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 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.
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.