Last December, we reported the death of an electronic friend, a fellow-Sunderland supporter known from the Blackcats e-mail forum for both his allegiance to our club and his sharp wit. George Pitcher‘s widow, Kathy, now feels able to share a little more about the life of the Newcastle-born, Sunderland-mad man she loved – the ‘red sheep’ of the family as he put it himself – starting with an illustration of George’s passion for the game and mention of another tragedy that struck the family in the same year his own illness was diagnosed …
No Sunderland to endure and Pete Sixsmith was spoilt for choice. SAFC Ladies’ third game in the Women’s Super League – a spirited comeback from a goal down to beat Bristol City 2-1 – and Shildon’s Northern League title bid (a win ) beckoned. But Sixer looked north of the border for his Saturday football fix …
The day went well. Trains ran on time, the weather was fine and the football was a trifle stilted but at least I got to see a home game where half of the home support didn’t leave before the hour mark.
We have our spies, or at any rate a spy, in Portugal who promises faithfully to act as Salut! Sunderland‘s foreign correspondent. No spies in Lincolnshire, so far as we know, so we must just trust the reporters got it right and Danny Graham really did score. Pete Sixsmith had mates there who can fill us in on the detail if they wish. The man himself felt Tynecastle held more attraction than either, or was just an easier or better trip …
Here’s a very quick posting of the last of Pete Sixsmith‘s New Year trilogy … plus excuses for absence from the Reebok ..
Peter Sixsmith began his New Year footy fix with a trip to Whitby where he saw the home side come from behind to start 2013 on a winning note. There was little to cheer him on the his trip to Merseyside where Liverpool achieved a comprehensive victory against a lacklustre Sunderland. The final part of his trilogy sees him travelling back to Edinburgh for the SPL derby match. One suspects his cheap rail fares and midweek room rates will bring him better value for money than his day trip to Anfield.
NEW YEAR TREBLE PART 2: LIVERPOOL V SUNDERLAND
It was Harold Wilson who said that “a week was a long time in politics”. Bugger politics. It’s a long time in football.
Seven days ago, we were bounding out of the Stadium of Light having beaten the league champions after turning in an exhilarating performance that showed all our positive qualities. Coming as it did after a win at fellow strugglers Southampton, much in the garden looked rosy and for the first time in a while we were looking upward at West Ham and Norwich rather than downward at Aston Villa and Wigan .
A home defeat to Spurs followed and then we had the visit to the cauldron of noise and passion that once was Anfield – except there seems to be very little passion at Anfield nowadays …. and that is the only dig I will have at them, as they ran out deserved 3-0 winners in a game that was one too many for us and which showed our lack of depth and cover.
We actually ran them pretty close in the first half, with McClean and Kilgallon missing the kind of chances that have to be taken at this level. McClean’s in particular was a game changer. We had gone a goal down after the ball had been returned to Suarez. The Uruguayan handball specialist (sorry, couldn’t resist it – he’s too good a target to miss, unlike Reina’s goal) had played in Sterling who scored with what I would have described as a “delightful chip” had I not been a Sunderland fan.
But had we levelled against a defence that looked shaky at times, who knows what would have happened. As it was, Suarez showed strength and pace, both of which were too much for Carlos Cuellar and scored an excellent goal (said through gritted teeth) to put them just about out of sight.
Kilgallon then contrived another miss which would have given us something to cling on to and the words of wisdom from MON and his staff would have revolved around “don’t let them score a third; frustrate them and we might just get something”.
As they say “fine words butter no parsnips” as those instructions were completely ignored and a third was quickly conceded. It was a good goal (there’s those teeth gritting again!!!) engineered by Gerrard and rounded off by Suarez. But the ease of which they took our defence apart was frightening.
After that, it was a stroll for Liverpool and only their inability to stay onside kept the score at a respectable level. Benno was correct – it could have been five or six.
The worrying thing for me was the way that our heads dropped in the second half. This has not happened under MON, even in games where we were well beaten, such as Albion last season and Manchester United this, but last night we looked a beaten and tired team who were searching for inspiration and found none.
Four games in twelve days is a lot for a squad as weak as ours. Playing so often means that the team needs to be freshened up, but we do not have the personnel to do it, although David Vaughan must wonder what he has to do to get a decent run out.
As it was we stuck with players like Kilgallon, Larsson, Colback and Johnson ( vastly inferior to Downing last night, in fact vastly inferior to Tony Cullen on that performance) all of whom looked desperately in need of a break. That may come at Horwich on Saturday.
The bench offered little. It told us that James McFadden, fine player that he once was, will be looking for employment at Coventry or Chesterfield rather than Sunderland and that Fraizer Campbell will not be adding to his England cap.
It really was a miserable second half as we were made to look very poor indeed by a Liverpool side who have three things that we don’t viz;
i) strong central defenders who are not knocked off the ball and who make firm tackles rather than last ditch ones.
ii) central midfield players who look for and find space and who can actually pass a ball. Jordan Henderson had a good game, but Gerrard and Lucas ran the show.
iii) genuine pace up front. Suarez was very good and was a real handful for Cuellar and Kilgallon – and I suspect that won’t be the last time I use that phrase this season.
We are now looking back over our shoulders as QPR conjured up the most unlikely win of the season and Good ‘ol ‘Arry begins to play the market. The result from what is forever the Sports Direct Arena, gave us some cheer as did the news of the imminent departure of Ba, but that is little solace when we were as comprehensively outplayed as this.
What will MON do in the next month? He could start by looking at some of the younger players for Saturday. If the likes of Laing, Knott and Deacon are ever going to get a chance Saturday is the perfect opportunity. Points in the league are vital and I would willingly take a cup shock at Bolton if it guaranteed 6 points from West Ham and Wigan.
The squad needs to be strengthened. A central defender who has pace and strength, a midfielder who has vision and a forward with a bit of pace would do for starters. We could do with letting some go as well – Championship managers be on the lookout for some bargains.
That’s two games in a row where the visitors have fallen apart in the second half. Let’s see what the Hibees do at Tynecastle tonight.
See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739
Pete Sixsmith began a busy week of football with a trip over the moors to Whitby. He proceeds to Anfield tonight and will be at Tynecastle for the Edinburgh derby tomorrow, having found train fares and hotel accommodation cheaper than chips, chips he was denied on the east coast. Expect more pigeon-post tidings from our own football nomad in the coming days …
A NEW YEAR TREBLE: Part One
Thanks to Liverpool being made to play on Sunday, our New Year’s Day fixture was pushed back a day, making it so much easier for working people to attend the game. Sunderland fans will get home at 2am, many Liverpool ones even later.
I had choices for my Hogmanay football fix. Hartlepool v Preston North End was the closest one, Gateshead v Barrow appealed but I headed off to the North Yorkshire coast and Whitby Town’s Northern Premier League game against Frickley Athletic.
The visitors used to be known as Frickley Collieries and are based in the town of South Elmsall. Their large ground was surrounded by spoil heaps and there is a story, possibly apocryphal, that a Southern League team, playing at Frickley during the miners’ strike, were bombarded with slag for showing insufficient support for the cause.
Check out our Anfield build-up:
* Guess the Score is at https://safc.blog/2013/01/new-year-greetings-spurs-gone-for-now-guess-the-score-at-liverpool/
* The Liverpool ‘Who are You?’ interview with Neil Atkinson from the Anfield Wrap: https://safc.blog/2012/12/liverpool-who-are-you-the-anfield-wrap-lowdown-on-kenny-rafa-and-dreadful-hodgson/
I try to get to Whitby at least once a season, partly for the football, partly for the fish and chips at Trenchers Restaurant. That was knocked on the head on this visit due to large numbers of people having descended on the town looking for a bracing walk followed by fish and chips. I made do with a coffee and a Danish.
I also had trouble parking and eventually found a place near the Grand Hotel, an Edwardian structure built in the French chateau style. It used to be owned by Bobby Scaife, a police officer from the Heartbeat period, secretary of Town for a number of years and a man who went on a well publicised sponsored slim and ended up putting on a stone.
Town are managed by Darren Williams, a hero of the Peter Reid era (and renowned as history’s most enthusiastic handclapper of Sunderland supporters after each game – ed), who is taking his first tentative steps in management. He is in charge of a club that has never been relegated but who have survived in the NPL Premier Division by the skin of their teeth in recent times.
They do have trouble attracting and retaining players due to their geographical isolation and the chairman has spoken about a possible return to the Northern League. Crowds are below 300 and travelling expenses are considerable – Whitby to Grantham, Hednesford and Stafford is a long, long way.
Frickley arrived at the Turnbull Ground with a dismal away record having lost every league game they have played away from South Elmsall. Jake Picton gave them an early lead, but a superb through ball by central defender and Ferryhill old boy, Alex White, allowed Craig Farrell to equalise.
Farrell, a big, strong centre forward, added two more to claim a hat trick, with Ashley Corker claiming the other. Both were helped by a point blank refusal by the Frickley defence to mark anyone in the box.
Next up is Liverpool, bigger and brasher than Whitby and minus the fish and chips that the East Coast is famed for even if they were beyond my reach on Tuesday. The Cains Bitter will have to suffice.
Malcolm Dawson writes….. Well a trip to Hampshire may not have been on Pete Sixsmith’s plans as a build up to Christmas but he’s not a man to let a deluge deter him from finding some football somewhere. The rain may have thwarted his plan for a Northern League double as both Spennymoor (KO 1.00pm) and Shildon (KO 3.00pm) found their pitches suitable for subs – but only of the Captain Nemo, Nautilus variety – but a plastic pitch and a cheap day return to the capital of Scotland allowed him his regular fix of weekend footy. Pete writes….
A PLEASANT WEEKEND FOR ONCE.
That was a good weekend for Sunderland fans.
Three points at Southampton, defeats for the bottom three and a real hammering for Villa on Sunday, gives us a breathing space in the perennial struggle against relegation.
It may all have changed by next Sunday – for the worse if we take nothing from the next two home games, for the better if we can avoid defeat, for the infinitely better if we are six points better off at 4.55pm on Saturday 29th.
I had never intended going to Southampton. There was no Durham Branch coach, meaning a potentially expensive and possibly uncomfortable train journey. I have been to St Mary’s twice and it is a fine example of the Middlesbrough/Derby County/Leicester City small but beautifully made new stadium. And I’m getting grumpy about Premier League football in general and our form in particular. So, I gave it a miss.
If missing a game means that we will win, I am prepared to spend the rest of the season watching non league football. It was an excellent victory, one that all the independent sources I have seen say that we thoroughly deserved and that the qualities of Fletcher and Johnson will keep us out of the mire.
I spent the afternoon at New Ferens Park watching Durham City play Newcastle Benfield in the company of several other irregulars. One of them, Keith Scott, is a Sunderland supporter par excellence, a man who was taken to Roker Park by his dad in the 1950’s and who has seen all the ups (not that many) and downs (far too many) of the last 50+ years.
Like me, he is not a radio man. It is difficult to focus on the game you are watching while listening to commentary from Southampton. In addition to that, I took the wrong radio; Radio Newcastle broadcast the home games on DAB and away games on FM. I took the DAB. Not very clever.
So, I got the flashes from 5Live, including the winning goal as I dipped in every ten minutes. With ten minutes left at St Mary’s and the game at New Ferens Park meandering to a very satisfactory end for Durham City, I said my good byes and made for the trusty Mazda.
What to do? Put Barnes and Benno on and tempt fate or listen to the closing stages of Manchester City v Reading on the national station? I opted to leave the radio off until 16.57, by which time it would surely be all over. And it was. As I pulled off the motorway at Bowburn, I picked up an excited Gary Bennett praising the hard work that the players had put in and rejoicing in three very important points.
So a good start to the weekend football wise, and it got better as Fulham were dragged into the melee at the bottom. We need to continue to take points from those around us; the only team in the bottom third to have beaten us is Villa. They may take a while to recover from the shellacking they got at the Rich Man’s Playground yesterday.
The likes of Abramovic at Chelsea, the Emirati’s at Citeh and the Kuwaiti’s at Paris St Germain would think nothing of splashing £24m on a Torres, a Balotelli or an Ibrahamovic. For a similar figure, they could buy one of Britain’s most splendid clubs in Heart of Midlothian F.C.
I spent Sunday at Tynecastle watching their SPL game with Dundee United. The man behind me said that they feared liquidation before the end of the season. Their Lithuanian owner, Roman Romanov has lost interest, players have gone unpaid and the Revenue are after them. They really do fear that this could be the end. After all, if it could happen to Rangers, it could happen to anyone.
The Wheatfield Road Stand at Tynecastle is a brilliant place to watch football. It’s a very steep structure and you almost feel that you could reach out and touch the players from Row 26. I have seen two of my all time favourite games here; a 4-4 draw with Hibs, with Hearts scoring twice in injury time and an absolute classic where they beat Kilmarnock 5-3 in 1997. That game was remarkable for a Pat Nevin master class for an hour before he ran out of steam and a superb hat trick by French centre forward Stephane Adam for the Jambos.
And now, it could all be coming to an end. The fans have raised a staggering £1m in a matter of days to stave off immediate closure and the players have clearly bought into it as they gave their all to defeat Dundee United. The crowd responded to cup final hero Rudi Skacel returning as a United player by giving him a standing ovation in the 51st minute. Skacel wore 51 as a reminder of what must have been a wonderful day for those of a maroon persuasion when they beat city rivals Hibs 5-1 in last seasons SFA Cup Final. We know what it is like to be gubbed like that by the local rivals!!!
The current Hearts team is a mixture of journeymen pros and promising youngsters. There is no Craig Gordon to flog off to England, although I was impressed with sub Callum Patterson when he came on. He’s part of Ricky Sbragia’s Scotland Under 19 squad, so he will benefit from some excellent coaching.
No more football until Boxing Day and hopefully a double header. Spennymoor v Shildon and Us v Manchester City – two wins for the underdogs would be a perfect Christmas present.
A Merry Christmas to all our readers.
See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739