Sixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: bravo Benji, bravo (later) France, bad show Byrne’s boys

Hero, villain or just working the system?

Not so cool at the Pool, said Peter Sixsmith. Benji Kimpioka was cool, as were others of the young players at Jack Ross’s disposal. Catts and Honeyman, despite Ross saying the right things about how they were working for him, were distinctly uncool. What we all think of their agent, the club’s former CEO Margaret Byrne, may be best left unsaid. Sixer’s report – he chose the Victoria Ground over pub or armchair view of England losing decisively to Belgium – fills in the gaps while Monsieur Salut happily fetes France’s World Cup success, broadly deserved …

Read moreSixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: bravo Benji, bravo (later) France, bad show Byrne’s boys

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

Lee Cattermole: for better or for worse, time to go? Vote now

Jake: ‘love him, hate him?’

 ?
It is fair to say Lee Cattermole has long divided opinion among Sunderland supporters. Perhaps all or certainly most of us appreciate the commitment, that desire to win or at least avoid defeat, that epitomises his game. We may even, occasionally, respect his willingness to ‘take one for the team’. And opposing fans often say he’s someone they’d like in their teams.

But is he now being caught out once too often, and too expensively, even at Championship level? Is he, quite bluntly, a liabilty? Or do we take a kinder view and say ‘let’s not be swayed by one red card, the first in four years, there’s plenty more he has to offer Sunderland’? …. Chris Weatherspoon*, a fan and a seasoned writer on things SAFC, has a view and it’s a harsh one.

There is a
Salut! Sunderland poll on this. Scroll down to vote …

Read moreLee Cattermole: for better or for worse, time to go? Vote now

The Chapman Report from Wolves: ‘my game of the season so far’

When Sixer’s away, Bob gets to play …

Bob Chapman is always a great stand-in for Pete Sixsmith, a home and away stalwart who lives so far south that even a home game means a trek. Wolbverhampton wasn’t next door but neither was it anything like as far. And Bob was rewarded by a display of outstanding commitment (and a decent day out with pals) …

Read moreThe Chapman Report from Wolves: ‘my game of the season so far’

What me, dirty? Get yourself a good lawyer, Lee Cattermole

Jake: ‘asset or liability?’

Just when you thought being bottom of the Championship made you safe from such things, along comes a website that actually calls itself DirtyPlayers.co.uk and calls into question our fond collective belief that in Lee Cattermole, Sunderland have the most cultured, gentlest and fairest of players without thought of tripping, crunching, nudging or pulling back opponents.

Read moreWhat me, dirty? Get yourself a good lawyer, Lee Cattermole

Sixer’s Norwich Soapbox: Players are showing commitment to the club and to the support

Pete Sixsmith then (as in not so long ago)

John McCormick writes: Pete Sixsmith has finally made it home from seat U2 in the Carrow Road football stadium (hence the reference in the introduction to Saturday’s Sevens).  He probably has just enough time to grab some rest before he heads off to Sheffield. But before he gets his head down here he is with the heads up on a game more than a few of us expected to be difficult.

As ever, it’s a fine piece of writing. The bonus is that this time it’s about an excellent Sunderland performance:

Read moreSixer’s Norwich Soapbox: Players are showing commitment to the club and to the support

Norwich Who are You?: ‘we couldn’t even cheat properly, but watch Fulham!’

Gary Gowers

Towards the end of the 2015-2016 season, Sunderland went to Norwich and won 3-0 as part of the Big Sam race for survival. We stayed up, they went down. Before the game, we were able to introduce readers to one of the best Who are You? interviewees of the season, Gary Gowers*. So good were his replies that he took second place in the HAWAY awards – he never received his prize, but we are trying to rectify this now.

As Sunderland’s second Championship game takes us back to Carrow Road, it seemed an ideal opportunity to catch up again with Gary, the editor of http://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com. Sit back for another terrific read in which he lays into the arrogance of City’s squad last season and expresses no surprise at our own predicament. He’d quite like Catts in Norwich colours but is distinctly cool on James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban. All the same, he predicts a top six place for Sunderland (and for his own side) …

Read moreNorwich Who are You?: ‘we couldn’t even cheat properly, but watch Fulham!’

Sixer’s Derby Soapbox: first steps to glory?

Malcolm Dawson writes…..there were several compelling reasons which made me decide not to renew my season card for the upcoming campaign, but no such dilemma for Pete Sixsmith, who might not have been in his normal seat, but was there nevertheless to witness a reasonable display, which although didn’t break any records was a least a little better than many a first day performance. He’ll have been disappointed that he missed Durham’s one run win over Yorkshire but you can’t have everything. Here’s what he thought of his first view at the new look Sunderland in a truly competitive competition.

DERBY COUNTY (H).

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu writing over 2,500 years ago, said “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” which if you think about it, was best summed up by the great 20th Century philosopher Basil Fawlty as “stating the bleedin’ obvious.”

So for Simon Grayson, his new team and the 29,000 Sunderland supporters who pitched up at the Stadium of Light on Friday night, the journey has started. It may be a long trek back from the deep, dark valleys of the Championship to the sunlit peaks of the Premier League but that first step has been made and it was a positive one.

There was plenty of effort and an awful lot of running around. After a season of stultifying boredom where the ball was moved sideways and then backwards, it was refreshing to see it played out wide to Honeyman and McGeady and to see those two take on defenders and occasionally get past them.

It was by no means perfect. There were still weaknesses that need to be addressed either by a change of personnel or by some hard work from the coaching staff and individual players, but what we saw was 11 players doing their best and showing the support that even if they would rather be elsewhere, they appear to be prepared to put themselves about a bit.

After a bright opening we proceeded to give away a goal as bad as any we conceded last season and the season before.

Johnny Russell, the Rams best player, got past Brendan Galloway with consummate ease, put a low cross into the box which our central defenders missed and Bradley Johnson turned it in. Cheers from the Derby fans and heads in hands from the home support as we contemplated another morale sapping result.

But we came back. There was one hairy moment when a Tom Huddlestone shot was spilled by Jason Steele and we thought we had another Calamity Kelvin Davies between the sticks, but he gave his head a shake and grew in confidence as the game went on.

lynchpin

There were chances at the other end as well, with Lee Cattermole having a shot well saved by Scott Carson, Lewis Grabban firing over the bar and Aiden McGeady being thwarted by Andre Wisdom after excellent work by George Honeyman.

Those were the four players who caught the eye.

Cattermole is a perfect central midfield player if you want aggression and leadership. Those qualities were fully on display here as he charged about winning the ball, making tackles and rousing his team mates. He looks a Simon Grayson type and will be very important for us in the coming months. It’s a pity that after eleven years as a pro, he still cannot be relied upon to pass the ball with consistent accuracy and the less said about his heading the better. But he never ever gives up and that is a vital quality in this 46 game slog.

Lewis Grabban had an excellent game and on this showing, looks the business. He has a good goal scoring record at this level and brings a wealth of experience from his days at Rotherham, Bournemouth, Norwich and Reading to a forward line that is short of it. He took the penalty well and was unfortunate when after being set up by a lovely 5 yard pass from Captain Cattermole, he hit the post. He makes space well and has a physical presence. I enjoyed watching him.

McGeady also caught the eye. It looks as if Grayson has given him a free role and he switched wings with Honeyman on a number of occasions. He will take players on and is a bit of a throwback to the 60s when most teams had a Scottish “tanna ball player” in the team. He sometimes over-elaborates but as the team settles he will hopefully be more astute with his final ball.

Finally, George Honeyman fully justified his place above Wahbi Khazri with a solid performance which showed that he too can blossom at this level. Had we sacked Moyes earlier, appointed a decent manager (Mr Pastry would have been an improvement) and stayed up, Honeyman would have been away. Now he has an opportunity to establish himself in the team and there was a fifteen minute spell in the second half when he roasted a good solid Championship full back in Craig Forsyth. He finished strongly as well and produced a couple of really good runs to the by-line.

Of the others, Kone was solid, Ndong worked as hard as Cattermole and tackled well, Vaughan did an awful lot of running and disturbed Keogh and Davies just enough to open up spaces for others. Nobody did that last year.

worked his socks off

The two Everton loanees struggled a wee bit. Galloway had a poor first half and could have been replaced but he showed real character in the second and competed well against the excellent Russell. There was also one storming run at the end as the Derby defence tired. Tyias Browning was steady but got caught a couple of times. He looks to be the “other” centre half alongside Kone or O’Shea and is worth sticking with.

As for the Rams, they looked a typical Championship side. They were well organised and players filled the roles they had been given. I liked Russell and thought that Keogh and Davies will prove to be a good partnership. Johnson worked hard as did Butterfield, the latter perhaps a tad unfortunate to give away the penalty. As I texted M Salut, I would have been Mr Angry had that been awarded against us. Oh and Chris Martin missed an absolute sitter near the end. As the man in front said “And that is Scotland’s first choice centre forward!”

It was my first game in the new seat, a move which has halved my season ticket cost. Those sat around seemed pleasant enough and Wood Major and Minor are a few rows in front. You could clearly see how much the pitch has been shortened and narrowed and we also appear not to be blowing the balls up enough to judge by the fuss that Scott Carson made in the second half – the more cynical may think that he was trying to take the steam out of a sustained spell of Sunderland pressure (don’t remember writing that last season).

The other good thing was that I was home by 10.45 although I would trade that off for an increase in crowds as people are drawn back by what appears to be an honest and pragmatic approach to football. That thousand mile journey already looks a little more manageable.

North of the border down Livingston way

Malcolm Dawson writes……with Sixer, our normal match reporter recuperating in Wales after the early summer grind of exam marking, it falls to a Salut! Sunderland virgin (his words not mine) to provide us with a first hand account of last night’s third pre-season friendly. Brian Todd survived the experience of Mr Sixsmith’s teaching and brings us his view of last night’s proceedings. I’m tempted to say his Uncle Colin would be proud of him but I won’t because as far as I know they aren’t related and he’s probably sick of people making the same reference anyway. So was it a funny old game Brian? Let’s find out…………
Brian Todd ventures north of the border and climbs upon his old history teacher’s soapbox

A beautiful evening at the Tony Macaroni Arena saw around 500 of Sunderland’s finest squinting into the evening sun to see the boys take on newly promoted Livingston. For those of you that don’t know Livingston it’s a new town, around 40 odd years old, built to take the over-spill from the demolition of the Glasgow tenements. That means 90% of the town supports one of the old firm teams and about 1% of the remaining 10% supports Livingston. This generally means that their 10,800 seater stadium, as nice as it is, is a complete waste of time for average crowds of about 900. But that’s the SPL’s fault for their stupid vanity.

Onto the game. An impeccably observed minutes applause rang around the ground for Sunderland legend Bradley then the team set up as a 4-1-4-1 with no recognised centre forward and a line up of Mika, O’Shea, Djilibodji, Gibson, N’dong, Khazri, Jones, Rodwell, Gooch, Galloway and Love.
Livingston started the game brightly with an attempt which appeared to be saved by Mika just going past the post. After that Sunderland controlled the possession with some nice crisp passing which was largely ineffectual and lacked penetration with no outlet to aim for up front. Khazri was full of running but his delivery from set pieces was poor while Gooch gave the defence lots of problems all half. Indeed it was his strike which was parried by the keeper that led to Khazri pouncing and slotting home to net the opener. The defence looked solid with even Papa looking like a centre half for a change when Livingston applied a bit of pressure for the 5 minutes or so after we took the lead. A few long range efforts from Rodwell and N’dong were all that were of note in a first half leaving many in the crowd a little frustrated. We huffed and puffed but that 11 looked like they couldn’t blow down a house of cards
Got a last minute scorcher

The second half saw Lens introduced for Jones and although it started quietly Livingston gave it a go to no avail with a fabulous set piece, and a 35 yard volley from Gibson Sunderland’s only chance of note. On the hour mark the whole team was changed with Love, who for me was man of the match, heading to the showers.

The new guys driven on by the ever talking and motivating Cattermole looked brighter, more interested and generally more up for it. Whether it was a change of formation or a change of attitude I don’t know but the pace increased as did the pressure
Lee Cattermole – Chattermole more like
Livingston made their changes and introduced keeper Gary Maley. Big Stretch is a great guy who I’ve known since he was a kid so I better be kind….. Sod it. A drive from outside the box was fumbled inexplicably by the big guy and Osoro pounced and tucked it away nicely. It was all Sunderland after that with Osoro looking very sharp and Kone who looked huge on the pitch keeping things tight when Livingston did rarely endeavour to venture into the Sunderland half.
As the match petered out and the sun finally disappeared behind the North Stand up popped Lens, a player who did virtually nothing for 44minutes, with one of the finest strikes I’ve seen in years. So good even the Sunderland fans went quiet for a second or two because they couldn’t quite believe it. Maley had no chance with this one and the ref blew up with everyone still in a high.
As we walked out with smiles on faces as red as the sun dried tomatoes on one of Tony Macaroni’s pizzas, thanks to the glorious sunshine, I asked a few guys what they thought. It was OK, wasn’t bad, pretty average was the general consensus. I personally left with a feeling of hope rather than expectation as OK and not bad or pretty average won’t cut it and get us out of what looks to be a very challenging league. I’ll still keep the faith though…. For now.