Sixer’s Portsmouth Soapbox: dogged, determined and disciplined as the Lads get to Wembley

Jake says “WhooooooHoooo”!

Malcolm Dawson writes……I said after the Southend game that I actually thought finishing 5th wasn’t such a bad thing, as I felt we stood a better chance of beating Portsmouth over two legs than Charlton, and that a one off game at Wembley against Charlton was preferable to another meeting with Portsmouth at the National Stadium. I fancied us getting the better of Doncaster in either situation if we ended up having to play them.

Well it looks like Donny pushed the Addicks all the way but we now find ourselves facing a repeat of the 97/98 play off final, albeit one division lower. Can we do a week on Sunday what we couldn’t do 21 years ago? Let’s hope so, though if we are successful this time, there will be a fair bit of work for Jack Ross, Tony Coton and the rest of the recruitment team to do over the summer.

This current squad have rarely dominated games but showed their character and determination in both legs of this tie. I couldn’t fit in a visit to Fratton Park, which was a shame as I could have got to Doncaster but Pete Sixsmith did. It’s a long way to Portsmouth and Pete sensibly stayed over which is why we’ve all had to wait for his match report but it’s here now.

Enjoy.

FAREWELL TO PORTSMOUTH.

That was a tense evening. Nails were bitten (finger and toe), hankies were shredded and fingers were peeped through but in the end, we came through and we are probably all now in the process of sorting out transport and buying match tickets for Wembley.

The Scream

Smug people like me took a chance and bought a train ticket a while ago once it became clear that the play offs were likelier than an automatic. Had we failed to reach the final, I would still have gone to London and booked myself into the British Museum for the Edvard Munch exhibition. The Scream would have been most appropriate if Portsmouth and their charmless fans had got there.

I have also purchased my ticket with the ease of George Sanders putting on his cravat. Simple and straightforward, all I have to do now is hope that Royal Mail and Ticketmaster between them can get them delivered pdq and then I can relax.

Sorting out a Wembley ticket

Which is more than I did on Thursday night.
Non
I imagine that those who watched and/or listened to it at home suffered the same anguish and torture that 1400 of us went through at Fratton Park – not that the home team ever really threatened but there was always the off chance that they might sneak one through a dubious penalty or a wicked deflection. But they didn’t.

I enjoyed the feel of Fratton Park. It’s a real old school ground which has been improved over the years and is an example of what Roker Park might have been like had we not decided to take the plunge and build a new stadium.

It still has floodlight pylons that towered above the stands although this was the last time they would be used as they are coming down. As the sun set over the yardarm, the lights came into their own and walking away from the ground at the end, through terraced streets with the floodlights shining above took me back to walking along Roker Baths Road and standing at the hatch at the Roker Pie Shop before going in to the Clock Stand Paddock.

The game was not a classic.

If you want free flowing football spiced with silky skills, this was not for you. But if you wanted to see a Sunderland side show that when they need a result they can actually hack it, you’d have appreciated this. I hope that Jack Ross and his staff get the praise they deserve. They had a game plan and it worked. They picked a team that was strong, eager and not likely to be intimidated by elements of the crowd who seemed to think that every tackle made by a Sunderland player was either a penalty or a sending off or both.

Sunderland through and through

Grant Leadbitter epitomised this. He has been marginalised recently and his lack of form is probably explained by his mother’s terminal illness. As most know, she passed away the day before the game but Grant rose to the occasion and did his parents proud with a commanding performance. It was different from the vibrant attacking one that I remember from along the coast at Southampton twelve years earlier when he struck a magnificent winner to take us to the top of the Championship but it was just as important. Most definitely one of our own.

He was aided by his old sparring partner, Lee Cattermole, who was magnificent in the face of some appalling provocation. Gareth Evans, a man with a bigger mouth than Piers Morgan and Jeremy Kyle combined, committed a foul on Cattermole in the fourth minute that, had it been later in the game, would certainly have been a red card. His boot was almost wrapped round our man’s head but he got up and proceeded to snap and crackle about the pitch, timing his tackles, winning the ball and hitching up his shorts without giving Peter Bankes the slightest opportunity of booking him.

Catts continued to hoik up his shorts

There were others who stood out – in fact the whole team did. There were no late lapses a la Scunthorpe and Peterborough, no careless challenges and no dropping deeper and deeper. We controlled this game from the first minute to the ninety sixth.

John McLaughlin was so steady and reliable that when he got a weakish punch on a cross near the end, there were gasps of astonishment from the support who don’t expect him to do such things. The confidence that he gives his defenders is palpable and they know where he is at all times. He collects the ball in a way I have rarely seen in a Sunderland keeper, using the minimum of effort and the maximum of timing. He’s my player of the year and as a former goalkeeper of some repute myself, I knows a good ‘un when I sees one.

Both full backs were excellent with Luke O’Nien even popping into the paddock to exchange banter with the Jolly Jack Tars in the crowd.

Jolly Jack Tar

They thought he was a weak link and attacked his flank. He gave them nothing, just that lovely cheeky grin as their attempts to intimidate him failed yet again.

On the other flank, Bryan Oviedo was brilliant and showed his class throughout. With respect to Reece James and Denver Hume, Oviedo is a far better player than they are – he glides forward and, when defending, jockeys his opponents rather than committing himself. When Jamal Lowe finally appeared, he never passed Wearside’s favourite Costa Rican once.

Flanagan and Allan were a successful partnership on the stage and Flanagan and Ozturk look a good combination on the pitch. Both rarely put a foot wrong or missed a header and Ollie Hawkins, who had caused Baldwin and Flanagan problems at Wembley cut a lonely figure as he was hauled off with twenty minutes left.

What Ozturk may lack in pace, he makes up for in his reading of the game and his physical presence. What Flanagan may lack in physicality he makes up for in pace.

The others all played a major part.

George Honeyman is an easy target for the naysayers and doom mongers but he made them eat their words here. He popped up everywhere – a tackle in one corner, an interception in another, a pass through the middle, a header saved by the keeper; he did it all. Leave him alone. He’s not a world beater but his efforts are prodigious.

As were those of Max Power who was the junior partner in the midfield three and did all the heavy leg work that Grant Leadbitter can’t do. He was exhausted when Lewis Morgan replaced him with ten minutes left on the clock. The Scot did a good job as well by taking the ball into the corner and not losing it, I think he is a decent player and we would do well to bring him in permanently.

Chris Maguire succeeded in annoying the Portsmouth players, none more so than Tom Naylor who threw the ball at Mr Wind-Ups head. Could have been a red card, but again the ref, who generally speaking had a decent game only saw fit to issue a yellow. But Naylor was walking the metaphorical tight rope and his game was ineffective. Maguire’s second important contribution to the tie.

Jake and and Jack capture the moment

Charlie Wyke was left on his own to tangle with Clarke (good player; should we go up, try and sign him) and Burgess (as big a baby as Steven Taylor) and he revelled in his role. His all-out efforts have won over a sceptical fan base who, let’s face it, have had much to be sceptical about over the last few years, and we can look forward to a full season from him come August.

And finally, the home team players, manager and supporters.

If you are a Portsmouth fan or ever harboured a soft spot for them as I once did, look away now.

The players carried out their manager’s instructions to commit early fouls, roll around, dive, behave like big babies and wrestle with Charlie Wyke. Players (with the exception of Chelsea goalkeepers! MD) do as managers ask.

Ours stuck to their tasks with diligence and honesty and reflected Jack Ross.

Portsmouth’s reflected Kenny Jackett, a man with no tactical nous and a limited appreciation of the game. There were copious moans about him from those in the queue at Fratton Station and I would be surprised if he lasted the summer.

Most of the support is decent and voluble, but the snarlers, kickers and flare throwers who have disfigured this series of games do not reflect very well on Portsmouth as a city or a football club. The fool who kicked Luke O’Nien needs banning and they really need to look at the way in which their seating is allocated. Naughty, naughty boys.

Yorkshire Rascal and Jameson’s

I called into a pub in Fareham on my way back to the hotel and met long time Fareham residents Ian Tindale and his lads George and Harry. Loyal Mackems surrounded by Saints and Pompey, we shared memories over a beer and a couple of Jameson’s to set the seal on a very rewarding and ultimately enjoyable evening.

More of the same on Sunday 26th will do nicely.

Ha’way The Lads

 

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Sixer Says: Pete Sixsmith looks at our January transfer dealings

Malcolm Dawson writes……this transfer window was supposed to be different. We were supposed to get players in in good time and we did get one new player and a loanee made permanent early doors. We also lost our top scorer. There was plenty of speculation throughout the month to suggest we wouldn’t be left to panic buy, but it took until the very last minute, with a permissible extension, to complete the business. The club’s official website unveiled two signings on the last day – one who had been reportedly putting pen to paper and having medicals over the course of the week and one who was totally left field and unexpected. The final piece of the jigsaw wasn’t officially announced until this morning but the club’s long running pursuit of their number one strike target was finally ratified by the football authorities earlier today (Friday).

Pete Sixsmith assesses our January transfer business.

THE WINDOW CLOSES.

Rade Prica anyone? What about Danny Graham? Anyone fancy Ashley Fletcher? Or Darron Gibson?

Those are examples of a few of the disasters that we have signed in the January window over the years. There are more – who could ever forget/remember Kader Mangana and Sotirios Kyrgiakos, signed by Paolo DiCanio and Martin O’Neill respectively. And Matt Kilgallon wasn’t exactly a roaring success, was he?

So the business done in January 2019 seems to be an improvement on that of the recent past. We have a returning supporter, a promising Northern Irish central defender, a winger who may be able to cross a ball, a young man who has been in the England system for four years and the player we have been pursuing like a fire engine hurtling to an explosion in a chemical plant. (Not forgetting the permanent signing of a midfielder with a powerful shot and the propensity to give supporters a free lift to the pub! – Ed)

We have shed a couple, both to Dundee, one on loan, one permanently and almost got one of the high earners off our books so I would imagine that the management, both on and off the pitch, will be reasonably pleased with what has gone on. Oh, and we lost our leading goalscorer.

I say reasonably because it looks like we may have had to pay a lot more than we hoped for when we finally prised Will Grigg away from The Home of Pies so that he could join his chums Reece and Max on Wearside. Stewart Donald’s tweet this morning is an interesting one, along the lines of “I hope we do pay Wigan £4m because that will mean that we are back in the Premier League.” That would be nice….

Of those who have come in, what do we know of them?

Jimmy Dunne

Jimmy Dunne played at Scunthorpe and looked sound. His style and physique are similar to that of Baldwin and Flanagan, so we now know what kind of central defenders Jack Ross likes – big, strong boys, similar to those admired by Sergeant Major Williams in “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” but with a wee bit of panache about them. Whether Dunne may turn into a permanent addition remains to be seen but we can but hope that he is as effective as the young Northern Irish centre half who joined us on loan in January 2007, one Johnny Evans.

We know lots about Grant Leadbitter. He scored a wonderful goal at Southampton in April 2007. He grabbed Lee Cattermole by the throat when Cattermole hacked him down at The Riverside. Keane thought he was good enough for the top flight, Bruce didn’t. He did well at Ipswich. He was very, very well thought of on Teesside. What’s not to like about that?

Grant Leadbitter back in the day

And he is a Sunderland supporter who clearly “gets the club” and that may be an important factor in signing him, as many of the players signed in recent seasons appeared not be fully aware of the power that this club has over the local population. It will be interesting to see where he plays. Will Cattermole or Power drop out? Will Grant start from the bench? Will he prove to be the midfielder who can get hold of a game and drive us forward?

All will be revealed between now and May 4th.

Lewis Morgan

Lewis Morgan is clearly a Jack Ross signing – like Dylan McGeouch and Alim Ozturk, only more so. He knew the latter two by reputation but he knows the former through working with him at St Mirren. He appears to be a winger who can move the ball quickly and if he can put in some decent crosses and even take a half decent corner, we will be dead pleased. He could be another Carlos Edwards with a bit of luck.

Kazaiah Sterling comes with an excellent pedigree. He is a part of the Spurs first team squad and they are the third best team in England. He is rated by Mauricio Pochettino and he is arguably the best manager in the Premier League. Sterling is part of the England set up and, most importantly, Victor Anichebe rates him.

Kazaiah Sterling

Welcome to the North East, Kazaiah. We hope that your stay is a fruitful one and similar to that of Jermain Defoe, the last player we signed with a Tottenham connection – I think.

Finally, and at the last stroke of Big Ben as it thundered out midnight, we got Will Grigg. Wigan quite rightly played hardball with us as we expected them to do and the package, with add ons comes to somewhere in the region of £4m. That’s about one sixth of the fee paid for a Paraguayan that nobody had ever heard of before the summer (let’s hope he is as good as Cristiano Riveros, one of Steve Bruce’s scattergun signings when he still had some credibility on Wearside) but it is a remarkable fee for a club in Division One (Three).

Let’s hope so.

Grigg has form in this league. He has been promoted out of it four times – once with Brentford, once with MK Dons and twice with Wigan and he has scored freely for the Pie Men. Last season, he notched 19 goals, two seasons before that, he rattled the back of the net 25 times. Double figures would do this time round.

He is a very different player from Josh Maja in that he combines speed and physicality in his game and has little of the subtlety that Maja possesses. I don’t envisage him scoring a goal like the Bordeaux man’s final goal for us at Scunthorpe – a brilliant pass to the full back and then a wonderful run into the box to head home – but I do envisage him feeding off Wyke (who might get a few good crosses from Morgan) and using his pace to run at defenders who much prefer brawn to speed.

As always, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, starting on Saturday. AFC Wimbledon were mightily impressive in their cuffing of West Ham United and will not be easy but the sight and sound of new players should help us to get back to winning ways. I expect this team to start;

McLaughlin; Matthews, Dunne, Flanagan, James; O’Nien, Leadbitter, Power, McGeady; Maguire, Wyke subs; Ruiter, Baldwin, McGeouch, Gooch, Watmore, Sterling, Morgan

And a win………

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Salut! Sunderland welcomes Grant Leadbitter, Lewis Morgan and Jimmy Dunne. More to come?

Granted: Leadbitter’s wish to come home. Image from safc.com

Salut! Sunderland mostly hears from the club’s de facto programme editor Oscar Chamberlain when he is asking for contributions from one of our little team. So far this season, the matchday programme has included features by Pete Sixsmith, Malcolm Dawson, John McCormick and Monsieur Salut.

It is always a pleasure to be able to help out – but even more so when Oscar is bearing news of new signings.

So we have been delighted so far this week to learn of the arrivals of Grant Leadbitter, back at the club he has supported from boyhood, and – on loan from Celtic – a winger, Lewis Morgan, well known to the manager Jack Ross from St Mirren days.

Lewis Morgan, our on-loan signing from Celtic. Courtesy of safc.com,

Salut! Sunderland extends its customary warm welcome to both, and also to Jimmy Dunne, the young Irish defender who arrived on loan from Burnley in time for a useful debut at Scunthorpe.

Pete Sixsmith is planning to assess our January window ins and outs once all business has been done.

Leadbitter’s return is emphatically not, says Ross, based on sentiment. He is 33 but a model pro and a midfielder cqpable of scoring important goals. He said he was “absolutely delighted” to be back, adding: “When you’re a born and bred Sunderland fan and there’s an opportunity to come back… I was never going to say no.”

At safc.com, Oscar reports today’s completion of the Morgan loan signing until the end of the season.

‘Morgan began his career with Rangers before moving to St Mirren in 2013, and he played a starring role for Ross’s Buddies during the 2017-18 season, as the Paisley-based side clinched the Scottish Championship title.

After signing a four-year deal with Celtic in January 2018, the pacey winger moved to Glasgow six months later and made his debut for Brendan Rodgers’s side in Europe’s most-illustrious competition, the UEFA Champions League.

A standout 12 months also led to international acclaim, with Morgan making his Scotland debut in a friendly against Peru in May 2018.’

The 22-year-old player told the site: “My game is based around scoring and creating goals, but I obviously also try to work hard for the team, and that is the most important thing.

“Something special is happening at the club this season, and hopefully I can contribute to that.”

Jake: click the banner to reach the Salut! Sunderland home page

Praising Cattermole for what he is, and what he is no longer

Jake: 'Lee Cattermole - pleasing the crowd, pleasing the pundits'
Jake: ‘Lee Cattermole – pleasing the crowd, pleasing the pundits’

It was clear the moment Monsieur Salut nominated Lee Cattermole as Sunderland’s player of the season so far (at ESPN: see http://www.espnfc.com/barclays-premier-league/23/blog/post/2129545/the-best-20-premier-league-players-so-far-this-season) that the North East’s football writers would feel obliged to follow suit. In fact, they’ve gone one step beyond and made him their player of 2014. Pete Sixsmith discusses a top three selection with a distinctly Sunderland flavour …

Read morePraising Cattermole for what he is, and what he is no longer