Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: more of a damp squib than fireworks against Blackpool

Jake: ‘bloody hell, man. Thay’s 13 now’

The current spate of fixtures which are coming thick and fast means an increased workload for Pete Sixsmith so Malcolm Dawson relieves the pressure by borrowing his soapbox to give us his view of last night’s game at the Stadium of Light.

Still undefeated at home, only two games lost all season, the only team in the top four flights of English football to have scored in every game so far, comfortably in the play off positions and just off an automatic promotion spot with games in hand on the sides above us.

We were informed by Simon Pryde of BBC’s Total Sport before the game that this is Sunderland’s best ever start to a league campaign since 1963/64 which itself was the best ever start the club has made. So another point last night against a side which hadn’t lost since we beat them ourselves on New Year’s Day shouldn’t be seen as a poor result and yet it is. Two points dropped, rather than one point gained.

Last week I was up inside the Arctic Circle staying in the Norwegian city of Tromsö, a hotspot for those who wish to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. I travelled there in hope that I would get to see this natural phenomena, caused by the interaction of particles brought into the Earth’s magnetic field by the solar wind, but fully prepared to be disappointed which is rather like the majority of times I am when setting off for a Sunderland game – hoping for a good performance and a win but never taking anything for granted, knowing there are no guarantees in football.

Aiden McGeady

On the way in I put my latest theory to Pete which is that since Aiden McGeady has been fit and an automatic starter, the team has been less fluid and therefore easier to defend against and that while one of his great attributes is his ball control and dribbling, the number of early crosses we get into the box has diminished and we seem much more laboured in our build up play. It’s hard to argue against his stats and leaving him out of the starting XI might be difficult to justify in those terms but maybe Jack Ross and the coaching staff might encourage him to look to play the ball into the box earlier, more often.

M Salut knows my reasons for not involving myself in social media and I can imagine that many of those tweeting and instagramming their disgust at last night’s performance would be the same as those who had been full of praise pre-match for the team selection. I was certainly happy with the line up. Blackpool tend to set up in a diamond formation so I saw the choice of O’Nien at full back, with Gooch ahead of him, with Watmore alongside Grigg as an opportunity to exploit space down the flanks and test the Seasiders’ defence with a bit of pace.

And we started off brightly. Within two minutes Watmore got behind the Blackpool defenders and forced Ben Heneghan into conceding a corner. Leadbitter whipped it in from the left and the Blackpool keeper looked a little unsure as he palmed it away at the near post for another corner. Leadbitter and McGeady combined, allowing the Fence Houses born Sunderland supporter to fire in a shot from outside the box, which this time Mark Howard held firmly. Two good opportunities in the first three minutes and encouraging signs that the Lads had come out full of attacking intent.

Then a long ball forward, saw Will Grigg put the Blackpool defence under pressure and he blocked the attempted clearance and almost got there before the keeper who did just enough to get the ball away to Watmore on the right wing, but he couldn’t capitalise. We had other efforts with Honeyman and Dunne both having decent shots and whilst Blackpool were impressing in patches it was the home side who looked the more likely to score in that first quarter of the game.

But opposition teams deserve a bit of credit when they play well and it wasn’t long before Jon McLaughlin proved his worth yet again getting down quickly at the far post to palm away a decent header from Harry Pritchard.

Lively enough in the opening period

Immediately afterwards Will Grigg had a great chance to open his account when a swift passage of play down the right wing, started by Jimmy Dunne who had collected the ball from that save and involving McGeady and Honeyman, set Watmore away. As he bore down on the penalty area he played a neat pass to Grigg who took a touch and drove a firm left foot shot on target, but Howard made himself big and held on well. Credit to him for a decent stop.

It was all looking good but as is so often the case a near thing at one end was followed immediately by a goal at the other. From where I was it looked as if Baldwin was weak in his challenge on Armand Gnanduillet but a quick glance at the Sky Sports highlights confirm what Pete told me in the car after the match, that the man in orange had actually controlled the ball well, showed some strength to hold off and turn Baldwin before taking a couple of touches into space and rifling a shot from outside the box, across McLaughlin and into the bottom left corner. A cracking goal and whilst at the time I thought Baldwin was at fault I’ve revised my opinion. This was just a quality goal.

The home crowd however, reacted as they had when we went behind against Charlton on the first day of the season and roared the home side into a reaction. A minute after going behind we were on the attack again, O’Nien burst into the area and was clearly tripped. I thought so. Those around me thought so. O’Nien thought so, Jack Ross thought so but the referee and his assistant didn’t. It could so easily have been one all.

And two minutes later it almost was as a curling McGeady free kick just caught the wrong side of the post with the Blackpool keeper static on his line. Three inches to the right and it was in but as it was it went behind for a goal kick.

So we were in the game, but there were still too many occasions when we gave the ball away too easily. There were also, for my liking, too many times when the players bring the close control, once touch drill they do in the warm up into the game, when a quicker more direct flowing approach might pay dividends. That style of play almost got Will Grigg a goal and was more apparent earlier in the season.

As half time approached Blackpool were controlling the play well and certainly hadn’t come to let us have things all our own way. They might have gone into the break two goals to the good as the scorer Armand Gnanduillet , whose name sends my spell check into overdrive, missed the target with a header from a decent position. He will feel he should have done better.

The visitors also started the second period brightly and after seven minutes Jack Ross made his first tactical change replacing the ineffective Lynden Gooch with Charlie Wyke. It was noticable how much bigger the visitors were and this at least gave us a bit more of a physical presence. Things started to change and later the introduction of Tom Flanagan at left back for Reece James also evened things up size wise.

We once again began to get more of a hold on the game and I wondered if a repeat of that Charlton performance was on the cards. Watmore went close, Wyke went close and then on the hour mark, the manager decided it was time to put my theory to the test as Aiden McGeady was replaced by Lewis Morgan.

Will Grigg not quite on fire

Then came the best chance of the game as Jack Baldwin played a quick long ball out of defence and found Will Grigg who got between the two centre backs, took the ball round the onrushing keeper and passed the ball into the side netting. Only inches wide but success and failure is often defined by the smallest of margins and this was just the wrong side of brilliant. Of course it will lead to many of the social media warriors branding Grigg as a waste of space and those websites that like to use terms such as slated, howler and shocking the opportunity to once again air those sensationalist headlines. It was a poor miss but at least it shows that he can find the space and hopefully when he is a bit more up to speed he will be more clinical.

From this point on Blackpool faded and once again we started to show the fight and determination that had stood us in good stead at the start of the season. Eventually we got the equaliser when Baldwin headed home from a corner with 15 minutes left and we finished the game the stronger of the two sides, though unlike in the Charlton game we weren’t able to finish the game with a winner.

It would have been harsh on the Seasiders who gave a good account of themselves, apart from the cynical time wasting that is.

I thought we just about deserved a point and I would have taken three but in truth we just weren’t clinical enough and made too many unforced errors. We need to retain the ball better and when we pressed the opposition in their own half late in the game we began to look more dominant. We did that earlier in the season and perhaps it is another thing the coaching team should think about in the latter stages of the season.

Last Tuesday I spent four hours on a boat which cruised the fjords in search of the aurora, but a thick cloud cover meant the lights were not showing, which was a disappointment but next day a trip out into the Norwegian countryside produced a great show and made the trip worthwhile. After last night’s disappointment, which still gained us a point don’t forget, let’s hope the team can respond on Friday and next Tuesday to put on a great display and give us all a bit of a psychological boost as we get into the crucial last third of the season.

Ha’way the Lads.

Match highlights are available here at the SAFC website.

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View From the North West Corner: give Catts a break

Following a lot of public criticism of one of our players by followers of The Black Cats, Malcolm Dawson appeals to lovers of social media to consider the effect their negativity might have on the season’s prospects.

Like most football followers I use the internet to find out what is happening with my club, especially with regard to transfers, injuries etc. There is no doubt that the internet is a great way to do this but it can also lead to laziness, sloppy reporting and outright plagiarism.

A few years ago I read an article which I recognised as one that M Salut had written and published on this website. But not only had the contributer not contacted Colin for permission to use it, he had not even credited him as author. It was a pure copy and paste job to which this particular blogger had added his own name. I contacted Colin who got in touch with the website and I have never seen a repeat but trawling various headlines for information and coming up with the same re-hashed material is commonplace these days. I doubt whether the veracity of the original report is ever checked and then suddenly Tino Asprilla has become a Darlington player or Martin O’Neil has become the manager of Shepshed Charterhouse. Oh hang on a sec those things did actually happen but you get my drift!

The comedien Dave Gorman in his programme “Modern Life is Goodish” looks at modern technology and how it affects people’s behaviours. For one episode he placed a card in a newsagent’s window pretending to be an elderly lady who liked jigsaws but didn’t like doing them, offering £50 for someone to do the puzzle for her. This was picked up by one of the local Free newspapers which contacted him and ran a story about it. This in turn was picked up by a national daily which ran the story and it ended up on the internet. To cut a long story short, just like Chinese whispers the point of the original story was lost, it was reported as factual in places as far away as New York and then eventually was referenced by Victoria Coren Mitchell in an episode of “Have I Got News For You”.

More than twenty years ago when primary school classrooms were being equipped with PCs and internet we stressed that children should always double check facts from more than one source and that just because you see something on the web doesn’t make it true but how many people these days get their “facts” from Wikipedia?

Keep the negativity off the soapbox.

M. Salut well knows I am no fan of social media. Like all forms of technology it is how it is used which makes it a valuable tool or simply an embarrasing liability. There are many reasons I’m no fan of Twitter and Facebook. The fact that many so called news sites simply reproduce people’s Tweets as news is one. The ease with which those who so wish can make derogatory and inflammatory comments is another.

There is an anonymity about the internet which reduces the social restraints on people and makes them say and repeat things they might think twice about uttering aloud in public. Then again it might not but a loud mouthed, hard of thinking bigot, ranting in a back street boozer or on Speakers Corner, has a much smaller audience than those posting on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social media platforms.

I began writing this before the earlier posting picking up on Sixer’s remarks regarding some fans’ reactions to Josh Maja but it was the treatment of another of our players on social media that prompted me to hit the keyboard. Love him or hate him Lee Cattermole is still one of ours as I write. He may or may not be off to join Gus Poyet in France but until he goes he is still on the payroll and will be until 2021 unless someone offers to sign him fulltime.

When he first came there is no arguing he could be a bit of a liability, getting himself booked or sent off, often for needless challenges in areas of no danger. His behaviour off the field left a lot to be desired too, getting banned from pubs on Teeside and finding himself with Niklas Bendtner damaging cars on Tyneside. But he has calmed down and one thing that is hard to argue against is that he never gives less than 100% commitment. He may not always be as skilful as he was, he may lose his man or misplace a pass but I have never seen him not try. But it seems a section of those who profess to be Sunderland supporters feel it is OK to vilify him on social media, criticising the manager for including him in the squad, then allowing him on the pitch and demanding the club let him go.

There are those stating that he doesn’t want to be at the club and criticising the manager for putting him on ahead of O’Nien on Saturday. Can I assume that those informed comments come from people who socialise with Cattermole and work at the Academy of Light? Thought not. Personally I’ll trust Jack Ross. He works with the players. He knows who has done what in training and how they are reacting to the many changes that are happening just now. If he says he’s talked to Catts and the player is doing what is asked of him then by all means the manager should decide who is in the best place to carry out his plans. O’Nien has so far played just over 45 minutes and has had to uproot himself and move to a new part of the country, get settled and get used to a new club, manager and demands on the way he plays.

I thought JR’s comments about Jack Baldwin interesting. Moving house is stressful for anyone but how much so is it for someone like Max Power, who one minute is sat in bed watching Netflix (he says) on his laptop then two days later, having packed his boots, a toothbrush and a spare pair of pants finds himself running out with ten new team mates at Kennilworth Road. Must be even harder for family men with partners and children to get settled in a new home.

Taking time to settle

It could be that Catts is on his way and by the time this is published a deal might have been done. Even a loan move after all, would free up some of his wages and allow the club a little more flexibility on loan players coming in but he is on a contract and unlike some others is honouring his commitment while still on Wearside. I suspect Lee Cattermole is the type of player who will be motivated, rather than harmed by negativity but what we need at this point is a unified club moving in the same direction and that includes the fans. Supporters support the team by definition. Now is a time when we all need to be seen to be as one. 

It’s early days, there is still progress to be made but this type of public criticism is not helpful and might even affect the mental approach of some of the others in and around the team or those players the club is hoping to bring in.

As was said in one of the better pieces I read recently, Lamine Kone is not a bad player but he certainly performed better when he was a happy player.