The Devil’s Advocate: from Rochdale to Everton, from Kone to keepers

Rob as seen by Jake
Rob as seen by Jake

John McCormick asks: what do you think of the reformatted former Johnstone’s Paint trophy? Did we really need to fork out for a two year contract for a third keeper? Will Victor Anichebe prove to be better than Danny Graham? My answers are “undecided”, “no”, “yes but that means nothing”.

Rob Hutchison has his own opinions. Here he is playing Devil’s Advocate, in which he may take a view directly contrary to your own. You’re welcome to let him know what you think yourself…

Read moreThe Devil’s Advocate: from Rochdale to Everton, from Kone to keepers

Sixer’s Checkatrade Soapbox: the Trojan horse galloping into Rochdale

Malcolm Dawson writes……it takes a lot to shock me these days but the revelation that there was a Football League ground that Pete Sixsmith had never been to almost made me choke on my Vimto. But normal service was soon resumed when I re-read his report of last night’s Checkatrade Trophy at Spotland and realised it was only a competitive match he hadn’t witnessed there.  From that I assume he has either seen a friendly or been to a Rugby League match at the ground. To further my confusion, the former Johnstone’s Paint Trophy states that clubs like Sunderland must field at least six players under the age of 21, whilst the development squad now play in a league for Under 23s. I gave this one a miss relying on Pete’s report for my definitive account of what went on. And here it is……

ROCHDALE (a)

Sixer chalking off another ground
Sixer chalking off another ground

It would be fair to say that the Checkatrade English Football League Trophy is a largely unloved competition. John Penman calls it the “diddy, diddy cup” and Steve Williams, a good friend and an avid ground hopper and Tranmere Rovers fan, sees it as a Trojan horse for the entry of Premier League Under 23 teams into the football league a la Spain and Germany.

I saw it as an opportunity to watch Sunderland in a competitive match at Spotland for the first time. We have never played Rochdale in any kind of competitive game, so I was there to see history in the making. It was also an opportunity to see Jason Denayer in action, report on Jan Kirchhoff’s progress and see if the younger players could hack it against men rather than the same age group players they usually come up against.

Rochdale is not a town that has had to look for troubles over the past few years. There was the dreadful grooming case involving men of Asian origin, the acceptance that former MP and prize fatty Cyril Smith was a predatory paedophile and the revelations that the current MP was a man with a voracious sexual appetite.

Yet it has much to commend it. The Town Hall is possibly the most magnificent in an area where magnificent town halls (Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Morley) are par for the course. It would not look out of place in a Tuscan hill town and it may well have inspired Gracie Fields to forego the delights of Lancashire for the Isle of Capri.

It is the home of the Co-operative Movement, the Rochdale Pioneers setting up their first shop in Toad Lane in 1844, and although it has changed in recent years, the members are still the shareholders only without the divi. There will be men and women reading this who will be able to recite their divi number without batting the proverbial eyelid.

They also have a spectacularly unsuccessful but much loved (in Rochdale) football team. They spent forty one years in the lowest division before gaining promotion to Division One in 2009. They lasted two years, went down but under returning manager Keith Hill, went back up in 2014 and have looked comfortable for the last two seasons.

They have not made the best start to the new season and opted to field a strong side against our Under 21s. This was an opportunity to see what the Three Robsons, Embleton, Greenwood, Ledger and co. could do against players like Ian Henderson, Peter Vincenti, Joe Rafferty (I liked him)and Jim McNulty. And as Harold Wilson used to say,to be perfectly frank, honest and reasonable they did pretty well.

The line-up was as expected with the odds on Kirchhoff, playing for an hour at most. As it was, he saw the game out and he will certainly be in contention for the game on Monday night. There were some imperious passes, firm tackles and the trademark interceptions that we saw last season. He even scored his penalty with all the casualness of Noel Coward putting on his dressing gown and lighting up a Passing Cloud.

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Denayer looked a good acquisition. He has been at Celtic, where he won Scottish Young Player of the Year and at Galatasary, which should prepare him for anything. City must rate him or they would have sold him so we should make the most of his twelve months with us and hope that he can progress. He is calm on the ball but can find Row Z if required and, although legitimately roughed up by Vincenti and Henderson, showed that he can give it out as well as take it.

Stryjek started shakily but improved. Being the second choice goalkeeper is a bit like being the Vice President of the USA in that you are a heartbeat or in a footballing sense, a groin strain away from being plunged into a position of great responsibility. The youngster improved as the game went on, but I would be inclined to have Mark Schwarzer’s number on speed dial just in case.

The others all learned a lot from this. Elliot Embleton scored a splendid goal after being set up by Josh Maja (learn the offside regulations, Josh) and the always busy George Honeyman. Thomas Robson bombed forward well and defended strongly and Michael Ledger reached into himself to come through a difficult game a better player than when he went into it.

The Rochdale equaliser was sloppy – a needless free kick followed by some shoddy defending (familiar words) and both sides had chances. Rochdale brought on Sammi Odelusie who is on loan from Wigan. Although he hails from Dagenham he has played the last two seasons in Rugby League heartlands and his strong running was reminiscent of Billy Boston or Martin Offiah. However, his shooting prowess was the equivalent of Kevin Sinfield as he put three good chances well over the bar – the Rochdale Hornets coach could try to tap him up for the odd game.

The rules of this competition mean that draws are not allowed and if the teams are tied they take one point each and it goes to a penalty shoot-out with the winners of that gaining an extra point. George Honeyman missed his first and then Thomas Robson missed the third one. Despite a fine Stryjek save from McGahey, Odelusi managed to put one between the posts rather than over them to spark riotous scenes amongst the 900 or so Dale fans housed in the main stand. The 200+ Red and Whites, including a fellow Old Vinovian in Brian Lingwood, shrugged their shoulders and applauded the team off.

We go to Hartlepool in early October and then welcome Notts County, who have Louis Laing and Jon Stead in their ranks, to the Stadium in early November. Win those two and we could well be in the open draw and Wembley moves a step nearer.

Jan Kirchhoff: an interview missing the one thing we want to hear

Jan Kirchhoff

It reminds us of what we know about the official club site, good and bad.

Safc.com talks to Jan Kirchhoff, a revelation in almost every game after the unfortunate debut at Spurs and the player most of us want to hear is committed to Sunderland.

It’s all very interesting and site’s privileged access to players always makes the effort to check out the content worthwhile. But we don’t go there in the hope of finding much that is groundbreaking. Bless its cotton socks, safc.com will not or is not allowed to ask the obvious question.

Read moreJan Kirchhoff: an interview missing the one thing we want to hear

Our best defenders: part 2, in praise of John O’Shea

Lies_player
Jake’s take

We started our season at Leicester with a line up that included Seb Coates and Costel Pantsilimon. Substitutes included Adam Matthews, who came on for Billy Jones.

By the time we got to the final game Seb Coates, Costel Pantsilimon and Adam Matthews were no longer at the club. Billy Jones, subbed 12 games previously and subsequently dropped, came on for the final fifteen minutes, replacing DeAndré Yedlin, who hadn’t featured at Leicester.

They weren’t the only changes. Our manager had long gone, as had Danny Graham, Stephen Fletcher, Emanuelle Giaccherini, and Liam Bridcutt, all subs for that first game.  Our new manager had made room for players who could bolster a leaky defence and strengthen a porous midfield.

They were Lamine Kone, Whabi Khazri and Jan Kirchoff.

And the rest is history

Read moreOur best defenders: part 2, in praise of John O’Shea

Our best defenders: Part 1, individual comparisons

Lies_player

When I did my analysis of our midfield I said it would probably be one of two posts but there was so much to collect and compare that I decided to split the second part into two.

To begin, I’m using stats from  hosted stats.com, Squawka.com and my own sums to look at individual performances.

Who do you think is better – Coates, Kaboul or Koné? How do they compare to John O’Shea?

And would you rather have Billy Jones than DeAndré the Throw-in Slayer?

Read on, and all will be revealed.

Or maybe not.

Read moreOur best defenders: Part 1, individual comparisons

Sixer’s Everton Soapbox: banishing the blues on Wearside (part 2)

Jake - "for goodness sake let me celebrate" - edited version
Jake – “for goodness sake let me celebrate” – edited version

Malcolm Dawson writes………if Saturday was immense then Wednesday night was immenser! The first part of the job was completed at the weekend with victory over the Blues of Chelsea. The crowd was there to see the team complete the job against the Blues of Everton and my word were they up for it? What an atmosphere, what a noise! This was the best home support ever at the Stadium of Light, even eclipsing some of those fantastic games we saw in the Peter Reid era. We can truly say the Roker Roar is alive and well.

Chicken or egg? There’s no doubt in my mind that a positive mindset within the crowd spurs on the players, but Big Sam has engendered an ethic and workrate in his team that motivates the crowd. Last night every single player, not for the first time, gave far more than their utmost. Man of the match? For me Kaboul but only by a whisker. Everyone deserved a 10 last night, from Manonne who looked so assured and made some cracking stops, to Wahbi Khazri who ran around all night like (to quote Pete Sixsmith) a Yorkshire Terrier on acid. We have to give the manager credit for that and he revelled, quite rightly, in the adulation he received. We have all seen players who have bought into the club, Bennett, Gates, Hurley, Ball, Quinn, Arca, Gabbiadini etc. and I sense that there are some in the current squad who we can add to that list. Let’s get M’Vila signed on a permanent deal. Let’s make sure that Jermain Defoe entertains no thoughts of moving back to the south coast. Let’s turn over Watford on Sunday and take the momentum into next season. I can’t say we’ll do a Leicester but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect Big Sam to move the club into the dizzy heights of mid table security. The downside of that will be not having times like last night to savour.

Of course Pete Sixsmith was in the sell out crowd enjoying it as much as (if not more than) anybody. Now, after getting up early to do his paper round and walk next door’s dog, writing his bit for one of the nationals and doing his bit for the Northern League he still finds time to bring us his take on last night’s proceedings.

SOAPBOXeverton

Everton (H)

And so it came to pass that the Good Lord/ Supreme Being/Call Him What You Will allowed us to pass on the Pirelli Stadium and cancel the visit to The City Ground. Once again, for the tenth successive season, we will be trudging off to Eastlands and Ashburton Grove, while our avian friends can have days out in Wolverhampton, Ipswich and Wigan.

This time, as we have done for the last three years, we saved ourselves. Not by a backs to the wall draw against a washed out Arsenal side or a steady win over a West Bromwich Albion squad who couldn’t wait to get to the beach, but with a rip-roaring, rollicking, rambunctious win over the poorest Everton side I have ever seen. We scored three goals for the third time in five games with these three coming from defenders, ably assisted by an opposition goalkeeper who would have looked out of place in the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Division Three.

But that is nothing to do with us. We turned out a team that was determined not to mess up and send us into a potentially buttock clenching last day of the season. Jobs were allocated and jobs were done. The build up was patient, nobody panicked and there was a feeling that the goals would come.

Patrick van Aanholt

The first one came from Patrick Van Aanholt, a candidate for the most improved player on the club’s books. A defensive liability for last season and the first part of this, he has listened to advice from Allardyce and has responded positively. His fourth goal of the season, following on from ones against Spurs, Swansea and Stoke City was a well struck free kick which caught Robles wrong footed on its way into the net.

There was a mixture of jubilation and relief at this and like London Buses, another one came along a few minutes later – this one thumped home by Lamine Kone, nearly knocking the goal over in the process. Kone has been a sensation since he arrived from L’Orient in January. Big, strong and an inspirational character, he made his mark with the winning goal against Manchester United and then sealed his name in SAFC folklore with two in this stirring victory. Had we taken the plunge, there would surely have been a host of clubs enquiring about his availability. (Don’t forget his flattening of Yaya Toure – Ed)

Jake: 'two goal hero in a team full of heroes'
Jake: ‘two goal hero in a team full of heroes’

His partner at the back, Younes Kaboul was, quite simply, magnificent. Up against Romelu Lukaku, he dominated the Belgian international to such an extent, that he spent as much time in the Sunderland penalty area as Mick Jagger does in Britain – Jagger might have got nearer to the goal. It was an immense performance by Kaboul who started the season off being compared unfavourably with Sylvain Distin after that dismal defeat at Dean Court. Since building up his fitness and building a partnership with Kone, he has looked impregnable. Only Jamie Vardy has got the better of him since January.

Jake:solid as a rock and nearly scored
Jake:solid as a rock and nearly scored

The other stand out performance came from Yann M’Vila who produced a perfect example of what mid field play should be. Not for him the Shelvey approach of standing in the middle of the park and pinging the ball to the linesman. M’Vila reads the game, rummages around and is there wherever he is needed. He would be a great miss if he were not here next season. Sign him up Sam.

All of those who played last night covered themselves in what passes for glory in our corner of the world. We don’t ask for much but we do ask for effort and each and every player gave us that, from Mannone with a couple of excellent saves to Defoe, who worked the feeble Everton back four throughout the game.The atmosphere at the start was tense. Once Van Aanholt and Kone made the game safe, it was excitable and when Kone wrapped it up was a joyous celebration of our safety and the relegation of the Tynesiders. Of course it was parochial. Of course it was malicious. Of course it was great fun.

“Lock up your horses, there’s going to be hell” warbled the crowd. “The Mags are going down” and “We are staying up” followed. The splendid young man from Toronto sat next to me asked what they were singing. His grandparents were from Jarrow. This was his third game of the season. He got the horses reference – a true red and white. He had been over for a family funeral and this had made up for the sadness of that.

Now is not the time for looking at the whys and wherefores of the season. It hasn’t been a great one (surprise, surprise) but we have come through and have retained our place in the top league. We will be one of the first visitors to The Olympic Stadium and we shall be booking into Webster’s Guest House at Salisbury and supping in The Duke of York again. Shame we have to go to Middlesbrough.

The manager and the players have done well in the last ten games and very well in the last five. They do it for money but also for the supporters. Anyone who has listened to Mannone, Defoe and Borini this last few weeks knows how much they care.

And they also did it for those who are no longer here. Stuart Green would have been beaming after this. Steven Wilson would have been ecstatic and would have ribbed his best mate Brian Neil about the Geordies going down. And Suzi Horan would have absolutely loved it. Those three typify what our club – any club- is all about – the supporters.

Pete Sixsmith: 'sir, you look just like a real author!'
Pete Sixsmith: ‘sir, you look just like a real author!’

Ha’way The Lads!!!!!!!

Jan Kirchhoff: from short-lived villain to cultured hero – and now recognised

Working well with Catts in support
Jake: ‘great stuff, Jan’

Congratulations Jan Kirchhoff on your player of the month award

At Salut! Sunderland and ESPN, as elsewhere, Jan Kirchhoff came in for some stick after that wretched debut at Spurs. Mitigating circumstances have subsequently emerged and Sam Allardyce has admitted his German signing was not match-fit and should not have been sent on as a sub.

And just look what has happened since. If Big Sam does not deserve to be part of a club facing the grave danger of relegation, nor does Kirchhoff. Monsieur Salut’s view is that we have not seen a better midfielder since Claudio Reyna.

Read moreJan Kirchhoff: from short-lived villain to cultured hero – and now recognised

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……………

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?