Lee Cattermole out, another McLaughlin in as Sunderland preparations move up a gear

Catts: from reckless and hotheaded to steady and sensible

A commonsense end to a long-serving player’s Sunderland career or a shock announcement few saw coming: two ways of seeing today’s news that Lee Cattermole has left with immediate effect.

Cattermole’s departure makes sense because a League One club really should not be paying an injury-prone midfielder a reported £40,000 a week. In any case, financial fair play rules oblige SAFC to cut their wage bill.

Read moreLee Cattermole out, another McLaughlin in as Sunderland preparations move up a gear

Sixer’s Portsmouth Soapbox: dogged, determined and disciplined as the Lads get to Wembley

Jake says “WhooooooHoooo”!

Malcolm Dawson writes……I said after the Southend game that I actually thought finishing 5th wasn’t such a bad thing, as I felt we stood a better chance of beating Portsmouth over two legs than Charlton, and that a one off game at Wembley against Charlton was preferable to another meeting with Portsmouth at the National Stadium. I fancied us getting the better of Doncaster in either situation if we ended up having to play them.

Well it looks like Donny pushed the Addicks all the way but we now find ourselves facing a repeat of the 97/98 play off final, albeit one division lower. Can we do a week on Sunday what we couldn’t do 21 years ago? Let’s hope so, though if we are successful this time, there will be a fair bit of work for Jack Ross, Tony Coton and the rest of the recruitment team to do over the summer.

This current squad have rarely dominated games but showed their character and determination in both legs of this tie. I couldn’t fit in a visit to Fratton Park, which was a shame as I could have got to Doncaster but Pete Sixsmith did. It’s a long way to Portsmouth and Pete sensibly stayed over which is why we’ve all had to wait for his match report but it’s here now.

Enjoy.

FAREWELL TO PORTSMOUTH.

That was a tense evening. Nails were bitten (finger and toe), hankies were shredded and fingers were peeped through but in the end, we came through and we are probably all now in the process of sorting out transport and buying match tickets for Wembley.

The Scream

Smug people like me took a chance and bought a train ticket a while ago once it became clear that the play offs were likelier than an automatic. Had we failed to reach the final, I would still have gone to London and booked myself into the British Museum for the Edvard Munch exhibition. The Scream would have been most appropriate if Portsmouth and their charmless fans had got there.

I have also purchased my ticket with the ease of George Sanders putting on his cravat. Simple and straightforward, all I have to do now is hope that Royal Mail and Ticketmaster between them can get them delivered pdq and then I can relax.

Sorting out a Wembley ticket

Which is more than I did on Thursday night.
Non
I imagine that those who watched and/or listened to it at home suffered the same anguish and torture that 1400 of us went through at Fratton Park – not that the home team ever really threatened but there was always the off chance that they might sneak one through a dubious penalty or a wicked deflection. But they didn’t.

I enjoyed the feel of Fratton Park. It’s a real old school ground which has been improved over the years and is an example of what Roker Park might have been like had we not decided to take the plunge and build a new stadium.

It still has floodlight pylons that towered above the stands although this was the last time they would be used as they are coming down. As the sun set over the yardarm, the lights came into their own and walking away from the ground at the end, through terraced streets with the floodlights shining above took me back to walking along Roker Baths Road and standing at the hatch at the Roker Pie Shop before going in to the Clock Stand Paddock.

The game was not a classic.

If you want free flowing football spiced with silky skills, this was not for you. But if you wanted to see a Sunderland side show that when they need a result they can actually hack it, you’d have appreciated this. I hope that Jack Ross and his staff get the praise they deserve. They had a game plan and it worked. They picked a team that was strong, eager and not likely to be intimidated by elements of the crowd who seemed to think that every tackle made by a Sunderland player was either a penalty or a sending off or both.

Sunderland through and through

Grant Leadbitter epitomised this. He has been marginalised recently and his lack of form is probably explained by his mother’s terminal illness. As most know, she passed away the day before the game but Grant rose to the occasion and did his parents proud with a commanding performance. It was different from the vibrant attacking one that I remember from along the coast at Southampton twelve years earlier when he struck a magnificent winner to take us to the top of the Championship but it was just as important. Most definitely one of our own.

He was aided by his old sparring partner, Lee Cattermole, who was magnificent in the face of some appalling provocation. Gareth Evans, a man with a bigger mouth than Piers Morgan and Jeremy Kyle combined, committed a foul on Cattermole in the fourth minute that, had it been later in the game, would certainly have been a red card. His boot was almost wrapped round our man’s head but he got up and proceeded to snap and crackle about the pitch, timing his tackles, winning the ball and hitching up his shorts without giving Peter Bankes the slightest opportunity of booking him.

Catts continued to hoik up his shorts

There were others who stood out – in fact the whole team did. There were no late lapses a la Scunthorpe and Peterborough, no careless challenges and no dropping deeper and deeper. We controlled this game from the first minute to the ninety sixth.

John McLaughlin was so steady and reliable that when he got a weakish punch on a cross near the end, there were gasps of astonishment from the support who don’t expect him to do such things. The confidence that he gives his defenders is palpable and they know where he is at all times. He collects the ball in a way I have rarely seen in a Sunderland keeper, using the minimum of effort and the maximum of timing. He’s my player of the year and as a former goalkeeper of some repute myself, I knows a good ‘un when I sees one.

Both full backs were excellent with Luke O’Nien even popping into the paddock to exchange banter with the Jolly Jack Tars in the crowd.

Jolly Jack Tar

They thought he was a weak link and attacked his flank. He gave them nothing, just that lovely cheeky grin as their attempts to intimidate him failed yet again.

On the other flank, Bryan Oviedo was brilliant and showed his class throughout. With respect to Reece James and Denver Hume, Oviedo is a far better player than they are – he glides forward and, when defending, jockeys his opponents rather than committing himself. When Jamal Lowe finally appeared, he never passed Wearside’s favourite Costa Rican once.

Flanagan and Allan were a successful partnership on the stage and Flanagan and Ozturk look a good combination on the pitch. Both rarely put a foot wrong or missed a header and Ollie Hawkins, who had caused Baldwin and Flanagan problems at Wembley cut a lonely figure as he was hauled off with twenty minutes left.

What Ozturk may lack in pace, he makes up for in his reading of the game and his physical presence. What Flanagan may lack in physicality he makes up for in pace.

The others all played a major part.

George Honeyman is an easy target for the naysayers and doom mongers but he made them eat their words here. He popped up everywhere – a tackle in one corner, an interception in another, a pass through the middle, a header saved by the keeper; he did it all. Leave him alone. He’s not a world beater but his efforts are prodigious.

As were those of Max Power who was the junior partner in the midfield three and did all the heavy leg work that Grant Leadbitter can’t do. He was exhausted when Lewis Morgan replaced him with ten minutes left on the clock. The Scot did a good job as well by taking the ball into the corner and not losing it, I think he is a decent player and we would do well to bring him in permanently.

Chris Maguire succeeded in annoying the Portsmouth players, none more so than Tom Naylor who threw the ball at Mr Wind-Ups head. Could have been a red card, but again the ref, who generally speaking had a decent game only saw fit to issue a yellow. But Naylor was walking the metaphorical tight rope and his game was ineffective. Maguire’s second important contribution to the tie.

Jake and and Jack capture the moment

Charlie Wyke was left on his own to tangle with Clarke (good player; should we go up, try and sign him) and Burgess (as big a baby as Steven Taylor) and he revelled in his role. His all-out efforts have won over a sceptical fan base who, let’s face it, have had much to be sceptical about over the last few years, and we can look forward to a full season from him come August.

And finally, the home team players, manager and supporters.

If you are a Portsmouth fan or ever harboured a soft spot for them as I once did, look away now.

The players carried out their manager’s instructions to commit early fouls, roll around, dive, behave like big babies and wrestle with Charlie Wyke. Players (with the exception of Chelsea goalkeepers! MD) do as managers ask.

Ours stuck to their tasks with diligence and honesty and reflected Jack Ross.

Portsmouth’s reflected Kenny Jackett, a man with no tactical nous and a limited appreciation of the game. There were copious moans about him from those in the queue at Fratton Station and I would be surprised if he lasted the summer.

Most of the support is decent and voluble, but the snarlers, kickers and flare throwers who have disfigured this series of games do not reflect very well on Portsmouth as a city or a football club. The fool who kicked Luke O’Nien needs banning and they really need to look at the way in which their seating is allocated. Naughty, naughty boys.

Yorkshire Rascal and Jameson’s

I called into a pub in Fareham on my way back to the hotel and met long time Fareham residents Ian Tindale and his lads George and Harry. Loyal Mackems surrounded by Saints and Pompey, we shared memories over a beer and a couple of Jameson’s to set the seal on a very rewarding and ultimately enjoyable evening.

More of the same on Sunday 26th will do nicely.

Ha’way The Lads

 

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Sixer’s sub’s Fleetwood Soapbox: Sunderland’s season encapsulated in 95 minutes

Jake: ‘unprintable’

Malcolm Dawson writes………none of us really wanted to go through the playoffs, even those who would have settled for that scenario before the season kicked off, but for Pete Sixsmith they represent an increased workload. With 46 league games to report on, plus all those cup ties and his twin series of First Time Evers, he is doing far more than his fair share this season, so we agreed that I would once again step onto the soapbox to cover this game. 

Rest assured he was at Highbury last night and he will be at Southend on Saturday, where he is making a weekend of it, so you may have to wait until Monday to get your Sixer fix, via his final soapbox of the regular season. Until then you’ll have to put up with me and what John McCormick suggested might be a more measured assessment of events at Highbury Stadium than Peter might have provided.

About ten times a year I have a commitment which takes me to Lytham St Annes, just south of Blackpool, and this rearranged fixture with Fleetwood fell slap bang in the middle of one of those weeks. So last night’s game was only a short drive for me up the Fylde coast and knowing someone who lives only five minutes from the ground, parking was no problem. The final part of my journey was literally a walk in the park and while Pete Sixsmith was snoozing on the coach back to County Durham, I was back in my hotel having a brew and mulling over a game which to my mind was a microcosm of the whole season.

We started off well, and jumped ahead, seemingly in control and way ahead of the opposition, but failed to consolidate our start. Then came a bit of a wobble but with still enough of a showing to suggest we might find a way back, until crash, bang, thank you mam and our fate was sealed. This was the first time all season we have been beaten after taking the lead, but not the first time we have been unable to build onto, nor even hold onto an early advantage.

Fleetwood’s stadium has been smartened up considerably in recent years, but still retains elements which reflect the fact that not so long ago this was a club playing in the Evostick North including the clubhouse in the corner, which has to have advertising banners in front of the windows so you can’t enjoy a pint and watch the game at the same time – just one more thing for me to hold against Margaret Thatcher.

Fancy a pint?

The whole ground holds less than six thousand and from my vantage point I was able to scan our section of terracing and identify people I knew, including Wrinkly Pete and others of the HoE branch who I waved to, but who didn’t acknowledge my presence in the posh seats. Disappointingly, the stand opposite was only half full and almost half the total attendance of a tad over 4,000, would have been wanting a Sunderland win.

We started with three changes from Saturday’s team with Gooch and Maguire replacing Honeyman and McGeady and Will Grigg leading the line in place of Charlie Wyke. Grigg is a different type of player to Wyke and this formation saw us playing more controlled, possession football, looking to create gaps in the Fleetwood defence, rather than hump the ball to, then play off a target man. I thought we did it well in that first half. We dominated possession and moved the ball better than we have done for some time, but for all the attempts to create scoring opportunities, we were mostly ineffective. When we did lose the ball we never seriously looked threatened and McLaughlin was always in the right place and hardly had a save to make.

Up the other end Alex Cairns in the Fleetwood goal was seeing a little more of the ball, saving well from Max Power after good work from Maguire and a cross from Lewis Morgan. On another day it could have gone in but credit the keeper for a good stop and then grabbing the ball at the second attempt, before Power could finish it off. Soon after Will Grigg curled a shot onto crossbar. On another day that too could have gone in but rebounded to safety. Grigg had another opportunity not long after that, but this time a rather tame header was an easy catch for Cairns.

This season’s unlikely goal machine

Earlier, Lee Cattermole had tried his luck from outside the box and had seen his effort go high, but it was he who finally broke the deadlock and got us the goal our bright start deserved. A corner on the right was whipped in by Lewis Morgan and Catts got in a glancing header following his near post run.

One nil as news was coming in that the Posh were two nil ahead at Portsmouth and the buzz around me was whether the impossible scenario might still be a possibility come Saturday? Personally, at that stage and with how we were playing I thought it might be, but only if we could eat further into the GD deficit with at least another two goals.

There was little in that first period to suggest we wouldn’t go on to win the game, but anyone who has seen us on a regular basis would not have felt confident that we would.

I’m saying nowt

Joey Barton, who unsurprisingly had been the object of some less than complimentary comments from the away sections of the ground, made one change at half time but it wasn’t really obvious that there was any change in formation or approach from the Fisherman. Rather, as we have unfortunately seen several times this season, it was our own performance which slipped after the break. We became more wasteful in possession, lost more second balls and defended deeper, allowing the home side to play higher up the pitch.

We were still 1-0 ahead when Sterling replaced Grigg. Sterling I feel could make a decent player in the right set up and given the right sort of service but this was not the case last evening. Apart from Ozturk, Flanagan and McLaughlin, there was little height in the side and yet those at the back seemed to think the Tottenham loanee could do the job Charlie Wyke does and pumped long balls up for him to hold onto or head on. He did neither and apart from one run and penalty shout was pretty ineffective. Honeyman came on for Maguire in a straight swap and was immediately sent crashing to the floor by Wes Burns who was only yellow carded, when a red might have been more appropriate. It would be easy to say that this might have been a deliberate ploy from the manager, who we all know is no angel, but we have seen several teams at this level indulge in dubious practices and time wasting and Fleetwood were no different. Their time wasting saw the referee add five minutes extra time at the end of the ninety, but it would only benefit the home side in the end.

We were still 1-0 up at this point but it was difficult to see where any more goals would come from. Meanwhile, Fleetwood were starting to get back into the game as former Black Cat Ross Wallace showed us a bit of trickery and produced some decent balls into the box, but it was a neat bit of interplay between Paddy Madden and overlapping full back Lewie Coyle which brought about the equaliser, as Madden found the space to side foot Coyle’s pull back out of McLaughlin’s reach.

I couldn’t see any way back after that, even though a draw was no good to us. We had some half chances but even a 2-1 win was unlikely to be enough as despite the events at Fratton Park the required turn around in goal difference meant we would still be unlikely to catch Luton or Barnsley. So the losing goal in the additional time was pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, though it probably means we will have to face Charlton in the two leg stage of the play offs instead of Doncaster or possibly Peterborough. Despite my age I never thought I’d be able to say that I saw Eastham, in a red shirt with white sleeves score at Highbury, but it was Ashley, not George who grabbed the winner.

A different Eastham at a different Highbury

There were only three touches after that before the full time whistle went and a number of people around me went ballistic hurling abuse at the team and the club. I refuse to do that. I may criticise players who don’t show commitment or who are lacking in effort but I have never seen this squad fail to give 100%. The fact that they don’t always succeed or achieve the results we would wish to see is not down to those factors. The truth is that apart from Oviedo, Lee Cattermole and Lynden Gooch, the starting line up last night was composed of players who have learned their trade in Leagues 1 and 2 or the Scottish League.

I’d like to know how standing and berating players, including people like Jimmy Dunne who had spent the entire game running up and down the touchline in a training bib is supposed to help the side improve. Perhaps a former girl friend of mine was right when she accused me of lacking emotion, but while I am disappointed when we don’t win I can’t get angry about it unless I think the players are not trying and I can’t accuse any of them of that crime in any game I have witnessed this season.

Yes it is disappointing that we couldn’t be in with at least an outside chance of automatic promotion at Southend, but realistically we were always looking at the playoffs once we failed to beat Coventry. It has been a long season. We will have played more games than anyone else in this division, bar Portsmouth come the end of the campaign. We have a squad that was largely cobbled together over the summer, have had more than our fair share of injuries and they have, in my view, done well to achieve what they have. To my mind, Jack Ross has only made a few errors in his team selection (with Burton away being the main one) or in the way his teams have lined up, with Coventry being the most obvious example when we were too exposed at the back. Tactically we may have been more adventurous after opening the scoring as too often we have failed to press home an advantage. Hindsight would say that a few more wins and a few less draws would have been preferable in terms of points gained.

Southend is a bit of a no event game for us but could mean the difference between the Shrimpers staying in League One or being relegated. While I expect to see a few players rested for this game, we still need to put a decent side out and can’t be seen to take our foot off the gas with six teams still facing the drop.

The next time I am due over in this neck of the woods is Sunday 26th May, which just happens to be the day of the League 1 Play Off Final, so it’ll be an early drive over and find a pub showing the match if we are involved. The way things are going I’m not confident we will even feature in that game but nil desperandum. You know what they say about overweight divas.

Ha’way the Lads.

Highlights via safc.com

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Sixer’s Sub’s Soapbox: Walsall can’t hold on as Sunderland close the gap

This is one Jake made later (his original, sent when he had to pop out, had the scoreline at 1-1 which he said, I hope you won’t have to use’)

Pete Sixsmith reported windy weather before trotting off to the SOL yesterday and Walsall duly put the wind up Sunderland, who produced yet another shaky start. It turned out well enough in the end, with four of the top six drawing and the seventh-placed club losing, to once more put us in control of our own destiny.

With no game between now and the Checkatrade Trophy final, the Salut! Sunderland team will no doubt be racking their collective brains trying to think up articles that will keep the readership ticking over. By contrast the past few weeks have been pretty hectic and in order to give Pete a bit of a break and allow him some time off to enjoy his other interests, Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson once more borrows the soapbox to report on yesterday’s game against our visitors from the West Midlands.

Read moreSixer’s Sub’s Soapbox: Walsall can’t hold on as Sunderland close the gap

They’ve all gone quiet over there. Where is Brian, Sunderland’s counter-revolutionary?

Catts out, gooch out, mcgeoch out of his depth, ditto nien, honeyman out of form.

Malcolm Dawson, deputy editor, compares and contrasts Sunderland AFC’s encouraging progress on and off the field with some less positive thoughts remembered from one contributor to Comments at Salut! Sunderland earlier in the season …

Read moreThey’ve all gone quiet over there. Where is Brian, Sunderland’s counter-revolutionary?

Sixer’s Bradford City Soapbox: Bantams powerless to stop 10 man Sunderland

Malcolm Dawson writes…..there is an air of quiet satisfaction floating around Sixsmith Towers this morning, as the staff quietly go about their duties, secure in the knowledge that their young master is full of the joys of the season following his charabanc trip yesterday and with the prospect of Toronto Wolfpack and Featherstone Rovers, both in action later today to keep him occupied.

Following his civic duties, bringing the news of the day to the good folk of Shildon, but before his Sunday morning breakfast of kedgeree, devilled kidneys and chitterlings Peter Sixsmith found time to dash off his account of proceedings in what was an eventful day in West Yorkshire.

The man himself

BRADFORD CITY

My age-old newspaper reading habits have taken a knock recently. The Northern Echo is a mere shadow of its former self and is often finished before my bowl of porridge and round of toast have been devoured, while The Guardian Sports section is full of the usual Premier League guff so it is largely ignored.

On Saturday, while cruising down the A1 and after having avoided pieces on Jose Mourinho and how difficult it is spending money like water and then dropping the players that money has been spent on, how a new Arsenal are evolving at Ashburton Grove and the trials and tribulations of Tottenham at Wembley (all to be repeated ad infinitum), it was a pleasure to read about how Jack Ross has settled into the job at Sunderland and how, every time that we win, an anonymous Sunderland supporter donates a goat to a charity that distributes them to villages in Africa – or maybe Eldon Lane.

Who said you’ll win nothing with kids?

After a thrilling game at Valley Parade, the African goat population has increased by one and, if the season continues in this vein, there will be a surfeit of goats in villages and the locals will be urging the donor to send PlayStations instead.

This was the proverbial hard-fought win. We went in 1 up at half time, never looked in trouble, conceded a poor equaliser, retook the lead within two minutes, saw our new captain give away a penalty and get sent off, watched as the penalty was saved, comfortably survived an aerial bombardment not seen at Valley Parade since the days of Ian Ormondroyd before we closed the game out while witnessing a brawl that was more in keeping with the original use of the ground as a rugby league venue. No wonder the coach travellers slept on the way home; we were knackered.

The first half was another example of how Ross would like us to play. The ball was knocked about, forcing the City players to chase and harry and use up lots of energy while we passed and passed. At times we stretched their defence and chances were missed although the referee did not pass up his chance to book Cattermole with a mere ten minutes on the clock.

It was for an innocuous foul, one which other players would have got away with (and did) but it seems that there is a policy amongst the lower league referees of “let’s see how early we can book Cattermole.”

He now had to play 80 minutes without one false move, something which he accomplished with considerable aplomb and made some of us believe that the earlier the yellow card for Cattermole, the more effective he is because he has to concentrate on his game and not do anything silly.

Finding new ways to score

He contributed to the opening goal with a fierce shot which was going fractionally wide until Maja turned it in as it brushed past his left kidney. The Goat Shop were preparing the next departure to Africa by half time as we controlled the game and Bradford’s huffing and puffing barely disturbed anxiety levels amongst the 2,900 who had made the trip.

The second half was a different experience and the goat looked as if it might be staying in the UK when we failed to defend a long throw and O’Connor hooked the ball into the net. However, its passport was out again two minutes later when the ball bounced around in the box and Jack Baldwin opened his account for the club with a firm shot.

In the next ten minutes we could have wrapped the game up and the goat could have caught an earlier boat. Max Power had a shot well saved by O’Donnell and Tom Flanagan (who formed a very effective central defensive partnership with Baldwin) had a header pushed over.

It all changed in the 66th minute when Power was sent off. Being at the other end and thinking of the goat saying its goodbyes, I did not see what had prompted the newly appointed skipper to kick out at Jack Payne. But I did see the kick and the subsequent red card for Power who will have now missed more games through suspension than he has played. I foresee an anger management course for him before he returns and he may not get his place back if we continue to purge the national goat herd.

West Yorkshire Police not licensed for this fixture! (The sign reads “Sorry no alcohol at this kiosk.”)

Up stepped Payne, the protagonist in the Power situation, to take the penalty. He is a confident, nay cocky, youngster, but he was not good enough to beat the Magnificent McLaughlin, who pulled off a tremendous save or the Fantastic Flanagan, whose tackle as Payne lined up to slot home the rebound was as good as the original save.

Maja was replaced by McGeouch and we proceeded to give an almost master class in game management. The ball was retained when we needed to and despatched to the other end of the field when that was necessary. Honeyman came on for McGeady and his running and energy played an important part in preventing a limited home side from putting any real pressure on us.

When he signed for us, some supporters were distinctly underwhelmed by Chris Maguire, claiming that a man who had flopped at Bury was not for us. He has shown that if he is on the right stage, he is a match winner. That turn against Peterborough where he set up Sinclair was a as good as anything I have seen since the halcyon days of Johnson and Summerbee and today, he made sure that the sting was taken out of City by holding the ball up, winning free kicks and generally winding up players who were unsure of how to handle him. He is enjoying being at Sunderland and we are enjoying watching him.

Both full backs did well. Matthews has formed a good partnership with Maguire and gets forward well while Reece James, now third choice in that position, was targeted by Bradford and Sean Scannell in particular, never missed an important tackle and did really well.

Always a sad reminder

In fact, there were no weak links in this team. All worked hard, none more so than Lee Cattermole, who won umpteen headers and tackles and was always there to fill a gap, pass a ball and generally wear down the opposition. I gather he is happy at Sunderland but the size of his wage packet and the length of his contract may be a factor in any possible transfers to a higher division.

After Mr. Backhouse had added on seven minutes and Ross showed his tactical acumen by sending on Ozturk to bolster the defence, the final whistle went and, at a certain goat farm somewhere in England, a Ms. N. Goat was shaking hooves with her friends and hugging her family as she began the long trek to Africa. Her final words were “Don’t worry. We won’t be apart for long. I can see another 25 of you joining me before the first week in May. Ha’way the Goats.”

My journey home was a pleasant one. All on the coach behaved, there was good conversation and the icing on the cake came as the we paused at the traffic lights at Thinford and Alexis Sanchez scored the winner at Old Trafford.

No goats for the black and whites then………

Sixer’s Coventry City Soapbox: Peter sings the blues in Two Tone city

Malcolm Dawson writes……..are you a glass half full or glass half empty type of personality? This was one of those games where the moaners and complainers will point to the fact that we have only won one of our last five games while those of a more upbeat persona will point to the fact that after nine games we have only lost once and are still near the top of the table.  Some will point to the fact that in that time we have only kept one clean sheet while others will say we have never failed to score. Some observers will acknowledge the fact that two injuries in the first half, meant Jack Ross could do little to change the shape of the team or bring on players who could offer a different type of threat, but there will be those who will question the manager’s picks in the first place and focus on perceived weaknesses in others.

Stewart Donald was sitting in with the 5,000 Sunderland followers at the Ricoh yesterday and television close ups showed him sitting impassively whilst those around him were animated. It was difficult to know what he was thinking but not so Pete Sixsmith, who was also in the crowd. Here’s what he thought of his day out in the sunshine.

COVENTRY CITY (away).

Legend has it that Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of Coventry on a white horse to shame her husband into reducing taxes on the peasantry – or some such guff.

Legend also has it that Sunderland do not win games in this corner of Warwickshire. Twenty-three visits over the years have yielded but 3 wins – an FA Cup win in 1930 and league triumphs in 1976 and 2001. Defeats have been the order of the day, so a draw at a ground that we traditionally do badly on is surely some cause for muted celebration.

Well, up to a point it is. We did not lose. We dug in well after losing defenders to injury early on. We scored a good goal. All of these were positive points that we could take away from this rugby union stadium with a football club attached and hope that this is the point that ensures our occupation of positions one or two come May.

On the other hand, there were negatives to take back along the M69 and M1. There was some shaky defending, particularly in the second half, when City should have gone ahead. We failed to impose ourselves on the game after opening the scoring and building on the excellent goal we scored. Some of our support is not fit for purpose.

Let’s deal with the positives first. Losing Loovens after four minutes disrupted the original selection. Flanagan moved into the middle and Matthews took the right back role without seriously weakening the team. The drawback was that that there was one sub used already, reducing the possibilities of unleashing McGeady, Sinclair or Power in the second half.

When Hume went down with an injury on the half hour and eventually limped off to be replaced by Oviedo, we were left with just the one tactical change, assuming nobody else was affected by strains and pulls. Oviedo for Hume was a good exchange and the former Everton man gave us more poise and balance and should be playing for the foreseeable future.

To describe the first half as dismal fails to do justice to that word. Sky TV had no Premier League games to show on this day (BT had bagged them) and viewing figures away from the North East must have plummeted as casual viewers almost certainly preferred to watch the Manchester United car crash than an anonymous third level game being played in a half empty stadium – a stadium that would have been two thirds empty had Wycombe, Southend or Doncaster been the visitors.

Maguire – unlucky with the free kick.

Chris Maguire had hit the post from a free kick with George Honeyman failing to convert the rebound while City failed to launch one decent attack in the opening 45 minutes on a glorious autumn afternoon.

The second half was a vast improvement and probably saved Sky’s viewing figures from plummeting into double figures.

There was a greater urgency about both teams as they woke up and realised that there was a game to win. We struck first after a fine move down the right which ended with the goal scoring machine that is Lee Cattermole tucking away a good cross from Matthews.

That gave us a base to build on and, had we had a full complement of subs to use, it would have meant that a couple of astute tactical replacements would have kept City on the back foot.

As it was, they shook themselves, seized the initiative and pushed us back. Power replaced McGeouch in order to strengthen the middle areas but within two minutes the dangerous and competent Jonson Clarke-Harris had stroked home a well worked equaliser, setting up a hectic final 20 minutes.

Oviedo and Honeyman both had shots well saved by Burge as we looked for the winner but City had the best chance in the last minute. A long ball was played through, Flanagan failed to control it and the busy Chaplin bore down on McLaughlin’s goal. The keeper took the sting off his shot, but it looked as if it were rolling into the net when, in a puff of smoke that was reminiscent of a David Nixon illusion, Jack Baldwin appeared and managed to hoof the ball away.

There were sighs of relief all round the South Stand and howls of anguish from the other two occupied parts of the stadium. In the end, it was a fair result and neither sets of supporters could quibble about it. Not that that stopped some of ours.

George Honeyman – come up through the system

George Honeyman and Josh Maja came in for the most stick, probably because they have come up through the ranks. Neither had particularly good games with the former giving the ball away far too easily and the latter not relishing the physical side of a game like this. Both have repaid the faith that the manager has shown in them and neither are anywhere near being left out of the team but the abuse that is heaped on them by some of the support is out of proportion.

Is it because Honeyman is a local who has been with Sunderland since he was a bairn? Is there an underlying element of racist attitude behind the criticism of Maja? There are some in our crowd who seek to isolate and bully players for reasons as basic as this – Jordan Henderson received fearful stick in his early days and Darren Bent’s mother was abused at Wigan, so we have previous.

Taking 5,000 to a game 200 miles away that kicks off at lunchtime is impressive and would be more so if some of the support did not see this as an opportunity to get wrecked on drink and whatever else some use to heighten their senses.

People in front of me missed the goal because they were having a drink in the concourse – what comes first, football or a pint of overpriced, over chilled lager in a heaving mass of humanity milling around a dark and gloomy shed? The lager won in this case.

What about the behaviour of the man who got off the coach at Ferrybridge Services and began to urinate in full public view despite there being a toilet 50 yards from where they had parked?

What about the pathetic skirmishing after the game which held up the departure of all 31 coaches and did nothing for the reputation of Sunderland AFC and its supporters. We even had unpleasantness on our coach on the way home due to excess alcohol and anger management issues that could lead to some of the regulars looking for alternative means of transportation or not going away at all.

It wasn’t the greatest day out. Up before 5.30, on the road by 6.45 and home for 7. 00pm meant a long day after a late night on Friday. That had been spent at another rugby ground, Headingley, where I had seen the worst Leeds display of a wretched season as they went down 16-17 to Toronto in a game that ensured Super League survival for Leeds and gave Toronto every chance of joining them next season.

The Leeds performance reminded me of Sunderland teams of the past few years – talented individuals failing to do simple things effectively and making life very difficult for themselves. This team needs to avoid falling into that trap. We have a good squad for Division Three and need to focus on doing the simple things right. And some of the support needs to remember that we have no right to treat this league with disdain. We are there for a reason.

Cattermole – are those demanding he be dropped at the start of the season now eating their words?

Cattermole, who had a good game, misses Tuesday because of suspension so Power should be an ideal replacement. Should Gooch be unfit, McGeady will be a likely candidate to run down the wing while Sinclair could come in as a second forward. I doubt if Loovens or Hume will be ready so Matthews and Oviedo should continue. Flanagan struggled at times in this game and needs to concentrate carefully.

Peterborough United will provide a tough test on Tuesday. Their away form is excellent, having won all 5 games on the road. Now would be a good time to inflict that first defeat.

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.

 

Sixer’s Soapbox: a Wimbledon Win, a Test Passed, a Marker Laid Down. And Lee, Lee, Lee Cattermo-ole

Pete Sixsmith – cheers

Pete Sixsmith’s back from travel
with a football tale to tell.
Joy at Gillingham and Kingston
then what fortune him befell?

He took well-earned refreshment
in a Margate watering hole
And as he supped he pondered on
the tale of Cattermole

Read moreSixer’s Soapbox: a Wimbledon Win, a Test Passed, a Marker Laid Down. And Lee, Lee, Lee Cattermo-ole

Sixer’s Sheffield Wednesday Soapbox: not enough to pass the test but A for effort

Malcolm Dawson writes……..there were plenty of positives to take from last night’s game, both on and off the field.

Off the field the new administration’s decision to seat the majority of fans in the East Stand made economic and logistical sense as well as projecting a better image to the watching television audience and creating a better atmosphere for the players to respond to. It is no secret that the club’s finances need careful husbandry and by reducing the number of turnstile operators, stewards and people manning the bars and refreshment kiosks there must have been substantial savings made for a fixture that rarely sees the ground one quarter full. It was last night, and though the vast majority of seats were empty, by concentrating the spectators in a smaller area the impression was of a less sparsely filled stadium. As it happens the crowd of 13,000+ wasn’t bad for a Carabao Cup fixture which included a good turn out of Wednesday fans. Not sure I saw any police presence either.

Those that were there were generally supportive and appreciative of the style of play, application and effort that Jack Ross and his squad seem to be adopting. At least that was how it was around me, notwithstanding a couple of blokes in the row behind, who after Ozturk’s part in the first goal decided that they would complain about him at every opportunity, even when it was the similarly bearded Jack Baldwin who was at fault. Well I suppose 15 looks like a 5. No negative vibes for Cattermole that I noticed either.

When Flanagan, Wyke, McGeouch Sinclair and Watmore are all fit to play, the manager will have many more options at his disposal than the rather limited choice he has at the moment. When I spoke to Pete Sixsmith as we made our way back to our respective cars we agreed that there was much to encourage us from the performance and here as always Pete brings us his insightful and articulate take on last night’s proceedings. 

THE VIEW FROM THE FRONT – SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

As part of the club’s newly found and entirely worthy desire to stop haemorrhaging money, the only part of the ground open for home fans for this game was the East Stand.

Consequently, the 12,000 or so Sunderland supporters who pitched up for this one were all sat together making it look like one of those reserve games from the early days of the Stadium when large crowds turned up to thrill at the sight of Neil Wainwright, John Oster and Milton Nunez.

My ticket moved me from Row 31 to Row 6 and from the North side to the South side and I enjoyed it. I was closer to the players and, although I could not see the game unfold as well as I can from my loftier perch, that (relative) intimacy is enjoyable. Of course, it’s not quite the Clock Stand Paddock. There is no clear view of the players calves, no Jeremy Robson barracking Tony Morley to the extent that he started to cry, no Ray (the man with the necklace made of proper nails) or the sight of David Speedie and Gary Bennett wrestling on the track with Benno desperately trying to stop Speedie from going over the fence, thereby preventing him from being torn apart by the frenzied occupants of the aforementioned paddock.

Nostalgia – not what it used to be.

Nostalgia out of the way, what about the game? Twelve months ago, we huffed and puffed to beat Bury at Gigg Lane in this competition with a team that we thought might just have the makings of a promotion side. This time we turned in a performance that was as fluent as the Bury one was disjointed and went out. C’est la vie.

There were some encouraging signs.

Reece James, fresh from his 45 minutes in the Under 23’s on Monday, made an impressive debut. He was energetic, pushed forward well, defended equally competently and looked a good replacement for Bryan Oviedo at left back.
He was aided and abetted at right back by Denver Hume, who becomes the first player to be named after a U.S city since Poughkeepsie Wilson in the 1920’s and the Greek winger Syracuse Papadopoulos in the early 2000’s. He has grown over the summer and, although he may be behind one or two in the pecking order, a good loan to a Division Two/ National League club where he will be playing regularly will help him to progress even more.

Ditto Elliot Embleton, a candidate for the FIFA goal of the season, who showed that he has an eye for a pass, that he can tackle and that he too has a future. Two good products of the Academy there. More please. He benefited from being alongside Lee Cattermole, who turned in the kind of performance that must have delighted Jack Ross and made any watching scouts think very carefully about revising their opinions of him. He conserved his energy, did simple things well and left to a warm round of applause from the faithful. He may well have a role at the club despite his astronomical wages.

Steady and sensible. A starter v Scunthorpe?

The running that he usually does was done by Max Power who made a good home debut, while his fierce tackling was done by Luke O’Nien who had a much better game than he had against Charlton. He followed in Cattermole’s footsteps by being booked for his third careless tackle and missing a good chance to equalise just before half time. He will have an important role to play as the season unfolds.

Some of the football was very pleasing on the eye and these players have been brought to the club to match the style that Jack Ross wants to play. That in itself is revolutionary for a club that had no discernible pattern or style for years and appeared to sign players for no good reason other than nobody else wanted them.

We know where the problems are.

There is a serious shortage of goals in the team and that was exacerbated in the absence of Josh Maja from the starting X1. Chris Maguire worked hard on his own and the midfield players tried to get up there to help him, but our threats were limited. The fitness of Wyke and Sinclair are essential for us and we may be able to hang on until they are ready without having to make another loan signing.

Unfortunately, there was one weakness on the night and that was Alim Ozturk, who followed up his shaky performance against Charlton with one that resembled a jelly caught in an earthquake. His dithering over a long ball in the 29th minute allowed Matias to score and he was understandably nervous after that. He may improve but needs to be aware that many in the crowd need a scapegoat and he looks to be a prime candidate.

The general consensus as we filed out was that Sunday’s game against Scunthorpe was of far more significance than a Tuesday night against Wolves. There will be a different side on show then and, we hope, a different result. But on a day when A level results were published, we come away from this game with a decent B grade with more rigorous tests to come.

View From the North West Corner: give Catts a break

Following a lot of public criticism of one of our players by followers of The Black Cats, Malcolm Dawson appeals to lovers of social media to consider the effect their negativity might have on the season’s prospects.

Like most football followers I use the internet to find out what is happening with my club, especially with regard to transfers, injuries etc. There is no doubt that the internet is a great way to do this but it can also lead to laziness, sloppy reporting and outright plagiarism.

A few years ago I read an article which I recognised as one that M Salut had written and published on this website. But not only had the contributer not contacted Colin for permission to use it, he had not even credited him as author. It was a pure copy and paste job to which this particular blogger had added his own name. I contacted Colin who got in touch with the website and I have never seen a repeat but trawling various headlines for information and coming up with the same re-hashed material is commonplace these days. I doubt whether the veracity of the original report is ever checked and then suddenly Tino Asprilla has become a Darlington player or Martin O’Neil has become the manager of Shepshed Charterhouse. Oh hang on a sec those things did actually happen but you get my drift!

The comedien Dave Gorman in his programme “Modern Life is Goodish” looks at modern technology and how it affects people’s behaviours. For one episode he placed a card in a newsagent’s window pretending to be an elderly lady who liked jigsaws but didn’t like doing them, offering £50 for someone to do the puzzle for her. This was picked up by one of the local Free newspapers which contacted him and ran a story about it. This in turn was picked up by a national daily which ran the story and it ended up on the internet. To cut a long story short, just like Chinese whispers the point of the original story was lost, it was reported as factual in places as far away as New York and then eventually was referenced by Victoria Coren Mitchell in an episode of “Have I Got News For You”.

More than twenty years ago when primary school classrooms were being equipped with PCs and internet we stressed that children should always double check facts from more than one source and that just because you see something on the web doesn’t make it true but how many people these days get their “facts” from Wikipedia?

Keep the negativity off the soapbox.

M. Salut well knows I am no fan of social media. Like all forms of technology it is how it is used which makes it a valuable tool or simply an embarrasing liability. There are many reasons I’m no fan of Twitter and Facebook. The fact that many so called news sites simply reproduce people’s Tweets as news is one. The ease with which those who so wish can make derogatory and inflammatory comments is another.

There is an anonymity about the internet which reduces the social restraints on people and makes them say and repeat things they might think twice about uttering aloud in public. Then again it might not but a loud mouthed, hard of thinking bigot, ranting in a back street boozer or on Speakers Corner, has a much smaller audience than those posting on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social media platforms.

I began writing this before the earlier posting picking up on Sixer’s remarks regarding some fans’ reactions to Josh Maja but it was the treatment of another of our players on social media that prompted me to hit the keyboard. Love him or hate him Lee Cattermole is still one of ours as I write. He may or may not be off to join Gus Poyet in France but until he goes he is still on the payroll and will be until 2021 unless someone offers to sign him fulltime.

When he first came there is no arguing he could be a bit of a liability, getting himself booked or sent off, often for needless challenges in areas of no danger. His behaviour off the field left a lot to be desired too, getting banned from pubs on Teeside and finding himself with Niklas Bendtner damaging cars on Tyneside. But he has calmed down and one thing that is hard to argue against is that he never gives less than 100% commitment. He may not always be as skilful as he was, he may lose his man or misplace a pass but I have never seen him not try. But it seems a section of those who profess to be Sunderland supporters feel it is OK to vilify him on social media, criticising the manager for including him in the squad, then allowing him on the pitch and demanding the club let him go.

There are those stating that he doesn’t want to be at the club and criticising the manager for putting him on ahead of O’Nien on Saturday. Can I assume that those informed comments come from people who socialise with Cattermole and work at the Academy of Light? Thought not. Personally I’ll trust Jack Ross. He works with the players. He knows who has done what in training and how they are reacting to the many changes that are happening just now. If he says he’s talked to Catts and the player is doing what is asked of him then by all means the manager should decide who is in the best place to carry out his plans. O’Nien has so far played just over 45 minutes and has had to uproot himself and move to a new part of the country, get settled and get used to a new club, manager and demands on the way he plays.

I thought JR’s comments about Jack Baldwin interesting. Moving house is stressful for anyone but how much so is it for someone like Max Power, who one minute is sat in bed watching Netflix (he says) on his laptop then two days later, having packed his boots, a toothbrush and a spare pair of pants finds himself running out with ten new team mates at Kennilworth Road. Must be even harder for family men with partners and children to get settled in a new home.

Taking time to settle

It could be that Catts is on his way and by the time this is published a deal might have been done. Even a loan move after all, would free up some of his wages and allow the club a little more flexibility on loan players coming in but he is on a contract and unlike some others is honouring his commitment while still on Wearside. I suspect Lee Cattermole is the type of player who will be motivated, rather than harmed by negativity but what we need at this point is a unified club moving in the same direction and that includes the fans. Supporters support the team by definition. Now is a time when we all need to be seen to be as one. 

It’s early days, there is still progress to be made but this type of public criticism is not helpful and might even affect the mental approach of some of the others in and around the team or those players the club is hoping to bring in.

As was said in one of the better pieces I read recently, Lamine Kone is not a bad player but he certainly performed better when he was a happy player.