Salut! Sunderland is awash with people who have taught the nation’s young (to which may be added those, like Monsieur Salut, who proved impossible to teach). And today is a day for former pupils. Pete Sixsmith, away watching this and that in Tenby, promises one of his will be submitting a report from last night’s 3-0 friendly win at Livingston, Jeremain Lens again scoring to remind us of what we missed and – presumably – will still have to miss.
And now, Ken Gambles delays important business in York – a few pints with friends – to introduce someone who once sat in his classroom. The images you see are the Lego models this ex-pupil, Chris Smith, has created to depict the Stadium of Light. Let Ken briefly fill us in ….
Pete Sixsmith had other plans after the Bury game so no one from Salut! Sunderland was at Easter Road for the 2-2 draw against Hibs.
Khazri and, believe it or not, the lesser-spotted Jeremain Lens scored good goals to put SAFC in a commanding position that was duly sacrificed as the home side scored two in three minutes and then went close to grabbing a winner. The clip shows excellent finishes for our goals and woeful defending for theirs.
Both of our scorers were surely in the shop window though imagine what assets they could be in the Championship if they stayed and were committed to the cause.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
Pete Sixsmith goes to Edinburgh, inspects the Fringe programme and then sees a match that makes him question his decision to watch football and not a spot of drama. A question reinforced by grim post-match encounter with the non-attending Hibs “casuals”, desperately sad and sub-human relics of football’s dark, yob days …
What is it with our pre-season and heavy rain?
Three years ago, a downpour of biblical proportions deluged Dublin, leading to the cancellation of our game with Shamrock Rovers, two years ago the heavens opened as we arrived in Amsterdam, soaking those of us who had packed, rather than worn, waterproofs while last year we were soaked in Sinsheim prior to the Hoffenheim game.
This year, it was Scotland’s turn to turn the water on Wearside’s finest, as the rain came down in stair rods over that nation’s capital, turning Easter Road and its environs into a passable imitation of the streets of Venice at low tide. When it rains in Scotland, it does so with a vengeance, almost as if it wants to wash away the memories of Union in 1707.
So we end the pre-season build undefeated in Scotland and the North East, winless in Germany and Lancashire.
Without the slightest disrespect to York City, Kilmarnock, Hartlepool and Darlington, the four teams we have beaten in the friendlies, it is fair to assume Liverpool will present a somewhat tougher obstacle in the opening Premier League game at Anfield next Saturday.
Ewood Park, for Blackburn v Sunderland on a bitterly cold Monday, requires dedication. Pete Sixsmith has it in abundance and will be there. He even warmed up for the challenge, if that is the right description, by subjecting himself to a blast of wintry Scottish weather, catching a Hibs v Rangers game that enabled him to see how a couple of our old boys are faring …
So, what to do the day after the day after Christmas? The Chocolate Fudge has been eaten from the last selection box, the DVD of Hilarious Footballing Gaffes Presented By DJ Spoony has been watched and proved to be as funny as a performance by Sting on his lute and the last of the relatives is still hanging around, desperately hoping for a New Years invite before they go back to the Salvation Army Hostel.
The prospect of “going to the sales” is about as enticing as an afternoon in the Strawberry with Ant and Dec, while the cinemas are showing nothing but rubbish – and American rubbish at that. What’s wrong with British rubbish? Where is Sex Lives Of The Potato Men when you need it?
A glance at the fixture list throws up Arsenal v Villa (too far away), Hull City v Manchester United (no chance of a ticket) and Hibernian v Rangers. Why not? Edinburgh’s not that far and it should be easy enough to get in, so let’s go, and leave the elderly relative on the doorstep for the Sally Bash to collect.