Pete Sixsmith writes: I have been dormant since that gut wrenching, heart breaking, anger inducing last minute defeat to Charlton, a game which showed that we were not good enough over 46 league games or over 90 minutes, two observations that were as worrying as they were disappointing.
Subsequently, I paid little attention to and took little interest in what was going on in the football world, a world that for many seems only to exist at Eastlands, Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Ashburton Grove and White Hart Lane. Or, if you are a Newcastle United supporter, outside of a Sports Direct shop where you can shout rude things about the owner.
Malcolm Dawson writes….this was a pretty good day all round. The sun was shining as we left County Durham and it stayed that way as we made our trouble free journey down the A1 and M62 arriving at Brighouse just as the sun climbed above the yardarm. Surprise, surprise the pub was awash with red and white striped shirts enjoying a beer and a Wetherspoons breakfast. I’d hazard a guess that most other pubs near the roads leading to Rochdale in this part of West Yorkshire and over the county boundary would have been the same.
We managed to get parked close to the ground and I got myself a commemorative mug.
There are many different ways to win. The home game with Rochdale had been relatively straightforward and provided the satisfaction of a comfortable victory, but there is a different kind of contentment that comes from conceding early then sealing victory in the dying minutes. As we saw in that first game of the season against Charlton, and last week at Wembley, this is a team that will keep trying until the final whistle and testament to the work ethic that Jack Ross and his backroom team have instilled at the Academy of Light.
And still the sun shone.
I was home by 7.30 which is not much later than many a journey back from the Stadium of Light when there’s been a big crowd. On the whole a pretty good day.
Rochdale might be struggling near the foot of the table but there have been few easy games in this league and this was another where our boys had to dig deep to get a result. How did Pete Sixsmith see things and what sort of day did he have? Read on to find out.
The Duke of Wellington was not a great football fan. As a pupil at Eton College, he was probably more inclined to the eponymous Wall Game before he became an eminently quotable soldier and politician.
He preceded the European Reform Group by two centuries when he said “We always have been, we are and I hope we shall always be, detested in France.” His view of railways was spectacularly wrong – “Depend upon it sir, nothing will ever come of them” – but he was often succinct with his advice. When, in his dotage, he was asked by Queen Victoria how to rid the Crystal Palace of sparrows, he replied “Sparrowhawks, Ma’am, sparrowhawks.” It worked.
His best known quote relates to Waterloo – the battle not the station – which he described as “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life” and that could well be a summary of the win at Spotland on Saturday, a win that left us maintaining our lead over a dogged Portsmouth, breathing down the necks of a worried of Barnsley and putting us within catching distance of long time leaders Luton Town.
It was by no means the footballing master class that we produced on Wednesday. This was a win that had to be dug out after we went into the break a goal down to an invigorated Rochdale side who gave everything and ended up with nothing. Had I been a neutral, I would have felt some considerable sympathy for them and their newly appointed manager, Brian Barry-Murphy, but sympathy is of no use if you are in the relegation zone.
It needed a performance of some character to overcome them and we got that in the second half, with Charlie Wyke, Dylan McGeouch and Luke O’Nien leading the way as we stormed back to take three oh so valuable points and send a shudder down the spines of Tykes’ and Hatters’ fans and management.
Aiden McGeady, the catalyst of the splendid win at Accrington on Wednesday, was missing and was replaced by Lyndon Gooch. He lasted half an hour before he limped off and was replaced by George Honeyman. Cometh the hour, cometh the man as they say in the gentrified parts of Southwick, Shildon and Shotton.
By half time we were a goal down and struggling. Rochdale had absorbed our early pressure, with keeper Josh Lillis making a fine save from Will Grigg and when our defence committed its only serious lapse, Ian Henderson was on hand to take advantage of a Joe Bunney cross to put Dale ahead.
Henderson formed a striking partnership with Aaron Wilbraham, a partnership with a combined age of 73. The former is a mere stripling of 34, the latter a venerable 39 and they caused us some problems, mainly by denying both Baldwin and Flanagan the space to move forward. At Accrington on Wednesday and at Wembley, both had brought the ball out. This was denied them here.
Henderson’s shot was the only one on target from a Rochdale player and McLaughlin had a relatively quiet afternoon although he did make a fine second half save when a clearance from Baldwin ballooned into the air and he had to be quick to push it over the bar.
The players did the usual “girding up of loins” and showed their character and fitness in the second half.
Dylan McGeouch was outstanding, fetching and carrying and wearing out Camps and Rathbone, who had thwarted him in the first. His drive and energy enabled us to spend the entire forty-five minutes on the front foot and he will continue to play a major part in the promotion push.
Charlie Wyke had won many sceptical fans over on Wednesday with a thundering performance at The Crown Ground. He did it again here and was rewarded with the kind of goal that he scored for fun at Carlisle United and Bradford City.
Denver Hume played him in and he rolled a Rochdale defender before turning and tucking away a well-placed shot beyond the keeper to level the scores and create an impetus that ended up with a late, late winner. He looks fitter and more up for it and he appears to enjoy working with Grigg. There is less pressure on him and Grigg is a much more straightforward player to link up with than Josh Maja was. The sound of his name ringing around Spotland will have done him a world of good.
We pressed for the winner.
Denver Hume, a tad disappointing today, was replaced by the returning Bryan Oviedo which meant that the thrust of our attacking came from the full backs. By this time, O’Nien was running Joe Bunney ragged down the right hand side and it was from here that the winner came.
In the 89th minute, O’Nien once again got past Bunney and into the box. His low cross was picked up by George Honeyman who turned it past Lillis to send the 3,500 Red and Whites into a frenzy and to heap despair on the Blue and Whites who were preparing to celebrate a point well taken.
We closed the game out comfortably and news came through that Luton had drawn and Barnsley had lost so there was joy unconfined amongst the hordes as they poured back to the buses and cars scattered around the residential streets of Spotland – although in my case I missed the street where the bus had parked and had to be collected on the main road having walked a mile away from the ground. My face was redder than a Sunderland track suit top. Silly old fool…….
Sometimes promotions are won when you have to dig a win out. We are good at come backs and have a reputation for resilience. Late goals at Walsall, Wycombe and now Rochdale have put us in a strong position. The squad is the deepest in the division and players who have come with strong reputations and had not so far lived up to them, have stepped up and shown why Jack Ross and Tony Coton brought them to the club in the first place. Others have improved as the season has gone on and have played major parts in continuing this promotion push.
The only drawback in going up is that it takes away the visits to places that we have rarely been to before. Rochdale was a pleasure. The sun shone, the town looked good and there was plenty to do pre match.
Many headed for a large Wetherspoons where a customer came in, took his coat off and revealed a Newcastle United top. He was ushered out by staff as the Greater Manchester Constabulary arrived and called him an idiot.
My wanderings took me past the site of a theatre where Gracie Fields made her first public appearance, I gazed in wonder at the Gothic splendour of the Town Hall,
so admired by Hitler and spent a pleasant hour in the Rochdale Pioneers Museum where I bumped into Gary and Jane Stout. He has just retired from teaching so I was able to assure him that it was a time to look forward to.
The Baum next door to the museum fed and watered me with a cottage pie with pickled red cabbage and a pint of Admiral from Rochdale’s Pictish Brewery. Should you find yourself in the town I heartily recommend this fine pub with its cheery bar staff and excellent food and drink.
So, apart from wandering the roads of Rochdale post match, a grand day out and a pleasant journey back in the light. Home by 8.00, I even stayed up to watch the highlights on Quest. I shan’t be bothering with that any more.
We now go into a sequence of three successive home games which will define where we finish up. Let’s get behind the team and roar them home. Near run things are fine once in a while but straightforward victories are much better for the blood pressure.
I don’t know what the First Duke of Wellington would have made of all of this, but he would have admired the fighting spirit of Jack Ross’s troops.
“Up Guards and at ‘em” seems a fitting way to end.
Ha’way The Lads…..
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Catts out, gooch out,mcgeoch out of his depth, ditto nien, honeyman out of form.
Malcolm Dawson, deputy editor, compares and contrasts Sunderland AFC’s encouraging progress on and off the field with some less positive thoughts remembered from one contributor to Comments at Salut! Sunderland earlier in the season …
Malcolm Dawson writes……..are you a glass half full or glass half empty type of personality? This was one of those games where the moaners and complainers will point to the fact that we have only won one of our last five games while those of a more upbeat persona will point to the fact that after nine games we have only lost once and are still near the top of the table. Some will point to the fact that in that time we have only kept one clean sheet while others will say we have never failed to score. Some observers will acknowledge the fact that two injuries in the first half, meant Jack Ross could do little to change the shape of the team or bring on players who could offer a different type of threat, but there will be those who will question the manager’s picks in the first place and focus on perceived weaknesses in others.
Stewart Donald was sitting in with the 5,000 Sunderland followers at the Ricoh yesterday and television close ups showed him sitting impassively whilst those around him were animated. It was difficult to know what he was thinking but not so Pete Sixsmith, who was also in the crowd. Here’s what he thought of his day out in the sunshine.
COVENTRY CITY (away).
Legend has it that Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of Coventry on a white horse to shame her husband into reducing taxes on the peasantry – or some such guff.
Legend also has it that Sunderland do not win games in this corner of Warwickshire. Twenty-three visits over the years have yielded but 3 wins – an FA Cup win in 1930 and league triumphs in 1976 and 2001. Defeats have been the order of the day, so a draw at a ground that we traditionally do badly on is surely some cause for muted celebration.
Well, up to a point it is. We did not lose. We dug in well after losing defenders to injury early on. We scored a good goal. All of these were positive points that we could take away from this rugby union stadium with a football club attached and hope that this is the point that ensures our occupation of positions one or two come May.
On the other hand, there were negatives to take back along the M69 and M1. There was some shaky defending, particularly in the second half, when City should have gone ahead. We failed to impose ourselves on the game after opening the scoring and building on the excellent goal we scored. Some of our support is not fit for purpose.
Let’s deal with the positives first. Losing Loovens after four minutes disrupted the original selection. Flanagan moved into the middle and Matthews took the right back role without seriously weakening the team. The drawback was that that there was one sub used already, reducing the possibilities of unleashing McGeady, Sinclair or Power in the second half.
When Hume went down with an injury on the half hour and eventually limped off to be replaced by Oviedo, we were left with just the one tactical change, assuming nobody else was affected by strains and pulls. Oviedo for Hume was a good exchange and the former Everton man gave us more poise and balance and should be playing for the foreseeable future.
To describe the first half as dismal fails to do justice to that word. Sky TV had no Premier League games to show on this day (BT had bagged them) and viewing figures away from the North East must have plummeted as casual viewers almost certainly preferred to watch the Manchester United car crash than an anonymous third level game being played in a half empty stadium – a stadium that would have been two thirds empty had Wycombe, Southend or Doncaster been the visitors.
Chris Maguire had hit the post from a free kick with George Honeyman failing to convert the rebound while City failed to launch one decent attack in the opening 45 minutes on a glorious autumn afternoon.
The second half was a vast improvement and probably saved Sky’s viewing figures from plummeting into double figures.
There was a greater urgency about both teams as they woke up and realised that there was a game to win. We struck first after a fine move down the right which ended with the goal scoring machine that is Lee Cattermole tucking away a good cross from Matthews.
That gave us a base to build on and, had we had a full complement of subs to use, it would have meant that a couple of astute tactical replacements would have kept City on the back foot.
As it was, they shook themselves, seized the initiative and pushed us back. Power replaced McGeouch in order to strengthen the middle areas but within two minutes the dangerous and competent Jonson Clarke-Harris had stroked home a well worked equaliser, setting up a hectic final 20 minutes.
Oviedo and Honeyman both had shots well saved by Burge as we looked for the winner but City had the best chance in the last minute. A long ball was played through, Flanagan failed to control it and the busy Chaplin bore down on McLaughlin’s goal. The keeper took the sting off his shot, but it looked as if it were rolling into the net when, in a puff of smoke that was reminiscent of a David Nixon illusion, Jack Baldwin appeared and managed to hoof the ball away.
There were sighs of relief all round the South Stand and howls of anguish from the other two occupied parts of the stadium. In the end, it was a fair result and neither sets of supporters could quibble about it. Not that that stopped some of ours.
George Honeyman and Josh Maja came in for the most stick, probably because they have come up through the ranks. Neither had particularly good games with the former giving the ball away far too easily and the latter not relishing the physical side of a game like this. Both have repaid the faith that the manager has shown in them and neither are anywhere near being left out of the team but the abuse that is heaped on them by some of the support is out of proportion.
Is it because Honeyman is a local who has been with Sunderland since he was a bairn? Is there an underlying element of racist attitude behind the criticism of Maja? There are some in our crowd who seek to isolate and bully players for reasons as basic as this – Jordan Henderson received fearful stick in his early days and Darren Bent’s mother was abused at Wigan, so we have previous.
Taking 5,000 to a game 200 miles away that kicks off at lunchtime is impressive and would be more so if some of the support did not see this as an opportunity to get wrecked on drink and whatever else some use to heighten their senses.
People in front of me missed the goal because they were having a drink in the concourse – what comes first, football or a pint of overpriced, over chilled lager in a heaving mass of humanity milling around a dark and gloomy shed? The lager won in this case.
What about the behaviour of the man who got off the coach at Ferrybridge Services and began to urinate in full public view despite there being a toilet 50 yards from where they had parked?
What about the pathetic skirmishing after the game which held up the departure of all 31 coaches and did nothing for the reputation of Sunderland AFC and its supporters. We even had unpleasantness on our coach on the way home due to excess alcohol and anger management issues that could lead to some of the regulars looking for alternative means of transportation or not going away at all.
It wasn’t the greatest day out. Up before 5.30, on the road by 6.45 and home for 7. 00pm meant a long day after a late night on Friday. That had been spent at another rugby ground, Headingley, where I had seen the worst Leeds display of a wretched season as they went down 16-17 to Toronto in a game that ensured Super League survival for Leeds and gave Toronto every chance of joining them next season.
The Leeds performance reminded me of Sunderland teams of the past few years – talented individuals failing to do simple things effectively and making life very difficult for themselves. This team needs to avoid falling into that trap. We have a good squad for Division Three and need to focus on doing the simple things right. And some of the support needs to remember that we have no right to treat this league with disdain. We are there for a reason.
Cattermole, who had a good game, misses Tuesday because of suspension so Power should be an ideal replacement. Should Gooch be unfit, McGeady will be a likely candidate to run down the wing while Sinclair could come in as a second forward. I doubt if Loovens or Hume will be ready so Matthews and Oviedo should continue. Flanagan struggled at times in this game and needs to concentrate carefully.
Peterborough United will provide a tough test on Tuesday. Their away form is excellent, having won all 5 games on the road. Now would be a good time to inflict that first defeat.
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Malcolm Dawson was back at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and enjoyed the feeling of an opening day win as much as anyone. But here in the post match light of day and with another difficult fixture at the weekend, he appeals for patience if the result from Kenilworth Road is not the one we may be hoping for.
Taking Stock after the Euphoria.
I write this waiting for the window for permanent transfers to close, expecting some last minute comings and goings, though with the loan window still open until the end of the month and that on mainland Europe, today probably won’t be the end of the ins and outs at Sunderland.
This summer has already seen a big change at the club and the general air of pessimism and despondency seems to have evaporated in the minds of most supporters. After Saturday’s win, the optimism and expectation, which preceded the game and the susequent nerves for the first half of the game, resulted in the euphoria of a come from behind victory. With a tricky game at Luton coming up, maybe it’s time just to sit back and actually look objectively at where we are and temper those expectations. We will not win every game, much as we would like to.
If we start with the playing side of things it would seem that in Jack Ross we have a manager with ambition, tactical nous and an appreciation of what the fans want to see, both in terms of playing style and commitment to the cause. But let’s not forget this is a team in transition. It is a squad of players made up of those brought into the club who haven’t played together and a batch of inexperienced players who have come up through the U23s, with two of the three longer term members possibly on the way out.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we have the ability to mount a definite title challenge this year but it will take time for the players to get used to each others’ strengths and weaknesses and with so many injuries, even this early in the season, it could be a lengthy process. That Jerome Sinclair, who looked lively and changed the momentum of the game when he came on, took a knock and will be out for a few weeks is a blow, especially with Charlie Wyke’s first appearance still a while away.
The first half of the Charlton game showed that there will be plenty of opposing teams who will give us a run for our money. I thought we started brightly with attacking intent, but it is fair to say that The Addicks looked the more dangerous in the opening half hour. Our back four were not cohesive in those early exchanges but over the 45 minutes I thought we were unfortunate to be behind. Though there was no argument with the penalty it was perhaps a needless challenge.
The whinging of some Charlton fans is understandable. Losing in the last minute after being ahead for so long is always hard to take but we bossed that second period with Oviedo and Sinclair causing problems and Jack Ross’s change of tactics making the defence more secure. I didn’t see anything untoward and having asked a couple of people who watched the game on TV, one a Boro fan and the other an Everton supporter, neither saw anything other than an honest hard fought game and certainly nothing that suggested Gooch should have been shown a red card, as some of the away fans have suggested.
Of the new players, McClaughin looks like a decent keeper, Maguire was lively, Loovens steady if a little ponderous. O’Nien ran about a lot but was mostly anonymous and Ozturk looked shaky to begin with though he improved playing wider in a back three than in the centre of a back four. Of those who weren’t making their debuts, Gooch I’ve always liked the look of since first seeing him at the Hetton Centre and he looked to run with the ball at every opportunity, Maja worked hard and seems to be getting into the habit of scoring 18 yard efforts from nothing, Matthews was steady if unspectacular, Love might be OK at this level but is no Oviedo. Mumba played well. Unless you were aware of him beforehand there is no way you would have thought that he was a 16 year old with just one minute’s previous experience of senior football. Honeyman was efficient and should make a good skipper.
Those Charlton supporters criticising the way our fans reacted were totally wide of the mark in my view. They would have no idea of just how apprehensive we have become after years of dismal home form. Over thirty thousand home fans at this level is some achievement and for followers of a club whose average home gate last season was around the 11,000 mark to criticise the attendance is a bit rich.
Were we quiet? Well for some periods yes but nowhere near as silent as they would have us believe and there was decent volume for a lot of the game. I used to have a season ticket in the area where the away fans are now seated and believe me the noise from the rest of the ground does seem muted up there. What it’s like when there are no home supporters anywhere between them and the Directors’ Box I can’t imagine.
But the roar of encouragement from the home support following the Charlton goal, was something that must surely have lifted the players. Of course there was apprehension after going behind. After all it is not unusual for us to be in that position and resign ourselves to defeat as our record in recent seasons after conceding first is abysmal, but there was plenty of vocal support and none of the negative vibes which had become a factor in recent seasons filtering onto the pitch.
Just as important was the crowd stayed to the end, with just a few trickling out to beat the traffic or whatever and there was no repeat of the mass exodus of recent times which must be a dispiriting sight for the players and staff.
One of the great positives for me over the summer has been the way the new ownership team has interacted with the fans. Not only the involvement of the supporters in the replacement of the faded seats, the appearance of the board in the fan zone pre-match and the inclusion of pieces by The Roker Report, A Love Supreme and a bit by M Salut in the revamped programme but by their constant reinforcement of the principle that the club belongs to the supporters. The manager has also talked about the need for unity and the responsiblility he and his players have for giving something back to the fans.
This is a refreshing change of attitude from the previous regime. In the early days Ellis Short was appearing to try to get to know the club and the people who follow it but it soon emerged that he saw it as his club, just as he sees any other business he owns as his business. I think it is hard to overestimate just how big an influence a feeling of unity can have on a football club and how it is perceived by others. I hope that should we suffer a few setbackbacks in the next few weeks the crowd will still stick with the team and maintain this togetherness.
I am grateful to the Roker Report for directing me to Charlie Methvin’s interview with FC Business magazine in which he outlines the financial issues which the club need to address in the short and medium terms. It is well worth a read if you haven’t already seen it. (See it here.)
All clubs, and Sunderland is no exception, have some fans who are impatient and who look at things in very simplistic terms, thinking the solution to all problems is to throw money at the business, that players can be brought in and offloaded just as easy as buying and selling at a car boot (and that any player we approach will jump at the chance to play for Sunderland) but the reality is more complex. As we have seen in recent seasons being profligate with our spending has resulted in our current situation. It seems the new owners have identified the problems and are looking to restructure the club in a way which will be viable and hopefully competitive in the long term by cutting the cloth accordingly.
We would all like to see our fortunes change immediately and that this season will bring instant gratification but it may not. I am optimistic that the way things are going the club is heading in the right direction and things will improve. I hope however, that should we suffer a few setbackbacks in the short term that those who turn up to the games and comment on social media will show some patience and not instantly turn their frustrations into criticism and negativity. Here’s hoping we win at Kennilworth Road, but should we not then it won’t be the end of the world.
Though the club hasn’t realised anywhere near the £14 million that Everton apparently offered a mere 24 months ago it looks as though Lamine Kone’s hefty wages are no longer something the club needs to worry about as his loan deal to RC Strasbourg seems to be going through. (Now officially announced.) On top of that it appears that the French club will be paying a loan fee with an option to sign in a year’s time.
I don’t know if securing this deal was necessary before the club could announce the signing of a much needed centre forward but finally they have confirmed something that websites everywhere announced well ahead of his official unveiling. But now they have may we at Salut! Sunderland roll out the welcome mat for the eleventh time this summer and join in with the salutations for a much needed addition to the forward line. Read what the club has to say here.
Although an injury suffered in a preseason friendly means we won’t be seeing him lead the line for a few weeks, the squad is beginning to look somewhere like what the manager wants. In a reversal of what we are often told about players coming to live in the North East, it has been suggested that Teesider Wyke was keen to move back to the land of three rivers, though Bradford is hardly a million miles away.
Doubtless there are still efforts being made for further incomings and outgoings but when all our injured players regain fitness, including the unfortunate Duncan Watmore, the revamped squad is looking more than capable for the challenge of the upcoming campaign, though I’m pretty sure a winger and another proven striker would be on the manager’s wish list.
Cattermole may yet go. Oviedo may yet go too and whilst O’Nien looks like a player who can step into the Cattermole role, it may be necessary to bring in another full back but with Love, Matthews and James and Flanagan all able to play there it may not be vital. The noises coming from the Academy of Light via the owner and manager are suggesting that both Cattermole and Oviedo are showing a good attitude and will feature as long as SAFC retains their registration.
The speculation regarding George Honeyman’s future seems to have ended with his appointment as captain. He is one of the few regulars who have featured over the past two seasons in Jack Ross’s plans and as someone who has been with the club since the age of ten he is doubtless keen to help drive the side onwards and upwards.
It’s all looking pretty positive. Win on Saturday and we go top of the division – for at least a couple of hours. Let’s hope it happens and that we can stay there for the whole season. This is the start of a new chapter and with Wyke’s signature meaning we have signed a whole new team, things may not happen at breakneck speed.
However after several years of underachievement things are looking brighter – but how many times have we said that!
George Honeyman, once thought to be among those wanting to leave Sunderland, as the new club captain.
SAFC.com quotes the manager, Jack Ross, as saying: “George’s attitude towards training on a daily basis is absolutely fantastic What he has is an absolute feel for this club because he’s come through the academy, but he’s also suffered, as a lot of people have through the past couple of years, and it bothers him.”
“He wants to help take the club forward and there’s no better way for him to do that than by being a successful captain. He’s a mature and intelligent young man, and his energy levels and application in games will be a major asset for us, so I’m delighted he’s wanted to take on the responsibility.”
Not so cool at the Pool, said Peter Sixsmith. Benji Kimpioka was cool, as were others of the young players at Jack Ross’s disposal. Catts and Honeyman, despite Ross saying the right things about how they were working for him, were distinctly uncool. What we all think of their agent, the club’s former CEO Margaret Byrne, may be best left unsaid. Sixer’s report – he chose the Victoria Ground over pub or armchair view of England losing decisively to Belgium – fills in the gaps while Monsieur Salut happily fetes France’s World Cup success, broadly deserved …
Unfortunately, it never came and I, for one, was worried by the arrival of Stephen Fletcher in the second half, because I’ve seen him at his best and ex-players do well against us. He did do OK. But how OK, and did he and Kieran Westood stop us getting that win? Pete’s match report will tell you all you need to know:
Malcolm Dawson writes…..it’s good to know some things in life are safe bets. One is that Pete Sixsmith can find a game of footy to watch whenever the mood takes him – which is frequently. Fresh from Shildon’s victory at Dunston on Tuesday and Bishop Auckland’s loss to Consett in the F.A. Cup on Wednesday he made it to the land of black pudding and the birthplace of the man who invented the modern police force for last night’s game, before he takes in another two matches on his way to Carrow Road. What did he make of last night’s win. Let’s find out……..
One banana skin avoided and another one to come.
After dispatching Second Division Bury, we drew Carlisle United at Brunton Park in Round Two of the English Football League Cup. Two decent draws and hopefully some progress in a competition which could lead to us devouring huge quantities of “cheesy chips on Wembley Way” – as the old song has it.
This was a competent performance in a season where competence is going to be the norm. We are getting an idea of what a Simon Grayson side looks like. Pressing, high energy, a solid back four and quick breaks – the exact opposite of the ponderous and painful football we played last season.
Granted the opposition will not be blessed with world class opponents like Sanchez, Coutinho and Ibrahimovic, but it is refreshing to see Sunderland players putting in a real shift and still looking reasonably fresh at the end.
Grayson turned a strong team out at Gigg Lane. Matthews came in for Jones (not much difference there), O’Shea for Kone (ditto), Gibson for Cattermole (different style) and Khazri for Vaughan (of which more later). The rest had played in the mildly encouraging draw with Derby on the Friday night and the temptation to chop and change wholesale was given up in favour of promoting a more cohesive team effort.
By and large it worked. O’Shea for Kone saw no great diminution in the middle of the back four. As always the Irishman went about his job in an effective way, reading the game well and talking young Browning and Galloway through a couple of sticky periods. I have a lot of time for O’Shea and will watch his coaching and managerial career with interest.
Darron Gibson has been on the back pages for all the wrong reasons but last night it was for the right ones. He controlled the midfield and cruised around the areas 40 yards either side of the half way line. His presence allowed the quietly efficient Didier Ndong to do what he is good at, as he won the ball and used it well. When Cattermole plays alongside Ndong, there is a feeling that both are doing the same job. Gibson has a different role. In this (now) 49-game marathon, the combination of two from three will be a valuable asset.
Khazri’s presence did not add a great deal I’m afraid. He could have been sent off for a petulant challenge on a Shakers player but the referee Robert Jones erred on the side of leniency. Add to that, a spectacular fall when he was clean through and it wasn’t a great night for the Tunisian and he was rightly withdrawn with 15 minutes left.
By that time the excellent George Honeyman had put us ahead with a delightful chip over Bury Keeper Joe Murphy. Honeyman had moved to the left after the withdrawal of the ineffective Aidan McGeady and looked far more comfortable there than he did on the right. He worked a good break with Joel Asoro and didn’t panic or fall down when he got into the box. It was a good way for him to open his account at first team level and he will clearly have an important part to play as the season grinds on.
So it was a competent rather than spectacular team performance and goodness, how we craved for those last season. By the end of this month we will know who is going to form the backbone of this team and games like this give us a clear indication of the manager’s thinking. No Djilobodji on the bench and younger players like Embleton and Greenwood left at home to play for the Under 23s against Tottenham tonight.
I shall miss that one as I am making a weekend of the trip to dear old Norwich. A couple of nights in Kings Lynn allows me to take in games at Fakenham Town (nicknamed The Ghosts for some unfathomable reason) and Boston Town (The Poachers for more fathomable ones).
The journey there and back cannot be as difficult as yesterday’s. A road traffic incident on the M1 had closed the road at Garforth so we had to go through Leeds to pick up the M62. On the way back our beloved Highways Agency had closed the 62 east and west between Saddleworth and Huddersfield for resurfacing, so we had a scenic tour of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. I love places like Rawtenstall, Skipton and Ripon – but not at 11 o’clock at night. A two-hour trip took three. Bah!!
A first league win on Sunday would set me up for the long slog across the A47 and A17.