Pete Sixsmith’s peerless analysis of only Sunderland’s second season in the third tier is deliberately timed to coincide with the moment Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur kick off in the Champions’ League final in Madrid (OK a bit early to make sure). Just felt right …
Colin Randall, aka Monsieur Salut, writes: week after week, men and (less often) women report for newspapers, radio and television on football. Some are extremely gifted, other are less so but perform their duties to the best of their abilities. Bosses, as ever, will get away with not paying people if they can but by and large these writers and broadcasters receive salaries or fees for their efforts.
On sites like ours, usually with very limited income and sometimes with none, the work is willingly done for free. We are fortunate to be blessed with excellent contributors; just take a look at the articles from Malcolm Dawson, John McCormick, Bob Chapman, Ken Gambles, Wrinkly Pete, Lars Knutsen, Bill Taylor, John Marshall and others too numerous to mention. Jake, alias John Clark, chips in with neat illustrations.
Pete Sixsmith towers above all but the very finest of the professionals with his outstanding combination of footballing and general knowledge, natural eloquence and wit. As a journalist, I have been edited as frequently as I have edited others, among them some important others. Pete’s prose never needs more than the lightest of touches.
His material reward is next to nothing, save for the rather rare share of modest advertising revenue and the odd – and also rare – freebie.
Salut! Sunderland‘s audience can number a few thousand on exceptional days but more typically hovers somewhere in the high three figures. Sixer richly deserves to be read by many more. Here is his review of the 2018-19 season, another piece of splendid writing to close the series …
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.
Do we need to keep a sense of perspective? A year ago we were down and out. Now we’re just down, after failing at the final hurdle. But that was with a hastily assembled squad and a relatively inexperienced manager. We know there will be changes over the summer and we know when the fixtures come out we won’t be looking at other clubs and thinking “I’ll support them this season”. We are Sunderland, and we are Sunderland ’til we die.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have an opinion on what did go wrong, because things did go wrong. In particular, in my own opinion, the transfer windows were not managed well. There had to be some latitude at the start of the season, given the changes we’d experienced, but what about January? By then problems were obvious but there were too many mistakes in addressing them and it cost us.
I’m going to try to show this below by the judicious use of stats, and have chosen some that back me up. It’s possible you won’t agree and you’re welcome to leave a comment, with or without stats of your own. In fact, I’d love to know what you think of my efforts and my conclusion.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..In the wake of Josh Maja’s departure, there are those of us who accept that he had the right to go, even if it has left us a bit thin in the goal scoring department, but if anything it represents a good deal for the club who might have seen him leave for next to nothing in the summer. Football is unlike most other spheres of work as the players are seen as assets with a monetary value. The Bosman ruling which allows players to move for nothing at the end of their contract or to negotiate a pre-contract agreement with another club and engineer a free transfer when there is less than six months of their current contract to go, means that clubs are now more keen to offer any player who may command a sizeable transfer fee a new deal, well before their current one runs out. If they aren’t prepared to sign then it makes financial sense to get what you can before that happens. How much was the club motivated by that I couldn’t say, but it must have played a huge part in what has transpired, after Maja’s performances this season brought his name into the limelight and to the attention of clubs with financial clout, looking to pick up a bargain.
What has perhaps been the most disappointing aspect was the player reportedly telling the manager he was planning to stay and then subsequently going back on his word. Personally, I try to think back to how I was at his age and can empathise with his behaviour. Ken Gambles has his own views on the whole affair and takes a different view.
Maja’s Leaving and the Agent Provocateur
I suppose there was a certain inevitability about Josh Maja’s departure and whilst I condemn the apparent abuse he’s been subject to on social media, I don’t subscribe to the view that it’s normal and all perfectly natural for anyone to better themselves by taking a higher -paid job. I understand the premise of this but surely we must admit that the ‘job’ of a professional sportsperson is radically different from the jobs the vast majority of us undertake in our lives.
Thousands of people don’t come to watch us at work, nor sing songs about us nor go wild when we’ve worked well that day. Nor of course do we get paid £10,000 pounds per week, nor anything remotely approaching that sum. Football is based on emotion and goes far beyond the merely transactional world of work most of us inhabit. Why should I make a round trip of 150 miles for every home game? Stand for 2 hours in a biblical downpour at Accrington or spend 13 hours journeying to Walsall and back? And I know many fans suffer even greater inconveniences.
Of course this doesn’t imply that Sunderland footballers have the same emotional attachment, but it does mean, to coin an idea of George Orwell’s, that we should expect ‘decency’.
We are not privy to the full details of negotiations between the club and Josh Maja but it does seem that he and his agent’s demands were met in full, that Jack Ross had been given Josh’s word that he was staying and that his eventual departure was so abrupt to be downright insulting. It is hard to believe that the agent is not much to blame for these events as of course no move means no extra pay-off for him but surely Josh Maja ought to have been man enough to make his own decisions and not hide behind those of someone else.
People have commented that the game is populated by mercenaries and that duplicity is the world we live in. There is some truth in this yet the game also shows endless examples of decency that whilst furthering their own careers players have genuine respect and consideration for the supporters who have invested so much emotion in them. We can think of Charlie Hurley, Monty, Quinny, Kevin Ball, Jordan Henderson with the fans at the League Cup final against Manchester City, Danny Rose coming to watch us play even when he was back at Spurs etc, etc.
Supporters are not naïve enough to think that players have the same attachment to a club as they do, but I do think they have a right to be treated ‘decently’ Fresh in the memory is the behaviour of N’Dong, Dilibodji, Rodwell, Grabban and the rest of the shower that left us in the third tier. When they check their bank balances and polish their Ferraris in their posh houses whist curating their tattoos perhaps they won’t care less about what Sunderland supporters think of them, yet how much more human and warming it must be to feel that you are held in such warm affection by those you once played for, having responded to their support by treating them with respect and acting ‘decently.’
Indeed ‘what profiteth a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ I don’t wish Josh Maja ill for the rest of his career but nor do I wish him well as I think his behaviour has been unsavoury and disappointing.
Monsieur Salut writes: the club’s statement on the completion of Josh Maja’s move to Bordeaux was short and uninformative. We awaited some thanks, either way. They came belatedly from Maja and we should give him the benefit of the doubt and accept them at face value as being his own sentiments, not some old dross churned out by his agent(s). Social media being what it is, the response has been mostly unforgiving and mostly unappealing …
Well it’s finally happened and Josh Maja is departing for pastures new as the following Twitter post from Nick Barnes confirms.
To clarify: @stewartdonald3 has told me Josh Maja has played his last game for #safc. They had hoped they could keep hold of him until the summer but the player took his belongings and said he was leaving. Negotiations are now being pursued with Bordeaux.
Time to move on. Jack Ross is a pragmatic sort and will no doubt work with what he’s got and hopefully what he gets before the transfer window shuts. It’s not an ideal scenario, losing your top scorer and with Jerome Sinclair’s return to Watford and Andrew Nelson also being allowed to leave we are left a bit light up top, but as many will say, no player (and especially no agent) is bigger than the club. It is to be hoped that replacements are brought in quickly but with other clubs being fully aware of the situation can we expect potential targets to suddenly become more expensive?
Pete Sixsmith has his own take on the situation.
Nick Barnes broke the news on Wednesday night that Josh Maja had played his last game for Sunderland at Scunthorpe and that it was likely that he would trade the slog of Division One and trips to Accrington, Rochdale and Fleetwood for Bordeaux and visits to Marseille, Nice and Paris. The county Palatinate of Lancashire pales into insignificance when compared to the Cote d’Azur and the City of Lights.
It’s a shame but once the deadline set by the club had passed, it was inevitable. The only things left to decide were when he would go and where he would go. Girondins Bordeaux is the likeliest destination, a club formed in 1881 and who play in a stadium that seats 41,000 – in other words, a club that is similar to Sunderland in terms of history and support. They have been more successful than we have over the last few years, which wouldn’t be very difficult – probably about as difficult as being out-thought by Chris Grayling.
They won the Ligue 1 title as recently as 2009 and the Coupe de France in 2013, have produced two world class players in Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana and are currently sitting in 11th place in Ligue 1, 11 points away from a Champions League place and 11 points away from a relegation slot. My guess is that they will not be concerned with either at the end of the season.
When I heard the news that he was about to leave, I was not surprised. Had he been keen to extend his stay on Wearside, he would have signed the contract that the club offered him and perhaps gone on to fire in the goals that would take us back to the Championship and hopefully, help us to consolidate our position in that most competitive of leagues. But once he made it clear that he would not agree to deadlines, it was inevitable that he would leave and that he would go to a European league with Germany being the likeliest destination.
His agents, the Elite Project Group, have a strong track record in this area, engineering moves for Jadon Sancho from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund and Reiss Nelson from Arsenal to TSG Hoffenheim. Both are the same age as Maja and both are flourishing in the Bundesliga. So, the move to France was a bit of a surprise.
French domestic football is not at the same level as the top leagues in England or Germany and the league is a procession behind the obscenely wealthy, Qatari owned Paris Saint-Germain. Whether Maja will flourish here, remains to be seen.
The move is disappointing but it is how football is in the 21st century.
Players look for moves to progress their careers and to extend their bank balances. Some, like Marko Arnautovic, are looking for a huge pay day in China. Others, like Alvaro Morata, need to get away from a club that no longer rate them. Maja does not fall into either of these two categories.
Financially, a new deal at Sunderland would have given him a comfortable bank balance. The manager liked him. He was a regular starter and was scoring goals albeit at a low level. He would have played a major part in getting the club up and then he could have tested himself in the Championship before making a move to the Premier League, perhaps back to London, his home city. Maja has benefited Sunderland and Sunderland have benefited Maja. The 16 goals that he has scored this season have given us a base to build on and the fee that he brings in can hopefully be used to bring in two replacements who can build on his good work.
On the other hand, the club have taken a young player who had not made it at Fulham and Crystal Palace and who was looking for a club. He came through the Kinetic Foundation, an organisation that uses sport to support disadvantaged young people in South London and I imagine that they advised him about the move to Wearside when he was 16. He worked his way through the Under 18s and Under 23s and arrived in the first team last season and scored within five minutes of coming on. This season, he has been first choice and appeared to have a good relationship with Jack Ross.
That relationship has clearly been strained recently and Ross has looked weary whenever a question was asked about Maja. It looks as if he had accepted that he would be leaving last week and that maybe the illness he suffered prior to the Luton game was as genuine as the ones I used to have if I fancied a midweek away game. The club find themselves in a difficult position. Keep him and they have a player in the dressing room who clearly does not want to be there. Keep him and they run the risk of losing out on what for us, is a substantial fee. Keep him and they risk upsetting what appears to be a harmonious first team squad.
On the other hand, sell him and they will be accused of doing what the club has done for many years – sell its best players. Starting with Colin Todd and running on through Marco Gabbiadini, Michael Bridges and Darren Bent we have weakened ourselves by taking the money and then frittering it away. Those who are not convinced by the current owners will use this to fuel their rants.
Some that got away.
I am disappointed that Maja has left, but I can understand why he has made the move. He would say that Sunderland have developed him and he leaves them in a stronger position than they were when he arrived. He has every right to turn down a new contract and look to see whatever else is available to him. The word “loyalty” will be bandied about and accusations will be hurled at a young man who has made a decision that has annoyed many Sunderland supporters. Those who have said that he lacks pace, has no physical strength and who does nothing but score goals, will be satisfied tonight.
Some of us are disappointed that another promising young player has left us, following in the footsteps of Joel Asoro and Paddy McNair. Interestingly, neither of those two have done anything worthwhile at Swansea City and Middlesbrough respectively.
I hope that things go well for Maja. He has scored some very good goals for us and his contribution to the cause has been extensive. But, should he ever appear at the Stadium of Light again, I cannot guarantee him a rousing welcome.
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Malcolm Dawson writes………tied up as I am in a hotel in Lytham St Anne’s (and before you get any ideas – not literally tied up – it’s not that sort of hotel!) with no commentary to listen to I was reduced to using a combination of the club website and the BBC’s for text updates from Glanford Park, which is not only frustrating but frankly boring. It’s not easy to get a feel for the game this way but the main points that came through were that we had more possession but that Scunthorpe had the only shots on target and that Jon McLaughlin had made a couple of brilliant saves. Eventually up flashed the image announcing a goal had been scored and I was relieved to see that it was Josh Maja’s name beside it. Just like when I’m at the game however, one goal is never enough to quell the anxiety and the little pessimistic trait that surfaces when we go 1-0 up niggled away but the minutes ticked and I began to think that maybe we would just hold on. But it wasn’t to be and as the countdown clock ticked down I was disappointed, but not surprised to see an equalising goal had been conceded. A crackerjack by all accounts but still means another two points dropped late on.
The usual statistic trotted out is that a win at home and a draw away (or an average of two points per game) will get you promoted. We have 53 from 27 so are just about on track so as fans we should be feeling good about things. I would have settled for that pre-season and in truth, whilst we have dropped no end of points in some games we have also gained points in others. Recently however, we seem to have just dropped them. A worrying trait? I wasn’t there yesterday so can’t comment. Pete Sixsmith was and will. Read on dear reader, read on.
Monsieur Salut says: Paul Summerside and I joust regularly at Facebook about Brexit, a subject I broadly feel wisest to avoid at Salut! Sunderland. But he confesses, as a man who more than anything shares the thought that politicians should sort out the wretched mess they created, that this week’s turmoil also prompted some reflection on how things are going at the Stadium of Light …
Josh Maja seems more or less blameless in the series of events that led to today’s astonishing development.
If Sunderland AFC is telling the truth, Maja told Jack Ross yesterday he wanted to stay and would today sign a generous new contract (did someone say at seven times his current salary, precisely as demanded by his agent?). Instead his agent told not SAFC, but Sky, he would not be signing.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..you expect the roads to be quiet on a Bank Holiday and they were. I drive to Lytham ten or twelve times a year so this is a route I know well. Over the tops through Woodland, Egglestone and Brough I saw more buzzards and goosander than I did oncoming cars. Kirkby Stephen was busier than usual with loads of people in lycra wandering around with numbers safety pinned to their stomachs, but what constitutes a traffic jam in Westmorland is just a queue for the traffic lights in most built up areas and it took me all of two minutes to get through the town.
On the M6 south of Lancaster a caravan had overturned, blocking the outside and middle lanes with the bonnet of the car facing skywards. There were no police there, so it could only just have happened minutes before but no other vehicles were involved and there were two people standing in the central reservation so hopefully no-one was hurt and although it caused a slight delay the rest of the traffic was able to get around it with the minimum hold up.
There was a good, cheerful atmosphere as befits New Year’s Day and the ground was noisy. There was a moment pre-match which I thought was reflective of how the club is changing the nature of its relationship with the fans.
Towards the end of the warm up and after most of the squad had already returned to the dressing rooms, Chris Maguire hit a fierce shot at the extra goal that is set up for the purpose. Unfortunately he missed the target and the ball struck a grey haired, bespectacled lady full in the face. It would have hurt and the shock would have been greater than any physical injury, but immediately Robbin Ruiter, Craig Samson and Maguire himself were in the crowd, comforting the lady and calling the St John’s people over. They made sure she was OK before making their way back to the changing rooms – something which those around noticed and appreciated. This may have also been the case last season, but this was genuine concern and seen as such.
Once more the hosts showed that there will be few easy fixtures in this division and this was a close game. Indeed the pundits I was listening to on Wave and Radio Lancashire after the match were disappointed that The Seasiders hadn’t got a point (reasonable) or even all three (not so).
What did Pete Sixsmith think? Let’s find out.
BLACKPOOL NEW YEARS DAY
There are worse ways to start off a new year than a bracing trip to Blackpool – and then to return home with a hard fought and well deserved 1-0 win. Last year on the 1st of January we lost at home to Barnsley, a defeat which heralded a raft of loan signings, none of whom were any improvement on the poor players that we already had. We started 2018 shrouded in gloom – and it got worse.
Maybe 2019 will be kinder. We appear to have our club back and the team, although not world beaters, are playing with heart and passion and have bought into Sunderland AFC and what it means. Last year’s crop of players hardly seemed to care.
The journey over was an absolute delight. The coach was full – a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar faces and some returnees who have lost the habit of going to away games. The weather was glorious; clear skies and bright sunshine as we passed through Barnard Castle and over the A66. This is a road I use a number of times a year but usually as a driver. As a coach passenger, you see so much more – and on a clear day, it looks as if you can see forever.
Blackpool was reached before the designated time of 12.00 and the Lancashire Constabulary (out in force) cared not a jot. The town was busy. Our support had colonised the usual pubs – The Castle, The Manchester and The Albert and The Lion – with noise rather than hostility being the order of the day. I wonder if the fact that Charlie Methven pops up in to chat and have his picture taken calms the atmosphere. My travelling companions made for the pubs away from the front and had a jolly good time.
I am hors de combat at the moment as far as ale is concerned, so I went for a wander around the town in search of a late breakfast/early lunch. Blackpool, like many coastal towns, is struggling yet it still has an appeal.
The promenade is wide, the air is bracing and on a day like this there was no better way of blowing away the cobwebs than a stroll along the prom, prom, prom where the brass bands weren’t playing tiddley pom pom pom. I did spend a good quarter of an hour looking at the Comedy Carpet opposite the Tower. It’s a comprehensive list of comics who have appeared in the town over the years, from Frank Randle and Rob Wilton, through Tommy Cooper and Ken Dodd right up to modern comics like John Bishop and Micky Flanagan. I found it worrying that I had to explain to a callow youth who Rambling Sid Rumpo and Frankie Howerd were!!!!
I found a café that was open, opted for a late breakfast and shared my table with a couple from Leeds who could have been part of an Alan Bennett diary entry. They had booked a New Year’s Break at The Metropole, once a very important hotel in the days when party conferences were held in the town, and thought it had gone a bit downhill since last year. They were completely oblivious to the 8,000 Sunderland supporters who were in town saying only that they had “heard a bit of noise but we thought there were some bus trips in from Lancashire.”
To Bloomfield Road, where I bumped into a former colleague, nicely retired like me, was handed several leaflets by the Blackpool Supporters Trust explaining their reasons for not attending home games and took a (not very good) photo of Jimmy Armfield’s statue. A man of integrity if ever there was one.
And so, to the game……
There were two changes. Reece James came in for the injured Bryan Oviedo and Duncan Watmore was rested to allow Charlie Wyke to start a full game for the first time since the defeat at Burton Albion. Neither weakened the side and one could argue that the return of Wyke allowed Josh Maja more space to work in and meant that he did not have to do the donkey work up front.
It turned out to be a good game. Both sides have strengths and played to them. Blackpool are a big side but do more than just lump the ball up front. They have some good players at this level and whatever is happening off the field, on the field they work hard for each other. Our defenders had to work equally hard to keep them at bay, with the experienced Jay Spearing making them tick over and Nathan Delfouneso giving them a touch of quality up front. Throw in big men like Taylor, Bola and Gnanduillet and you can see why they are on the edge of the promotion race.
We had more of the ball than they did and created the better chances but there are times when we need a second or even third touch to get moving and this allows defenders to get into position and stop us. A cultured, controlled midfielder who can make that all important first touch pass could make the difference. In the absence of Cattermole (suspended) and Honeyman (injured) it’s an opportunity for Dylan McGeouch to step up to the plate and show us what he can do over the next couple of weeks.
Our goal was a good one. Baldwin (the pick of the centre halves) played a shrewd ball through to the impressive McGeady. He shimmied and shammied and put in an excellent cross which Josh Maja turned in for his 15th goal of the season.
This was Maja’s best game so far. He forced an outstanding save from Mark Howard in the second half and his ability to bring the ball down and then control it and move it on is impressive. We all know about his contract talks and I for one, hope that he signs up – we would find his goals very difficult to replace if he left now. There is talk of Celtic being interested and of paying £4.5m for him. We shall see. He linked well with Charlie Wyke who had a real tussle with centre half Paudie O’Connor.
Wyke had a good game and there are hopes that a goal will soon have him up and running. We think that he is the first Sunderland player called Charlie since The King in the 1960s.
We had a couple of breaks. Gnanduillet thought he had equalised but a combination of good goalkeeping by McLaughlin and excellent defending by Baldwin prevented another Bradford style controversy and a poorer referee than Mr Drysdale (who I thought had a very good game) might have sent Gooch off when he was involved in a scuffle with O’Connor.
The travelling support roared the team home to three very important points and there were smiles all round at the end of the game. I have never seen a stadium with so many away supporters in and so few for the home team and I don’t suppose I ever will again.