Sixer’s Substitute’s Peterborough Soapbox: entertaining night at the Stadium of Light

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.

Decent performance.

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.

Max Power courtesy of www.saf.com

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.

Maja – goal machine

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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Sixer’s Stoke City Soapbox: Cats get the point of the penalty shoot out

Malcolm Dawson writes……at only three quid admission plus a loyalty point to count towards away tickets this was a must not miss game. Well it was for me anyway and the three members of the Heart of England branch that I bumped into, who had made the trip up from Coventry, for what many would class as a meaningless game.

Who was that man?

It wasn’t meaningless for the club either because whilst this may not be the number one priority it did give Jack Ross and his staff the opportunity to give Robbin Ruiter, Charlie Wyke, Jerome Sinclair, Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan, Reece James and Dylan McGeouch some much needed match time and to have a look at some of players who will hope to step up from the U23s in Ethan Robson, Luke Molyneux, Denver Hume and Mbunga Kimpioka. The fact the competition rules state that the team had to include four outfield players who had either started the last league game or who will start the following match (or meet some other criteria in terms of games played) would seem to indicate that Charlie Wyke is already pencilled in for the weekend.

It wasn’t a classic but beat staying in and watching Emmerdale though I probably would have gone to see Esh Winning beat Durham City in preference.

Pete Sixsmith was there of course and here’s what he made of the night’s proceedings.

STOKE CITY UNDER 21’S (HOME)

The EFL trophy has been around for many years in its various guises. We played in it once in 1988 when it was The Sherpa Van Trophy, beating Scarborough and Crewe Alexandra before losing to a Brian Honour goal when Hartlepool United visited a windswept Roker Park in February 1988. I missed that one as I was moving into Sixsmith Towers at the time and was sitting polishing my balls in the Billiard Room – well, you have to keep the shine on the ivory.

For the last two seasons, we have turned out in the Checkatrade Trophy (it’s latest guise after various van manufacturers, windscreen repairers and paint makers) with our Under 23’s. I went to Rochdale a couple of years ago, working on the basis that I may never have the chance to see a Sunderland side at Spotland – that one came back to bite me – and witnessed a Donald Love goal in a 1-1 draw, although the pleasures of that particular evening were tempered by a penalty shoot-out loss.

Our fall from grace (or in Rochdale’s case Gracie) led to our first team playing at home to Stoke City Under 21s. They were representing a club who could well be on a similar trajectory to us in that they have a new manager, one who is used to the Championship but who is having difficulties with what appears to be a grumpy squad and a fan base that can be as intolerant and fractious as ours was after relegation.

They had won at Hetton a couple of weeks ago and we knew that they had some decent players. Tyrese Campbell (Kevin’s little lad) was one of them and he kept Alim Ozturk and Tom Flanagan on their toes. Centre half Harry “Soapy” Souttar, a 6’6” specimen of finest Aberdeen granite had also played at Hetton where he looked good. In the more opulent surrounds of the Stadium of Light, he looked even better. At 19, he is a name to watch out for and could form a double act for Scotland with his older brother John, who plays for Hearts and who turned us down a couple of years ago.

Soapy Souter

Jack Ross may well have been aware of the Souttar siblings and regarded Souttar Minor as a good opponent for Charlie Wyke to cut his teeth on. If Souttar is reminiscent of Aberdeen granite, Wyke is a piece of Teesside steel in that he has strength and presence if not a great deal of pace and mobility. On this evening’s showing granite beat steel but only because the alloy is regaining its fitness levels after injury.

The game was played at a pleasing pace but was reminiscent of Under 23 matches in the past. Tackles were gentle and caused no harm. The ball was moved around so that everyone got a touch and for Wyke and Ethan Robson, both returning from injury, this was exactly what was needed.

Dylan McGeouch skippered the side and moved the ball around quickly although to less effect than we hoped for, Chris Maguire behaved himself after a spell on the naughty step after his near red card at the weekend and almost scored when a well taken free kick curled onto the angle of post and crossbar.

Josh Maja found Souttar and his Irish colleague Nathan Collins much more effective than some of the Third Division defenders he has come across. He did have the best attempt of the first half, forcing a fine save from Hungarian keeper Daniel Gyollai, a man who made Souttar look like Charlie Drake.

Tom Flanagan looks a useful acquisition while Ozturk had another sound game and did much to win the crowd over. He appears to be the one to target this season for those who cannot rest unless they have someone to pick on. Honeyman is next in the queue and others may follow. I remember that even in the halcyon days of 1963-64, Brian Usher was the fall guy, being awarded the nickname “Mary.”

The outstanding performance of the night came from Denver Hume. He has been around for a while now and at 22, needs to make the breakthrough either here or elsewhere. The previous managers have not been able to use young players due to the precarious situations we have found ourselves in and for whatever reasons Hume has not gone out on loan and has stagnated in the Under 23’s a la Rhys Greenwood.

He played on his wrong side in this game but showed excellent defensive qualities and he pushed forward very well. He forced a good save from Gyollai and looked as if he was ready for first team football. The unconvincing form shown by Donald Love may see him get that opportunity sooner rather than later.

Jerome Sinclair got 25 minutes under his belt and gave us a different option up front. Whereas Maja approaches the game as if he were dabbing paint on a canvas with a fine brush in the mould of Vermeer, Sinclair is more like a Jackson Pollock, slapping it about all over the place and rolling around in it. There’s a place for both and Sinclair seems an ideal candidate for the replacements bench at the moment. Good to see him back.

Ruitter – came to the fore in the shoot out
Source: Wikipedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robbin-ruiter-1341165014.jpg

Kimpioka missed a clear chance from almost point blank range, managing to sidefoot the ball over the bar when it looked harder to miss than score and the game meandered to a goalless draw. Some of the 7,644 crowd (which included 21 Stokies) went home not realising that if there is a “u” in the name of the day of the week, it goes to penalties whereas if there is a “w” in it, extra time is played. The EFL do make the rules simple for a reason and that is to encourage people to attend these games. I am sure that Max Power was sitting in the stand watching rather than playing and that pushed the attendance up by 1.

On a more serious note, why did we kick off at 7.45 when most of the games in this competition were 7.00 kick offs? Hopefully the Carlisle game next month will revert to the norm and I can be home by 9.30.

The penalties gave Robbin Ruiter a chance to earn some glory. He saved a penalty at Scunthorpe in pre-season last year which led to being signed and here, he saved two – ironically from Campbell and Souttar, Stoke’s two best players (I don’t include Charlie Adam in that category as he has past form with me i.e. some nasty tackles in the past). The Dutchman also impressed with a good save before half time and some excellent distribution with his feet. McLaughlin, who looked a bit shaky on Saturday, has genuine competition.

Sinclair, McGeouch, O’Nien (he had a tidy game) and Hume converted theirs and we gained the bonus point that sets us on the road to Wembley, although we are a point behind Carlisle who beat Morecambe 3-2 in their opening tie at Brunton Park in front of 1,213.

Not a great game but the company was good and it didn’t rain.

Sometimes we are thankful for small mercies

Welcome Jerome Sinclair. Only a loan but a striker and, at last, transfer news

Monsieur Salut offers the traditional Salut! Sunderland welcome to a new signing – Watford’s young striker Jerome Sinclair on a season-long loan deal …

Like many – most? – supporters, I am less than exhilarated by loan deals. They seem to have played a significant part in our decline in recent years.

But it is not as if our purchases and free transfer acquisitions were going so well that no loan deal was necessary. No one should be carried away by winning 6-0 at St Mirren; we have striker problems – I think it was the excellent Phil Smith who said in the Sunderland Echo that we were an injury to Josh Maja away from having no recognised attacker (no disrespect to Andrew Nelson, but he hasn’t played a senior competitive game).

Read moreWelcome Jerome Sinclair. Only a loan but a striker and, at last, transfer news