Sixer’s Middlesbrough Soapbox: fighting spirit, last minute equaliser. Better than nowt?

Malcolm Dawson writes…….well the Men and Women’s curling both proved to be a huge but not unexpected disappointment. I am becoming a bit fatalistic now in my sports watching and rarely expect those I want to do well to come up with the goods anymore. In my continuing refusal to actually spend any money following Sunderland, whilst the current owner remains, I didn’t go to yesterday’s game. I had listened to most of the Barnes and Benno commentary, but resigned to another defeat I missed the last minute and thought we had lost until I switched on Final Score. Like Wrinkly Pete I have no sympathy for the multitude who walk out early then miss the pulsating climax, yet here I was doing the auditory equivalent yesterday. Still whilst a point is better than nothing it’s not as good as three. (I’m stating the obvious in the hope that someone will notice and offer me a job as a TV pundit.)

Snatching a point in the dying minutes of time added on is much more uplifting than having the lead hoiked away, but did it leave Pete Sixsmith feeling that it had been a grand day out? Let’s find out…….

MIDDLESBROUGH

As we trooped out of the Stadium at about 9pm due to all the added time, the general consensus was that Callum McManaman’s welcome equaliser was “too little, too late”. Points wise, it just about kept us in touch with the other potential Checkatrade Trophy entrants in the relegation zone and it took the smirk off the faces of the Middlesbrough supporters, but it was another opportunity lost to drag ourselves into the heady heights of 22nd in a league that is competitive but not very good.

At least there was fight and spirit (although Jake Clarke-Salter took that a bit far) and after the last two wretched home defeats against mid table teams, we gave one of the so-called “better” sides a real scare. Ultimately, our appalling defensive habits let us down again. We have scored three goals four times this season which has earned us four points. That’s not very good is it!

There are some positives to take from this. We looked solid in the first half. Asoro took his goal well and looks a good player. Premier League scouts will have been alerted to his potential. We may make some money out of him to help pay off Ellis Short’s personal debt.

Joel Asoro starting to find his feet

Paddy McNair had an impressive 41 minutes before limping off. Injured by a tackle from Lee Cattermole. He had been a very influential figure in the centre of midfield. He got about the field well and made some telling interceptions and some lung bursting runs. Should he tire of football (as I am doing) there is a career for him in the second row at Leeds Rhinos. It is to be hoped that his injury is not deep seated.

Cattermole showed that there is still some life left in the old dog. The legs are struggling at times and some of the passing leaves a little to be desired, but he and McNair blotted out Besic, Downing and Grant Leadbitter up to half time. Our former captain still found time to spray some decent passes around and even had a couple of on target shots blocked by desperate Boro defenders as we lay siege in the closing stages.

Williams and McManaman made positive impressions when they came on and both scored. Williams celebrated with the support while McManaman decided to continue his feud with Tony Pulis and gave the impression that that was more important than salvaging a point for his team. Pulis’s comments after the game were interesting – “I didn’t pick him, Sheffield Wednesday didn’t pick him and he’s not getting picked here. Maybe he has some problems.”

But there are the usual negatives. The defending for all three goals was truly awful. Kone (who did actually strengthen the back three/four) stood too far off Bamford and allowed him to turn and equalise. There was a lack of communication between keeper and defenders for the penalty that put them ahead for the first time and John O’Shea miscalculated for the third one, allowing the impressive Bamford to put the Smoggies ahead again.

The lack of cohesion between goalkeeper and back line is a real worry. Lee Camp is an experienced player who was brought in to restore some stability but looks no better than Ruiter or Steele. He was slow off his line when he gave away the penalty, ignored Cattermole’s indication of where Grant Leadbitter was going to put the kick (Catts was right, Camp was wrong) and does not inspire a great deal of confidence in the support. Coleman has a dilemma here; stick with Camp, restore Steele or take a chance with Max Stryjek. I suspect he will choose the first option.

He also has an option at the back now that Clarke-Salter is out for three games. His tackle was a straight red and as I protested (more in anger than conviction), the quiet, thoughtful man who has the misfortune to sit next to me said, “The referee was given a decision to make.” He got it right. Coleman now has to decide whether to restore Browning to a back three or stick with O’Shea and Kone until one of them implodes.

Chris ah aaah…….Saviour of the Universe????
Rugby League man the Blessed Brian

Flash Gordon had 14 hours to save the universe and, aided by Brian Blessed, managed to achieve it. Chris Coleman and his disparate band of loanees, free transfers, young up and comers and grizzled old pros has 12 games to save us from another relegation and what could be the closure of large areas of the Stadium of Light as crowds below 20,000 would be the norm next season. Fleetwood and Gillingham won’t bring many with them.

I targeted a possible seven points from these last three games. We got one. I’ll target one point from the next three. We may end up with seven. Or none…………

If there is any copyright claim, not answered by ‘fair use’ exemptions, on the images used to illustrate this report, please make us aware and we will add credits or remove as requested.

The Lars Word from Bristol City 3-3 SAFC. From disgust to euphoria

Lars Knutsen: ‘still mired in a relegation dogfight but at last showing signs of gelling’

Lars Knutsen knows how to choose them. Back from his USA exile (correcting the earlier reference, he still travels there a lot but family needs prompted him to relocate), he made it to the Bristol City game. Pete Sixsmith has already woven his familiar magic; here is an outstanding account from Lars of his own extraordinary afternoon …

Read moreThe Lars Word from Bristol City 3-3 SAFC. From disgust to euphoria

Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: no celebrations as The Royals come to town

Malcolm Dawson writes………with Peter Sixsmith huffing and puffing his way around Weardale at this time of year, telling anyone who’ll listen (and a few who don’t want to) as he dishes out the Christmas cheer, just why it is that Santa wears red and white, his seat at the Stadium was going spare and so it fell to me to fill it and to subsequently step up onto his soapbox with my take on yesterday’s events.

Sixer’s soapbox is groaning just a little less after Malcolm Dawson’s succesful weight loss regime.

OK I thought on my way to the ground, only two weeks ago new boss Chris Coleman was turning on the Christmas lights in Newport but the win over Burton last Saturday and his animated reaction at the final whistle had surely gone some way to reducing the negativity surrounding the football club. I hoped he could engineer an upturn in optimism around the Stadium of Light in a way that Big Sam seemed to and Moyes and Grayson had failed to do. I hoped that those who turned up would get behind the team and our pre-Christmas wassail cups would appear half full, rather than half empty on the journey home.

Sixer off the soapbox and back on the sleigh

Last time I set off for a Saturday home game with Reading I had just gone through Houghton Cut when the news came that the match was off, just in time for me to make a left turn through Newbottle and to head off to Consett, where a Northern League club, high up in the Durham hills could get their pitch playable, when a Premier League side at sea level could not.

No such luck yesterday and I sat through a game which could just about be classed as a microcosm of Sunderland’s season so far.

It’s fair to say a succession of managers have had little luck on the injury front in recent times and the hoodoo struck again in the pre-match warm up, when Paddy McNair managed to tweak something, requiring nominated sub Darron Gibson to unexpectedly make the starting line up. Of course nothing was announced over the tannoy leaving those around wondering why the Irishman had taken the field in a comedy bald wig.

I actually thought we settled better and bossed the opening period. Playing a 4-2-3-1 shape with Cattermole and Gibson sitting in front of the back four and McGeady and McManaman we had a lot of possession and were passing the ball well. That said we weren’t really creating any clear cut chances. Honeyman had tried his luck and Oviedo had a decent shot just off target, but the best opportunity fell to The Biscuitmen, when after 20 minutes or so Yann Kermogant found himself free on the right of the penalty area and played a good ball into David Edwards, who six yards out met the ball with a powerful sidefoot. Fortunately for Robbin Ruiter and the rest of the Black Cats’ defence he leaned back as he did so and spooned the ball over the bar high into the seats of the North Stand. Kermogant himself had previously missed a good chance which our keeper was able to watch fly harmlessly high of the target

Cattermole and Gibson looked assured in their roles, though it was no surprise when Cattermole got himself a yellow card for a clumsy, rather than dirty challenge, joining McManaman for what had been another clumsy challenge and former Black Cat Paul McShane, who took one for the team, scything down Oviedo who was breaking free down the left wing, in the referee’s book. Then three minutes later, a stroke of luck or poor refereeing (take your pick) as Cattermole got away with another poor challenge which was worthy of a yellow card but went unpunished. Sighs of relief in the East Stand.

With the half coming to a close Oviedo made what looked like a good challenge on Aluko, on the goal line near the edge of the penalty area. From where I was sitting Aluko appeared to grab Oviedo’s throat and push the Costa Rican but after speaking to his assistant referee Keith Stroud decided to book both players before awarding a free kick to Sunderland. A torrent of boos followed this decision and more were to come a few minutes later deep in stoppage time.

Adam Matthews, who had been overlapping well on the right fired in a good cross. From my seat it looked as if it might have been going in anyway, but there was a tangle of players attacking the ball and it was bundled into the net. McManaman celebrated, the crowd around me was on its collective feet and the cheers rang out for a split second until a flagging linesman indicated all was not well. The cheers rapidly turned to a cacophony of boos as Stroud not only disallowed the goal but sent off McManaman for what we assumed was handball. Was it deliberate? Was he nudged into the ball by a defender as he jumped? Was he trying to avoid a heavy collision with the post? If you’ve seen the replays you’ll have your own opinion but to the man who matters it was enough to show the winger a second yellow and find out if the ground staff had remembered to turn on the immersion.

Grabbed another consolation penalty
Image courtesy of https://www.footballfancast.com/pfa-awards

And so with the half drawing to a close the game was turned on its head and a team that struggles for wins with a full complement of players would have a whole half to survive a man down. Could we do it? Well not when we continue to make needless mistakes and leak goals through sloppy play. Just seven minutes into the half, McGeady, who shows some neat skills at times lost possession cheaply and from the counter attack, poor marking allowed Edwards to slide in for the opening goal as Aluko squared the ball across the six yard box.

Oviedo who had looked lively all afternoon and constituted our main attacking threat took a knock and on came Galloway who had only made the bench because of McNair’s late withdrawal. Then with just over 20 minutes to go the crowd were uplifted as Asoro came on to replace McGeady. It seems to be a common feeling amongst many of the Stadium of Light faithful, that inexperienced young players will provide the boost and the spark that more worldly wise seasoned professionals cannot. It happened with Duncan Watmore and now it is Asoro who is being heralded as the new saviour. But before he even had a minute to assert himself we were two down.

Kelly’s cross from the Reading right found Barrow unmarked at the back post to volley past a stranded Ruiter as Browning stood and watched. Then two minutes later it was all over as Barrow was again left without a marker and steered home Kermogant’s clever flick.

I suppose one advantage of having a smaller crowd, only 27,000 yesterday, means that the mass walk out isn’t quite so dramatic. Certainly the first wave of leavers had cleared the aisles and gangways by the time the third goal went in, but the second exodus was more obvious.

Joel Asoro could be playing more as the season progresses.

As if to prove a point Asoro was getting involved and trying to make a difference, making some mazy runs, getting in a good shot and taking long throws into the box. Indeed it was Asoro who engineered the goal. He chased down a typical Vito Mannone parry from his own good shot but was tripped when doing so. Grabban confidently dispatched the penalty but we all knew it was only ever going to be a consolation.

Pete Sixsmith gets to many more football matches than I do. Before the game I was hoping that I would have been able to tell him that I had witnessed something that he hadn’t. I was hoping I could tell him I had seen Sunderland win at home in 2017. No chance yesterday after we were reduced to 10 men.

Can I grab any positives from yesterday? It’s a sad state of affairs when I can say that I didn’t think that three high earners in Kone, Ndong and Rodwell were missed yesterday. At least Honeyman, Asoro and Gooch, in his cameo appearance, showed enthusiasm and didn’t look out of their depth at this level. With the possiblity that Grabban might be recalled to the south coast, either to play for The Cherries or to allow his sale in the January window, we could well need Asoro and Josh Maja to show what they can do.

The crowd gave Manonne, who obviously has personal worries, a warm and supportive welcome back, which was good. The fact that so many inside the Stadium transmit their frustrations to the team by booing and walking out early, I find less acceptable, though understandable.

Finally, by the time my dodgy knees had allowed me to negotiate the steep steps from Sixer’s seat, high up in Row 32, with no handrail for support, the loos were empty, there was no crowd to fight my way through to the car, the burger vans were devoid of customers with masses of unsold bread buns (shame I’m on a diet!) and I was able to get some shopping in at the Neville’s Cross branch of Sainsbury’s Extra by 6.00 pm and still be home for 6.30.

Chris Coleman, can have no illusions about the size of the task he faces. Remember Big Sam took his time to get the team sorted and needed a trio of decent signings in January to avoid relegation a couple of years back. Let’s hope the Welshman can do the same.

 

Sixer says: Welcome back Lynden Gooch, au revoir John Hurt

Sixer by Jake

John McCormick writes: Patrick’s impending departure leaves me quite unmoved. It’s just on a year since I saw him score the opener at Spurs, after which he disappeared as they swept past us. And that seems to epitomise his play since. What does move me is not only how will we replace him but how will David Moyes rebuild a squad that is depleted, underskilled and getting older by the minute? Pete Sixsmith may have some of the answers in his report on events at Hetton: 

Read moreSixer says: Welcome back Lynden Gooch, au revoir John Hurt

Un peu d’oeuf sur le visage as U23s drop point v Chelsea

Malcolm Dawson writes….the pre-match talk yesterday as Pete Sixsmith and I made our way to the Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground was just who was Lynden Gooch’s dad? As we listened to TMS and bemoaned the fact that England was sliding inexorably to defeat, we decided that it couldn’t have been the moustachioed former Essex and England batsman. “Never mind what it says on Wikipedia we would have heard about it” we agreed.

We also agreed that following on from a decent Premier League debut Gooch would not figure for the Under 23s in the revamped competition that raises the upper age limit from that of previous seasons. Would there be run outs for Gomez, Bridcutt and Mavrias in an attempt to up their fitness levels while the club tries to off load them? Well no as it turned out and unless they are moved on soon the club could easily find itself with a Valentin Roberge situation times three, on its hands.

It was a decent enough game with two soft goals which left both defences with a little egg on their respective faces. Too much perhaps because as the French would say “one egg is un oeuf.” I’ll get me coat and leave Pete to bring you up to speed.

Read moreUn peu d’oeuf sur le visage as U23s drop point v Chelsea