SA’s post Watford Essay: looking forward

Malcolm Dawson writes…today was an opportunity to look at a few of the development squad and they acquitted themselves well. Of the others who came into this game Jack Rodwell, Jeremaine Lens and Seb Larsson still have contracts in place whilst Dame N’Doye and DeAndre Yedlin presumably go back to their parent clubs this summer with an idea as to whether or not Sam still has his eye on them. Just how many of those five will be back at the Acadamy of Light preseason we’ll have to wait and see. Fabio Borini and Lee Cattermole, secure in the knowledge that they will be back, joined the fans for the party atmosphere in the stands. Personally I thought we did well and this XI didn’t look out of place against a mid ranking Premiership side. Even N’Doye had a decent game, obviously preferring to play as an out an out centre forward than a wide man. Only Big Sam (and maybe those players themselves) know if today was a chance to be part of his future plans but the manager was happy with today’s performance as his post match e-mail to M Salut and others shows.

WATFORD 2 SUNDERLAND 2

Jake's take on Big Sam
Jake’s take on Big Sam
Dear Colin,

There were a few decisions that didn’t go our way today.

The fans came down and they sang all the way through and were entertained; they got to see some of our younger players, who I think stood up to the test today and played very well indeed.

We created a huge amount of chances and we got in front twice. The killer for us was Duncan [Watmore]’s goal – that would have made it 2-0 and I think it should have been allowed, however it wasn’t to be.

Eleven games, one defeat; no defeats in the last six games and 12 points from those games.

Watford played a full strength side and we only had a couple of players that have been involved in our last seven games.

What we’ve seen today stands us in good stead for the future.

We have to make sure we go into next season, build on this and don’t start the way we have done the last few years. We need a good start and to look much better, that’s what we need to concentrate on.

For now, that was a brilliant send-off for the fans, we matched Watford in every department and what we saw was very pleasing, they could enjoy their day.

Thanks for your support,

Sam Allardyce

WatfordA(FT)


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Sixer’s Soapbox: wishing Leicester well – looking forward to Burton

Malcolm Dawson writes….I spent the first weekend of the season staying at my mate’s house in Nottinghamshire. He is a lifelong Leicester fan and back then he enjoyed informing all the Forest and County supporters at the Sunday night quiz in his local, that the Foxes were top of the Premier League. He never expected to still be saying that almost 7 months later. Before that first game of the season the City supporters I chatted with over a pre match pint agreed with me that after the relegation battles we had both survived the previous season we’d be happy with a bit of consolidation. And now look at how this season has panned out. That first game was a portent of what was to follow. Perhaps the fact that both Villa and the Mags look like two teams who have been resigned to defeat for weeks now while ours appear to be giving 100% has resulted in an unfamiliar optimism on Wearside these past few weeks. No doubt we have played some decent football and picked up points but it’s all getting a bit tight. I wasn’t there today but Pete Sixsmith was. Here’s what he thinks about today’s match and our current plight.

Jake says "were Borini and Rodwell wearing each other's boots?
Jake says “were Borini and Rodwell wearing each other’s boots?
SAFC v CHAMPIONS ELECT (H)

All the “quiet optimism”, “they are due to lose” and “I really feel that we can win this one” was seen for what it was – bluster and a refusal to face up to the reality of the situation that we and Leicester City now find ourselves in as the 2015-16 season reaches its final dénouement.

For Leicester this was one giant step towards their first ever top level title (still need another five to catch us) while for us, it was an equally giant step towards our ninth relegation from the top flight – eight of which have been witnessed by M. Salut et moi. For that is what we are heading for after this deserved defeat by a side who are in their own way, quite the most remarkable team I have seen in the 50+ years I have been watching Sunderland.

This time last year, they came to Wearside and saved themselves from relegation with a line-up that was very similar to the one that cavorted off the Stadium of Light pitch to generous and heart felt applause. Throw in the outstanding Kante, the busy Okazaki and the impressive Christian Fuchs and they have soared. Would that it were us!

We did not play badly. There were things to like as there have been since January. But, at both ends of the field, we were found wanting and it is that that will lead to us saying goodbye to the Premier League while Leicester City are saying hello to the Champions League.

We do not score enough goals. If Defoe does not score, the team doesn’t. We had chances against the Champions elect. Kaboul put a header over the bar from a very good position in the first half. Borini forced a good save from Schmeichel on the stroke of half time. And Rodwell blasted into the crowd when all he had to do was place his shot either side of the former Darlington goalkeeper. Had that gone in, it would have dragged us level, got the crowd going and may well have put City on the back foot. As it was the man, who must worship at the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Disappointment, got everything wrong and then disappeared from the game for the last ten minutes.

In the first half, there was little between the two sides. If a visitor from the football mad planet Zog had been teleported in the stadium and had been told that one of these sides were top and the other third from bottom, he (or it) would have been hard pushed to tell you which one was which.

We defended well and the back four had the measure of the City forwards. Van Aanholt, a much improved player since January, snuffed out Mahrez and both central defenders were well in control of Vardy. In midfield, Kirchhoff was in command with Cattermole and M’Vila countering the constant probing of Drinkwater and Kante and looking as if they could do that for the duration.

Only up front did we look light. Defoe worked hard but a small man like him against relative giants like Huth and Morgan was never going to come off. Borini makes too many runs into opponents rather than round them. He should have been off much earlier and replaced by Lens rather than N’Doye.

Lightweight v Heavyweights
Lightweight v Heavyweights

It changed in the second half when Leicester upped the pace and we found it too hard to cope with them. Vardy never let Kaboul and Kone settle and was far more involved and when Drinkwater played that trademark Leicester ball over the top, both Kaboul and Kone were found wanting. The former Stocksbridge Park Steels man was away in space but still had a lot to do. Unfortunately, Mannone gave him a helping hand by coming, then stopping and then retreating, leaving the one time FC Halifax Town player an opportunity that he could not, nay would not, turn down. A crisp shot into the far corner and our world crumbled around us.

The visitor from Zog would have heard the deflation all around the ground as we desperately searched for an equaliser and even a winner. By doing so, we played into Leicester’s hands and they were able to pick us off as our discipline and organisation collapsed. The second goal barely mattered – although the defending was, to put it mildly, poor.

We now find ourselves in a very precarious position with five games to go. Two years ago, we were rooted to the bottom with 26 points after our draw at Eastlands. Norwich were six points ahead and had played a game more. Last year with five games to go, we were in our traditional place in the bottom three and a point from safety. Hull, who were a point ahead of us, joined Burnley and QPR in the Championship at the end of the season. Leicester had just scrambled out of the bottom three after spending nearly all of the season in the relegation quagmire.

Jake: 'were Borini and Rodwell wearing each other's boots?'
Jake: ‘were Borini and Rodwell wearing each other’s boots?’

In both seasons, there were plenty of other clubs taking points from one another or sinking like stones. This year, it is perm any two from us, them and Norwich and they are still in with a shout. A win at Carrow Road will not guarantee survival; a defeat will almost certainly guarantee that much anticipated visit to the Pirelli Stadium, Burton on Trent.

There is a week to settle on a starting XI that will take the game by the scruff of the neck and shake the life out of Norwich. Should we bring in Lens for Borini? What about Rodwell for Cattermole and Larsson for M’Vila? Both are possibilities as we look for goals and a little bit of extra oomph in that central midfield area. We now have a whole week to ponder this and other questions, chief amongst which is what on earth am I doing getting up at 4.15 on Saturday morning in order to make what has every possibility of being a frustrating and fruitless journey to the home of Sale of the Century, Alan Partridge and The Singing Postman?

Finally, I have thought ever so hard to find something negative to say about Leicester City. I can’t. They are a bloody good team. May their season end in the ultimate success.

Sixer’s Newcastle United Soapbox: we let this one slip – again!

Jake: 'nerve-shredding'
Jake: ‘nerve-shredding’
Malcolm Dawson writes………the fact that those supporters in black and white were euphoric at the end, whilst those in red and white (or their free green) appeared dejected said it all really. Both sides picked up a point in the chase to catch Norwich but while we saw it as two points dropped, they celebrated like they had won the Cup. Not for the first time we started off much the better side but once again after a bright start, where we pressed high up the pitch and restricted our opponents to a few ineffective attacks, a combination of tiring legs and a nervous desire to cling on to the lead saw us drop much deeper and allow a side we had dominated to get back into the game. Van Aanholt might have had a good effort saved but don’t forget M’Vila’s goal line clearance. We could just as easily have lost this one. Pete Sixsmith was there and reports on events in his customary style.

SOAPBOXmags

NEWCASTLE (AWAY)2016

At half time, I was considering which photograph to put on my Facebook page. Would it be Messrs. Brynner, Vaughn (Robert not David), Coburn, Bronson, Dexter (Brad, not Ted), McQueen and Bucholz? Would it be those forerunners of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – The Temperance Seven with their wonderful singer “Whispering Paul McDowell” or would it be the cover of the Enid Blyton book, “Well Done Secret Seven”?

As it happened, Aleksander Mitrovic, with a little help from Gini Wijnaldum, Dame N’Doye and De Andre Yedlin (fine English names there), made the choice unnecessary as he headed home his first goal since Tito led Yugoslavia, to give the Mags a point that they probably just about deserved but which we should never have allowed them. Forget the errors leading up to their equaliser (although it will be a long time before I can cast Yedlin’s abysmal foul throw that led to them moving forward to the memory banks) and think about the amount of play that we had in the first half and the opening 15 minutes of the second. For all that control and possession, we only scored once and as we all know, that is not enough for a team who cannot keep the proverbial clean sheet.

The first half was a non-contest as we played some crisp, clear and convincing football. The defenders never looked threatened by a feeble Newcastle attack and we controlled the midfield with consummate ease. Kirchhoff turned in another outstanding 70 minutes, breaking up the opposition attacks and moving the ball on to Rodwell, M’Vila, Khazri and Borini, who used it very effectively.

Rodwell had another quietly efficient game and looked a far, far better player than Shelvey. Where Shelvey tried to boom the ball around the pitch, occasionally hitting a black and white shirt, Rodwell looked for the simple pass and made sure that it went to a Sunderland player. He could have scored early on, but Elliott made a fine save from a header that, had it been placed a yard either side of the keeper, would have put us ahead.

Class
Class
Borini was another who had an excellent first half and tortured Colback, who was very fortunate to stay on the field. Both he and Janmaat were booked for crashing tackles on our wide players as they skipped past them almost at will.

The goal came from poor defending as Elliott pushed out a shot from Borini and Mbemba (also booked – 3 out of 4 in the defence saw yellow which tells you how much we were in control) headed it to Defoe who volleyed it in. Cue for great celebrations on Level 7 as we went in for the break. The feeling was that one more goal would see the home crowd turn on their team and we could pick them off at will.

We nearly got it when Van Aanholt forced an excellent save from Elliott, who was by far the busier keeper, but it seemed to stir the black and whites and they dragged themselves into the game. They pushed us back, Shelvey sat deeper and tried to pick us off and they took both full backs off and replaced them with midfielders.

Unfortunately, we were pushed back too far and it began to look as if we were under pressure.

The equaliser came when Yeltsin produced a throw in that Brandon and Byshottles Under 8s would have been ashamed of and from the Newcastle throw, they moved forward. The hitherto anonymous Wijnaldum skipped past a static N’Doye and produced an exquisite chip that Mitrovic headed in at the far post. He then made an arse of himself by ripping off his shirt and tripping over the obligatory portly pitch invader as the home crowd stopped thinking about how they were going to explain this one away and made a noise for the first time in the game.

So, why did we fail to win this one? Some on the bus home pointed the finger at the manager for his substitutions. Kaboul, who had had an excellent game alongside Kone, had taken a knock and seeing he is as robust as Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, he was replaced by O’Shea, who did not bring the same authority to the game. Maybe Kaboul would have challenged Mitrovic for the header and not Yedlin, a player not noted for his heading ability. Cattermole came on for an exhausted Kirchhoff, which also made sense, but the contentious one was N’Doye on for Khazri.

Jake - quality
Jake – quality

Khazri is another player who has found the mental intensity of the Premier League difficult. Every game is played at a ferocious pace and there is little time to think. Ligue 1 is not at all like that and that is why some French players struggle. By all means replace him but by someone with pace, not a rather lumbering centre forward. Lens might have been a better swap here or even Toivonen. But Sam likes N’Doye and on he went. He should/could have tackled Wijnaldum but didn’t and the rest, as they say, is history. The former Hull man did carry the ball out well a couple of times after that, but the damage had been done.

The result makes a Wear-Tyne derby in the Championship more, rather than less likely. Norwich winning at West Brom was not a good thing and although Palace continue to be in free fall, they will still take a lot of catching. We have the players to do it and for much of this game we looked organised and played well. But our inability to go through 90+ minutes without conceding is going to drag us down. The next two games (West Brom at home, Norwich away) are vital and a minimum of 4 points is required from them. We need to either score six in the first half or the only goal of the game in the 97th minute and even then I would be worrying that it could all go wrong.

We have a free week again next week and then the real stuff starts as the ever popular Tony Pulis brings Messrs Gardner, Sessegnon and McClean back to the Stadium of Light. That’ll be two respectful rounds of applause and a Colback like reception for one of them then.

Wrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

Peter Lynn: What does he think of N'Doye?
Peter Lynn: players must take responsibility?

Amid a barrage of criticism levelled at SAFC ownership and management, Peter Lynn offers an alternative view of on and off-the-field problems that include, in his view, the spectacle of supporters leaving the Stadium of Light early …

Read moreWrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

Sixer’s Crystal Palace Soapbox: something lost or something gained?

Malcolm Dawson writes….I have this view, which I trot out from time to time, that it’s far better to see your team concede in the opening minutes, be completely outplayed for the rest of the game then equalise just before the final whistle, than be a supporter of the other side. While one set of fans walk away from the game, relieved and overjoyed that they have gleaned something undeserved, their opposite numbers are left totally frustrated and disappointed – yet both teams have earned a point.

It is the way in which that point was gained, rather than the outcome of the game that determines one’s feelings. Last night was a combination package. At half time I was satisfied with how things were going. One vital Vito save apart we seemed to be comfortable. We played “alright” I thought.

The goal was a bit fortuitous. From my seat it looked as if it would have missed had it not been deflected but 1-0 up is a better position to be in than 1-0 down. Then we know what happened and we know who it had to be who put Palace into the lead. And the outcome looked bleak again. Pity the two lads who sit next to me and the lady and her granddaughter who sit just in front. Fabio Borini’ll teach them to leave with five minutes to play. His powerful strike and the subsequent efforts to get the winner provided the most exciting phase of the match for a home fan.

So did I leave feeling relief or disappointment? A bit of both I suppose but more the latter than the former. Chelski did us a favour but I’m sick of relying on other teams to get us out of trouble. It’s time we were doing it ourselves.

The January signings are a definite improvement on those who left. Watching the game in the stadium gives a different sense of perspective from what TV producers decide to show you and I thought Khazri had a good game. He was industrious and worked hard closing players down but as with the rest of the team too often his efforts took him into blind alleys. Kirchhoff looks quality, when he can maintain his work rate and N’Doye scored when Graham probably wouldn’t. But for all this improvement in quality we aren’t really getting enough return. We got out of jail against Liverpool and again last night. What did Pete Sixsmith think? Read on…..

SOAPBOXpalace

CRYSTAL PALACE (H) MARCH 2016

One point gained or two points lost? Brilliant centre forward play from Connor Wickham or poor defending by Sunderland? Inspired substitution by Sam Allardyce or a last, lucky throw of the dice? As always you pays yer money and yer takes yer choice.

In the context of the defeat for Norwich, it’s a point gained. We have risen to the dizzy heights of 17th, (albeit on goal difference) and have kept an edgy Palace team on the fringe of the relegation struggle. Had we failed to take any points, we would have been stuck in the bottom three, with Newcastle and Swansea due to play tonight and with the possibility of seeing a gap open between the trapdoor and the relative safety of the scaffold on which we have sat for most of the season. Had we won, we would have been laughing toffee apples at those below us; a full three points above the Canaries and with the Magpies needing a win to go above and Swans needing not to lose by more than eleven goals. But it wasn’t to be.

The first half was a tight, tidy and essentially competent performance of the type that we are going to need if we are to avoid Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium come August. Not spectacular, but enough to send us in at half time a goal to the good. That the goal had a tinge of good fortune about it is neither here nor there; N’Doye chanced his arm and the hapless Scott Dann tried to kick it clear thus diverting the shot past the wrong footed Hennessey.

Cue warm applause at half time from the support in recognition of a job well done. Bolassie, who had destroyed us in April, was well contained and Zaha was as ineffective as he usually is – the ultimate show pony. Kone and O’Shea had rattled Wickham a couple of times rendering him a peripheral figure and our midfield looked good.

There was a nice balance there in the first half. Kirchhoff continued to do the simple things and to do them very well indeed. He set up some excellent triangles with Khazri and van Aanholt and never once looked hurried. Those seeing him for the first time were suitably impressed. Rodwell looked equally effective, supporting Defoe when required and tracking back when needed. Apart from a poor tackle on Cabaye, for which he was rightly booked, he hardly put a foot wrong and there was plenty to suggest that he will be in that role for the next few games.

So, plenty of positives as the half time oranges were shared out and the second half started well enough with us on the front foot and with Defoe trying to wriggle through the Palace back line. The old cliché of the next goal being the important one was never so true. Had we scored it, we would be looking down on our rivals and looking up at safety. But we didn’t and that was because of a fundamental change in the defences of both sides. Ours slackened off, theirs tightened up.

Lacked service
Lacked service

We didn’t help ourselves by pumping high balls up to Defoe, allowing Dann and Delaney (sounds like a 70s disco act) to head it clear with ease. We began to run out of ideas and Kirchhoff was once again feeling the effects of two games in quick succession.

After barely playing in Germany, he is getting plenty of time on the pitch in England. Having already lost O’Shea, his withdrawal meant that our two most composed players were sitting on the bench. Kaboul is no O’Shea, more of a Hetzke or a McPhail as he clears the ball without a great deal of thought and Cattermole is no Kirchhoff. The loss of these two allowed Palace and Wickham back into it.

"It had to be" says Jake
“It had to be” says Jake

He took his goals well, the first one being a good cross shot when he had wandered into space. But the second one was a poor one to concede. There were doubts that it was a corner, but when the ball landed in the middle, neither Kone or Kaboul picked him up and he clipped it in.

It looked desperate, and it was, as the confidence visibly drained from the players and the crowd got tetchy. Misplaced passes, some hairy balls across the back four and a lack of communication did nothing to help. Most were resigned to a crushing defeat and the Trek to the Exits started as Borini came on.

He has not had a great season. One good half against West Ham in September is a poor return from a player who has not been particularly fancied by either Advocaat or Allardyce. He came on for a concussed Cattermole and started to buzz on the right flank, linking up well with Yedlin but not looking like scoring. With the game going into added time, those on either side of me left for a warm car and a quick getaway. They know not what they missed. They can watch it on Look North, You Tube or Match of the Day, but they will not have that sense of experiencing 35,000 people thinking “Where the f*** did that come from” in unison. It was as spectacular a strike as the one that saw off Pardew’s team in October 2013 and it could be even more important at the end of the season.

Now we wait. We wait for results that will help us from Ashburton Grove and particularly from that cold, open stadium next to the Stoke-on-Trent municipal incinerator. Saturday/Sunday fell for us even though we did lose but we have to seize the initiative now and make sure that we can pick up wins in difficult situations.

We head for Southampton this weekend. Pete Horan and I are making our now annual sojourn to Salisbury, heading off on Thursday. We have a game at Hamble based Folland Sports on Thursday night in the Wessex League Premier Division, a day in Bath on Friday and then a short train ride to Southampton on Saturday. We should be in The Platform Tavern on Town Quay pre match. It would be nice to see friends old and new.

We hope to be celebrating in The Duke of York in Salisbury long into the night……………

SA’s Essay: missing the point at West Ham

Jake's take on Big Sam
Jake’s take on Big Sam

John McCormick writes: At half time some stats came up saying West Ham had 80 per cent passing accuracy and we had 55 per cent. Some of the responsibility for that must lie with Lee Cattermole, whose distribution in the first half was atrocious. I’d have taken him off earlier and I’d start Rodwell on Tuesday. I don’t know if that’s what the manager will do, although Sam does acknowledge Rodwell’s contribution in the post-match letter he has written exclusively for M Salut and possibly one or two others:

 

 

Dear Colin,

In the second half we were kicking towards our own fans and getting them on the edge of their seats, showing them how determined we were to come back from the very disappointing goal that we conceded in the first half.

For us today, not converting those chances that we had is a massive disappointment. We’ve not picked up any points from the game and from the chances that we created I think we should have been going away with all three.

Away from home you’re always happy to take a draw and to get a point, but we haven’t even done that today.

We can’t afford to keep doing this, we did it against Manchester City, but we need to start making sure performances like this get us wins.

One of the big positives is our second half performance and when we introduced Jack Rodwell. He came on and got three chances himself in the space of 10 minutes.

Missed chances today but needs a better service
     Will be disappointed today. And we aren’t?

Jermain [Defoe] will be disappointed after missing the couple of chances that he had.

Today is massively disappointing for us, the lads know that we should have come away with something and they’re bitterly disappointed that we didn’t.

Now we have to recover, Tuesday’s game becomes a real pressure pot for us at home against Crystal Palace. Everyone will want us to say we’ve got to win it and that’s what we must try and do; if we play like we did today I think we can.

We can take confidence from today’s performance going into that game and realise we need to be more ruthless and clinical to get the result we need.

Thanks for your support,

Sam Allardyce



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Sixer’s Man Utd Soapbox: new boys show their class

Jake: We did win, we did....
Jake: We did win, we did….
Malcolm Dawson writes……….before the game they were showing highlights of the 6-0 win over West Ham in 1977 on the big screen. The two lads who sit next to me, both under 20, commented that they weren’t even born when that game was played. Cue a history lesson as I told them how after a record run of games without a goal, we scored 6 in consecutive games against the Wests – Brom and Ham and that following on from the 4-0 demolition of the Smogmonsters of Middlesbrough. I told them how by the second week of February we had only won two league games but went on to win another nine and draw another five. Of course it ended with the farcical affair of Highfield Road and I told them how after a delayed kick off, the late Jimmy Hill contrived to get news of our defeat at Everton on the last night of the season put up on the big screen and announced over the tannoy, allowing Coventry and Bristol City to go through the motions for the last twenty minutes and settle for a 2-2 draw, knowing that defeat for either side would see them relegated instead of Sunderland. Well we have to do what we can to educate the young folks and keep our resentment festering. It’s only 39 years – far too soon to forget. Of course the point I was really making was that during their time watching Sunderland AFC they have become used to seeing “The Great Escape” on a regular basis but that sometimes a massive turn round in form isn’t enough to keep us up. Wonder if they’ve asked to move seats yet! On the drive in, Pete Sixsmith and I agreed that a win was essential to our survival hopes but that it was achievable against a faltering Manchester United. And so it turned out and yet again history repeats itself because having resigned ourselves to relegation, we sense the shoots of optimism spring up to give us hope. West Ham’s two late goals, Chelsea’s demolition of the Mags, Watford’s victory at Selhurst Park and The Saints’ win at Swansea did us no harm either. And Liverpool’s six nil thrashing of the Villa today How did Sixer rate yesterday’s performance? Read on to find out.

SOAPBOXmanu

MANCHESTER UNITED (H)
Fifty plus years ago, when M Salut and I were first starting on this lifelong odyssey of following Sunderland, the taking of a corner was a great thing at Roker Park. Up would step Harry Hooper or Brian Usher or George Mulhall to knock the ball to the area around the penalty spot, whereupon a huge crag of a man would scatter opposition defenders as if they were confetti blowing in the wind and thump the ball with his mighty forehead into the net. This happened several times a game.

When he wasn’t doing this, he was heading the ball clear at the other end and as far as I can remember, no centre forward ever scored a headed goal at Roker between 1961 and 1966. He even protected the younger players in the team, once throwing a particularly dirty Leeds United centre forward called Ian Lawson, over the Main Stand and into the car park of The New Derby pub.
Of course, this Desperate Dan figure was Charlie Hurley, a man whose name has the same impact on Sunderland supporters of a certain vintage as Randolph Scott’s does on the citizens of Rock Ridge in Blazing Saddles.

It may be that memories are somewhat exaggerated as I slip into my dotage, but we have never had a centre half since who has come near The King for sheer physical strength. There have been some good ones – Jeff Clarke, Shaun Elliott, Jody Craddock – and some very good ones – Dave Watson was a better footballer than Charlie and John O’Shea is of a different generation – but none had that raw power and determination that the Dagenham born Irishman had.

Until Saturday that was when Lamine Kone gave the closest I have seen to a Charlie Hurley tribute act. Not only in defence, where he tackled and headed with an intensity that if he had been with us since July, would have had us sitting comfortably in the safety of mid table and thinking of whether we could catch Southampton or West Ham, but also in attack where he scored the winner and had a tremendous shot pushed over the bar by De Gea. But more than that, it was the goal he scored. He powered his way through a crowded penalty area, gave Chris Smalling the slip (I wonder how Roy Hodgson felt about that) and powered a downward header which beat De Gea for pace and frightened Anthony Martial so much that he kicked it on to De Gea’s back rather than try to stop it.

The crowd, already noisy, erupted and George In Front turned to look at me and we said in unison “Charlie Hurley.” It took us back to the days of standing on the terraces, black football boots and players who stayed at clubs for years, as well as Waggon Wheels, “peanuts, tanner a bag” and a pink Football Echo.

Kone joins a select band of players including Harry Hood, Clive Walker and John Mullin, who have scored the winning goal against The Red Devils in a home victory. This was the first win over United at The Stadium of Light in a league match (we regularly beat them in the Football League Cup) and was by the best performance and by far the best win of Sam Allardyce’s time on Wearside. We had pace and verve and control on Saturday, things that have been missing for ages in our first team. The pace and verve came mainly from Wahbi Khazri who scored early on from a free kick (when did we last do that?) and who marauded down the wings to great effect. He can defend as well and looks like an excellent acquisition who may well prove to be that little bit of extra that we need to begin to climb away from the relegation zone. He seems keen to establish himself in the team and to make a real name for himself and if we can do a Southampton and get a couple of good seasons out of him before making a healthy profit on the deal, we will all be well pleased.

He was one of 14 players who gave their all for the club on what turned out to be a good day for Sunderland. De Andre Yedlin came in at right back and seized the initiative from the first minute. His enthusiastic forward running was always a threat to United and he handled Martial well enough, refusing to be drawn into a careless tackle inside or outside the box.

As seen by Jake
As seen by Jake
He was aided by a massive performance by John O’Shea in the middle of the back four. What a very good player he is and what a very good leader. Watch him talking to players – although whether Kone or M’Vila have a clue what he is saying is a moot point – and it is all encouragement. His tackling and heading were outstanding and he thoroughly deserved his man of the match award.

Losing Jan Kirkhhoff was a major disappointment and the arrival of Jack Rodwell was hardly welcomed with great enthusiasm by the crowd but the former England man did a very solid job alongside Cattermole. M’Vila dropped into the anchor role and Rodwell spent the second half picking up Juan Mata, United’s sole creative player. The Spaniard faded in the second half, mostly due to Rodwell’s persistent nagging away at him.

Jake - "Jan having a break in Dubai to sort out his hamstring"
Jake – “Jan having a break in Dubai to sort out his hamstring”

The other home debutant was Dame N’Doye, who took the Danny Graham default position on the right wing and did it far better than Danny (yet to score for Blackburn I notice). When he moved into the middle after Defoe went off, he looked much more comfortable and could, perhaps should have scored, when he was played in. But he too looked interested and kept on going until the end.

We have lost Fletcher, Graham, Coates and Johnson and replaced them with N’Doye, Khazri, Kirchoff and Kone. And we lost the transfer window………….?

The win was so important for us and we now have some hope (insert “It’s the” before hope and “I can’t stand” after) especially as the other results could not have been much better – maybe if West Ham had got a winner, but that is being greedy. There seemed to be more self-belief in the players and that transmitted itself to the crowd who encouraged rather than groaned and who gave rousing ovations as players went off and came on.

However (there’s always one of those) we need to remember that we were playing a Manchester United side that was one paced, lacked a genuine forward and was shaky at the back. Even the usually very impressive keeper had a poor game. Their fans were quiet by their standards and they seem to know that Van Gaal’s time is up. He has built nothing in his two years, something with which we are all too familiar. He won’t be there after May.

The day was rounded off as we all chuckled at the spectacular capitulation of Steve McClaren and his Merry Men at Stamford Bridge. There’s another one who will be gone by May – it could be even earlier.

We have a chance now. I thought that if we lose this one and away to West Ham, that’s it and Burton Albion here we come. I now think that, if we continue to play like this, we could win another five games and draw a couple which would give us sufficient points to start next season in the self-styled “Best League in the World.” This was the kind of game you want to see – and hopefully in fifty years’ time, supporters will be hailing a new Lamine Kone and fondly remembering the man who led us to back to back Premier League titles. Now where is that medicine Nurse?

Sixer’s Substitute Soapbox: a view from the Avenue as Watford win

SOAPBOXwatfordMalcolm Dawson writes….with Santa’s Advent timetable and the weather in Weardale conspiring against us neither Pete Sixsmith nor I made it to the Stadium of Light to witness first hand yet another home defeat against a side that we would have expected, in our unjustified state of optimism, to have beaten. So we are grateful that a new contributor has stepped up to the plate to offer his view of yesterday’s events. Welcome Paul Summerside to the Salut! Sunderland stable with his pre and post match thoughts on our defeat to the Hornets of Hertfordshire.

“A View from the Avenue”

Pre match….. Yesterday’s visit of Watford offered Sunderland the perfect opportunity to build on last week’s performance at Arsenal. According to our pre-match panel; Bry, Scott, Dukey, Marty, Becca and Yours Truly, the main problem would be getting 11 fit men who would slot into place in Big Sam’s 3-5-2. The keeper, back 3 and wing backs picked themselves. Everyone agreed that finding a solid midfield 3 would be the biggest problem with Rodwell and Toivenen getting most votes to join M’Vila.

The second problem wasn’t really a problem as such with a choice of Borini, Watmore, Jonno, Lens, Graham and Fletcher for the front 2 spots with Graham and Watmore seeming to be the most popular choices. (Graham and Watmore! Didn’t realise the beer in the Avenue was that strong! MD)

Predictions ranged from positives of 3-1, 2-0, 2-1 to my melancholy “I’ll take a point now”, hoping I’d be wrong and everyone else right, because we all saw this as a true 6 pointer. A win would see the lads knocking on the door of mid table going into the difficult festive fixtures. We left with high hopes of a repeat of the Stoke game.
Ha’way the Lads.

Post match….. The general opinion on the game was that Big Sam basically picked the wrong personnel for the formation we attempted to play. The absence of Kaboul, Cattermole and Larson left us lacking a natural third centre half and a tough tackling midfielder. So to persist in a 3-5-2 system using the right footed full back Billy Jones as your left sided centre half and Toivenen as your midfield engine, looked completely wrong.

Jake: why didn't he start?
Jake: why didn’t he start?

It only took Watford 3 minutes to expose this mistake and we could have been 3 down before Big Sam held up his hands and went to 4-5-1. This gave us a toe in the game and allowed us to get to half time without further damage. The crack over a beer at half time, was basically about how to win the second half, most people going for the introduction of Defoe and Jonno/Lens for the ineffective Borini and Toivenen, and a return to 4-4-2.

Things started to look up when Jonno came on, and once Defoe eventually got his opportunity we started to pose a genuine threat. Chances came and went but luck deserted us, and we could not break down a dogged Watford defence. We tried hard, nothing was left behind on the pitch but quality in the final third has to return if we are to climb the table.

Finally…. a note to Big Sam. Never again must you play 3 centre backs, if you only have 2 fit centre halves. The solution to the problem is to play a flat back 4 with Rodwell (best game for club today) in front. Once you realised this and made the changes things generally improved. If the advantage hadn’t been given to Watford so early in the game, and attacking substitutions made so late, we could have taken a point or perhaps all 3. Hopefully lessons have been learnt and we can move on. Onwards and upwards.

Paul Summerside on himself:
20150815_150000_edited
I’m a retired engineer formerly working at Rolls Royce Aero Engines in Sunderland. I’m married to Sharon and have two daughters Rebecca 16 and Jessica 11. We have season tickets in the Family zone, and are basically Sunderland daft! I’ve followed the Lads all my life from the Roker End to the fulwell to the Paddocks to the Clock Stand seats to the SOL. I love match days,the crack pre and post game, even if the result doesn’t go our way. My favourite ever player…Super Kev. Favourite away day…Bury away promotion day. Proudest moment…taking the family for cheesy chips on Wembley way.

Sunderland Out West: Muppet Show where fans were the real stars

Malcolm Dawson writes….we’ve already had some belting stuff from our friends in SAFC NASA. What follows is no exception. Jesse Burch may not have seen our boys as often as the rest of us but he shares our passion, shares our pain and has, through some long distance form of osmosis, absorbed the DNA of the true Sunderland supporter. Whilst most of us back in the UK were snugly tucked up in bed he was there to witness the latest pre-season outing against the Mexicans of Pachuca and he suffered at first hand, what those of us who live a bit closer to Wearside experience on a much more regular basis.

Here’s Jesse’s account of his day.

SAFC 1 – FC Pachuca 3

Jesse - post caffeine fix on the road to Sacramento
Jesse – post caffeine fix on the road to Sacramento

I’m embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t sleep the night before SAFC’s match versus FC Pachuca. I live in Los Angeles and set my alarm to wake up at 4:30am for the drive up to Sacramento and was lights out at 10pm. But I lay there and tossed and turned until 12:30am, like a kid on the eve of Christmas. “I’m too old to be behaving ilke this,” I thought to myself. But I couldn’t help it. The day had come.

From the moment I heard that Sunderland would be traveling to California I knew I’d be there to watch them play. So I wasn’t surprised in the least when I woke up before my alarm went (at 3:45am), rolled out of the bed, and into the car at 4.

And on the drive before the coffee stop
And on the drive before the coffee stop

Because I was unencumbered by my kids and wife — and their requisite rest stops and bathroom breaks — I was able to get to Sacramento in about five and a half hours, which is very good time. Unfortunately, because I got started so early, that brought me to Sunderland’s pub HQ a full two hours before they opened. Nevertheless, I parked in the back beside a trash dumpster, rolled the windows down to fully appreciate the aroma and cool down (it was already hot), and jotted a few thoughts for this dispatch.

As I was struggling to sleep the night before, I was struck with the realization that my heroes, my team, were in the same time zone I was. It’s perhaps a trite or simple observation, but hear me out: my experience of Sunderland is intrinsically-tied to distance and time. The thousands of miles from England and the subsequent shift in what is for me traditional “game-time” (early breakfast) colours a lot of my experience of supporting Sunderland. It’s exceedingly unusual for me to have a day spread out before me in which to luxuriate and celebrate before making my way to the ground to watch the team I love so much.

As I was ruminating on this, Bonnie, from the Bonn Lair, saw me as she was getting into her car to make a market run. “Here’s another Sunderland fan!” she said, to no one in particular. I introduced myself and she kindly allowed me to head inside the pub where it was much cooler.

The Bonn Lair is a really, really great little pub — with an emphasis on little. I can see why its proprietor, David, was concerned about how many punters we’d be bringing in, as it’s cozy inside. But lining the walls were pennants, flags, memorabilia and scarves from every club under the sun. The decor was comfortable and homey, and as I sat myself down in a deep booth to wait, I was happy about what was the random choice of this pub based on its proximity to Bonney Field.

Jesse's flag at the pre-match pub
Jesse’s flag at the pre-match pub

In my conversations with SAFC they had suggested that there could be between 150-200 people coming over from England, in addition to those in the US affiliated with NASA. I had done my best to publicise the location, but anxiety started creeping in as the pub staff were making preparations around me. And even though I wasn’t the host, per se, I started to worry that the promised numbers wouldn’t show.

Thankfully, shortly after the pub opened, I was joined by some of my friends from NASA Region 9, and then more, and then more. Before I knew it, the pub was a blur of red and white — some old faces, some new; some from a few hours’ drive, some from as far away as Holland! But the one unifying feature of the lot was their kindness. Indeed, I have yet to meet a Sunderland supporter who isn’t an all-around decent person. The old adage that “he’d give you the shirt off his back” applies to pretty much everyone I met yesterday.

Graeme and Riki
Graeme and Riki – SAFC through and through
Red and White Army at the Bonn Lair
Red and White Army at the Bonn Lair

As the afternoon passed, we drank and ate and laughed and talked — mostly about the team and the debut of the new away kit, but also about our various families, lives, and interests — and before we knew it, it was game time. Some of the NASA folks had bought tickets to a chartered bus to the ground, so we headed across the street to ride to the stadium. Once there, we hurried through the fairground — where a garish and busy county fair was very much in swing — and made our way to our seats.

It was a discordant environment, what with the field surrounded by a pointless monorail track, Ferris wheel, and sounds of carnival rides. It all rendered the match almost an afterthought, but I felt a slight surge of excitement to finally be there, to finally see the Lads in person after a little over eleven years.

Unfortunately, the excitement turned to almost immediate revulsion as the Lads took the pitch in what I can only describe as one part away kit, one part highlighter pen, one part Kermit the Frog costume. Dear God. What are we wearing?! A chorus of “Green Army!” sprung up to our left as I put my face in my hands. I’ve seen bad kits before, but this takes the cake. We look like fluorescent popsicles. Toxic waste. Lime lollies.

Sigh!

It's time to put on make up - it's time to light the lights - it's time to get things started
It’s time to put on make up – it’s time to light the lights – it’s time to get things started – click on pic for a better look at the green kit

Anyhow, the match started brightly and my initial horror was quickly put to rest as Jack Rodwell put us in front quickly with a well-worked goal.

And then we went back to being Sunderland. I had hoped we wouldn’t be worse than we’d been on Tuesday, and we weren’t. Much. But we weren’t that good either. Pachuca sprayed the ball around comfortably for the next 80 minutes, we stood off them, they scored three goals and Pickford made a good penalty save. Other than that, honestly, the only highlight of the match — for me, anyhow — was fellow countryman John Calfas’ lyrics to a new song about the abomination we were wearing. (Blinded by the kits/They’re green and they glow/And they’re giving people fits.)

But here’s the thing that ultimately soured me to the match — and I intend to write the club about it, because this is just not on, in my opinion:

After the final whistle blew, the players, en masse, simply walked off the pitch, their backs turned to the red and white in the stands, to the flags adorning our end of the stadium, to the support who had travelled far further than I had on their own dime. O’Shea and Pickford turned halfheartedly, clapped twice, and joined the rest. No acknowledgment. No thanks.
The gentleman next to me muttered, “They did the same thing on Tuesday.”

All the way from Jarrow to California
All the way from Jarrow to California

What did I expect? Certainly not to be joined at the pub by the whole squad or anything. I’m not unreasonable or stupid. But this was downright disrespectful. Something, lads! A wave. A clap. A thank you by way of simple acknowledgment for the support and effort to be here and watch you go through the motions (and lose, again). Someone needs to have a word.

But despite my disappointment I returned to the thought I had after sitting in Santa Monica for the NASA General Meeting back in October and watching us lose 8-0 to Southampton: that SAFC is the support first, the team second. Sometimes I feel they don’t deserve us.

Indeed, as Niall Quinn so astutely pointed out, “”If Sunderland produced a team as good as the fans, then they’d be in Europe every year.”

Our bus - their bus
Our bus – their bus

We made our way back to the pub, singing as we did on the way to the match, and parted ways until the next time. Despite feeling let down by the players, I thought, “I am still wholeheartedly devoted to this club.” Because the club is the people.

Someone should remind the Lads.

Jesse on himself:

I’m Jesse Burch, US-born and bred and have been supporting Sunderland since the year SuperKev won the Golden Boot.

Why Sunderland? Totally, utterly random. A friend of mine invited me to join a Premier League low-stakes, week-to-week betting pool whereby we’d pick results for quarters.

Like I said: low stakes. To make it interesting, he suggested I follow a team myself, but the only ones left (his mates had chosen their teams already) were Southampton, Derby, and Sunderland. I did my bit of research, liked the Quinn-Phillips partnership, have always loved an underdog anyhow – and the rest is history. I could’ve walked away without reciprocity at any time in the last 15 years, but I can’t. I’m Sunderland ’til I die.

safc nasahttps://www.facebook.com/safcnasa

Sixer’s City Soapbox: Cheap beer, not much else at Hull City

John McCormick writes: listening to Gary Bennett on Radio Newcastle’s stream couldn’t give me the full picture of an eventful night at Hull. The pre and post- goal screams of

“Fill that hole! Fill that hole! Oh no, if we could see it up here how could they not see it down there?”

did not inspire confidence. But we muddled through.

Or did we? Here’s the man of the moment, Pete Sixsmith, and his verdict.

Read moreSixer’s City Soapbox: Cheap beer, not much else at Hull City