Malcolm Dawson writes……….Pete Sixsmith is used to getting up early, what with next door but one’s dog to walk and the papers to deliver to the great and good of Shildon, so catching the coach to West Ham was no hardship. Watching the match might have been but for 94 minutes it looked like he could have been celebrating a 50 per cent improvement in our points total on the long journey home. That he wasn’t isn’t a novelty, but still he goes along most weeks to bring you his insightful views of how the Lads performed. Here’s what he rattled off before journeying forth to take in the Under 23s’ match this lunchtime.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..I nearly didn’t go today. I’ve got a bad back. But my lift arrived early so I struggled into my socks and shoes and did what Lamine Kone didn’t do and trekked along to the Stadium of Light. I’ve moved a row back this season but the faces from last year were all there and we spent the pre-match minutes inevitably talking about how the events of the close season have put us back into a familiar frame of mind for our first home game of the season. Of the starting XI only Don Vito, PvA and Defoe were left from the line up which had put Norwich, Chelsea and Everton to the sword and ensured another season of Premiership struggle. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to be consolidating ourselves as a top half side. Instead we lined up with kids and other clubs’ reserve team cast offs. My GP has ordered a whole set of blood tests, I’m due an X-Ray in the week to see if he can determine the cause of my pain and has threatened me with a prostate examination if nothing is forthcoming from those. (I think he’s a closet Mag!) In the meantime I’ll let Pete Sixsmith describe his own painful experience (and I don’t mean getting through the multiple roadworks on the A690.)
Malcolm Dawson writes………I gave some serious thought to going down to France for the pre-season friendlies but in the end never got my act together soon enough then other commitments intervened. Our ace match day reporter Peter Sixsmith also gave serious thought to making the trip before failing his medical and settling like me, for the SAFSEE link.
But Salut! Sunderland and Shildon are represented by the presence of Peter Horan who sends us this brief account of events so far via the wonders of modern technology. So not technically a French letter but French i-phone e-mail doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Anyway – over to Pete H.
THE WATER CARRIER CAME TO EVIAN
Wherever you go, these words are used as a ‘thank you’ for visiting France. Despite a national state of emergency with the army patrolling the streets, the French nation remains determined and welcoming.
And so it was that three lads from Ferryhill and one from Shildon arrived at their first destination, the French resort of Evian Les Bains via an unfortunate detour into Switzerland, courtesy of a dysfunctional Citroen Picasso satellite navigation system.
The Stade Camille-Fournier, the venue for the first two games of the French pre-season, overlooks the lovely town of Evian and Lake Geneva. The facility was the base for the German National team during the Euros. An excellent choice by Big Sam who as things turned out preferred to take himself off to Burton on Trent, home of the FA’s new training facility and where sparkling spring water is converted into beer!
The first game against a modest Swiss team, FC Stade Nyonnais, offered opportunities for many of the development squad (with a sprinkling of established first teamers) to impress the new manager. Two Watmore penalties made it a comfortable 2-0 victory for the Lads in pink and purple, but let’s leave the field of play and concentrate on the antics of the bench.
Scissors, Paper, Stone was popular with Borini, Khazri, van Aanholt and a young skinny thing called Joel Aroso. Keep an eye on this lad. The half time warm up consisted of keepy-ups with a forfeit for failure. Khazri was stitched up several times, the forfeit being a finger flick to the ear.
Paper, Scissor, Stone continued after half time, then Aroso came on and he impressed us all with his pace and touch. I think he also impressed the new manager who was getting his second glimpse of his inheritance, having turned up at Rotherham within hours of his official appointment.
On the second match day, the County Durham lads planned a ‘cultural tour’ of Evian. Our hotel was close to the training complex and to reach the funicular railway, the start point of our tour, we had to walk past the training area. Our timing was perfect. The squad had just arrived via the funicular from the five star ROYAL HOTEL. What a wonderful opportunity for a scoop but no chance as they skulked onto the training area and immediately set to with another session of Scissor, Paper, Stones with one exception – Jermaine Defoe who appeared wearing boxing gloves and proceeded by sparring with a club physio. According to a club source the gloves were a penance for a hotel room incident.
The second game was against Dijon FCO and the starting eleven contained ten regular first team players and Joel Aroso. He must really have impressed the manager on his first appearance! He showed his gratitude by scoring a goal and then creating one for Khazri. Borini scored a third from a penalty. Kirchhoff managed 90 minutes as did Kone. The three ‘K’s’ continue to impress.
The bench consisted of development squad. Not to be outdone by the previous game’s substitutes’ antics, Honeyman and Greenwood had a proper scuffle as to who sat where In the end they had to be separated and spent most of the game sulking.
As I pen these words we are in Switzerland, returning to Aix Les Bains for the final game against Montpellier. Well, that’s the plan. We may yet end up in Montenegro if we take advice from Sat Nav Picasso which like its namesake sees the world in peculiar ways.
Malcolm Dawson writes…today was an opportunity to look at a few of the development squad and they acquitted themselves well. Of the others who came into this game Jack Rodwell, Jeremaine Lens and Seb Larsson still have contracts in place whilst Dame N’Doye and DeAndre Yedlin presumably go back to their parent clubs this summer with an idea as to whether or not Sam still has his eye on them. Just how many of those five will be back at the Acadamy of Light preseason we’ll have to wait and see. Fabio Borini and Lee Cattermole, secure in the knowledge that they will be back, joined the fans for the party atmosphere in the stands. Personally I thought we did well and this XI didn’t look out of place against a mid ranking Premiership side. Even N’Doye had a decent game, obviously preferring to play as an out an out centre forward than a wide man. Only Big Sam (and maybe those players themselves) know if today was a chance to be part of his future plans but the manager was happy with today’s performance as his post match e-mail to M Salut and others shows.
WATFORD 2 SUNDERLAND 2
There were a few decisions that didn’t go our way today.
The fans came down and they sang all the way through and were entertained; they got to see some of our younger players, who I think stood up to the test today and played very well indeed.
We created a huge amount of chances and we got in front twice. The killer for us was Duncan [Watmore]’s goal – that would have made it 2-0 and I think it should have been allowed, however it wasn’t to be.
Eleven games, one defeat; no defeats in the last six games and 12 points from those games.
Watford played a full strength side and we only had a couple of players that have been involved in our last seven games.
What we’ve seen today stands us in good stead for the future.
We have to make sure we go into next season, build on this and don’t start the way we have done the last few years. We need a good start and to look much better, that’s what we need to concentrate on.
For now, that was a brilliant send-off for the fans, we matched Watford in every department and what we saw was very pleasing, they could enjoy their day.
Malcolm Dawson writes………if Saturday was immense then Wednesday night was immenser! The first part of the job was completed at the weekend with victory over the Blues of Chelsea. The crowd was there to see the team complete the job against the Blues of Everton and my word were they up for it? What an atmosphere, what a noise! This was the best home support ever at the Stadium of Light, even eclipsing some of those fantastic games we saw in the Peter Reid era. We can truly say the Roker Roar is alive and well.
Chicken or egg? There’s no doubt in my mind that a positive mindset within the crowd spurs on the players, but Big Sam has engendered an ethic and workrate in his team that motivates the crowd. Last night every single player, not for the first time, gave far more than their utmost. Man of the match? For me Kaboul but only by a whisker. Everyone deserved a 10 last night, from Manonne who looked so assured and made some cracking stops, to Wahbi Khazri who ran around all night like (to quote Pete Sixsmith) a Yorkshire Terrier on acid. We have to give the manager credit for that and he revelled, quite rightly, in the adulation he received. We have all seen players who have bought into the club, Bennett, Gates, Hurley, Ball, Quinn, Arca, Gabbiadini etc. and I sense that there are some in the current squad who we can add to that list. Let’s get M’Vila signed on a permanent deal. Let’s make sure that Jermain Defoe entertains no thoughts of moving back to the south coast. Let’s turn over Watford on Sunday and take the momentum into next season. I can’t say we’ll do a Leicester but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect Big Sam to move the club into the dizzy heights of mid table security. The downside of that will be not having times like last night to savour.
Of course Pete Sixsmith was in the sell out crowd enjoying it as much as (if not more than) anybody. Now, after getting up early to do his paper round and walk next door’s dog, writing his bit for one of the nationals and doing his bit for the Northern League he still finds time to bring us his take on last night’s proceedings.
And so it came to pass that the Good Lord/ Supreme Being/Call Him What You Will allowed us to pass on the Pirelli Stadium and cancel the visit to The City Ground. Once again, for the tenth successive season, we will be trudging off to Eastlands and Ashburton Grove, while our avian friends can have days out in Wolverhampton, Ipswich and Wigan.
This time, as we have done for the last three years, we saved ourselves. Not by a backs to the wall draw against a washed out Arsenal side or a steady win over a West Bromwich Albion squad who couldn’t wait to get to the beach, but with a rip-roaring, rollicking, rambunctious win over the poorest Everton side I have ever seen. We scored three goals for the third time in five games with these three coming from defenders, ably assisted by an opposition goalkeeper who would have looked out of place in the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Division Three.
But that is nothing to do with us. We turned out a team that was determined not to mess up and send us into a potentially buttock clenching last day of the season. Jobs were allocated and jobs were done. The build up was patient, nobody panicked and there was a feeling that the goals would come.
The first one came from Patrick Van Aanholt, a candidate for the most improved player on the club’s books. A defensive liability for last season and the first part of this, he has listened to advice from Allardyce and has responded positively. His fourth goal of the season, following on from ones against Spurs, Swansea and Stoke City was a well struck free kick which caught Robles wrong footed on its way into the net.
There was a mixture of jubilation and relief at this and like London Buses, another one came along a few minutes later – this one thumped home by Lamine Kone, nearly knocking the goal over in the process. Kone has been a sensation since he arrived from L’Orient in January. Big, strong and an inspirational character, he made his mark with the winning goal against Manchester United and then sealed his name in SAFC folklore with two in this stirring victory. Had we taken the plunge, there would surely have been a host of clubs enquiring about his availability. (Don’t forget his flattening of Yaya Toure – Ed)
His partner at the back, Younes Kaboul was, quite simply, magnificent. Up against Romelu Lukaku, he dominated the Belgian international to such an extent, that he spent as much time in the Sunderland penalty area as Mick Jagger does in Britain – Jagger might have got nearer to the goal. It was an immense performance by Kaboul who started the season off being compared unfavourably with Sylvain Distin after that dismal defeat at Dean Court. Since building up his fitness and building a partnership with Kone, he has looked impregnable. Only Jamie Vardy has got the better of him since January.
The other stand out performance came from Yann M’Vila who produced a perfect example of what mid field play should be. Not for him the Shelvey approach of standing in the middle of the park and pinging the ball to the linesman. M’Vila reads the game, rummages around and is there wherever he is needed. He would be a great miss if he were not here next season. Sign him up Sam.
All of those who played last night covered themselves in what passes for glory in our corner of the world. We don’t ask for much but we do ask for effort and each and every player gave us that, from Mannone with a couple of excellent saves to Defoe, who worked the feeble Everton back four throughout the game.The atmosphere at the start was tense. Once Van Aanholt and Kone made the game safe, it was excitable and when Kone wrapped it up was a joyous celebration of our safety and the relegation of the Tynesiders. Of course it was parochial. Of course it was malicious. Of course it was great fun.
“Lock up your horses, there’s going to be hell” warbled the crowd. “The Mags are going down” and “We are staying up” followed. The splendid young man from Toronto sat next to me asked what they were singing. His grandparents were from Jarrow. This was his third game of the season. He got the horses reference – a true red and white. He had been over for a family funeral and this had made up for the sadness of that.
Now is not the time for looking at the whys and wherefores of the season. It hasn’t been a great one (surprise, surprise) but we have come through and have retained our place in the top league. We will be one of the first visitors to The Olympic Stadium and we shall be booking into Webster’s Guest House at Salisbury and supping in The Duke of York again. Shame we have to go to Middlesbrough.
The manager and the players have done well in the last ten games and very well in the last five. They do it for money but also for the supporters. Anyone who has listened to Mannone, Defoe and Borini this last few weeks knows how much they care.
And they also did it for those who are no longer here. Stuart Green would have been beaming after this. Steven Wilson would have been ecstatic and would have ribbed his best mate Brian Neil about the Geordies going down. And Suzi Horan would have absolutely loved it. Those three typify what our club – any club- is all about – the supporters.
Malcolm Dawson writes……the sun is shining on Weardale this morning, a song thrush is belting out its tuneful, if somewhat repetitive song and the smell of grilled bacon is permeating the kitchen. All’s well with the world. Yesterday was grey and overcast and a gloomy sea fret hung over the Stadium of Light. But the atmosphere inside was anything but gloomy. For once we were pleased that Manchester United had won and we knew that good performances against the Blues of West London and the Blues of Merseyside could see us safe.
Apart from the first home game of the season (a dismal defeat by Norwich you may recall) when certain sections of the crowd left en-mass, our fans have been immense all season. Post match comments from Big Sam and his players show that this is appreciated, just as the fans appreciate the all out effort and commitment we have seen recently from the players. This was only the fifth home win of the season and whilst we could (heaven forbid) still go down, a sixth on Wednesday will see us safe. The crowd were in raptures as the final whistle went as was Pete Sixsmith, our regular correspondent who sends us his view of yesterday’s game.
Over the years, Chelsea have figured quite prominently in the ups and downs of M Salut and myself, going back to May 1963, when the Pensioners (as they then were) came to Roker Park, won 1-0 and leapfrogged us into the remaining promotion place behind a Stanley Matthews inspired Stoke City. That dismal defeat should have warned me that being a Sunderland supporter brings more pain than pleasure, more relegations than Championships and more heartbreak than happiness, but at the tender age of 12, I was smitten and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, there have been some memorable fixtures involving the workers from Wearside and the stylists from Stamford Bridge. We beat them twice in the League Cup semi-finals, the second leg complete with police horses trying to tackle Colin West. A truncated Roker Park erupted when Gordon Armstrong’s header took us to the FA Cup semis and ultimately Wembley 24 years ago and there was that never to be forgotten afternoon when the Quinn and Phillips combo, aided by Paul Thirlwell and Eric Roy in midfield, tore them apart at the Stadium of Light.
They also played a great part in the second of the three (possibly four) “Great Escapes” in which we have been involved, as we gained that most unexpected win in front of their fans, creepy owner and gracious Portuguese manager a couple of years ago.
But this 3-2 win, in front of a sold out Stadium, is potentially the most rewarding and the most significant of them all. 2-1 down at half time, we played with an intensity and verve rarely seen since the halcyon days of Reid and Saxton, took the game to the retiring Champions and came away with three points that put us in a position where we have our fate (and that of our avian rivals) firmly in our own hands. It was one of those games that will live long in the memory and will be told to the Care Assistants ad infinitum in the days when I have forgotten who I am and where my trousers are. But the memory of Wahbi Khazri’s volley, Fabio Borini’s firm drive and Jermaine Defoe’s turn and shot, will stay in the memory bank when much else has been cast aside.
The first equaliser was a goal of great beauty and was up there with Defoe’s stunner against Newcastle a year ago. It came after Mike Jones had made us take a free kick again, part of a display of pernickety refereeing that frustrated all afternoon, and when it was headed clear by Mikel, Khazri hit a sublime volley that shot past Courtois into the net.
It cancelled out an earlier Costa goal, scored with rather too much ease as Hazard and Cahill carved up a hesitant defence to play in the pugnacious Spanish/Brazilian, a man who if he were a dog, would be a Staffy, all sniffing and snuffling and running into you.
Within minutes of the leveller, our defence capitulated again as Matic got on the end of a simple ball by Fabregas and was unchallenged as he rolled the ball into the net. Allardyce’s team talk wrote itself there and I imagine that the non-native English speakers came across some Black Country words and phrases that they had not been taught at school.
The hero of the first part of the second half was Vito Mannone. He made two outstanding stops from Costa, advancing off his line in both cases and inspiring his team mates and the crowd. He is a far better keeper than Pantilimon and the improvement in the team is partly due to the defenders having confidence in him.
The manager made a bold substitution, replacing a tiring Lamine Kone with John O’Shea to give us some stability – and it worked. He then replaced a tiring Jan Kirchhoff with Duncan Watmore – and it worked. Finally, off went Lee Cattermole who had had a tremendous game but who had been quite rightly booked, and on went Seb Larsson – and it worked. N’Doye stayed on the bench – you know what is coming next……..
Three substitutions that all strengthened the team and the work ethic; two grizzled veterans of relegation scraps and one active, colt like figure – and all three played huge parts in grabbing this all important victory.
The crowd, noisy all afternoon, erupted when Borini thrashed in the leveller, after good work by Van Aanholt and then took the decibel level over that which is comfortable, when Jermain Defoe picked up Yedlin’s ball, turned and slotted it past the keeper.
We held out after that, not comfortably, but effectively. Chelsea were shot and the icing on the cake came when John Terry, a player as popular away from “the Bridge” as a pint of John Smith’s Extra Smooth would be at a CAMRA convention, was given two yellows in rapid succession. Such sweet and simple pleasure as he trudged off.
At the final whistle, blown when the magnificent Mannone had the ball in his hands, the ground erupted again as the news came through that Newcastle had hung on for a draw against Villa. The calculations were simple. Win on Wednesday – we stay up and they go down.
The players have done all that is being asked from them. Some are tired after experiencing the intensity of a league that is like no other in the world. For those coming from France, the noise and passion must impress and frighten them. Kone struggled yesterday but Khazri stepped up with a performance high on energy and quality. Yann M’Vila, subject of some criticism recently, had a fine game. He has played in every game since he arrived; yesterday showed why.
Players like Kaboul, Defoe and Cattermole have the experience to take us through this last week of the season and help put us in a position where “we never have to go through this again” (see repeated mantra ad infinitum). We need to approach Everton as we approached Chelsea and press them from the outset and tighten up at the back. They have good players who must be disappointed after a relatively poor season – although I don’t see them down amongst the dead men.
This victory did not quite make up for the disappointment all those years ago – but it went a long way towards it.
John McCormick writes: this was surely an “I was there” game, only I wasn’t, I had to make do with the TV. A nervy start had me hiding behind the settee and I found it difficult to watch, even at 2-0 up, but I persevered and managed to relax when young Duncan scored. What must it have been like for yet another magnificent away crowd, and for the players and manager to win in front of them?
Here’s what Sam has to say in a letter he composed and sent to Colin (and maybe a couple of others) before getting back on the bus
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.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..an away point is always good and after it seemed like defeat was on the cards especially welcome. We are still a few wins away from safety and even two on the bounce might not get us out of the bottom three after today’s results but let’s not quibble. Sam was happy and says so in his post match e-mail to M Salut and the rest of the extended Mackem family.
LIVERPOOL 2 SUNDERLAND 2
When you’re two-nil down at Anfield you think your day’s all over, but today we fought back from being two goals down with two quality goals of our own. We earned ourselves a point by not giving up and never saying die. It looked like the fear left us and we seemed to play a lot better after falling behind.
I was disappointed when we fell to one-nil because I thought we didn’t deserve it, [Patrick] van Aanholt had an unbelievable chance to pull us back just after, but he didn’t manage to score and then we were at fault for their second goal. I thought we had defended well up until that point and we had created a number of chances.
We had to make some changes today because of illness and injuries and then Duncan [Watmore] got injured early doors too, which forced us into another change.
[Adam] Johnson came on and he got forward a little more than what [Yann] M’Vila, [Jan] Kirchhoff and [Lee] Cattermole had been doing and it made a difference.
We never said die; we showed character and worked on opening up Liverpool a little bit more and it paid off with a quality free kick and then [Jermain] Defoe took his chance and wow, what a goal! It’s the quality of those goals that got us our point.
It’s not often you can come back from being two goals behind to get a point and it’s a very precious point for us today!
From the excellent Chris Young of the Sunderland Echo comes the heartening news that Duncan Watmore scored three times as Sunderland walloped Newcastle 6-0 in the secret friendly.
Seven-in-a-row? Of course not. Of no importance? Debatable but yes, if you support NUFC – though even some of their fans are joking about Steve McClaren telling the TV afterwards he was proud of his lads’ “fantastic” performance and was just disappointed at the result.