Sixer’s Sub’s Doncaster Rovers Soapbox: it’s a good Friday on Wearside

The games are coming thick and fast as we get to the fag end and business end of the season. Pete Sixsmith and Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson are sharing match reporting duties and Pete will be back for his take on the Peterborough and Portsmouth clashes, but today it is Malcolm who brings us his view of the goings on at the Stadium of Light on what turned out to be a pretty decent Good Friday.

If you needed any proof of the influence of Salut! Sunderland the evidence was there to see yesterday, as we put the debacle of the previous weekend behind us.

In my match report following the home defeat by Coventry City, I suggested it might be time to give Alim Ozturk, the second most forgotten man of the Sunderland squad (after Donald Love) a game and in midweek, Wrinkly Pete called upon the home support to get behind the team and make some noise. With the Dutchman recalled to the starting XI the crowd, especially in the recently renamed Roker End, produced their loudest and most sustained support of the season.

While on social media Baldwin and Flanagan shouldered most of the blame for the inept defensive performance against the Sky Blues, that was far too simplistic an explanation for our first home defeat of the campaign. Though it was no surprise to see them both “rested” for the visit of Doncaster, it was other changes to the side and organisational adjustments which got us back on track. Coventry had no recognisable target man and as such moved the ball quickly, kept it on the ground and turned the two centre backs inside out. But there was precious little support for them from either midfield or on the flanks. With Grigg and Wyke both starting, Honeyman and Morgan had been told to play narrower and the width came from O’Nien and Oviedo who both started that game higher up the pitch. The central midfield pairing of Power and Leadbitter also appeared to have been given instructions to be positive going forward with the result that Baldwin and Flanagan were frequently exposed and Coventry exploited this.

Yesterday, we played with a flat back four and though the full backs still supported the attack when they could, with Morgan and McGeady in wide positions, they could apply themselves more to their defensive duties. The return of Lee Cattermole also strengthened the central defensive midfield position and with just the single striker, Power and Honeyman  helped to break down potential Doncaster threats at source.

Decent return to the starting line up for Alim

That’s not to say we were totally dominant but Ozturk and Dunne were fairly comfortable against the pony tailed John Marquis, who is more your traditional striker than those employed by Coventry, though he might have won a free kick on the edge of the box on six minutes when he was hauled to the ground. But I thought both centre backs played well and dealt with the Donny attacks efficiently in the main.

There was one occasion when McLaughlin had to race off his line and throw his body in the way and another occasion when Ozturk maybe got away with a bit of holding. Donny manager Grant McCann certainly thought they should have had a penalty when, following a free kick and an almost inevitable yellow card for Lee Cattermole, Ozturk and Butler practised their moves for the upcoming series of Strictly Come Dancing and the Doncaster man went to ground. It might have been given on another day, but referee Andy Woolmer deemed it six of one and half a dozen of the other and throughout the afternoon he had refused to give a number of free kicks, mostly when Charlie Wyke had been held as well as that early one against Ozturk. But at least he was consistent.

So we started off with four across the back, but that didn’t mean to say there was no attacking intent and we might have scored twice in the first thirty seconds. Attacking the North Stand for a change, both Power and Morgan had decent chances blocked. After all the pre-kick off flag waving the crowd was up for this and it was just the start we needed.

But Doncaster in a rather smart blue and red change kit were soon on the counter attack and a long diagonal ball from Herbie Kane on the right wing found John Marquis running into space. It was then that the covering Ozturk impeded the Donny man while the referee waved play on. That was on five minutes and we were to go ahead immediately. George Honeyman who showed great energy all afternoon, buzzing about behind Wyke and behind the wingmen played the ball out wide to Aiden McGeady on the left wing. McGeady did what he does, rolled the ball, shimmied, beat his man and delivered a beautiful cross from the corner.

Charlie another MoM type display

Charlie Wyke, who nearly didn’t play as he was suffering from a migraine as kick off time approached, rose high between two defenders and nodded the ball down and back for Lewis Morgan who struck a powerful half volley inside the left hand post and halfway up the side netting from 16 yards. Exactly what was needed to settle any lingering nerves after the news that both Barnsley and Portsmouth had collected all three points.

We were definitely on the front foot and with 14 minutes on the clock, Honeyman was again involved, this time on the opposite side as he fed Morgan. His deep cross was headed back by Mcgeady and with Wyke lurking the Doncaster defence hacked it away, but only to the onrushing Luke O’Nien. His powerful drive swerved towards the top corner, but there was a bit too much swerve and it went high and wide.

Donny weren’t totally out of it but we were clearly on top at this point as Honeyman had a shot blocked, and both Power and Morgan had further chances. The second goal came from a corner, though only indirectly. Power played it short to McGeady, whose cross was headed away by the Rovers’ defence. It was like a bit of head tennis as at least two defenders headed it out of the box, Cattermole then headed it back towards halfway and a diving Honeyman stretched and headed it to Oviedo out wide. He in turn fed Max Power who sent a long diagonal ball towards the penalty spot. Donny keeper Marko Marosi came to punch it but in truth got nowhere near as his route to the ball was blocked by one of his own defenders and Jimmy Dunne who leapt highest of all to head it goalwards, where Charlie Wyke was on hand to ensure it found the back of the net.

This was another fine display from Wyke who is showing the qualities which made him our marquee signing of the summer. Not only is he strong with two good feet and has a decent touch, but he is also by all accounts a top bloke. If only he had a bit more pace.

All game the Lads had shown an intensity and a desire to win the ball and after another crunching tackle Lee Cattermole won the ball in the opposition half, fed Charlie Wyke who after playing a short pass to Aiden McGeady, who in turn found Oviedo on the overlap, continued his run into the box to get on the end of the Costa Rican’s cross, but his stooping header was gratefully clutched by the Slovakian keeper.  We were well on top yet almost conceded just before the half time whistle sounded.

The Roker End pre-kick off

Herbie Kane nutmegged Max Power then tried to run by him. Had Power simply stood his ground and Kane run into him, I might have felt aggrieved that the free kick was given, but as it was the ex Wigan man raised his arm to block the run, dragged Kane down and I couldn’t argue with the decision. The left footed shot from full back Danny Andrew was powerfully struck and rattled the foot of the post. A couple of inches to the right and it would have bounced harmlessly out of play for a goal kick. A couple of inches to the left and it would have gone in. As it was it came straight back off the woodwork and fortunately there was a player in a red and white shirt in the right place to hook it to safety as the whistle blew.

Doncaster needed to do something and half time brought a double substitution with forward Alfie May and attacking midfielder Allie Crawford, replacing Coppinger and Whiteman. My brother, watching the game on TV in the Three Horsehoes somewhere in Spain, texted me at full time to say he thought the second half had been a bit more scrappy and so it was, as Doncaster had more of the ball in our half of the pitch, but we defended resolutely and apart from the penalty shout I never really felt any apprehension, although I can never really settle when we are only two goals to the good.

We had in fact almost got a third five minutes into the half when the ball broke for Oviedo who ran at pace down the left wing, cut into the penalty area and shot for goal from distance. The ball seemed to take a slight deflection off a defender and just like at the end of the first half, the ball hit the post in more or less the same place but this time, went safely behind. A goal kick was given and no-one seemed to contest the decision so maybe a trip to the opticians is in order.

We had other chances, McGeady and Wyke might both have found the target, Wyke making space for himself after a lovely ball from the Irishman and producing a decent save from Marosi but it was Doncaster who arguably came closest as Dunne, misjudged a high ball and let May in behind him. Fortunately McLaughlin was alive to the situation and came rushing off his line to block the shot.

There was the penalty shout when Ozturk wrapped his arm around Andy Butler but Butler was leaning into Ozturk. Some refs would have given it – this one didn’t.

We had other opportunities. Wyke was sent clear in the first half but he wasn’t quite quick enough to get one on one with the keeper and eventually played it to McGeady who was closed down and late in the second half substitute Will Grigg had a decent shot saved. In truth this was a fairly comfortable win, though by no means a walk over. But once again the commitment was there from these players. Let’s hope that will stand us in good stead for the remaining four fixtures.

The one refereeing decision which didn’t go our way was at the Pirelli Stadium where Portsmouth’s 94th minute winner against Burton should have been ruled out on two counts. Those two points mean that we still have the same total as next Saturday’s opponents, although we have improved our goal difference.

Of course we still have Monday’s games to go but with a game in hand on Barnsley, Pompey’s visit could possibly be the defining moment of the promotion campaign but I suspect there will be a few more twists and turns to come before we head to Southend on Darth Vader’s birthday.

Ha’way The Lads.

Highlights of the game via safc.com

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Sixer’s Sub’s Coventry Soapbox: Sunderland on the wrong end of goalfest

Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson writes…..with so many games to fit in between Wembley and the end of the season Pete Sixsmith and I agreed to job share the match reports so if you’ve come here looking for his erudite take on yesterday’s events at the soon to be renamed Stadium of Light, I’m afraid you’ll just have to put up with my version. Yesterday was a chance for me to catch up with some old mates from the Heart of England Branch while enjoying a couple of pints of Landlord in the Kings Arms. A couple of them I hadn’t seen since the Mick McCarthy days whilst the others, travelling up from Coventry of all places, were sent on a detour around Northallerton and other parts of rural North Yorkshire after an incident on the A1(M). They just about made it in time for a pint before kick off of what was to prove to be a pretty action packed game.

 

Bill Taylor, Bishop Auckland born, Sunderland through and through and still a devotee of all things SAFC, even though he is now domiciled in Canada, was mildly critical of my headline for Sixer’s Burton soapbox in which I described Tuesday’s result as disappointing. Well if I thought Tuesday’s result was disappointing I thought yesterday’s was equally so.

Equally so? Surely you are screaming why not more so? After all we lost for only the third time this season, the first time we have witnessed a home defeat in the league and we have slipped back out of the promotion places. The game against the Brewers could have gone either way as could yesterday’s. In truth we didn’t deserve to win yesterday but we could have on another day, same as Tuesday. Mind you on Tuesday we just about merited a point. Yesterday we didn’t.

In the introduction to yesterday’s Seven M. Salut mentioned the fact that social media was awash with angry, anguished messages about how wretched Sunderland’s defensive performance was. I don’t do social media. I can’t be bothered with it and while I have friends and family who tell me how useful it is my uninformed perception of it is that it provides a platform for the ignorant, the uninformed and the hard of thinking to air their simplistic views in language that often is hurtful and offensive without thought of the consequences. I accept that as in life, this is probably only a small minority but it’s something I feel I would rather do without. Another aspect of it which tries my patience is the lack of consistency in the views that are expressed by that vocal few – something which I glean from those sites and articles that seem to think people’s tweets and Facebook comments constitutes news.

Was yesterday’s defending shocking?

I knew our defence reminded me of something

Well yes it was and there is no getting away from that but why? Jack Ross is trying to deflect the blame from his players, which is not only good management but also pragmatic. The fact is that our defence was exposed and exploited and a large part of that was down to the personnel who were available and the way in which the team was set up. For most of the season we have seen a formation that employs a single striker. Often we only had one available but that didn’t stop armchair managers calling for a traditional 4-4-2 citing a lack of firepower with the 4-5-1 set up.

Against Coventry we not only set up in a 4-4-2 shape but we had Luke O’Nien and Bryan Oviedo as the full backs, both of whom had obviously been told to push forward and provide width in the attacking half of the pitch while Honeyman and Morgan played slightly narrower. Power too, though nominally a box to box to box midfielder was often pushed higher up the pitch leaving Leadbitter as the only protection for the centre backs. If this was always the pre-match plan or came about after we found ourselves a goal down early doors I couldn’t say for certain but it did look as if team instructions were to get forward at every opportunity.

As a pairing Flanagan and Baldwin have at times looked unbeatable but that has tended to be where opponents have lumped the ball forward and they have had a lot of high balls to deal with, or where they can attack the ball whilst going forward. Both Burton and Coventry had several, quick, mobile forwards who moved the ball quickly, turned both centre backs inside out and created space and shooting opportunities. Should Jack Ross who is meticulous in his planning been prepared for that? Had the whole squad been available I don’t think we would have seen that starting XI. Adam Matthews and Reece James, might have been preferred to provide a more defensively minded back four, Lee Cattermole or Dylan McGeouch could have provided more bite in front of the centre backs. A fit Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire could have allowed Honeyman to play more centrally. Morgan, who had a good game yesterday might have started on the bench but would have been an option to provide width on the opposite side to McGeady and Grigg, who looks as if he is playing through an injury might not have started. Ifs and buts and the manager had to pick a team from a seriously depleted squad. That doesn’t mean he got it right but could any of us have engineered a better result against the Sky Blues?

Lewis Morgan, our on-loan signing from Celtic.
Courtesy of safc.com,

We started off well enough. Lewis Morgan had a shot saved whilst Baldwin and Flanagan dealt with a City corner well enough but after only 12 minutes we were 1-0 down. Recently O’Nien has been the blue eyed boy, but he did what would have tuned Tommy Clish, my old PE teacher at Houghton Grammar, red with frustration when he tried to play a ball across the face of goal looking for Grant Leadbitter. It was a fair way out but an alert Amadou Bakayako cut out the intended pass, moved it quickly to Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila on the right. His first time pass inside found Bright Enobakhare who moved the ball quickly and side footed through a crowd of red and white shirts to find the bottom corner. One loose pass, one forward with quick feet. One nil.

Whatever criticisms can be levelled at this Sunderland team a lack of resilience and the ability to fight back after an early setback is not one (or should that be two?) and it only took four minutes for the Lads to get the first of their three equalisers courtesy of skipper Honeyman. Oviedo brought the ball out from the back and passed it forward to Morgan. The Celtic loanee made good progress down the left wing before cutting inside and looking up to see Honeyman just outside the box. Honeyman found the target via a deflection.

This might have been the start of the come back but those of us who were there on Tuesday and could see how much trouble quick passing movements could cause by dragging our defenders out of position recognised the threat and the next two Coventry goals were greeted with an air of resigned inevitability by those around me, whilst at the same time not extinguishing the hope that we might still claw this one back.

It was a quick, slick all along the ground passing movement that set up Bakayako for the second goal, with crisp movement and ball retention, the visitors economically bringing the ball out of defence, with no stop/start, have a look around and pass sideways thinking and finding himself running into space, the forward again stroked the ball, rather than blasting it into the net. It was a good run which left our defenders flat footed but to be fair was the type of move that needs to be cut out at source, rather than one where outright blame can be put at the feet of the centre backs. Sometimes you have to credit the opposition and had we scored it we would have been full of praise for our boys.

Their third came about when Grigg was dispossessed on the right of the half way line. Enobakhare again showed quick feet before slipping the ball to Hiwula-Mayifuila. It appeared he was looking for the far post but rather like the Burton goal on Tuesday and in almost the identical spot it was again deflected, this time off Jack Baldwin to wrong foot McLaughlin.

Four goals in the first 25 minutes had sent the 4,000 or so Coventry fans into raptures. In a funny sort of way this was a bit of a help to the home side. I doubt if there were many more than 100 sat in the North Stand Upper on Tuesday and while the home crowd were never overtly negative, the sense of frustration probably got through to the players. With such a good away following, the noise cranked up a gear while the hope in my section of the West Stand at least was that we could pull one back and go in just one goal behind. That we went in level was as pleasing as it was unexpected, though by pleasing I’m not saying it was deemed satisfactory, just an acknowledgement that things could have been a lot worse.

Charlie another MoM type display

Charlie Wyke continued his recent rehabilitation back into a goal scoring centre forward when Power, Oviedo and Morgan working down the left wing, got another cross into the box. The keeper should have dealt with it and though Grigg was hovering he was really under no pressure, but he flapped, the ball fell loose and Wyke was on hand to stick it in the net, then just as we were prepared to settle for a one goal half time deficit we equalised for the second time.

Once more it was Morgan who fired in a cross from deep just as we were preparing for the half time break. Wyke rose highest at the far post and his nod down found Grigg, who though under pressure from the Coventry centre back, somehow kept control and poked the ball home from close range. Six goals in the first forty five and the game was so open we expected more of the same after the restart.

I thought we were the better side for the first ten minutes but just as I was beginning to think we might make a remarkable recovery, Baldwin tried to play a through ball down the middle to Honeyman. It was intercepted, fed out out to the Coventry right and after a couple of touches from the impressive Bakayako, he rolled the ball to Jordan Shipley whose run no-one had tracked and the number 26 powered home a sweet left foot drive from all of 25 yards. Had Chris Maguire or Max Power produced a similar effort we would have been singing their praises. As it was it was another hammer blow. Surely we didn’t have it in us to get back on level terms again.

But we did. Jack Ross had made a double substitution and it was the returning Aiden McGeady who found Max Power just outside the box. He went for placement rather than power (sorry but I couldn’t think of an alternative) and like Honeyman his shot took a deflection which sent Lee Burge the wrong way. This was already a remarkable game which might still go either way.

Some Coventry fans I was talking to on the walk back through the Sheepfolds admitted that they were expecting us to score every time we got the ball, which is an interesting perspective as although at four all we were hoping that would be the case, it was no surprise when we ended up on the wrong side of a nine goal contest. The final nail in the coffin came after another low cross from Charlie Wakefield on the right wing. Baldwin stretched, went down and failed to cut out the pass and although he got to his feet quickly, Flanagan also failed to deal with it as substitute Conor Chaplin took control and stuck it home. There would be no coming back from that one.

After the January transfer window we might have had a massive squad in League 1 terms but yesterday we were missing Rose, I mean Love (see comments), Matthews, James, Cattermole, Maguire, Watmore, McGeouch and Gooch. Have I missed anyone? Add to that Grigg and McGeady are not 100% and we are a bit stretched. Benji Kimpioka also came off the bench but showed his inexperience and also perhaps the manager’s desperation.

Time to give the Dutchman another run out?

It wasn’t a good defensive performance, there’s no getting away from that but I’m not sure we had the right type of players to combat Coventry’s style of play. Hindsight is a marvellous thing and I’m left pondering whether or not we would have been better employing the lopsided flexible 3-4-1-2 system with Flanagan, Baldwin and Ozturk (who surely deserves a run out after recent events) in front of McLaughlin, Honeyman and Oviedo making up a back 5 when not in midfield, Power and Leadbitter sitting just in front of the back line with Morgan behind Grigg and Wyke, from those who were fit enough to start.

Automatic promotion is still in our own hands despite Barnsley, Portsmouth and Charlton all winning yesterday and in a way I am pleased we have three away games but none of those will be easy. We all knew that April would be a tough test after Wembley and we got off to a decent enough start with 7 points from 9 but we need a better performance on Good Friday against Doncaster to maintain the promotion push. Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways.

Ha’way the Lads.

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Egrets, I’ve had a few as the Lads go marching on at Bristol

Me and Benno – some years back.

View From the North West Corner

(or in this case behind a very wet goalmouth at Bristol Rovers)

It is 290 miles from my home to the Travelodge in Weston Super Mare where I’d based myself for the Checkatrade semi final against the blue and white Pirates of Bristol. The drive down on Monday was straightforward enough and fortunately not subject to the ten mile stationary tailback that I saw stretching down the southbound carriageway from J25 to 23A on my return two days later.

Travelodges are OK if you just need a place to rest your head and for a couple of nights it served its purpose, though you only get 30 minutes free WiFi which is a bit mean these days, especially when you’re trying to register with Ticketmaster along with 30,000 others, the morning after the night before. I am a bit paranoid about missing out on Wembley tickets after the play off game with Charlton, despite having been to 43 games that season whilst living in the East Midlands so I was desperate to make sure I would be in line this time.

Great White Egret

I had decided to combine my trip to the semi final with a visit to RSPB Ham Wall and so spent Tuesday morning and the earlier part of the afternoon, looking at great white egrets, marsh harriers, both of which were almost impossible to find in the UK twenty or so years ago and a small flock of sand martens, which are always the earliest of the hirundines (swallows and martens) to complete their northerly migration but the first week of March is still early.

Despite stopping frequently my arthritic knees were beginning to play up as I just beat the rain and made the shelter of my car to head for the Gloucester Road in Bristol. How could I not go to the Drapers Arms after Sixer’s recent recommendation, but first sustenance of a more solid kind was required. Getting into Bristol at 4.00 pm meant finding a parking spot in the side streets near the ground was easy enough and crossword to the ready I went into Jean’s Bistro. Run by a Brazilian and his Thai wife, this is a no frills, cash only bring your own booze place, which has a limited but interesting menu. Spicy battered whitebait, veggie Thai curry with sticky rice and a milky coffee set me back around fifteen quid and more than adequately filled a hole as I waited for the shop/pub next door to open, where I had arranged to meet an old mate from the Heart of England Branch for a pre match bevvy.

Jean’s Bistro

It was not long after opening time when I wandered in and the place was already pretty busy but the first face I saw was Paul “Sobs” Dobson, sitting with Stan of the Durham branch and several others of our ilk. I wandered up to the counter, ordered a pint of porter and started chatting to a Rovers’ fan, who was having a pre match pint before setting off to the ground to do a bit of stewarding or programme selling or something. He didn’t say exactly what it was he was doing but did say he would probably only get to see the second half. There was a good range of ales on sale and chicken and chips for £1.50. Despite my appetite being sated from my hour in Jean’s I was tempted, but if ever you find yourself in the Drapers their version of chicken and chips consists of a pickled egg and a packet of crisps all crushed up. Mmm yummy as the Weight Watchers community would say.

The pub was beginning to fill, but wasn’t uncomfortable as my marra Jon turned up. He is now living in Monmouth and looking after 8 acres of wildlife friendly small holding, with it appears a wide range of mushrooms. Well he always was a fun guy. As the weather tried to emulate that which I had experienced at Accrington, Pete and his brother arrived and Jon and I gratefully swapped our standing tickets with the Twelvesmiths – ostensibly to save my tired knees but with the added bonus of saving us from the deluge.

It’s fair to say we were impressed with the side that JR had elected to turn out. I felt a bit for Robbin Ruiter and Alim Ozturk who I don’t feel have done much wrong in this competition but by the same token, as a fan I want to see us look to win every competition, even if that means fielding the strongest team and risking injury to key players.

Pete has covered the game in his Soapbox so I won’t go into too much detail. Grigg took his goal well and showed us what he is capable of. An excellent ball from Power played him in and Max had a good night, playing higher up the pitch, knowing Leadbitter was behind him.

Finished with aplomb

Hopefully he will also start to recover some of the battling qualities he showed before that sending off at Walsall.

Morgan had a decent game too and took his goal well following up Gooch’s shot. Too often in recent seasons we have had no-one on hand to snaffle up chances when a keeper has failed to hold onto the ball. McLaughlin took a bang on the head when he did just that but recovered to grab the ball at the second attempt and keep a third successive clean sheet.

This may not be the most prestigious of trophies in the football calendar and a fixture requiring two nights in a hotel and 580 miles worth of driving may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I had a great time. I’ve said it before I’m loving the whole experience of this season. Unfortunately I won’t be in the Royal County of Berkshire (or even Buckinghamshire – thanks Eric) on Saturday and prior commitments mean I have to miss that important game at Oakwell, but I will be back to see if we can beat Walsall at the fourth time of asking a week on Saturday, when the chances of automatic promotion may be somewhat clearer.

Ha’way the Lads.

Sixer Says: Pete Sixsmith looks at our January transfer dealings

Malcolm Dawson writes……this transfer window was supposed to be different. We were supposed to get players in in good time and we did get one new player and a loanee made permanent early doors. We also lost our top scorer. There was plenty of speculation throughout the month to suggest we wouldn’t be left to panic buy, but it took until the very last minute, with a permissible extension, to complete the business. The club’s official website unveiled two signings on the last day – one who had been reportedly putting pen to paper and having medicals over the course of the week and one who was totally left field and unexpected. The final piece of the jigsaw wasn’t officially announced until this morning but the club’s long running pursuit of their number one strike target was finally ratified by the football authorities earlier today (Friday).

Pete Sixsmith assesses our January transfer business.

THE WINDOW CLOSES.

Rade Prica anyone? What about Danny Graham? Anyone fancy Ashley Fletcher? Or Darron Gibson?

Those are examples of a few of the disasters that we have signed in the January window over the years. There are more – who could ever forget/remember Kader Mangana and Sotirios Kyrgiakos, signed by Paolo DiCanio and Martin O’Neill respectively. And Matt Kilgallon wasn’t exactly a roaring success, was he?

So the business done in January 2019 seems to be an improvement on that of the recent past. We have a returning supporter, a promising Northern Irish central defender, a winger who may be able to cross a ball, a young man who has been in the England system for four years and the player we have been pursuing like a fire engine hurtling to an explosion in a chemical plant. (Not forgetting the permanent signing of a midfielder with a powerful shot and the propensity to give supporters a free lift to the pub! – Ed)

We have shed a couple, both to Dundee, one on loan, one permanently and almost got one of the high earners off our books so I would imagine that the management, both on and off the pitch, will be reasonably pleased with what has gone on. Oh, and we lost our leading goalscorer.

I say reasonably because it looks like we may have had to pay a lot more than we hoped for when we finally prised Will Grigg away from The Home of Pies so that he could join his chums Reece and Max on Wearside. Stewart Donald’s tweet this morning is an interesting one, along the lines of “I hope we do pay Wigan £4m because that will mean that we are back in the Premier League.” That would be nice….

Of those who have come in, what do we know of them?

Jimmy Dunne

Jimmy Dunne played at Scunthorpe and looked sound. His style and physique are similar to that of Baldwin and Flanagan, so we now know what kind of central defenders Jack Ross likes – big, strong boys, similar to those admired by Sergeant Major Williams in “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” but with a wee bit of panache about them. Whether Dunne may turn into a permanent addition remains to be seen but we can but hope that he is as effective as the young Northern Irish centre half who joined us on loan in January 2007, one Johnny Evans.

We know lots about Grant Leadbitter. He scored a wonderful goal at Southampton in April 2007. He grabbed Lee Cattermole by the throat when Cattermole hacked him down at The Riverside. Keane thought he was good enough for the top flight, Bruce didn’t. He did well at Ipswich. He was very, very well thought of on Teesside. What’s not to like about that?

Grant Leadbitter back in the day

And he is a Sunderland supporter who clearly “gets the club” and that may be an important factor in signing him, as many of the players signed in recent seasons appeared not be fully aware of the power that this club has over the local population. It will be interesting to see where he plays. Will Cattermole or Power drop out? Will Grant start from the bench? Will he prove to be the midfielder who can get hold of a game and drive us forward?

All will be revealed between now and May 4th.

Lewis Morgan

Lewis Morgan is clearly a Jack Ross signing – like Dylan McGeouch and Alim Ozturk, only more so. He knew the latter two by reputation but he knows the former through working with him at St Mirren. He appears to be a winger who can move the ball quickly and if he can put in some decent crosses and even take a half decent corner, we will be dead pleased. He could be another Carlos Edwards with a bit of luck.

Kazaiah Sterling comes with an excellent pedigree. He is a part of the Spurs first team squad and they are the third best team in England. He is rated by Mauricio Pochettino and he is arguably the best manager in the Premier League. Sterling is part of the England set up and, most importantly, Victor Anichebe rates him.

Kazaiah Sterling

Welcome to the North East, Kazaiah. We hope that your stay is a fruitful one and similar to that of Jermain Defoe, the last player we signed with a Tottenham connection – I think.

Finally, and at the last stroke of Big Ben as it thundered out midnight, we got Will Grigg. Wigan quite rightly played hardball with us as we expected them to do and the package, with add ons comes to somewhere in the region of £4m. That’s about one sixth of the fee paid for a Paraguayan that nobody had ever heard of before the summer (let’s hope he is as good as Cristiano Riveros, one of Steve Bruce’s scattergun signings when he still had some credibility on Wearside) but it is a remarkable fee for a club in Division One (Three).

Let’s hope so.

Grigg has form in this league. He has been promoted out of it four times – once with Brentford, once with MK Dons and twice with Wigan and he has scored freely for the Pie Men. Last season, he notched 19 goals, two seasons before that, he rattled the back of the net 25 times. Double figures would do this time round.

He is a very different player from Josh Maja in that he combines speed and physicality in his game and has little of the subtlety that Maja possesses. I don’t envisage him scoring a goal like the Bordeaux man’s final goal for us at Scunthorpe – a brilliant pass to the full back and then a wonderful run into the box to head home – but I do envisage him feeding off Wyke (who might get a few good crosses from Morgan) and using his pace to run at defenders who much prefer brawn to speed.

As always, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, starting on Saturday. AFC Wimbledon were mightily impressive in their cuffing of West Ham United and will not be easy but the sight and sound of new players should help us to get back to winning ways. I expect this team to start;

McLaughlin; Matthews, Dunne, Flanagan, James; O’Nien, Leadbitter, Power, McGeady; Maguire, Wyke subs; Ruiter, Baldwin, McGeouch, Gooch, Watmore, Sterling, Morgan

And a win………

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Salut! Sunderland welcomes Grant Leadbitter, Lewis Morgan and Jimmy Dunne. More to come?

Granted: Leadbitter’s wish to come home. Image from safc.com

Salut! Sunderland mostly hears from the club’s de facto programme editor Oscar Chamberlain when he is asking for contributions from one of our little team. So far this season, the matchday programme has included features by Pete Sixsmith, Malcolm Dawson, John McCormick and Monsieur Salut.

It is always a pleasure to be able to help out – but even more so when Oscar is bearing news of new signings.

So we have been delighted so far this week to learn of the arrivals of Grant Leadbitter, back at the club he has supported from boyhood, and – on loan from Celtic – a winger, Lewis Morgan, well known to the manager Jack Ross from St Mirren days.

Lewis Morgan, our on-loan signing from Celtic. Courtesy of safc.com,

Salut! Sunderland extends its customary warm welcome to both, and also to Jimmy Dunne, the young Irish defender who arrived on loan from Burnley in time for a useful debut at Scunthorpe.

Pete Sixsmith is planning to assess our January window ins and outs once all business has been done.

Leadbitter’s return is emphatically not, says Ross, based on sentiment. He is 33 but a model pro and a midfielder cqpable of scoring important goals. He said he was “absolutely delighted” to be back, adding: “When you’re a born and bred Sunderland fan and there’s an opportunity to come back… I was never going to say no.”

At safc.com, Oscar reports today’s completion of the Morgan loan signing until the end of the season.

‘Morgan began his career with Rangers before moving to St Mirren in 2013, and he played a starring role for Ross’s Buddies during the 2017-18 season, as the Paisley-based side clinched the Scottish Championship title.

After signing a four-year deal with Celtic in January 2018, the pacey winger moved to Glasgow six months later and made his debut for Brendan Rodgers’s side in Europe’s most-illustrious competition, the UEFA Champions League.

A standout 12 months also led to international acclaim, with Morgan making his Scotland debut in a friendly against Peru in May 2018.’

The 22-year-old player told the site: “My game is based around scoring and creating goals, but I obviously also try to work hard for the team, and that is the most important thing.

“Something special is happening at the club this season, and hopefully I can contribute to that.”

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