Sixer’s Leicester City Soapbox: Arsenal and Chelsea no place for chokers

Malcolm Dawson writes….we have had several “must win” games at the Stadium of Light this season and generally (Burnley and Southampton apart) have failed to come up with the goods. A win against QPR, Villa, Hull or Palace and we would have been safe weeks ago. No I haven’t forgotten the Defoe wonder goal but it’s been the failure to beat the bottom clubs at home that has left us still needing a point (or a favour from the Uniteds of West Ham and Manchester) with only a week of the season left. The Mags are themselves in dire straits and the six points we took off them is part of the reason why they are currently below us. Results at White Hart Lane and Loftus Road mean that despite yesterday’s fixture being another crucial one, it was less of a “must win” and more of a “mustn’t lose”. The draw might just be enough. It certainly was for the Foxes whose great escape rivals that of our own last season. Pants and O’Shea did their best to mess things up at the end but really that was the only heart in mouth moment in what was hardly an advert for quality football but a good example of honest endeavour from two hard working sides. It might have lacked quality but not effort. My sister thought it one of the better home performances of the season but Pete Sixsmith’s verdict was that it was a dreadful game. Let him explain why……



As I stood doing the ironing on Saturday night, I tuned into a programme on Radio 4 about “Chokers”. There was Eddie Waring commentating on Don Fox missing a last second conversion at Wembley in 1968, BBC Golf correspondent Ian Carter talking about Colin Montgomerie throwing away the U.S. Open in 2006 and Jimmy White nearly thumping one time Quizball host David Vine after he lost the 1994 World Snooker Championship by missing a relatively simple shot. All chokers suggested the host Matthew Syeed, who had done the same as a table tennis player at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He went on to talk about the concept of “fight, flight and freeze”, which is how a part of our brain reacts when faced with a difficult situation.

In 1997 we froze at Selhurst Park and went down because the teams below us won and we didn’t, while we succumbed to flight in 2005-06 when it was perfectly obvious, after a handful of games, that we were not good enough. Last year we showed fight to survive after looking dead and buried when West Ham beat us at the Stadium of Light one cold Monday night in April, but we fought back and won four of the last six games to stay up.

This year we are within sight of the finishing line and one more burst of energy will see us over it. But can we summon up that strength or will we choke at Ashburton Grove and Stamford Bridge while our rivals fight at the KC Stadium and The Sports Direct? We had a chance to put it to bed against Leicester City. They came to us with 6 wins out of 7, bursting with confidence and with a healthy following (minus the appalling clicky/clacky type things they had last week – that alone is reason enough for relegation).

Both sides had rigid formations; 4-3-3- for us, 3-5-2 for City. Both sides had managers who do not appear to suffer fools gladly. If Dick Advocaat is enigmatic, Nigel Pearson is at times completely off the wall, likening journalists to ostriches and getting involved in brawls with opposition players.

So, this game was a cast iron, bang on draw with few goals in prospect – and that is exactly what we got. Nervy, edgy and short of quality, it was similar to the game at whatever City call their stadium now. We were better organised than we were then and we had a couple of chances to win the game, which was more than we had in November. Graham missed a good one, Wickham put one over the bar and both Larsson and Johnson stung Schmeichel’s fingers but that was as close as we came to grabbing the three points that we needed to finish our season and extend Leicester’s.

The ninety minutes showed the progress that has been made since Dick Advocaat took over. Organised, committed and playing with some confidence, it showed that our players can, when given clear instructions, do what is expected of them. The back four did well with Coates being the pick of them. Although lacking in pace (Vardy tested him a couple of times in the last ten minutes), he tackled well, read the game even better and may well have earned himself a contract for next season. O’Shea made a couple of errors, but was solid while the two full backs did well. If we could transfer a bit of the defensive solidity from Jones to Van Aanholt and some pace from the Dutchman to the Englishman, we could have a good pair for the future.

Unfortunately, City were even more solid in defence, with their back three, all big lads as Mr Waring would say, making sure that our deadly strike force of Wickham, Defoe and Graham were effectively snubbed out. Wickham was a major disappointment, being pushed about by whichever centre half challenged him. He continues to disappoint and has made no consistent progress in the four years he has been at Sunderland. Midfield was busy and tackled ferociously (all three were booked by Martin Atkinson) but there was not a great deal of creativity – not the first time I have said that this season. Cattermole started well, had a mad spell in the middle and finished strongly while Larsson did all that we expect of him – constant energy and the promise of a match winning free kick which never actually arrived.

Jake: 'when he keeps his head, he's a class act'
Jake: ‘when he keeps his head, he’s a class act’

Poor Bridcutt continues to struggle although I thought that he had one of his better games. But the crowd do not rate him and he is not given the leeway that Cattermole and Larsson are. When he limped off and Johnson came on, there was a welcoming burst of pace and creativity that may well be utilised in North London on Wednesday.

Like us, Leicester were well organised and committed. Their midfield five worked hard and they had the best player on the field in Esteban Cambiasso, at 35, a class act who can run, pass, tackle and organise, doing the job that we had hoped that Jack Rodwell would do for us. Hmm.

So, do we choke or do we get over that line? Wednesday night is the big one – lose that and the tension on Sunday will be great. Memories of Selhurst Park and Wimbledon will come flooding back. But there are positive omens. The last time we played Chelsea on the final day of the season, Hull played Manchester United. Both lost and both survived. The team that went down were……… Newcastle United, beaten by a team in claret and blue. Could it happen again?

And so the season closes on the Soapbox for 2014-15. I shall not be at either of the last two games so Sixsmith Minimus will be reporting from Ashburton Grove. A one-time Roker Park regular, he is combining business with “pleasure” in London and has my ticket. Bob Chapman will be at Stamford Bridge while I hide under the covers (if we lose on Wednesday) or stand outside the Sports Direct (if we are safe). Fight or freeze? I have a feeling that Advocaat is a fighter and not a choker. Let’s hope the players are.

You can read M Salut’s version of the day’s events on his ESPN blog here.

Pure Poyetry: ref inspires team to up their game against Liverpool

Jake: 'when your secret weapon is Danny Graham you know you're in trouble'
Jake: ‘no New Year’s resolution on display at the Stadium of Light’
Malcolm Dawson writes……a few problems with the website server has delayed us passing on the contents of Senor Poyet’s post match e-mail to M Salut but we’re here now – better late than never. Now I’m no Hercule Poirot but I detect a few grumblings and mumblings amongst our regular readers and a growing discontent with the Head Coach’s style of play and decision making. Personally I have no such qualms…….yet. We need some stability at the club and chopping and changing the man at the top will not be a good move at this stage, but that’s just my opinion and I know not all of you will agree. But what does disconcert me in his missive is the claim it was referee Craig Pawson who provoked a reaction from the team. Perhaps he should have awarded the third minute penalty and sent off Wes Brown then we would have seen a reaction earlier. Three shots in the whole game tells its own story. True our ex goalie let us down by not making himself big enough to deflect Johnson’s rebound back into the goal but then Pants had a similar bit of luck with his elbow. It’s your job to get the team to react Gus. Time to throw some hairdryers mebbes!

Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox

Dear Colin,

I’m disappointed with the result because I was expecting better; the first half was very disappointing.

In the second half we came out and we had a go, even with 10 men; we applied pressure and we got forward and almost got something from the game, unfortunately it wasn’t enough.

(Liam) Bridcutt’s red card made the players react, they sensed they were in trouble and really pulled together as a team at that point; something they should have done a lot earlier in the game.

(Adam) Johnson went close to scoring for us; he is a player who is making a difference for the team, he takes a lot of responsibility. It’s been a busy week for him, becoming a father, and you could see he was tired towards the end but he insisted on playing today.

Mika (Mandron) came on and he brought a spark with him and he almost got a goal. Danny (Graham) did well too, he’s a great professional and he has a great attitude, he came back from loan sharp and that’s how he was involved today.

Thanks for your support,

Gus Poyet


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Sixer’s Crystal Palace Soapbox: time for Poyet and his boys to get Bolshie

Malcolm Dawson writes…..

Every cliché in the book was utilised in the run up to this game.

A must win, six pointer, real Cup Final of a game that we were promised would see the players give of their all. Well, unlike some callers to Radio Newcastle’s post match phone in, I’ve no doubt that they did give their all. The trouble as I see it is that their all just isn’t enough. Had this been a game where we weren’t trying to avoid the drop I might have enjoyed it. We played some decent stuff, showed we were better technically than the South London side but never really looked like getting more than a point from the game. As time wore on the familiar trepidation that we would concede late and finish with nothing returned. I have seen that happen too many times watching Sunderland for anything less than a 4-0 lead with 30 seconds remaining to instil me with the expectation of a victory. Peter Sixsmith has seen even more games than me and on a day when Radio 5’s preference for Rugby Union commentaries sent his blood pressure on an upward trend, the performance of Gus’s boys did little to alleviate the hypertension and on the day that Vladimir Putin ignored the wishes of the rest of the United Nations, he is looking back to pre-revolutionary Russia for a comparison with the club’s present plight.

A clean sheet at least! Salut! Sunderland clutching for a positive.
A clean sheet at least! Salut! Sunderland clutching for a positive.


As I am sure you all know, this was the title of a pamphlet written by V.I. Lenin for the Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party, held in London in 1904. In it, he looked at the split between the Mensheviks (the majority) who wanted a democratic path to Socialism and the Bolsheviks (the minority and Lenin’s mates) who favoured a more revolutionary approach to establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The great man said that it was often necessary to go through this process to arrive at the desired outcome. Whether he would have felt the same had he been a Sunderland supporter 110 years on is debatable.

Two weeks ago, we looked to have made an important step towards fending off relegation with a spirited and impressive performance against Manchester City. We had the richest club in the world, booting the ball out and feigning injury as they held on to their narrow lead. Pride swelled from the terraces as it was said that the club and players had reconnected with the support.

Jake's not the only one getting Bolshie
Jake’s not the only one getting Bolshie

Two weeks on, that optimism lies in tatters like the hopes and dreams of those Bolsheviks all those years ago. A supine performance against a Hull City side whose limitations were shown up by 10 man City, was followed up by a display against a wretched Crystal Palace side that showed all the weaknesses that we have accumulated over the last three seasons. Gus Poyet has inherited a squad of players who are looking down the barrel of the relegation gun yet again. They got away with it last year because Wigan Athletic were distracted by their first FA Cup Final and the appointment of a new manager jolted them out of the torpor into which they had slid under Martin O’Neill.
This time round, we can only hope that Hull City are distracted by the lure of that Wembley glory that we bathed in on March 2nd and that they are dragged kicking and screaming into the heart of the relegation scrap. Because that is the only way that I can see us getting out of the not inconsiderable mess that we are in now.

The Palace game was more of a mustn’t lose than a must win and we did achieve that, although they did come perilously close to nicking an undeserved winner at the end. On the other hand, did we ever come close to winning the game? The answer to that is an emphatic NO.

Granted, Borini hit the bar when he really should have scored and Speroni made a good save from Altidore. But other than that we barely created one clear cut chance and we completely failed to carve open a Palace defence that creaked at the start before they realised that if they stood their ground, the lack of creativity and imagination in a desperately poor Sunderland midfield would soon come to the fore and they could spend the rest of the afternoon happily defending long punts forward by our players. This lack of creativity and drive has been a serious problem for a while now. We do not have one player who can get hold of a game and direct it our way. Bruce, O’Neill, Di Canio and now Poyet have tried to get by with the strength of Gardener, Cattermole and Larsson and for those three, the Sunderland tank is now running on empty.

What else do we have? Bridcutt played deep and did reasonably well against the kind of side he should do reasonably well against. Colback missed this one, but he is, in the words of Doug Forrest, “yet another water carrier”. Ki opens well but fades too easily. Larsson and Gardener must both realise that their days at Sunderland are over. Their contribution to this game was, to put it mildly, poor. The Swede engineered a series of misplaced passes before he was hauled off to be replaced by Gardener whose first action was to be booked for an unnecessary foul. Both were signed from Birmingham City after their relegation and both have every chance of another one on their CVs.
salut soap
The other major, major problem is where on earth do the goals come from? Borini and Johnson have been our most regular scorers but they are not prolific. In games against our relegation rivals, we have scored but a single goal at the Stadium of Light and, with the exception of Fulham, not many more away. Fletcher cuts a forlorn figure up front and looks as if he cannot wait to tell his agent to find him another club who want to go down. Words fail me when it comes to discussing Altidore. Quite the worst forward I have seen in a Sunderland shirt in the top flight – and I have sat and stood through Ian Wallace, Andy Gray and Paul Stewart.

I understand Poyet’s apparent sanguinity in his post-match interviews. There is little point in him criticising players for not being good enough, that is not their fault. They put plenty of effort in and never stopped looking for a breakthrough, even to the extent of Bardsley giving us one of his wonder dives towards the end. I would ask some questions of his tactics though. Both Palace full backs were booked early on for crude fouls on Borini and Johnson. Surely we should have continued to attack them. Borini running at Mariappa would have caused chaos but we allowed him to tuck in and pass his fouling duties on to the next player.

But he must be really worried about the fact that we cannot win games against sides that are down there scrapping with us. We go to Norwich next week to play a club whose fans are unhappy with their manager and who, in Ellander and van Wolfswinkel, have strikers who are as ineffective as ours. It could be a classic.

Palace were as poor a side as we were and their wretched goals for tally shows what they are – a team hanging on by fair means or foul. In Pulis they have a manager who may well keep them up but who seems to regard football as a branch of rugby union in that it is a game of attrition where skills with the ball are purely secondary.
Lenin realised that there was a long game to be played in 1904. By 1917, the Bolsheviks were in the ascendancy and had taken power in Russia. He always adhered to that philosophy of one step forward two steps back because he knew that the spurt would come sooner or later and that the socialist paradise that he envisaged would eventually be achieved.
Gus Poyet doesn’t have that time.

Two wins from the next three would put a different complexion on things but resurgence in South West London and the Black Country do little to help us. Time for us to stand on our own two feet and seize the commanding heights of the economy!!!

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Sixer’s Newcastle Soapbox: three goals, three points, three derby wins on the trot!

They say good things come in threes. Like all Sunderland fans, especially those who are inevitably there, home or away, Pete Sixsmith has suffered for his loyalty. There have been times when this loyalty has been tested to the limit, when even he wonders why he puts himself through the agonies of following the team. And then along comes a day like yesterday and suddenly all the pain and frustration, all the hours of weeping and wailing make it all worthwhile. Make no mistake, there is no room for complacency but in the performance of the boys in yellow and blue, at a ground where interest rates are plummeting, Pete can revel in another victory which maintained the upwards mobility of recent weeks by putting on a display of dominating football.

"Good morning Mr Magpie!"
“Good morning Mr Magpie! Well it is if you’re a Mackem says Jake.”


Very soon after Adam Johnson slipped in the second goal in front of 2,900 delirious Sunderland fans, the song reverberating around the Wongadome as we rejoiced referred to the shenanigans of last year;

“There’s gonna be hell, There’s gonna be hell,
Lock up your horses, There’s gonna be hell!”

And didn’t we just enjoy it, every minute of the ninety and even the three that were added on at the end, because what we did was to totally outplay and demolish the poorest Newcastle side I have seen in many years.

Player for player, on this performance a North Eastern select side would be Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Johnson, Ki, Bridcutt, Colback, Borini; Altidore. Not one of their players would get anywhere near the team; they were truly dreadful and were beaten by a far superior Sunderland side. And didn’t we love it. The frustrating thing is that we are places away from the bottom three, but only two points. However, continue to play with the poise and the balance that we showed here and we have every chance of being well away from the brown stuff before Easter.

This was a far better performance than last season as we exerted complete control over the first half and stopped Newcastle from getting back into the game in the second. Last year they may have had a case for having a goal disallowed. The only case they have this year is the one that Pontius Pardew may well need when he clears his desk after his sacking. The team was wonderfully set up with every player knowing what his role was and every player looking comfortable on the ball. To pick out an outstanding performer is unfair; this was a team performance from start to finish and there was not a weakness to be seen. From Mannone to Borini, from goalkeeper to striker, from front to back, Sunderland were totally dominant. Three goals, all well taken and all the result of superb play.
The first one came after a brilliant ball from Johnson caught out Santon which allowed Bardsley into the box where a clumsy and needless challenge by Anita brought him down. Newcastle fans must have been hoping for an Old Trafford penalty, but Fabio Borini slotted it home with consummate ease.

Jake: 'no live Magpies were hurt in the making of this image'
Jake: ‘no live Magpies were hurt in the making of this image’

Five minutes later we doubled the lead when Altidore played Colback in and his shot was parried by Krul after it ricocheted off the much loved Steven Taylor. The ball bounced free and Johnson put it into the net. Cue celebrations upstairs and a lusty rendition of the horse song.

The third goal came with ten minutes left when they were pushing forward looking for scraps. Colback won the ball in midfield, played it to Borini and took an excellent return pass before scoring with a powerful shot.
The cheering from the Sunderland fans was almost drowned by the clatter of upturned seats as thousands of Mags left the stadium – apart from the two who ran on to the pitch and confronted Pardew and Colback; fine examples of the Geordie Nation.

The whole ninety minutes was an absolute blast and it would be unfair to single individuals out. The team spirit and the way that the players play for each other and the club is all important. Compare that with our opponents today, most of who appeared not to give a rats about their employers or their fans. But I will single out a few who I think are deserving of extra praise.

Different kit, same opponents, same result!
Different kit, same opponents, same result!

First of all, Wes Brown who made the tackle of the season on Ameobi Major. It looked a simple block, but it was much more than that. It showed how effectively Brown read the game and also showed how hard he is. Ameobi Major, a big man, went down as if he was a jockey being tackled by a rhino and at that moment I knew that Newcastle were beaten. They seemed to lose the will to go anywhere near Brown.

Secondly, Ki Sung-Yeung, who was quite imperious in midfield, picking the ball up, using it brilliantly, hardly ever losing it or giving it away. He was aided by Colback and Bridcutt, who made an assured debut and on this showing he will prove to be a real asset to the club. He looks a leader on the pitch and after thirty minutes or so, he was telling established Premier League players where to go and what to do. A great midfield trio and stellar compared with the plodding Tiote, the ineffectual Anita and the near invisible Ameobi Minor.

Thirdly, Jozy Altidore, who reached his nemesis against Kidderminster, turned in a decent performance against Stoke and then produced by far his best performance of the season against Williamson and Taylor, who he dominated for the whole game. He controlled the ball, laid it off well (the flick to Colback for the second and the pass to the same player for the third were brilliant) and should have been rewarded with the clincher when he was set free by Colback. He showed too much of it to Krul and the chance went, but it took little away from a performance that would have had Vic Halom purring with delight.

Every man was a hero and was prepared to do whatever they could to win the ball and take the game to Newcastle. Gus Poyet will be very, very proud of them and they should be very, very proud to play for a Coach who knows how to play football. Even Pontius Pardew had the grace (not a word usually associated with him) to accept that we were the better side and that we deserved to win. That his “team” were so poor, so bereft of ideas and so one dimensional should take nothing away from a win that allowed us to leave SJP with smiles as broad as the Tyne and hearts singing as loudly as Jimmy Nail. It was a tremendous effort and a glorious afternoon and gives us real hope that we can avoid the drop.

Jake hails Jack
Jake hails Jack

It seemed quiet after the game, with the usual crowd outside The Black Bull subdued and mostly of Primary School age. As we passed along Denton Road, one local even smiled at the bus. Even the most one eyed Black and White would accept that Sunderland were the better side and by a considerable distance.

Five derbies unbeaten now and three wins in a row mean that bragging rights are firmly ours. No longer can Newcastle fans fall back on the disaster in October 2010 or convince themselves that Manchester United are their natural rivals.

Ha’way the Lads!!!!!!!!

No horses were injured in the writing of this piece.

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