Malcolm Dawson writes…..I am not renowned for showing extremes of emotion and tend to just go with the flow for the most part, but last night I went through a whole gamut of emotions.
Firstly, as Pete Sixsmith and I travelled into town from the County Durham hinterland a listener called in to Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport programme to give Marco Gabbiadini a whole list of Adam Matthews’s inadequacies and why he should never be in the side. Easy to criticise but when Marco asked what the solution was his answer “well ahh din’t knaa but I just divven want him in the team” or words to that effect was anything but constructive. I get so annoyed by these types who only seek to criticise and fail to see a player’s strengths, to fail to grasp the point that at this level all players will have weaknesses but they are our players and the manager has to work with who is on the roster. As it happens I thought Adam Matthews had a decent game last night and combined well with Maguire who had been shifted over to the right to take up Lynden Gooch’s role.
A few weeks ago these same types were lambasting Lee Cattermole saying he was too slow, can’t pass the ball, is a waste of space and we need to get him out of the club. I hope those idiots (I’m too polite to use the term morons) are choking on their words as they eat their salt and vinegar deep crust pizzas and down their fizzy tasteless lager. Mmmmm that was a bit of a middle class rant for the son of a miner methinks. Never mind it’s staying in.
The next thing that got me thinking was the announcement of the team. We knew that four players were missing from the side that started at the Ricoh and with Wyke, Love and Watmore already absent through injury, the news that George Honeyman wasn’t included was concerning to me, despite those who respect the opinions of social media more than the evidence of their own eyes, clamouring for him to be dropped too. Honeyman brings qualities to the side, that many of those who look for the flash footwork they see when playing FIFA 19 on the X Box don’t appreciate. Concussion in a training session must be frustrating for Jack Ross and his backroom staff but as someone who met Jeff Astle a few times and lost a mate aged 17 after he slipped and got a bang on the head in a pub toilet, I completely respect the safety first approach being adopted in cases of concussion.
I was also perturbed by the absence of Luke O’Nien who wasn’t even on the bench. Was this the result of some falling out with the manager, a touch of homesickness or a Didier Ndong type reaction because he hasn’t been starting. I hoped not but we were given no reason for his non-involvement though it later transpired that the simple explanation was that he was ill.
Then throughout the game some woman sitting in front of me (not the usual occupant of that seat I’m pleased to say) spent the entire game on her phone doing her best to distract me from what was happening on the pitch. She had obviously been gifted her friend’s ST as her first text read “Haven’t got a clue whos (sic) in the Makems (also sic) side.” She then went on to check the times of flights from Gatwick to Schipol airport and landing times at Charles de Gaulle and watched some game involving Southampton when the proper stuff was taking place a few yards away.
Anyway, I suppose I better tell you something about the game which again brought extremes of emotion. Anger at the ref. Anger at the Peterborough bench. Frustration with Josh Maja, ecstasy via Josh Maja, gasps of astonishment at Chris Maguire, frustration with Bryan Oviedo, hope via Jerome Sinclair, disappointment through a second equaliser mixed with relief when they couldn’t get a winner, pride with the team at the way they battled after being reduced to 10 men at home (again) and a sense of wish fulfilment not quite achieved when Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka was just inches away from scoring on his very brief League 1 debut.
On our walk to the ground Pete and I discussed how the team might set up and I felt that we might be 4-4-2 with Maguire in front of Matthews and McGeady on the left with Sinclair playing up front with Maja and so it proved, though I did think that it may have been better had Sinclair taken the more central position with Maja playing wider. But I wasn’t far off in my thinking.
Power took the captain’s armband in Honeyman’s absence and the holding midfield role in Cattermole’s. McGeouch was the other man sat in front of the defence and was busy all night, getting in the right place more often than not and putting in the sort of performance that teams need, but because it appears low key, doesn’t excite some of those watching who seem to think that all players should be like Pele in his prime or Messi at his majestic best.
We started off well and McGeady put in a couple of decent early balls which came to nothing, but hints at what could be once he gets totally match fit. Those who think that Sunderland should always have it their own way might have been surprised that Peterborough actually had the gall to come at us but they did and while our defence was looking more solid in the early stages than it has sometimes done, they still managed to create a chance which was just off target. Our players will rightly claim it was a mile offside and the flag did indeed go up.
Throughout that first period, we had the bulk of the play and the better play at that.
The young lad next to me was getting frustrated with Maja, imploring him to keep it simple and it was a fact that too often in those early stages he was trying the fancy Dan flick, shimmy or dummy when a bit of control and an easy lay off would have been a better option. But Maja’s in the team to score goals and score he did. I was just thinking (again) that we would be better off employing Sinclair more centrally when lo and behold, Maja drifted out wider right, took the ball into the penalty area and drilled a left foot drive into the bottom corner. Typical Maja and even the woman in front of me took her eyes off the phone for a few seconds.
They seem to have stopped showing replays on the big screen at the match, so you may have to wait for the highlights to see if my recall is as good as it was 40 years ago after only one look!
Max Power was like for like Lee Cattermole, both in his defensive play, his forward runs and support for those up front and for a needless challenge which saw him go into Mr Coote’s notebook. Mr Coote, who has a full head of hair incidentally, did not have the best of nights and I would expect him to get a mediocre mark at best when assessed, but there wasn’t much wrong with the yellow card to a man who has just returned from a four match, three match ban.
There is a lot to like in this Sunderland side. I like the way they play short intricate passes, even though sometimes they gift the opposition possession. I like the way they frequently look to change the direction of the attack with long cross field balls, though sometimes they give the ball away doing so and I like the way they work hard and press the opposition and it was because of this we nearly got a second before the break.
Sinclair pressed, Maja pressed and got the ball to Aiden McGeady who shimmied his way into the box and fired a left foot shot on the angle, just over the bar. It was looking good but as I said to the bloke who sits beside me – three more goals before I can relax. Of course I meant for us – not for them to be shared out. Maguire and Maja set up Sinclair, who went close and McGeady had another long range effort just off target before the players went in for the half time oranges and hairdryers – not that I envisage Jack Ross throwing any of them about. This had been a good 45 minutes against a good side well in the hunt for automatic promotion.
It seemed as if the Peterborough management team had instructed their boys to get in the referee’s face more after the break, perhaps sensing that they could influence his decision making. Also credit them for making two half time substitutions and changing their shape, just as JR had done v Charlton in that first game of the season. With such a youthful, inexperienced set of subs, our own manager was restricted in how he might respond.
Much as I like the intricacy of some of our passing, sometimes it appears shooting opportunities disappear and after one such move, where Maguire and McGeady might have had a go, the ball broke for The Posh, Baldwin fouled his man and though the subsequent free kick was partially cleared McLaughlin had to be alert to make a diving stop from a long range shot from Joe Ward.
Flanagan disappeared briefly for some treatment after an incident which I missed left him with a head or facial injury, but he soon came back and we were still holding firm.
Oviedo had been posing an attacking threat down the left hand side and saw a decent shot blocked. He might have been a bit frustrated by that. The referee and the linesman on our side at least, had given some strange decisions all evening. That might have frustrated him too, but after some good work in the centre of the park the ball was fed out to him in space on the left wing and as he tried to take it past the onrushing Marcus Maddison, he appeared from my vantage point, to be obstructed and as he knocked the ball past, stretched (lashed maybe a better word) out a foot in the general direction of the ball and toe-ended the defender in the chest area. Oviedo must get his boot tips specially fitted with miniature Tasers by the Costa Rican Secret Service judging by the way the man in blue was rolling around in agony after minimal contact, but it was a red card – and even more stupid than Power’s had been.
And so on came Reece James to take up the position so recently vacated by Denver Hume and Bryan Oviedo, whilst the goalscorer Josh Maja was the sacrificial lamb made to pay the penalty for a crime he did not commit. Now apprehension took centre stage in my nerve cells as I wondered aloud if we could once again hang on a man short. We were soon to get the answer.
This is a chance for the Englishman with the Welsh name to cement himself in the side but he’d hardly had time to get his boots damp before the visitors equalised. The ball came very close to going out for a throw but was just kept in. The Posh moved forward, Baldwin mis-kicked his clearance and there was substitute Joe Ward to rifle home.
There was still quarter of an hour to go and now the apprehension was racked up a notch or two. Time to step up Chris Maguire and Jerome Sinclair. The former received the ball in the tightest of positions on the right wing. How he wriggled free and found space I’ll never know, but he did. What’s more he played a lovely ball into the box to the feet of latter who in turn swivelled on the proverbial sixpence and slotted the ball into the goal. Two – one and ecstasy again. The on loan Watford man celebrated with the fans and with ten minutes left, that brief moment of relief was again replaced with the anxiety of knowing we only had ten players on the pitch and Peterborough would come at us.
The nerves were there as McLaughlin tipped a header over but despite his heroics the win was not to be. The invigorated Maddison, revitalised by his electric shock therapy played a lovely through ball over Baldwin’s head, to find Toney, who might have been offside but probably wasn’t and the ex Mag needed no second chance to earn the visitors a share of the spoils.
McLaughlin still had one more decent save to make and Kimpioka on for Sinclair almost got a toe end on a McGeady cross to become an instant hero. Then after winning the ball in midfield, went on a mazy run with no support before being blocked off and that was that.
Flanagan got booked as he walked off for remonstrating with Mr Coote, who it is fair to say didn’t have the best of games, to join a few other names already in there, including members of the coaching staff from each side in the wake of Oviedo’s dismissal and I walked back to the car, relieved with a point, happy that we hadn’t lost, disappointed that we hadn’t won a game we might have done and reminding myself that if, before the Charlton game had kicked off, I knew we would be fourth at this stage of the season, undefeated at home and having only lost once in the first ten games I would have been more than happy.
I suppose I am really, but even so I can’t help thinking how close we have been to being up there with Portsmouth.
Roll on Saturday.
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