assured and generally chose the simple pass maintaining possession as those around him looked to make space. A bit like the late Butch Wilkins, his first instinct seems to be to play the ball backwards or sideways but it was his pass to Watmore which led to the first goal. He is a quietly effective player who doesn’t always catch the eye but proved his worth again last night. He has been another good signing for us this season.

Oviedo proved a constant threat down the left, though he does like his step overs and there were times when an earlier ball into the box might have been a better option. He had a couple of powerful efforts almost finding the net and one especially which hit the side netting from a tight angle would have knocked the keeper off his feet had it been a foot or so to the right. Power too had some good long range efforts blocked or just off target.

O’Nien buzzed about all night. Physically he looks deceptively lightweight but full of enthusiasm, he hassled and harried all night and supported the front two well. He’ll be another who might not get that many starts but is an important part of the squad and will be trusted to do a good job when required. I’ve every confidence he will.

The subs did well. Kimpioka especially was lively. He has great feet, good speed and linked up well with Bali Mumba. The two of them split the Magpies’ defence apart and as Benji broke into the box was brought down just as he was about to pull the trigger. Whether Sinclair was the appointed penalty taker or not, it was he that was determined to take the kick.

This was a competent proficient dismantling of a team that are struggling to stay in the Football League and have just appointed a new manager. We are seeing a club that at last is being run in a professional manner. Things are looking better on and off the pitch. We should be celebrating this fact.

Ha’way the Lads.

Sixer’s Sunderland U23s Soapbox: Ginger Messi on the comeback trail

There was an important game involving a North East team last night and Pete Sixsmith was there. Much as he likes the Lancashire town of Burnley however, he did not go across the Pennines in the hope of seeing a home side victory. He has his priorities and of much more significance and of greater importance was the reappearance of a player who has had no luck with injuries and yet can still provide Jack Ross and the first team with an added dimension in the push for promotion.

MIDDLESBROUGH UNDER 23s

It was a foggy night at Hetton as 444 hardy souls turned out to watch the Premier League 2 Division Two game against Middlesbrough. Not only was it foggy, it was damp. Not only was it foggy and damp, it was cold. It wasn’t a great night for football.

It was for Duncan Watmore. He made his return 12 months after a second cruciate injury and it was that rather than the attraction of Middlesbrough that encouraged people to put on their thick jumpers and winter coats and join the throng of scouts looking at players from both participants.

The fog was so thick at 6.50 that the referee was having grave doubts about starting the game. Like most fogs, it swirled around and came and went and although not quite a London Particular or a “Real Pea-Souper, Guv” it made for difficult watching conditions at times.

Could have been Hetton

As well as Watmore’s return, we welcomed back Andrew Nelson from injury and said hello to Sam Smart, a trialist from Basingstoke Town. There was also a smattering of players who had been seen at Morecambe two weeks ago in Jack Diamond, Jake Hackett, Jack Cartwright and Jordan Hunter plus first team squad members Balli Mumba and Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka, so it was a strong Under 19 side that turned out.

The first half was competitive with both sides showing a desire to play proper football rather than the dreary pass forward, pass sideways, pass backwards stuff that we have seen for the last few years. That does not prepare players for the higher levels of physicality in the professional game, particularly in the Championship and Division One  and it is noticeable that Cartwright and Hunter, recruited from Swansea City and Liverpool respectively, are tall, well-built players.

The Ginger Messi aka Billy Whizz aka Roadrunner

We should have scored in the 22nd minute when the impressive Smart was brought down in the box and Watmore stepped up to take the penalty. He didn’t hit it particularly well and it struck keeper Brad James on the leg and bounced out to safety. Nevertheless, Watmore had a couple of promising runs and looked confident as he took on the visiting defenders.

Jake Hackett, a possible loan target for at least one National League (North) club, did open the scoring a few minutes later with an excellent free kick that looped over James and we went into the break a goal to the good.

There was a bright opening to the second half with James making two good saves but the visitors’ strength told as they scored three times within 20 minutes. By this time, Watmore and Smart had departed to be replaced by Nelson and Diamond and Boro had also missed from the spot after Hunter had brought down Brahimi. Ben Liddle put his shot against the post.

The equaliser came when Sam Johnstone, who had done well in the first half, remained rooted to his line, leaving an unmarked Connor Malley to head in. Coaches must wonder what they can do when errors of this magnitude take place. Maybe they could make the defenders write out 100 times: “I must be more aware from corners.” Ok, maybe not.

More sloppy defending allowed Daniel Ward to make it 2-1 and when the powerful Stephen Ward made it 3 with a few minutes left, the crowd started to dwindle away, hoping to hear news of a resounding Burnley win. Disappointment number two  loomed.

Despite the weather, it was an enjoyable evening catching up with old friends and yarning about football in general and SAFC in particular.

We now move onto the league game with Barnsley and the return of Max Power.

Peer through the gloom to watch highlights of the game here

Sixer Says: Duncan Watmore’s injury a cruel setback for a top bloke

Duncan Watmore discusses macroeconomics and high finance with a Toronto Mackem, Martin Bates, during the 2015 visit to Canada

Monsieur Salut, locked into a West End cinema after the Oxford Circus ‘incident’, writes: at my great age, the threat posed by leaden legs and dodgy knees to continued enjoyment of badminton may be disappointing but is neither surprising nor tragic. For Duncan Watmore, just back from one eight-month layoff with a rupture to the anterior cruiciate ligament of his left knee, to suffer an identical injury at just 23 is shockingly unfortunate.Pete Sixsmith leads all at Salut! Sunderland in wishing a speedy recovery for a man Chris Coleman called a good player, an even better person …

In a season that has been full of bad news on and off the pitch, we had to suffer another blow on Wednesday when the club announced that Duncan Watmore would be out for the rest of this desperate campaign as a result of the knee ligament injury that he sustained against Millwall. He won’t be back until next season at the earliest – who knows which league we will be playing in then.

A groan went around the ground on Saturday when he remained down clutching his knee. There was hope when he got up and re-joined the fray, but it was clear that he was struggling and as he limped off a couple of minutes later, the air of despondency, already high as we were 2-1 down, increased to the level usually found on the Government benches every time Boris Johnson stands up to put his foot in it.

The prognosis was not good, but we held on to the hope that it might be bruising and that he would be back to play his part in what is going to be a mighty struggle to stay in the Championship. By kick off time on Tuesday, we knew that his season was over and that one of the brightest stars in our admittedly threadbare firmament had been extinguished for at least a year.

He is the one man in the club with genuine pace. On Saturday, when he was given the correct ball, he cruised past Neil Taylor (a Welsh international full back) on at least two occasions and looked as if he could cause all kinds of problems down that flank.

Alas, it was not to be and this well spoken, intelligent individual will have to go back to the dreary grind of recovery, always assuming that the next operation is a success. Hopefully it will be and he can continue to make progress in what we hope is a promotion challenge for 2018-19.

He’s not only a player with potential; he’s also a thoroughly decent young man. He was at the same school in Macclesfield that gave us the Today programme’s Nick Robinson.

He joined us from Altrincham (another side to have fallen very much from grace) and set the Under 23 games alight with his pace and boundless enthusiasm.

Don’t hasten back – take your time, Duncan

Although not a member of the Di Fante production team, he is the only one of that motley crew (Diakite, Roberge, the Czech fullback, Jozy Bloody Altidore) who is still at the club. He has repaid the relatively small fee that we paid for him with a great performance and the clinching goal at Norwich where he probably had his best game for the club. Sam Allardyce knew how to use him; Dick Advocaat and David Moyes didn’t.

When a new manager comes in, all players want to impress. Duncan had a good forty minutes on Saturday in front of Kit Symons until he had to go off. Coleman spoke in glowing terms of him as a player and as a person and hoped that he would be back playing as soon as possible.

A couple of weeks ago, he became the 20th player to join Juan Mata’s Common Ground project, where players pledge one per cent of their weekly pay to a charity. He joins internationals Matts Hummels and Giorgio Chiellini, Premier League stars Charlie Daniels and Alfie Mawson and women stars Heather O’Reilly and Pauline Bremer in trying to make a difference.

I am sure that all our readers wish him a speedy and complete recovery. We look forward to seeing Duncan roar up the Championship next season in a red and white striped shirt.

Sixer Says: McNair stars, Talbot assured as Sunderland overcome Hertha Berlin

Sleek Sixer savours a Sunderland success

Pete Sixsmith is beginning to see some Sunderland wins. Sadly, they are not so far in the Championship. Maybe that will change on Saturday when proper football returns after the tedious international break. The Under 23s overcame a strong challenge from Hertha Berlin and a returning Paddy McNair caught Sixer’s eye, as did Duncan Watmore and a young keeper he thinks we may hear a lot more of …

Last night saw a welcome return of the Premier League International Cup as we hosted Hertha Berlin at the Stadium of Light for our opening game.

Read moreSixer Says: McNair stars, Talbot assured as Sunderland overcome Hertha Berlin

Sixer Says: two cheers for Watmore as Under 23s lose to West Ham

 

Sleek Sixer now …

Monsieur Salut writes: in fact there were many more cheers for a decent 70-minute outing for Duncan. The crowd watching the Sunderland Under 23s against West Ham appreciated his running, his passion and the mere fact that he’s back. If Pete Sixsmith offers two cheers not three, it is because he also noticed a familiar Watmore failing: what to do at the end of one of his bursts of speed that leave opponents trailing behind. But it will be good to have his flair and his commitment back in the side.

I wrote recently about the death of a friend and former colleague Charlie Whebell, a West Ham supporter of the old school. He’d have enjoyed watching his young ‘uns remind everyone of the importance of taking chances (and been impressed by the willingness of the subs to chat to spectators) …

Read moreSixer Says: two cheers for Watmore as Under 23s lose to West Ham

Moyes on the Boys v Leicester: we beat the Champions but let’s not get carried away

Moyes On The Boys

John McCormick  writes….. 
I was at our previous  game, which we lost. We did, however, have the semblance of a team and it was our first loss in three games, against a full-on Liverpool team. So full on, in fact, that I endured loads of stick on Monday from deluded scousers who, having listened to Klopp, thought we did nothing but defend. But I knew better and had a feeling we would show what we could do when we played the Premier League champions.

Not that it matters what I think. The really important words come from our manager, who writes to Colin (and maybe one or two others) immediately after each game. And Colin, in his turn, passes the letter on to his team so we can share it with you:

Read moreMoyes on the Boys v Leicester: we beat the Champions but let’s not get carried away

Duncan Watmore’s challenge: score a (winning) goal like this against Hull City

With thanks to the YouTube pages of ExplosiveLemonz

All season, many of us have watched in admiration some of Duncan Watmore’s approach play, his tenacity and his sheer enthusiasm only to be disappointed, as he clearly is, by the lack of end product.

That wasted final ball, the missed opportunity to shoot, the tendency to run a shade too far or let the ball roll beyond him – each of these has happened in games and a bright lad like Watmore did not need Monsieur Salut to tell him so.

So just click on the clip above and savour a moment of finesse he produced in an England Under 21 game.

Read moreDuncan Watmore’s challenge: score a (winning) goal like this against Hull City