John McCormick writes: I started to put this up not long after Pete Sixsmith sent it, then had to switch off and do other stuff before I could add an introduction. In between I put some music on, courtesy of a USB stick I think my brother-in-law Ed must have left behind.
First up came The Small Faces and “Sha La La La Lala Lee”, which was released in 1966 and echoed round our World Cup venue in honour of the goalkeeper who had helped us gain promotion and who would go on to help us win the cup. Ed, currently a season-ticket holder in the North Stand, Pete, Jake, Malcolm and Colin will no doubt fondly remember those days, as do I and probably many of our readers.
Second up on Ed’s playlist came something from 1982. We were still a first division club then, and would shortly revisit Wembley before enduring a single season in the Third Division. But endure we did.
Now, perhaps, that song is more appropriate. The name of the group -The Jam. The title of the song – “The bitterest pill (I ever had to swallow)”. Step forward one last time, Pete.
A lot of Salut! Sunderland readers go nowhere near Twitter and as one who spends far too much time there, Monsieur Salut can but say: “Bear with me. I am hopeful of finding a cure.”
But I must admit I have been flabbergasted by the names that have been more or less officially linked with the search for a successor to Jack Ross – and what those names say about our status and ambition.
First we hear in effect that Ross was not good enough. “.. with three quarters of the season remaining, we did not feel things were going as well as they should be,” our executive director and my own former colleague Charlie Methven tells The Daily Telegraph.
Malcolm Dawson writes….I was busy last night with what laughingly passes for the only work I do since retirement. Laughingly, because for 12 or so weeks of the year I get paid for what I might well be doing for nothing during the other 40. However, because I am getting paid and on a kind of contract, that has to take priority, so not only was I unable to attend last night’s fixture, I found it difficult to even follow the game on the interweb. When first I looked it was 0-0 with 42 minutes on the clock. Next glimpse showed us to be losing 1-0, then it was 2-2 and by the time I knew that we hadn’t needed to look for a bonus point via a penalty shoot out, Sixer’s Sevens was already posted and I expect that Pete himself had got past Houghton Cut.
I should make the next home tie, but Pete Sixsmith was there last night on another day of upheaval at the Stadium and Academy of Light. Let’s find out what he made of yesterday’s events.
Malcolm Dawson writes……the last time I went to Sincil Bank, I had a nice day out with other members of the Heart of England Branch, spending time in the Lincoln City Social Club before witnessing a 1-0 win in the F.A. Cup. The last time I went to Lincoln I was enjoying a day out with a friend of mine and her (at that time) young son. We walked the walls, went in the Cathedral, looked in a few shops and had a decent dinner somewhere so my memories of the city are pleasant ones. So were Pete Sixsmith‘s until about 3.05 pm yesterday afternoon. Let him explain……
LOST IN LINCOLN
In the dim and distant past, Bruce Forsyth used to ask contestants on Beat the Clock, to rearrange words into a well known phrase or saying.
Let’s see what you, dear reader, can do with these:
Lincoln end embarrassing could the beginning debacle of be at This.
Although you may have framed these words into a question, if you came up with “This embarrassing debacle at Lincoln could be the beginning of the end?” you would be on the same wavelength as me. If you were to add “And the quicker Jack Ross leaves, the better for all concerned” you would be echoing the thoughts of the vast majority of the Sunderland supporters who entered Sincil Bank with a modicum of optimism and left (many of them before the final whistle) with that optimism gone.
This was by far the worst performance of the manager’s time on Wearside. Buoyed by two decent wins, we went into a game against opponents who appeared to be mourning the departure of the Cowley Brothers and who looked to be in a state of emotional collapse.
Last time at their pleasant and atmospheric Sincil Bank, they collapsed to a 0-6 pummelling by Oxford United. Last weekend, they lost at Blackpool, albeit to a last-minute goal. So, they came into this game needing to show their noisy and boisterous support, that the mourning period was over and that “The King(s) is (are) dead. Long live the King.” New manager Michael Appleton and his players responded splendidly. Ours, manager and players, were supine. To describe it as a disappointment is like saying that Michael Gove is mildly irritating.
If you want a “d” word to cover it, how about “dross”, “Dismal”, “disgraceful”. That’ll do at the moment.
When we heard the team, the general feeling was that an unchanged side with a decent bench was just the ticket. The two new defenders would be able to further embed themselves in, the Wyke/O’Nien combination would have another chance to show its worth and McGeoch and Power would hopefully replicate their first half dominance of the previous Saturday.
Well, we got that embarrassingly wrong didn’t we.
They came at us right from the start and produced a performance that had pace, power and positivity. Our response was ponderous, feeble and lacking in any positivity whatsoever as we were outplayed and outfought by a side who had been clearly instructed about our weaknesses and had been drilled to take advantage of them. I imagine that their scouting report on last Saturday suggested that we were slow in the build-up, liked to turn back on ourselves and had no real urgency in the opposition box.
It may well have said that certain players like to hold the ball too long, others are uncomfortable when a quick player runs at them and they offer little up front. And the goalkeeper is going through a dodgy spell. If it didn’t identify those failings, the scout wasn’t doing his job.
Jon McLaughlin has been below the impeccably high standards that he set last season. Many felt that he should have done better with the goal he conceded last week. This week, he was indecisive when coming for a dinked pass by Eardley and was bundled over by Tyler Walker, resulting in either Walker’s 7th goal of the season or an own goal by the keeper. Let’s give it to Tyler.
We had one opportunity to level the scores, when De Bock, who was given a torrid time by Bruno Andrade, hit a fine shot which had Josh Vickers stretching to tip over the bar, but that was it. Nothing else. Vickers had a quiet afternoon as our attempts to salvage something foundered.
Walker hit the post with a penalty after De Bock pulled down Andrade following a scintillating move from The Imps which started deep in their half and quickly moved into our box. The manager responded by hauling off Maguire and Gooch (each equally ineffective) and sending on McGeady and McNulty to supplement Wyke. Alas, it gave Lincoln even more room and another flowing move allowed the unmarked Andrade to gallop away and play a superb first-time ball in for Walker to stab home with Lynch and Willis nowhere near him.
We could have gone home then. There were some dismal attempts to get back into the game, but the City defence was comfortable with the limited options that we had and they were worthy winners at the end. They had everything that we lack. They have pace in Andrade. We have Gooch. They have a goal scorer in Walker. We have Wyke. They have busy central midfield players who move the ball quickly. We are slow and ponderous. They have central defenders who have that security blanket in front of them. We have defenders who are always plugging gaps.
The crowd were nowhere near as unpleasant as at Bolton two weeks ago but there was little support for either players or manager. It may well be that he is coming to the end of his time at Sunderland. He has not improved the side at all over the summer – in fact, we have gone backwards and the reliance on McGeady to pull some magic out is embarrassing.
Whether the current owners want to appoint a new man with the takeover talks at a delicate phase is unlikely, which gives Ross a week or two to sort out this shambles as another debacle at Wycombe will surely tip him over the edge. Nothing less than a run of victories and some flowing, interesting football will satisfy and convince supporters that he is any better than Moyes, Grayson or Coleman.
As often happens, the game spoilt a pleasant day. The trip down was quiet and uneventful, we arrived in Lincoln in ample time to sample some of its many delights and most of us did. I wandered into the very busy city centre, swarming with shoppers and students and full of busy shops. There were even people buying things in Debenhams!!!
I strolled up to the Cathedral up Steep Hill, the most appropriately named thoroughfare in the UK, and popped in to see if the Imp had been doing his a*** kicking routine. I was assured that he hadn’t and that he was saving that for Sincil Bank later in the afternoon. He should have stayed in his place in the roof and spared us all an embarrassing afternoon which makes me think very hard about wasting time and money on trips all over the country. Visits to Shrewsbury and Oxford are looking increasingly unlikely.
Let’s finish as we started, but no answers this time. I invite you to rearrange these words into a well known phrase or saying;
Are Saturday of there ways afternoon. better a spending
Returning visitors to Salut! Sunderland will know that Pete Sixsmith, our regular match correspondent, is a Guardian reading liberal (with a small l) with a well developed sense of decency and fair play but there are a few things that I guarantee will provoke him enough to elicit a barrage of anger and expletives, namely: Crystal Palace, Surrey County Cricket Club, Highways England, Rugby Union, Ant and Dec, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Oh and I almost forgot – franchised football.
I don’t know how many of you remember, but only a few days after our defeat to Millwall in the 2004 FA Cup semi final at Old Trafford, we had to travel to the National Hockey Stadium to face a club that had been allowed to up sticks and move lock, stock and barrel to a land of concrete cows and ring roads. It was there that my sister and I met up with Sixer and I had my first experience of a volley of Sixsmith invective, aimed at a youth of no more than thirteen years who dared to try and mock we three for supporting a club that had got to within one game of the Millennium Stadium, whilst his team, still known as Wimbledon had been knocked out in Round 4. We won 2-1 that evening with goals from Darren Byfield and Marcus Stewart but would miss out on promotion after losing to a side from South London in the playoffs. See you bright young things, we have seen it all before.
Wimbledon on the other hand, would be relegated from what was then known as the First Division, but was really Division 2 in old money, before changing their name over the summer and sparking Alun Armstrong, a native of the North Durham village of Annfield Plain, to wear an AFC Wimbledon shirt on the newly aired TV series “New Tricks”.
Was that really 15 years ago? It was and Pete still hasn’t forgiven the footballing authorities for allowing a club with a long history to move and change its name, so only a few weeks after we beat the real Dons at the Stadium of Light we agreed between us, that I should bring you the Salut! Sunderland view of a game that brought a welcome three points.
M K DEFEATED
Because of an imminent trip to Venice courtesy of a Thomas Cook package (fortunately our Ryanair flight took off a matter of hours before they went bust) I didn’t get to the Bolton match and followed the Carabao Cup tie at Bramall Lane via the BBC and SAFC text services, whilst cruising the Grand Canal and Venetian lagoon on my way back to the hotel on the islands of Murano.
But I’d made sure that I was going to be back in time for the next home game, although you wouldn’t have thought it on Friday morning when I looked out of my window, what with the amount of water that was running outside my house and the state of my patio around the back. Fortunately, although it was still wet underfoot on Saturday morning, it had actually stopped raining so the Park and Ride option was still viable and in the end it turned out to be a pleasantly sunny afternoon.
I’ve only started to use the P&R this season and one thing it does is to allow me to take a snapshot of the pre and post match feelings of a section of the support. Yesterday the atmosphere on the bus going to the ground was subdued but I detected an air of quiet confidence, whilst on the return journey there was a quiet satisfaction at a job done and the group from Milton Keynes who sat near me had enjoyed their day, were looking forward to an evening in town and weren’t overly disappointed at the result, having had no expectations of a victory before kick off.
As I passed on the copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport which I had brought back for Mr Sixsmith it was good to have a brief word with associate editor John McCormick who I last saw at the rainfest that was Accrington Stanley away last season and who has spent the past few months recovering from a particularly unpleasant form of medical treatment. At least the sun shone for him yesterday and he was to see a home win.
Whilst injuries had obviously limited Jack Ross’s choices, we now have a squad that not only seems well balanced, but contains a number of players who can do a job in a variety of positions. The starting line up reflected this, with a back four comprised of summer signings including Jordan Willis who was handed the captain’s armband. Laurens De Bock and Joel Lynch after getting midweek game time were considered fit enough to start and this not only gave the team a more balanced look, but also provided a bit more height and muscle to the side. Having the Belgian available meant Conor McLaughlin was able to play on his favoured right side and more importantly freed up the energetic Luke O’Nien to play in a much more advanced role. The central midfield was taken up by Power and McGeouch both of whom are more mobile than Grant Leadbitter and more experienced than George Dobson. Charlie Wyke was to lead the line.
No Aiden McGeady meant that Chris Maguire was to start wide right with Lynden Gooch taking up the left hand berth. I suggested in a GTS comment, that I thought sometimes the team plays better without McGeady, which is not to say that I wouldn’t have him in the starting line up, just that when he isn’t there others step up to the mark and can maybe play in their stronger positions. Maguire, as we know can operate in a variety of positions but for me he is most useful when he plays wide right and I prefer to see Gooch on the other flank, where he can twist and turn then cut inside more effectively to set up a shot with his stronger foot.
Despite the suggestions in the headlines of some of the more sensationalist websites, desperate for clicks and increased advertising revenue, it was not shocking to see Jon McLaughlin back between the sticks. Yes Lee Burge had a good game against The Blades but big Jon is first choice and will remain so until he suffers a loss of form, forgets to have his flu jab or needs a lie in on a Saturday morning.
Certainly with this line up we saw eleven players who knew their brief and in the first half especially, retained the shape of the side, with little lateral movement or swapping of positions. The basic shape was 4-2-4 with O’Nien, buzzing about just behind Wyke, but the two wide men were quick to drift back and make it a 4-4-2 when required and as the game progressed, the two full backs got forward more, not in the gung ho attacking style that we sometimes get when O’Nien and Hume take up the Cec Irwin and Len Ashurst mantle, but in a more considered supporting role.
Just as we had against Rotherham we dominated the first period of play. After only three minutes the MKD keeper Lee Nicholls was called into action saving at the feet of Charlie Wyke. Our boys were linking up well and retaining possession and on the odd occasion that the visitors pushed forward the defence looked solid and capable. There was plenty of interplay, short passing and running into space and despite the presence of Wyke, for much of the time we played the ball on the ground. It was this sort of play that produced the first goal.
O’Nien, tracking back in his own half, took possession and played the ball out to Chris Maguire who, surrounded by three yellow shirts did a bit of twisting and turning before sending a ball down the line to big Charlie who had drifted out wide. For a big man Wyke looks comfortable with the ball at his feet but he seemed to have played a poor ball behind O’Nien and into a triangle of opposition players. It was just in front of where I sit and there was a split second’s disappointment as it appeared that a promising attack had broken down, but what the centre forward had seen that we hadn’t, was the run of Max Power, who hit a beautiful curling shot that gave Nicholls no chance and Power his second wonder strike within three days. One – nil and looking comfortable. Deja vu and not for the first time. We all knew that more was needed before we could feel confident that all three points would come our way.
But we kept going and within three minutes we were two aheadwhile Luke O’Nien might have had a hat-trick. Almost straight from the re-start Joel Lynch found Gooch in space on the left wing. As the defence moved across, our favourite American had jinked and twisted his way into the box before playing the ball back to De Bock, who sent a first time peach of a cross into O’Nien who was unlucky to see his header rattle the foot of the post before being put behind for a corner. The coaching staff and players have obviously been working hard on corner routines as there is now much more variety. Instead of simply lumping the ball into the box, there are a number of shorter options being used, as well as those finding players outside of the penalty area, like Wednesday night.
Although that corner came to nothing, from the resultant goal kick, the MKD defence got into a right pickle trying to play it short and a hasty clearance from Nicholls only found a rejuvenated Max Power, who picked up the loose ball and now full of confidence tried another 25 yard pile driver which deflected off a foot for another corner, this time on the right. Maguire curled one in to the near post where a stooping Luke O’Nien got off another great header, which was well saved and prompted the former Wycombe man to go over and congratulate Nicholls for the quality of his diving stop as we set up for another corner.
This too was defended effectively and the Dons broke forward but a fine tackle from Max Power not only stopped the visitors in their tracks but also won us a throw in. At this point one of our opponents decided that his white boots didn’t really go with primrose yellow so hopped off the pitch to swap them for a darker pair. More fool him because from the resultant throw, the ball was returned to McLaughlin C who lobbed the ball forward into the path of Luke O’Nien. Nicholls, unsure whether to come out and close him down or drop back onto his line did neither and O’Nien lobbed him in a way that reminded me of a goal I once almost scored myself in a 5 a side game at The Crowtree Leisure Centre. However, while mine bounced back off the angle of post and bar, O’Nien’s effort hit the post and side netting, with enough of the ball across the line to convince the referee’s assistant that it was a goal. From my seat I couldn’t be 100% sure all the ball was over the line before it was headed out, but hey who are we to argue with the officials when they rule in our favour? Having watched the replay it looks as if VAR could have decided either way and the 450 odd visiting fans might not have been happy but we were and our play up to that point had been worth more than a one goal lead. Luke O’Nien too was overjoyed. It’s not always easy to tell with our Luke as he plays with a permanent grin but his enthusiastic demolition of the corner flag as he went to celebrate with the fans said it all.
We continued to dominate, whilst the visiting defence looked shaky at times and another poor clearance found Gooch who burst forward and was unlucky to see a powerful drive from distance, pass just the wrong side of the far post. There was still time for one more bit of controversy as Max Power was fouled just in front of the technical areas and while the game continued, with the ref playing a good advantage, substitute David Kasamu did something to the prostrate Max Power as he ran past. We assumed it was a kick and there was plenty of shouting at the ref for a red card. After speaking to the 4th official Kasamu only saw yellow and then Max Power also went in the referee’s notebook, presumably for remonstrating as he walked away, although some thought it might have been for making out it was worse that it was. If I’m right and it was for criticising the ref, this is the second Saturday in a row that Power has picked up a stupid booking and while I like to see a bit of feistiness in our players it is no good if it means that player ends up missing games.
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I am rarely relaxed until we have at least a four goal lead and despite being two up at half time, the consensus around me was that we needed at least one more to settle the nerves. And true to form we were to endure a nervy second half as the Dons got into the game more effectively and halved the lead after only ten minutes of the half – although we might have had another goal before that, when a Chris Maguire cross found Lynden Gooch who was unable to shoot first time and in controlling the ball gave the defence time to re-organise and head clear, but only to the feet of Max Power, who tried his luck yet again with a right footed volley from the edge of the box, which scraped the post as Nicholls made sure it stayed out.
Their goal when it came was not great from a defensive point of view. I was explaining to the young lad who sits near me that the high pressing game we had employed earlier on uses up a lot of energy and that with a two goal lead, by defending deeper and allowing our opponents to pass the ball around in their own half, the emphasis was more on reducing passing options and managing the game but I was probably trying to reassure myself as much as him. The Dons had been passing the ball around more in our half and eventually Kasamu, crossed the ball deep to George Williams who had stolen in unnoticed on the far side. McLaughlin moved across to cover the near post but when Williams headed across the face of goal, he was forced to scramble back as Jordan Willis struggled to block the run of Jordan Bowery and somehow the ball ended up in the back of the net. McLaughlin protested he had been impeded but to be honest it wasn’t the finest bit of keeping I have seen from the big man. But there was confusion as first we thought the goal had been given, then disallowed, then given again.
There was some anxiety in the last half hour or so, which Chris Maguire might have alleviated had his effort brushed the underside, rather than the top of the bar as MK Dons continued to press but on the whole the defence coped well. As had happened against Rotherham we allowed our opponents the chance to get back into a game which we had started as the better side but we can’t expect other teams to simply roll over and capitulate. At the end of the day this is another three points and takes Jack Ross’s managerial record in league games as P 56 W 27 D 23 L 6 which takes him close to the two points a game target he sets himself. We have only lost once in the 28 games which he has supervised at the Stadium of Light. I don’t suppose the facts and figures will go any way to silencing those who think that a change of manager will automatically mean we will see a team winning easily each week but I do think constant criticism is not helping. Wins over Lincoln and Fleetwood would help.
Malcolm Dawson writes……..others I know will not share my opinions, but as I’ve got older I believe I have developed a healthy attitude to life and an ability to put into perspective things which seem to send others into paroxysms of rage. So whilst I walked away from the Stadium of Light frustrated at the overall performance of a team which dominated for the first third of the game and disappointed having dropped another two points, it didn’t take me long to get over it.
On the Park and Ride I had a chat with a young lad, not long out of college, who asked how long I had been following the Lads and on hearing that it was getting on for 60 years – 55 since my first visit to Roker Park, followed this up with “does it get any easier?” No prizes for my response.
I also had a bit of a chat with a Rotherham supporter and his son sitting behind me about a) the validity of McNulty’s goal and b) the first half penalty shouts that The Millers had. I had to admit that when I turned to look at McNulty he was already past his man so I immediately looked at the linesman who kept his flag down, whilst he didn’t think either of their shouts in the box were anything other than marginal.
Perspective! Watching football is something we do to fill in some time and hopefully keep us entertained. It is something we can get passionate about and we can experience a whole range of emotions following our team but at the end of the day it’s not, despite what Bill Shankley once said, more important than life and death and as I write safc.com tells me it’s only 3 days 5 hours and 29 minutes to the next instalment.
Climbing into the car I switched on Spotify, clicked on liked songs and set it off in shuffle mode. Driving towards the A19 the first three songs that came up were “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor, Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and Leon Russell with “Tightrope”. All appropriate in their own way.
The first a reminder that as we go through life, we all have personal issues to deal with and we will have had a pretty smooth ride if all we have to get worked up about is the failure of our football team to snatch a win. The second reminding me that I was 19 the last time Sunderland actually won a trophy of note and the only one in my 65 years on this planet, and the third with the lyrics “one side’s hate and one is hope” and “I’m up on the high wire, flanked by life and the funeral pyre” which if you were so inclined you might see as my attitude to watching football. But then you might just think I’m a bit of a tosser, who as an ex girlfriend once said is lacking in emotion. I get excited when we score and I enjoy it when we win but though I’m disappointed when we don’t, I’m not going to let it ruin the rest of my week. Oh and in case we forget we didn’t lose.
COULD’VE, SHOULD’VE, MIGHT HAVE
And so to the match.
Here was a game we could have won and the way we started this was a game we should have won. By the end this was a game we might have lost but then we still might have won at the death – although over the course of the 90 minutes it would have been an undeserved victory had we managed to grab a winner.
In his pre-match press conference Jack Ross had mentioned that a couple of players had got through the Accrington Stanley game carrying knocks, so it came as no surprise that there were two changes. That one was Chris Maguire was disappointing. That the other was Grant Leadbitter was less surprising.
What is it with social media and radio phone ins? On Saturday Twitter and Radio Newcastle were awash with the views of those who thought we had put in a poor performance, despite the three points. Last night it was all “stick with the same team” and “never change a winning side” and “what’s Ross doing dropping Chris Maguire?”
Well for a half hour or so it looked like Jack Ross had got it spot on.
For those first thirty minutes, this was as convincing a Sunderland performance as I have seen for a long while. Within seconds of the kick off, which Rotherham took, Ozturk was awarded a free kick for an offence that no-one near me noticed. He took it quickly and by the time I had turned my head to follow the ball, McNulty had got behind the last defender, controlled the dropping ball beautifully and rounded the goalkeeper. It looked for a second as if he might have let the opportunity slip before calmly slotting home. It then took longer to get the game restarted than it had for us to take the lead.
We dominated that opening spell.
Luke O’Nien playing in the number ten role buzzed about, making himself available and was a constant threat. McNulty showed his customary energy and made a nuisance of himself. McGeady was showing his silky skills out on the left, combining well with Hume who was pushing forward whenever he could. This is not the same Denver Hume who looked nervy and unsure against Oxford. This is a young man learning all the time.
Conor McLaughlin was looking assured at the back, much happier on his stronger side and as as we grew into the game he pushed forward more too. Ozturk and Willis are developing a good understanding and Gooch was as industrious as ever. McGeouch initiated some nice passing moves and Dobson was physical. Our lack of height was noticeable but Dobson and O’Nien in particular win a surprising amount of headers.
Big Jon McLaughlin made a couple of routine saves from Freddy Ladapo but wasn’t really troubled during that opening spell. It looked as if JR had instructed the team to be more physical in this game and were well in control, competing for and winning second balls and carving out a number of decent chances.
Some smart movement down the left flank saw McNulty dummy to leave O’Nien with a decent opportunity to increase the lead but he was leaning back as he tried to side foot the ball home and it sailed over the bar. On 17 minutes, McGeady fired a powerful curling shot towards the top right hand corner, after good interplay from Gooch and McNulty. It looked in all the way until Iverson in the Rotherham goal pulled off a fantastic one handed save.
The Millers had a couple of half hearted penalty shouts waved away, but our defence was dealing with everything that was coming their way and then Conor Mclaughlin tried to get on the score sheet but his effort also went high and wide.
The general feeling around me was that another goal or two would settle matters and that opportunity arose just before the half hour mark, when some close passing between McNulty and Gooch, saw the American tripped by Clark Robertson and we all glanced at the ref to make sure he was pointing to the spot. It looked as if Gooch wanted to take the kick himself. The consensus was that he was the appointed penalty taker, but captain for the night Aiden McGeady took the ball from him and placed the ball on the spot. No bother we thought. We have one of the best conversion rates for penalty kicks in the league and McGeady knows what he is doing. There then followed one of the worst penalties I have ever seen. No power, no placement and never left the ground. Daniel Iverson made the simplest of saves and our best chance to put the game to bed had evaporated. Doubtless, had Iverson flung himself towards the post and the ball had trickled under his body McGeady would have been hailed as a genius but to be honest this was as feeble an effort as you are ever likely to see. I hope it was a mis-kick but if it wasn’t then the entire squad must be made to sit and watch this then spend twenty minutes at the next training session practising picking a spot and striking the ball firmly. Fair enough if the keeper makes a great save, but he could have put one of those sausage dog shaped draught excluders on his goal line and it would have prevented the ball going into the net.
This seemed to deflate the home players and spur the visitors on as from that moment the tide turned and for the fans a whole hour of frustration was to follow. Somehow, if we had played badly for the whole 90 minutes and come away with a point it would have been more satisfactory than last night, after the perfect start then missing a golden opportunity to put the game to bed
McGeady might have made amends just before the interval, making space for himself with one his characteristic spins before curling a shot wide of the right hand post, but we went into the break with the Yorkshire side in the ascendency.
In the latter stages of the first half and immediately from the start of the second Rotherham looked by far the more fluent side. Our play became scrappy, we were losing out in situations which we would have won in the opening spell and it seemed like only a matter of time before the equaliser would come. We were also picking up stupid bookings with Dobson and McLaughlin (C) both going in the referee’s notebook for what looked like innocuous challenges.
At one point the visitors did beat Jon McLaughlin with a deflected shot but play had already been stopped with Jordan Willis on the ground with a potential head injury. There then followed an interchange between the referee and the players which ended in an uncontested dropped ball just outside the penalty area, which the Rotherham player, possibly under the referee’s instruction, passed out to the right wing before play continued normally. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like that before and presumably it is the result of the new laws as they are applied this season.
Wyke came on and introduced a more physical presence. It was McNulty he replaced so I can only assume the Scotsman had taken a knock as he had busied himself all game. O’Nien too had been in the wars and by now was wearing a numberless shirt. He had also been yellow carded for a foul.
Rotherham were piling on the pressure whilst we were on the back foot and it was almost inevitable that they would get one back.
It came from a quick break down the Rotherham right. With our defence flooding back the ball found itself at the feet of Freddy Ladapo who had the presence of mind to look up and spot the run of left winger Jake Hastie. With Conor McLaughlin way out of position and scrambling back hastily across the pitch, Hastie had acres of space and plenty of time to fire hard and low across the other McLaughlin to make it one all.
Maguire came on for McLaughlin as O’Nien slipped back into the number 2 slot and in the dying minutes Grigg came on for Gooch. As the minutes ticked by we were hanging on for a draw, but despite being second best for all but the first half hour, had two chances to grab a winner. First Wyke found himself in the clear after a slip by a Rotherham defender but his shot was blocked by Iverson. Then McGeady sent in another trademark curler across goal which grazed the post. In the six minutes of added time, O’Nien too found himself in a good position breaking into the box but ran it out for a goal kick, when with a little less desperation might have done better.
A home win would have been hard on Rotherham and had we lost I don’t think anyone would have been surprised but we did dominate for thirty minutes and had we played like that during the last half hour rather than the first, we might have been happy with a point. But as the two blokes passing my open window as I am writing this were saying, it was frustrating!
Malcolm Dawson writes……….for the owners of a EFL football club hoping to persuade a consortium of hyper rich American businessmen to invest in its future, then yesterday could hardly have gone any better at the Stadium of Light. The sun shone, the fans turned out in numbers and impressed with the volume and level of support, the team turned in their best display of the season so far and came away with a deserved three points.
The visitors’ start to the season would suggest that they aren’t going to be one of the front runners in this division and the lone Wimbledon supporter I spoke to, having a pre-match tab by the aquatic centre, didn’t hold out much hope for their chances that afternoon, but we can only play against the opposition we face on the day and looked by far the better side, had the bulk of possession, created more chances and came away worthy winners.
Shortly after Stewart Donald took control of the club, we were already destined to finish bottom but managed to beat a Wolverhampton Wanderers side who had been crowned champions even before kick off. Since then we have only seen one league defeat on Wearside and unlike the impression of negativity I have (fair or not) of those commenting on social media, the supporters in the ground no longer seemed to get fazed when we concede, as despite our home record this past 13 months or so, clean sheets are still something of a rarity.
Had our American visitors wondered whether or not the passion shown by Sunderland supporters in the Netflix series was overstated, then the response of the crowd yesterday, including the rapturous applause given to the three substituted players can only have helped to convince them that what they saw on screen was no flash in the pan.
Twenty nine thousand plus home fans went home happy, one of whom was Pete Sixsmith. How happy? Let’s see.
SUNDERLAND 3 AFC WIMBLEDON 1 24/08/19
THE GOOD AMERICANS – WE HOPE.
Messrs Donald and Methven couldn’t have hoped for a better day to show Sunderland off to the new investors.
They must have had a direct line to the weather gods and those deities in charge of the fixture list because our new majority shareholders arrived on Wearside on the warmest day of the season to see us play the weakest team in Division One – if you don’t include Bury and Bolton Wanderers and we may not be able to after Tuesday of next week.
All three of them were in the Executive area, looking casual in their suits and open necked shirts (you can’t imagine Syd Collings dressed in such a way) and smiling as they looked at their potential new purchase, basking in glorious sunshine, with an excited buzz all around the Stadium. If they can be as successful as the finest half back line that my generation has ever seen in a red and white strip, that of Harvey, Hurley, McNab, they will go down a storm with the support.
That they saw their new investment ease to a comfortable win over a very limited AFC Wimbledon side can only be for the good. A hat trick from Chris Maguire, the first one at The Stadium since Darren B££t rattled one in against Bolton in 2010 and a highly competent performance against admittedly weak opposition, would give them food for thought as they slept in their beds last night.
Jack Ross would have been pleased too. He was immaculately dressed in suit and tie as he patrolled his technical area, looking more like a man attending an interview for a job with an investment bank, possibly Goldman Sachs. The contrast between him and AFC boss Wally Downes, who looked as if he was the stand in manager for The Dog and Duck FC in his shirt, loosely tucked into his trousers and in permanent danger of flapping over the waistband, was immense.
Of course, Ross has far more resources to work with than Downes. There are still a fair number of Sunderland supporters who remain to be convinced that he knows how to use them, but there were clear signs in this performance that the team is settling down. He left out Connor McLaughlin for Denver Hume and that worked, partly due to Hume’s energy and partly due to the fact that Wimbledon left him more space than a warehouse full of Dell computers in which to get forward. The youngster took advantage of the absence of a right winger and right defensive midfield player and pushed forward remorselessly in the first half, combining well with McGeady, less so whenever Gooch moved across.
The solidity of the two central defenders had also improved the mood. Both have the physicality that previous combinations appeared to lack. Willis is the more able footballer of the two and almost scored for the second home game running with a clever backheel flick that was well saved by the Wimbledon keeper.
His partner, Alim Ozturk, does the basics well. He clears his lines. He wins headers. He barges forwards out of the way. Last week he neutralised John Marquis. On Tuesday, he kept the prolific and dangerous Ian Henderson quiet. Yesterday, neither Kwasi Appiah nor Michael Folvi caused him any serious problems. The crowd have taken to him and see another Paul Butler or Gary Caldwell there – a strong defender who does his job and who is effective at this level of football.
We are not quite firing in midfield. Max Power had a disappointing game – busy but not particularly effective. He was needlessly booked and when he was replaced by Dylan McGeouch, we looked tighter and more compact. McGeouch nurses the ball and carries it, Power is stronger and links well with Leadbitter. Not a bad conundrum for a manager to have.
The big disappointment was Lynden Gooch, whose game has not really moved on. Here he was hesitant, lost the ball instead of moving it on and never convinced against poor opponents. With his pace and trickery, he should be going past opponents and setting up the forward players, but too often he cuts back in and tries to beat the man again. He should have scored just before he was taken off to be replaced by Grigg. He wasn’t best suited and there was no handshake between him and the division’s best dressed manager as he went to sit down.
McGeady was McGeady. He hit the post after a splendid dribble and contributed well. Leadbitter was effective and industrious, Wyke battled away well and could, nay should, have scored before and after the interval.
But Maguire was the difference.
There was a piece about him on the BBC Scotland website, trying to work out why things had not quite worked out for him after an impressive start at Aberdeen. He did well at Sheffield Wednesday and Oxford United, less so at Rotherham United (I saw him play for their reserves against Hartlepool at Billingham Town where he looked less than interested) and Bury, which was an absolute disaster for him. Messrs Donald, Methven and Ross salvaged his career by bringing him to Sunderland and he has proved to be a wonderfully enigmatic signing, impressive and frustrating in equal measures.
This hat trick (his first since he notched one against the mighty Pinxton in a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie during his spell at Pride Park)showed his talents off to a tee.
Number one was a delightful chip over Nathan Trott after Jon McLaughlin’s long punt upfield had been missed by the Dons’ central defenders.
Number two came after a fine corner by Leadbitter was cleared to him as he lurked on the edge of the box. He drove it in and although there may have been a deflection, it was certainly his goal.
The clincher came when he deftly headed in a lovely chipped centre from Luke O’Nien to claim the ball for his trophy cabinet, where it will go alongside his two Scottish caps and (presumably) his Derbyshire Senior Cup winner’s medal.
The League’s best dressed manager sensibly withdrew him after 82 minutes and he did a half lap of honour as he left the pitch in sharp contrast to Gooch 25 minutes earlier.
We could have had more. Wyke, missed two, Grigg did well to get into position and then put it wide and I have already mentioned the ones from Gooch, Willis and McGeady that could have settled the game comfortably. We could also have defended Kwesi Appiah’s equaliser better. It was a well worked and well taken goal but he was given too much room and some think that McLaughlin(J) should have come for the ball. A clean sheet is but a mere fantasy for us at the moment. (It looked to me as O’Nien failed to track Appiah leaving him unchallenged – MD)
And what of AFC Wimbledon? They are a club that I and I suspect many other football supporters have a lot of time for. They did well to get away from the bottom last season but on this showing, only another two clubs doing a Bury/Bolton may be enough to save them. Their manager is a likeable old rogue who I saw get sent off on a rainy night in Darlington in the early eighties and I wish him and his club all the best. He’s certainly a better man than that sour faced Kenny Jackett who was in Wally’s seat a week ago.
The investors saw a Step 3 game attract a crowd of just under 30,000. They are shrewd men and must realise that if they can play a part in getting this right, there is big money to be made. Supporters won’t see any of that but we will be able to hold our heads up just a bit more. We love our club and we are proud to be Sunderland supporters and all we want is a tiny smidgeon of success. It’s not much to ask for is it, guys?
Oh and the Mags to go down – but that goes without saying.
In contrast to some other websites and social media platforms, contributors to Salut! Sunderland, whether in the main body of text or in the comments sections, tend to make reasoned arguments and are prepared to respect the opinions of others and discuss issues, rather than indulge in polemics.
The season has come to a disappointing end and inevitably the inquests have started and just as inevitably, there are those calling for a change of ownership and/or a change of manager in an open and frankly rude manner. On the whole these types seem to believe their simplistic solutions would see us competing in the top flight and challenging for European trophies. Often a variation of the very approach they advocate has been tried with disastrous consequences in the very recent past and many of their solutions ignore what happens in the real world.
Add to this a kind of double standard which sees any decent player in the squad who looks to move to another club, as a disloyal traitor or a money grabbing mercenary but welcomes an incomer with open arms whether or not they have spent years at their former club, nor in what circumstances they were persuaded to come to Sunderland AFC. Allied to that is the belief that as long we offer the right money, every single person who ever pulls on a pair of football boots would jump at the chance to come to Wearside, as if finding a top quality striker or centre back is the same as deciding whether to go into Harrods to buy some wild rocket, mignoette and micro salad or making do with some iceberg from Lidl.
Decisions have to be made and one course of action will impact on another. In football of course there are also the imponderables over which no-one has any control. One such decision which was made this season which quite rightly, is being questioned is whether or not the club should have made Josh Maja see out his contract and finish the season with us. Elsewhere both John McCormick and Paul Summerside make valid arguments that this, in hindsight was a poor decision and they are supported by others’ comments.
They might be right and we might have been looking forward to Championship football next season had Maja been retained, but the truth is we don’t know. Anything might have occurred and all we do know is what happened. Maja might have suffered a loss of form. He may have been the recipient of the type of meaningless and vindictive challenge that saw the unfortunate Duncan Watmore sent back to the treatment table so soon after his recovery from serious injury. Then again he may have scored another fifteen goals and turned some of those draws into wins and finished off Fleetwood and Southend before they took all three points from us. We’ll never know and while I know John and Paul will accept the truth of that, there will be others out there who will be 100% sure that I’m talking rubbish.
My own view is that there is no point in going back and bemoaning that particular decision but now what is needed is an analysis of what went well, what went badly and what we need to do to improve and I’m sure Jack Ross, the coaching staff and the owners will do so.
Letting Maja go and replacing him with an injured Will Grigg, who let’s face it, despite his song, hasn’t set the Stadium of Light or any away ground come to that on fire, seems to many a poor decision. Facts would seem to support that view though personally I am convinced we are yet to see the best of the former Wigan man. There is of course the financial aspect. Failing to get Maja tied down to a new contract would have seen him leave for nothing in the summer. I am prepared to accept that finances are such that without his transfer fee the club would have been limited when looking for a replacement over the summer, and had we gone up the type of player we needed to replace him would be expensive. At least with Will Grigg, the club has a saleable asset, as well as a player who might well contribute the number of goals we would like to see from him next season.
Similarly Charlie Wyke, though working hard in every game he has played has not been in any way prolific. Does that make him a bad player? I think not – not at this level anyway so I think we need to look elsewhere as to how to improve.
One thing I’m sure the management team are looking at is the balance of the squad. In my view, the best 11 players don’t necessarily make the best team and one of the problems I feel we had against Charlton was the lack of creativity in midfield. To my mind, Power, Leadbitter, Honeyman and Cattermole may all have deserved to start on recent performances but are all too much of a muchness in my view. Of course the manager has to pick from the players at his disposal and judge not only how fit they are, but how ready they are to start, but in the case of Honeyman, Leadbitter and Cattermole, there should be no room for sentiment in a one off play off game. I’m sure that didn’t play a part in JR’s thinking but it’s possible he felt that they might be more motivated than some others.
Dylan McGeouch is perhaps our most creative midfielder, but wasn’t even on the bench. He hadn’t really contributed much in the two previous games he had started but might have been able to give us something the others didn’t. Bali Mumba is young and inexperienced but again might have been the spark that was lacking in midfield. O’Nien is lively in midfield and has considerably more pace than those who started in midfield, but seems to have become the first choice right back.
Will Grigg is a different type of player to Charlie Wyke and with McGeouch in the side I would have been interested to see if Grigg and Maguire might have been able to work the Charlton defence better than we did on the day.
Morgan has been inconsistent since he came to us on loan and didn’t really get into the game on Sunday. He might have done as he has the ability. After Power was forced off I thought his introduction to the game might have seen a simpler tweak to the formation than we got, with Honeyman taking up Power’s position and Morgan playing Honeyman’s role but the skipper seemed to carry on taking up the same positions and the Celtic man never looked totally sure of what was expected from him.
With Aiden McGeady less than 100% we may have expected more from O’Nien and Oviedo in the attacking third but as we saw against Coventry a kamikaze approach can be fatal (yes I know you Japanese speaking purists not can be but is) but I wondered if Jack Ross considered tweaking the system prior to Wembley. After all for the first time in ages he had an opportunity to put in some serious work on the training ground.
Might a back three have been better? It worked in the second half of the opening game of the season, when Ozturk was pushed out wide. I thought back then he looked good on the left of a back three. That would have allowed the wing backs more freedom to attack and I know it’s not a system Jack Ross has employed much but that in itself might have been a plus. The one reservation I have about JR’s tactics is they became too predictable.
Early in the season there was a fluidity about the team. Players knew their own roles, but also each others’ and we saw them chopping and changing within the game. If a full back went high up the pitch, the defence would move over and a midfielder would drop back to cover. We moved the ball more positively and players were always looking for space. The front line too would swap positions. We seemed to lose this as the season wore on. That may have been tiredness, owing to the number and frequency of fixtures but it’s something that can be worked on over summer but being able to implement plans A B and C during the course of a game, would give opponents a bit more to think about.
We’ll never know if Josh Maja was the difference between us going up and facing return trips to Accrington, Rochdale and Lincoln (games I’m looking forward to) and Milton Keynes, Portsmouth and Coventry (games I doubt I’ll be going to) and we’ll never know if my starting line up of McLaughlin, Flanagan, Dunne, Ozturk, O’Nien Leadbitter, Cattermole, McGeouch, Oviedo, Maguire, Grigg would have been able to see off Charlton.
But the club now has the foundations in place and can build this summer, whereas twelve months ago, those foundations were shaky and the cracks full of expandable filler.
Malcolm Dawson writes……I said after the Southend game that I actually thought finishing 5th wasn’t such a bad thing, as I felt we stood a better chance of beating Portsmouth over two legs than Charlton, and that a one off game at Wembley against Charlton was preferable to another meeting with Portsmouth at the National Stadium. I fancied us getting the better of Doncaster in either situation if we ended up having to play them. Well it looks like Donny pushed the Addicks all the way but we now find ourselves facing a repeat of the 97/98 play off final, albeit one division lower. Can we do a week on Sunday what we couldn’t do 21 years ago? Let’s hope so, though if we are successful this time, there will be a fair bit of work for Jack Ross, Tony Coton and the rest of the recruitment team to do over the summer.
This current squad have rarely dominated games but showed their character and determination in both legs of this tie. I couldn’t fit in a visit to Fratton Park, which was a shame as I could have got to Doncaster but Pete Sixsmith did. It’s a long way to Portsmouth and Pete sensibly stayed over which is why we’ve all had to wait for his match report but it’s here now.
FAREWELL TO PORTSMOUTH.
That was a tense evening. Nails were bitten (finger and toe), hankies were shredded and fingers were peeped through but in the end, we came through and we are probably all now in the process of sorting out transport and buying match tickets for Wembley.
Smug people like me took a chance and bought a train ticket a while ago once it became clear that the play offs were likelier than an automatic. Had we failed to reach the final, I would still have gone to London and booked myself into the British Museum for the Edvard Munch exhibition. The Scream would have been most appropriate if Portsmouth and their charmless fans had got there.
I have also purchased my ticket with the ease of George Sanders putting on his cravat. Simple and straightforward, all I have to do now is hope that Royal Mail and Ticketmaster between them can get them delivered pdq and then I can relax.
Which is more than I did on Thursday night.
I imagine that those who watched and/or listened to it at home suffered the same anguish and torture that 1400 of us went through at Fratton Park – not that the home team ever really threatened but there was always the off chance that they might sneak one through a dubious penalty or a wicked deflection. But they didn’t.
I enjoyed the feel of Fratton Park. It’s a real old school ground which has been improved over the years and is an example of what Roker Park might have been like had we not decided to take the plunge and build a new stadium.
It still has floodlight pylons that towered above the stands although this was the last time they would be used as they are coming down. As the sun set over the yardarm, the lights came into their own and walking away from the ground at the end, through terraced streets with the floodlights shining above took me back to walking along Roker Baths Road and standing at the hatch at the Roker Pie Shop before going in to the Clock Stand Paddock.
The game was not a classic.
If you want free flowing football spiced with silky skills, this was not for you. But if you wanted to see a Sunderland side show that when they need a result they can actually hack it, you’d have appreciated this. I hope that Jack Ross and his staff get the praise they deserve. They had a game plan and it worked. They picked a team that was strong, eager and not likely to be intimidated by elements of the crowd who seemed to think that every tackle made by a Sunderland player was either a penalty or a sending off or both.
Grant Leadbitter epitomised this. He has been marginalised recently and his lack of form is probably explained by his mother’s terminal illness. As most know, she passed away the day before the game but Grant rose to the occasion and did his parents proud with a commanding performance. It was different from the vibrant attacking one that I remember from along the coast at Southampton twelve years earlier when he struck a magnificent winner to take us to the top of the Championship but it was just as important. Most definitely one of our own.
He was aided by his old sparring partner, Lee Cattermole, who was magnificent in the face of some appalling provocation. Gareth Evans, a man with a bigger mouth than Piers Morgan and Jeremy Kyle combined, committed a foul on Cattermole in the fourth minute that, had it been later in the game, would certainly have been a red card. His boot was almost wrapped round our man’s head but he got up and proceeded to snap and crackle about the pitch, timing his tackles, winning the ball and hitching up his shorts without giving Peter Bankes the slightest opportunity of booking him.
There were others who stood out – in fact the whole team did. There were no late lapses a la Scunthorpe and Peterborough, no careless challenges and no dropping deeper and deeper. We controlled this game from the first minute to the ninety sixth.
John McLaughlin was so steady and reliable that when he got a weakish punch on a cross near the end, there were gasps of astonishment from the support who don’t expect him to do such things. The confidence that he gives his defenders is palpable and they know where he is at all times. He collects the ball in a way I have rarely seen in a Sunderland keeper, using the minimum of effort and the maximum of timing. He’s my player of the year and as a former goalkeeper of some repute myself, I knows a good ‘un when I sees one.
Both full backs were excellent with Luke O’Nien even popping into the paddock to exchange banter with the Jolly Jack Tars in the crowd.
They thought he was a weak link and attacked his flank. He gave them nothing, just that lovely cheeky grin as their attempts to intimidate him failed yet again.
On the other flank, Bryan Oviedo was brilliant and showed his class throughout. With respect to Reece James and Denver Hume, Oviedo is a far better player than they are – he glides forward and, when defending, jockeys his opponents rather than committing himself. When Jamal Lowe finally appeared, he never passed Wearside’s favourite Costa Rican once.
Flanagan and Allan were a successful partnership on the stage and Flanagan and Ozturk look a good combination on the pitch. Both rarely put a foot wrong or missed a header and Ollie Hawkins, who had caused Baldwin and Flanagan problems at Wembley cut a lonely figure as he was hauled off with twenty minutes left.
What Ozturk may lack in pace, he makes up for in his reading of the game and his physical presence. What Flanagan may lack in physicality he makes up for in pace.
The others all played a major part.
George Honeyman is an easy target for the naysayers and doom mongers but he made them eat their words here. He popped up everywhere – a tackle in one corner, an interception in another, a pass through the middle, a header saved by the keeper; he did it all. Leave him alone. He’s not a world beater but his efforts are prodigious.
As were those of Max Power who was the junior partner in the midfield three and did all the heavy leg work that Grant Leadbitter can’t do. He was exhausted when Lewis Morgan replaced him with ten minutes left on the clock. The Scot did a good job as well by taking the ball into the corner and not losing it, I think he is a decent player and we would do well to bring him in permanently.
Chris Maguire succeeded in annoying the Portsmouth players, none more so than Tom Naylor who threw the ball at Mr Wind-Ups head. Could have been a red card, but again the ref, who generally speaking had a decent game only saw fit to issue a yellow. But Naylor was walking the metaphorical tight rope and his game was ineffective. Maguire’s second important contribution to the tie.
Charlie Wyke was left on his own to tangle with Clarke (good player; should we go up, try and sign him) and Burgess (as big a baby as Steven Taylor) and he revelled in his role. His all-out efforts have won over a sceptical fan base who, let’s face it, have had much to be sceptical about over the last few years, and we can look forward to a full season from him come August.
And finally, the home team players, manager and supporters.
If you are a Portsmouth fan or ever harboured a soft spot for them as I once did, look away now.
The players carried out their manager’s instructions to commit early fouls, roll around, dive, behave like big babies and wrestle with Charlie Wyke. Players (with the exception of Chelsea goalkeepers! MD) do as managers ask.
Ours stuck to their tasks with diligence and honesty and reflected Jack Ross.
Portsmouth’s reflected Kenny Jackett, a man with no tactical nous and a limited appreciation of the game. There were copious moans about him from those in the queue at Fratton Station and I would be surprised if he lasted the summer.
Most of the support is decent and voluble, but the snarlers, kickers and flare throwers who have disfigured this series of games do not reflect very well on Portsmouth as a city or a football club. The fool who kicked Luke O’Nien needs banning and they really need to look at the way in which their seating is allocated. Naughty, naughty boys.
I called into a pub in Fareham on my way back to the hotel and met long time Fareham residents Ian Tindale and his lads George and Harry. Loyal Mackems surrounded by Saints and Pompey, we shared memories over a beer and a couple of Jameson’s to set the seal on a very rewarding and ultimately enjoyable evening.
More of the same on Sunday 26th will do nicely.
Ha’way The Lads
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