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

SAFC v Portsmouth: Ticketing issues, issuing tickets.

Malcolm Dawson writes…..in my introduction to Sixer’s Soapbox, where Pete Sixsmith reported on our victory over Carlisle United the morning after the first game of this season’s Checkatrade trophy, I wrote…

I am otherwise engaged in the wilds of West Lancashire this week, or I would have made it last night to bulk up the crowd and get another loyalty point on my season card. I’m betting there’ll be more than 7,800 Sunderland followers looking for Wembley tickets, should last night prove to be the beginning of a great adventure and we make it all the way to the final.”

At first this was misinterpreted by some as a criticism of the size of the crowd, which traditionally is low at all clubs for this competition, but what I intended was simply to comment that while the majority of fans show by voting with their feet, that this was not a competition that provokes a lot of interest in the early rounds, if we made it all the way to the final there would be thousands demanding tickets. Those thousands would include many who had not been to many games if any at all, never mind those in the Checkatrade trophy.

Crowds did improve after that, helped by a mini derby with the NUFC Bairns, but were always well below our regular gate.

View from my seat at Morecambe

I subsequently made every other game in the competition, including those at Morecambe and Bristol Rovers and having a season card was confident I would get a ticket for Wembley, but I have to admit to a little paranoia about Wembley tickets as I still feel aggrieved about not being able to secure one for the Charlton play off game. Twenty years on and it still rankles.

Despite having made 43 games that season, regularly making 340 mile round trips for midweek home games when I was living and working in the Midlands, I was unable to secure a ticket. Working as I did as a Primary school teacher there was no way I could get up to queue at the ticket office when it opened on a Friday morning and in no position to leave my class to spend time ringing the ticket office on constant redial. I resigned myself to having to watch the game at home on TV.

Heartache for me and Mickey Gray – pic courtesy of SAFC.com

However, I was aggrieved (justifiably I believe) to hear my brother talking in the days afterwards, about the two lasses he knew who’d never been to a match before and yet had tickets for the play off. Especially galling was the fact that they had only got one each but could have had two. If only I’d known before, instead of after the event.

The situation last week proved my concerns about Wembley were well founded.

The demand for tickets as soon as they went on sale and complaints and misunderstandings about the way they were being allocated surfaced almost as soon as the match finished on Tuesday. Suddenly it seemed the whole world and his dog, with even the slightest connection with Sunderland, wanted to get down to Covent Garden and experience cheesy chips on Wembley way.

I had stayed down in the West Country after the Bristol Rovers game but my internet connection was dodgy and I seemed to have trouble registering my account with Ticket Master. The fact the club have chosen to go down this route has angered many, not least those in the Supporters’ Association Branches, many of whom who have built up a rapport with individuals within the ticket office, but I suppose that after subsequent relegations and the staff redundancies that followed handling Wembley tickets on top of the remaining league programme, would have placed an unfair workload on the staff who remained. Perhaps! 

I knew the club was planning to introduce a new ticketing system next season, which would supplement existing arrangements by allowing people with smart phones to gain entry via an app. It is now possible to board planes and travel by bus and plane with a barcode on a handheld device and I understand entry to the SoL will soon also have this facility but while I’m sure everyone at the club is delighted we are in the final, this was perhaps not the ideal occasion to discover the teething problems of linking up with a new ticket provider.

I did eventually get an e-mail confirming I was indeed registered with Ticketmaster, thus averting the first of my fears and promises that season card holders were assured a ticket helped too. But those teething troubles did little to assuage my worries or lower my blood pressure. On Friday morning, armed with Pete Sixsmith’s customer number and those of two others, I attempted to secure four seats together, as we had been told was possible.

The first difficulty was finding four seats together. The tickets seemed to be being released in blocks and every time I looked at a section virtually all the seats had gone. When I did eventually find four together and tried to reserve the first I was told not to leave a single seat vacant, despite the fact that wasn’t my intention. I persevered, constantly refreshing and looking at other sections and price bands and after twenty minutes or so of frustration I was finally able to secure four together.

But then no sooner was one problem seemingly resolved when another spanner was thrown into the works. It appeared that despite having all the customer numbers one of our quartet had not registered on the system so I spent another frustrating half hour trying to get the relevant details to register for him, all the time watching the clock counting down telling me how long I had to complete my purchase until eventually, like on Countdown, the di di di di diddly duh sounded and I was timed out. I gave up on the idea of registering our fourth friend and started again, this time looking for only three tickets.

After going through the whole rigmarole again, all the time letting my tea go cold and failing to make my porridge, I found three together but was still unable to process the order. This might have been because the third member of our triumvirate had not reached the age where he was entitled to a concession and I was trying to get him a half price ticket, but it was only after logging off again and texting Pete to say that I was giving up trying to get seats together and would just get one on my own, that I realised this could have been the cause.

So I’ve got my ticket and Pete has got his, but we are probably miles apart. My £42 ticket actually cost me £46.90 thanks to the booking fee and excessive postage costs. All I can say is that they must use pretty expensive envelopes at Ticketmaster and don’t get me started on the London-centric attitude of the establishment who fail to take into account the expense that those of us from the provinces are subjected to, when compared to clubs in the Home Counties and the capital.

I am staying with friends near Nottingham on the Saturday and Sunday, but even without accommodation to pay for, with petrol to the Midlands, a return train ticket to Kings Cross and onto Wembley then food and drink I can see the total cost for this one day being around £180.

I sympathise with those who wish to go but haven’t managed to get a ticket, especially anyone who has been to loads of games this season but paid on the gate. I sympathise with my friends at the Heart of England and other supporters in outlying branches who get to games when they can but can’t justify having a season card because of the difficulties of getting to home games, especially midweek.

I have less sympathy for those who hardly ever go to games but claim to be die hard fans because they watch in the pub and simply fancy a day out in London, but with over 40,000 for a home fixture on Boxing Day, there must be many disappointed supporters who have been to loads of games this season and missed out.

Jake says “Ha’way the Lads”

The whole ticketing issue has been difficult for the club but they haven’t been helped by the F.A. or Portsmouth who asked for and received more tickets than we did, then allowed each of their season card holders to apply for up to six tickets each, but who as yet have only sold about two thirds of their allocation. The rest are soon to go on general sale. I already know of one Mackem who will be sitting in a section of Wembley stadium where the Pompey chimes are meant to be sounding. What are the odds he won’t be the only one?

I’m not complaining. The club were in a difficult situation and I believe have tried their best to allocate the tickets fairly but I understand there will be many who are feeling aggrieved at this point. Should those who bought a ticket for Carlisle or Stoke U21s, even if they only ever bought the cut price tickets for those fixtures, be given preferential treatment over those who might have been to league games but treated the Checkatrade as an inferior competition? Should a fan who lives in Penzance and makes two home games a season and a handful of away fixtures have a greater chance of a ticket than one who lives in Penshaw and only gets to half a dozen home games? What if that person living in Penshaw works shifts and gets to all the games they can?

There is no ideal system. I am grateful I got my ticket this year and unlike the majority of supporters I speak to I wouldn’t swap a Wembley victory for promotion. Of course I want both. Don’t we all? But in my lifetime apart from a few promotions I have yet to personally see us lift any silverware, having watched the 73 final from the Student Union common room at the City of London Poly.

I’d like to be there in the flesh, just once when we do.

Sixer’s Substitute’s Bristol Rovers Soapbox: Black Cats do just enough to snuff out the Gas

Pete Sixsmith’s festive commitments means he has only one more game to miss before he returns to these pages after the Boxing Day fixture against Bradford City so once again Malcolm Dawson takes to the soapbox to report on yesterday’s game against a Bristol Rovers side looking to turn their season around.


Malcolm Dawson climbs aboard the soapbox.

This game had banana skin written all over it and though I tried to avoid using hackneyed prose, I can’t think of a better way to describe my feelings pre-match. This was a Bristol Rovers side which hadn’t won for ages, had disposed of the services of their manager only two days before who was immediately followed out of the door by his assistant and a team who even their own fans expected to get beat comfortably. Banana skin.

At the start of the campaign, despite the club’s stated ambition being automatic promotion, there was I felt a sense of realism amongst our support, acknowledging that we would not always have things our own way and that it would be a tough, if achievable accomplishment. Contributors to our WAY series also suggested that no matter how well things appeared to be going we should not be surprised if we suffered a home defeat to a lowly club. This is a tough league and we will need to scrap to get out of it.

Had this been earlier in the season I think that yesterday’s result would have been seen as progress after the tribulations of recent years but I sense that some of our fans have the attitude that  “we are a big club and we should be thrashing everyone in this division” which is somewhat disrespectful to our opponents, none of whom will simply roll over and allow us an easy victory. In fact only in the 3-0 win over Scunthorpe did I sense that we were on top for most of the game.

Jack Ross aware of the crowd’s apprehension

In his post match comments Jack Ross mentioned the apprehension in the ground which was apparent yesterday. On Tuesday, despite the fact that one quick goal would have led to extra time and possibly penalties, muttering supporters started walking out on 80 minutes, disgruntled that we were behind. There were only 8,000 for the cup replay but let’s hope we are not going to see a return to mass walk outs when we are behind in the second half.

Yesterday, once having conceded, I too could sense a pervading pessimism. But one of the many changes in the club that has happened since the summer is that we now have a group of players who don’t let their heads drop and will continue to look for ways to win the game. Yesterday was no exception.

It was cold and windy and I was grateful for the thermal layers I had put on, even if it does make going to the loo a long drawn out process. Not easy conditions to play in but we’ve all done it if we’ve played the game at any level.

We lined up in a sort of 4-5-1 formation but JR is flexible in the way he sets up his teams and it was Lee Cattermole who was the deep-lying midfield player, with Power playing higher up the pitch than in previous games, Honeyman all over the place, McGeady and Gooch, nominally left and right wingers and Maja in front of goal, but Gooch and Maja in particular were constantly moving around, dropping deep, going wide, taking up central positions. Loovens had come in for Flanagan at the back, Oviedo took the place of James who had been due to start and Matthews returned at right back to play alongside Baldwin.

We started brightly, but the opposition hadn’t come here just to defend and should have opened the scoring when a free kick was whipped in from the Rovers’ right and centre half Tony Craig found himself unmarked at the near post and inexplicably headed wide from four yards with the goal gaping. It was an easy chance and a warning shot from The Pirates.

Not long after they did go in front. Neat work down the right wing led to the ball being pulled back from the goal line into Liam Sercombe in front of goal. His first touch wasn’t great which allowed a lunging Adam Matthews to get a foot in an attempt to clear the ball, but it fell nicely for Alex Rodman who side footed home from 12 yards.

But this Sunderland side is resilient and stays true to the Jack Ross way of playing. Jack Ross knows a hell of a lot more about managing and coaching a football team than me, so I’m not going to criticise but as an observer it seems that sometimes the emphasis on possession and a patient build up can become over-complicated.

There was a moment in the second half when George Honeyman had possession on the left wing, Rovers had been left short at the back and Gooch was running into acres of space, but the skipper checked, looked around, the defence reorganised and the chance had gone. Baldwin, as he has done quite a bit recently, has conceded possession looking for a pinpoint pass and on one occasion, Cattermole looking up to see what was on, took his eye off the ball and was dispossessed a few yard in front of the penalty area. I’m nitpicking maybe and once again the Lads came from behind to register a win, but it took a while and the manager and players are more patient than certain sections of the crowd.

We were to equalise just before half time when a shot from McGeady was parried by Rovers’ keeper Jack Bonham and the man who I have dubbed the Welsh Pele, Adam Matthews was on hand to nod home. The move typified the Jack Ross approach as the move started when Lee Cattermole back heeled to Honeyman. He in turn found Lynden Gooch who lost his marker and sent the ball out wide to McGeady. The rest as they say is history and it was a great time to score.

The Welsh Pel

The crowd’s frustrations (and presumably the players) came from three or four other decent opportunities we had before the goal. Power fired wide from distance as the ball broke for him following a tackle on Josh Maja inside the box. Then Oviedo and McGeady combined and the Irishman found Power on the edge of the penalty area. His chip was met almost perfectly by Josh Maja but his header went just over. Oviedo marauding down the left sent over a peach of a cross and Lee Cattermole, steaming in at the far post saw his half volley rattle the angle of post and crossbar and rebound to safety. Then Power found Maja, who took the ball into the area, beat his man and fired a left foot shot across the goal from a tight angle. It was admittedly beginning to feel like “one of those days” and it is a mark of how clinical Maja has been this season that there is an overwhelming sense of disappointment when he fails to score from that position.

It was Gooch who perhaps had the best chance before the goal eventually came. Once again Oviedo was proving a threat down the left and he pulled the ball back to the American, in space 20 yards from goal. He would expect to find the target most times but leaned back just a touch as he fired in his shot and it sailed over the bar. But we were asserting our authority and deserved to go in level at the interval.

Oh wow oh it’s Maja – you know (again!)

No changes at half time and there wasn’t long to wait to see us go ahead. McGeady who was on the edge of the centre circle, played a quick ball to Maja. As he does, Maja took the ball into the box and despite there being three yellow shirts around him, beat his man, who ended up on his backside and found the net with a crisp right footer. Cue the celebrations and the hope we would kick on. It was another typical Maja goal and no wonder the 19 year old looked disheartened when he was asked to make way for Chris Maguire later. Let’s hope Jack Ross explains his decision to Maja’s satisfaction and he signs a new deal soon. In the Netflix documentary “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” Louis Grabban states it was Coleman constantly subbing him in the 70th minute that made him decide to go back to Bournemouth as he wanted to play the full 90 minutes. Maja is a sensible young man and must surely realise that at his age he is unlikely to get the game time he is getting here at a bigger club. Hopefully he’ll commit another few years to the club.

Although there were no more goals, we had further chances to score. Power hit a thunderbolt from long range which rebounded off the crossbar to Maguire who struck the ball first time and also hit the woodwork. Then as the Gas pushed forward McGeady found himself in space on the break but fired his shot wide. A goal then would have put the game to bed and I thought we had deserved our victory, though if I had been one of the 1200 fans who had travelled up from Bristol I would have been disappointed to leave without a point. Rovers nearly got one.

I never leave before the final whistle and rarely, when called upon to do the Seven, send it before full time but not long after the board indicating the 5 minutes of stoppage time had gone up I fired one off to John and Colin. I should have known better as there was still time for Rovers to threaten an equaliser.

Ruiter had come on for McLaughlin whose back was giving him gip and the Dutchman came off his line to narrow the angle when Steffan Payne broke free into the front right hand corner of the penalty area. The Dutchman probably did enough to make the target less obvious but a good shot which hit the bar, once again reminded me why it’s dangerous to take anything for granted as I hurriedly sent off a second text, relieved we had hung on for the win.

The walk back to the car was horrendous. It had started hailing – that really small hard hail and a strong wind was whipping it into my eyes and stinging the small amount of exposed skin I had under the hood of my coat. It couldn’t have been easy for either side finishing the match in those conditions but three more points and with Portsmouth starting to slip up, next week’s match becomes all important. Pompey will be top on Christmas Day but we will have two games in hand.

It will be tough next Saturday with the bookies’ favourites for promotion in direct competition. Can we get back on top for New Years Day? Don’t ask me now but I might have a better idea next Sunday.

Ha’way the Lads

Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: a wet weekend in Accrington

Jake: ‘that wasn’t in the script’

Play this and read on!
LA = Lancashire – Accrington

Malcolm Dawson writes…….there was a gathering of the clans in Accrington on Saturday. A veritable Salut! Sunderland fest before kick off.

Fawlty Towers anyone?

At this time of year Pete Sixsmith is otherwise engaged bringing joy to the young of the North East so I arranged to meet up with associate editor John McCormick (who was making use of Sixer’s ticket) in the Peel Park Hotel, adjacent to where Stanley used to play many years ago. It’s a very cosy boozer with a good selection of real ales and it worked out that John and I found ourselves sitting next to Rob Hutchison and his daughter Olivia, both of whom contribute to the pages of our humble website from time to time.

At the same time as the Accrington branches of Wickes and B&Q were rapidly running out of stocks of gopher wood, Rob was nervously checking his phone to see if the game was still on.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Copper-Dragon-Handpump-e1544317953958.jpg

We decided that if it should be called off before 2.00 p.m. Rob would have a few more pints before making his way back down south and as I had driven there, I would see if the Peel Park Hotel was an actual hotel that did bed and breakfast, so at home did we feel and so quaffable was the Copper Dragon Best Bitter – brewed to suit that special Northern palate according to the tasting notes I read.

But the news came through as the downpour subsided to a drizzle that the game would go ahead so John and I took the car nearer to the Crown Ground (WHAM Stadium) and making the last part of our way there on foot, bumped into one Paul (Sobs) Dobson. Sobsy is better known for his contributions to ALS and seems to be the BBC Look North’s go to guy when they need a vox pop of a Sunderland fan. Sobsy will be contributing something to our advent calendar on Christmas Day, so don’t miss that when it will be a bumper edition. Take a look while the kids are tearing the Christmas wrapping off their prezzies, while the sprouts still need another hour of boiling or when Her Majesty is rabbiting on about Brexit or whatever else is on the agenda this year. Oh and be warned “The Great Escape” is a film with Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasence and not a biopic about Paulo de Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat or Sam Allardyce. 

Inside the away section

The rain had subsided briefly but it started again as John and I entered the ground, and got heavier as we passed the double decker bus selling beer and the row of portaloos supplementing the normal facilities. Taking my seat who should I find next door but one? None other than Peter Lynn, “Wrinkly Pete” of this parish. It got even more torrential as the players were trying to warm up and just before kick off Heart of England branch stalwart Terry took his seat next to me, looking like the proverbial drowned rat, took one look at the state of the pitch and predicted there would be some shenanigans in front of goal later. He was remarkably accurate.

I’m finding it difficult to recall a lot of detail about what there was of the game yesterday, partly because of where I was and partly because of the weather. As usual at away games the whole of the away crowd was standing, and despite being in a section of the ground with seating I had to put my arthritic knees to the test, but being almost at the end of the stand, the far nearside corner was completely out of my line of vision and a lot of the play seemed to take place there. 

The conditions were making play difficult. On a couple of occasions a high ball played towards McLaughlin just didn’t bounce. The ball was sticking in the clarts so some short passes were not reaching their intended target, some balls which initially looked to be over hit stopped dead allowing the player to recover and sometimes if McGeady, Gooch or Oviedo went off on a run they would leave the ball behind. 

It looked to me that Stanley had adapted to the conditions better though I don’t remember McLaughlin having to make a save in the first half, whilst Power sent a rasping shot wide and McGeady saw a powerful effort fly over the crossbar after some good work from Maja down the right wing and Oviedo hit a free kick through the legs of the Stanley wall, after Maja had been brought down on the edge of the penalty area, forcing Accy keeper Ripley into low save, which I think was the only shot on target all half. Nil – nil at the break.

The rain really came down second half and at times it was like watching through one of those metal beaded curtains that you see in butchers’ doorways, designed to keep the flies from the dead meat. John’s mobile footage shows just how bad conditions were, but please note, the slope is just from the angle of the camera – the pitch itself does not resemble Lords or the home grounds of Yeovil Town or Tow Law.

We took the lead when Maguire showed his energy and sprinted yards to close down their keeper, who had started off in acres of space controlling a long back pass. As the Scotsman quickly closed him down he went to hoof the ball upfield but Maguire jumped, turned and the ball hit the back of his shoulder. We watched as bounced into the net much to the chagrin of Ripley who tried to convince the ref it had struck Maguire’s arm and to the delight of the Sunderland support. The Accy fans behind the goal, who had been noisy all game with their two drummers leading the way, went silent for a time as Maguire celebrated in front of them before running across and doing the same in front of us. 

We just about deserved the lead I thought, though we by no means were dominating in the Lancashire mud bath. Not so long after Stanley equalised and it could all be put down to the conditions. McLaughlin failed to hold on to a low shot from close range, Flanagan slipped trying to get to the rebound, a third effort was scrambled off the line before the ball was finally bundled into the net with James (or it might have been Gooch) just failing to do enough to prevent the equaliser.

Not long after referee Oliver Langford had a word with both managers and the fourth official before taking the players off. Mixed comments from the Sunderland contingent leaving the ground, most seeing it as a sensible move but some complaining that the ref should have ended the game when we were ahead in the misguided belief that the result would have stood. 

So another rearranged game to fit into a busy programme and a Checkatrade draw that pits us at home to the Mag’s U21s. I bet after what went on at Port Vale in the week, the club and the local police can’t wait for that.

Sixer’s Substitute Soapbox: Cats finish off Notts County’s Magpies in FL Trophy

 

We expect changes for the Checkatrade Trophy and here at Salut! Sunderland, with Pete Sixsmith otherwise engaged at what for him is busy time of year, Malcolm Dawson once again steps off the bench and onto the soapbox with his perspective on a cold night at the Stadium of Light.

Malcolm Dawson pushes Pete off today’s Soapbox!

Pete and I travelled in together and (as you do) spent part of the journey trying to predict which of the fringe players would start the game and bearing in mind that the competition has strict regulations about the make up of the teams clubs are allowed to put out, which of the more familiar faces would make the team.

The discussion was made somewhat easier by the fact that we knew already that Bali Mumba would start, that the three Dutchmen, Ruiter, Loovens and Ozturk would be given game time and that Duncan Watmore had been cleared to make a long awaited start after his second lengthy spell in the treatment rooms. We got it more or less 100% right as we both expected Jack Bainbridge, who had impressed at Morecambe, Brian Oviedo, Max Power, Luke O’Nien and Jerome Sinclair to run out for kick off. The one we didn’t get was Dylan McGeouch. The David Vaughan lookalike had missed a few of our recent games and had obviously been deemed fit enough to get 90 minutes under his belt for the hectic schedule ahead.

Vaughan incidentally, like McGeouch wearing number 8 got a good reception on his return to his old stomping ground as did substitute Jon Stead in recognition that both had been honest, hardworking performers during their times at the club. I can think of a few of our ex-players who might be considered more talented but who wouldn’t feel any warmth from the home faithful.

A caller to Total Sport as we drove into town suggested we go out and spend £10 million on Robert Huth and someone like the Barnsley centre forward Kieffer Moore. Marco Gabbiadini has more patience than either Pete or myself as he tried to explain that firstly the club doesn’t have that sort of money to spend, secondly that a player like Robert Huth is unlikely to sign anyway but that the club is subjected to restrictions on what they pay out in wages and thirdly that Charlie Wyke will be fit again soon. Marco must get fed up with the number of calls he has to deal with from those who see things in such simplistic terms without actually understanding the complexities of running a football club but then if you can do it on the Playstation or XBox why can’t it be done in real life?

James Fowler had done the pre-match press conference and had been on the sidelines at Morecambe but Jack Ross was much more visible for this game and unlike Morecambe (which had more or less been a dead rubber) this had his stamp all over it.

The boss by our graphics man, Jake.

We lined up in the unbalanced 4-4-2 or if you prefer the asymmetric 3-5-2. Ross obviously likes his players to be versatile and to be able to play in a variety of systems and they all appeared to understand what was expected of them. There was a fluidity in the shape with Oviedo and Ozturk especially, just subtly managing the areas of the pitch they were working. At times we appeared to have a back four, with wide left full back but with the right back tucked in a little more, then when Oviedo pushed higher up the field, Ozturk would drop into a slightly more central position to form a flat back three.

Power and McGeouch were the two midfielders in front of the back line, Mumba mostly played wide right, a role in which we have seen Maguire and Gooch this season, O’Nien linked the play centrally and was busy all night, while Sinclair and Watmore, both players who like to drag opposition defenders all over the place, started as a front two.

Ruiter was part of that disastrous triumvirate last season but has looked more assured when given an opportunity this time round. He had a relatively untroubled night against the Magpies but made a good double save, firstly from a Kristian Davis header which looked goal bound, then getting his body in the way to stop with his feet as County tried to put away the rebound. On his performances this season I wouldn’t be unhappy if Ruiter was kept on as McLaughlin’s back up but with his contract running out in the summer and Max Stryjeck on loan, getting match time and experience I expect the Dutchman to be on his way, possibly in the January window.

There was a lot to like about what was a professional and assured display from our boys last night.

Welcome back Roadrunner

Watmore looks up to speed, literally and he will have benefited from competitive minutes on the pitch. What his team mates, few of whom had played with him before, seemed not to appreciate was his pace and a few times he was forced to check his run when an earlier ball could have seen him burst through the County defence. That said he had a good game, wasn’t afraid to shoot on sight and will give JR alternatives and bring a new dimension to his attacking options. His goal was a bit fortunate. He burst clear on the left and fired in a good hard shot. Ross Fitsimmons made a good save but the unfortunate Daniel Jones, running back into the penalty box was unable to do anything about the rebound which struck him on the body and because of the force of Watmore’s initial shot still had enough momentum to fly into the net.

Sinclair as he always does worked hard and was always looking for the ball. He had a good chance saved in the first half and I said to the bloke next to me that I felt sure if he could bag a couple of goals it would do his confidence a world of good and he could be an important player as the season progresses. He’s not the greatest challenging for high balls and has a propensity to switch the ball to his right foot, when a earlier ball played into the box with his left, or a left footed shot may have been better options but he is a player who shows a good attitude and a desire to do well. I hope those so called supporters who always look for the negative and need a player to whinge about, don’t have an effect on his self belief and get him questioning his own ability. He doesn’t need that. He made sure he took the penalty in the second half and put it away well sending the keeper the wrong way and finding the opposite corner.

Loovens and Ozturk have both suffered from the social media self appointed experts who are quick to tell everyone about perceived failings – a bit like the bloke I talked to in the pub who knew that Loovens was too slow and Ozturk not up to the job, even though he hasn’t been to a game this season. As it happens both had good solid games last night. Loovens assured read the game well, Ozturk solid and always looking for a probing ball to get the attack going. Alongside them Jack Bainbridge didn’t look out of place and with Baldwin and Flanagan, social media favourites, both having shaky moments in recent games despite looking like a settled and effective partnership could find any of those three challenging their places on the team sheet.

Mumba was lively on the right. He has a good head on young shoulders and a lovely touch. He settled into the game well and became more influential as the game went on. Late in the game he found himself in front of goal with a great opportunity to score. His shot was blocked and his disappointment was plain for all to see as he lay on the ground and beat the pitch like Mickey Finn used to beat the congas in the early days of Tyrannosaurus Rex

Bali Mumba – good head on young shoulders

Power and McGeouch were calm in the centre and both will be pressing for starts even when Honeyman and Cattermole are fit. Power took the armband and directed the troops well, cajoling and encouraging. McGeough was assured and generally chose the simple pass maintaining possession as those around him looked to make space. A bit like the late Butch Wilkins, his first instinct seems to be to play the ball backwards or sideways but it was his pass to Watmore which led to the first goal. He is a quietly effective player who doesn’t always catch the eye but proved his worth again last night. He has been another good signing for us this season.

Oviedo proved a constant threat down the left, though he does like his step overs and there were times when an earlier ball into the box might have been a better option. He had a couple of powerful efforts almost finding the net and one especially which hit the side netting from a tight angle would have knocked the keeper off his feet had it been a foot or so to the right. Power too had some good long range efforts blocked or just off target.

O’Nien buzzed about all night. Physically he looks deceptively lightweight but full of enthusiasm, he hassled and harried all night and supported the front two well. He’ll be another who might not get that many starts but is an important part of the squad and will be trusted to do a good job when required. I’ve every confidence he will.

The subs did well. Kimpioka especially was lively. He has great feet, good speed and linked up well with Bali Mumba. The two of them split the Magpies’ defence apart and as Benji broke into the box was brought down just as he was about to pull the trigger. Whether Sinclair was the appointed penalty taker or not, it was he that was determined to take the kick.

This was a competent proficient dismantling of a team that are struggling to stay in the Football League and have just appointed a new manager. We are seeing a club that at last is being run in a professional manner. Things are looking better on and off the pitch. We should be celebrating this fact.

Ha’way the Lads.

Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: home and dry on a wet night on Wearside

Malcolm Dawson writes……with the festive season almost upon us and Pete Sixsmith up to the eyes with all that he does on this site, to give the old boy a rest, it falls to me to bring you my take on what went on at a cold and wet Stadium of Light last night.

BARNSLEY (H)

I turned on the car radio at 5.55pm as I prepared to set off through the County Durham hinterland for what I expected would be a tough game in our quest for promotion, switching to Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport just in time to hear BBC weatherman Paul Mooney promise the rain would stop within the hour. Well he got that wrong and it was torrential as I drove through Willington, Neville’s Cross, Chester-le-Street, Shiney Row and over the Wearmouth bridge and it was still persistent as I took my seat in the West Stand.

The team was almost the same as had started on Saturday, with Chris Maguire for Oviedo an obvious swap, the Scot a more natural midfielder than the Costa Rican. Max Power’s rescinded red card meant he was available but I wondered how much that sending off might have affected the energy levels of the rest of the side and how all the adverse criticism Power had received might have affected his mental state. I was fearful that a poor refereeing decision which probably cost us two points at Walsall could have a knock on effect against the side that was starting the night in third place and who knew a win would catapult them above us.

Back in the starting line up

Barnsley lined up in their black change shirts, and first choice white shorts with red trim, which for a fashion buff such as myself didn’t look quite right but was brought about by the fact that our home kit was originally intended to have red shorts, but on the new regime’s insistence, when at home we pair our striped shirts with the change kit’s shorts and means the red numbers on the black shorts look slightly incongruous. Am I the only one who is OCD enough to find that irritating on the eye?

In the grand scheme of things it is irrelevant.

Fortunately, unlike the previous Tuesday night home game, irritating phone menace woman was not sitting in front and I could focus on the game. It was immediately apparent that although the personnel was 91 per cent the same as Saturday, they were set up in a completely different way. As you would expect Flanagan and Baldwin were the centre halves in a back four, but Matthews and James had been instructed to play much higher up the pitch when we were in possession, providing width to the attack. Power was sat (not literally!) in front as the defensive midfielder but Honeyman was in a more advanced position, Gooch playing in a central role with the “M People” McGeady, Maguire and Maja moving on up and around the opposition’s penalty box when we attacked but all dropping deep when we lost possession.

Physically, Barnsley looked a lot bigger than us and centre forward Kieffer Moore towered above Jack Baldwin and was even a few inches bigger than Tom Flanagan. That said he had good feet for a tall man and got through some work in midfield as well as providing an aerial threat in front of goal.

We looked OK in the opening minutes and were moving the ball around well. Glancing up to the big screen after what I thought was about three minutes of play I was surprised to see that almost 10 minutes had passed already. It had been pretty even up to that point with Adam Matthews showing some good skills down the right wing but it was Reece James on the left wing who created the first clear cut scoring opportunity when his peach of a cross found Josh Maja in space in front of goal, but the young striker steered his header wide. For a young man of his ability it would have been a big disappointment, just as it was for those of us watching. But it was an encouraging start.

We keep saying there are no easy games in this division and Barnsley were producing some decent moves of their own, without really putting any pressure on Jon McLaughlin and shortly after an opportunity for the visitors came to naught we had a great opportunity ourselves to go ahead. Aiden McGeady found himself in the penalty area and twisting and turning was tackled by Ethan Pinnock, who perhaps slid in with the wrong leg. Did he win the ball? I wasn’t sure from my seat but when the Irishman went down the ref pointed to the spot and it was McGeady himself who took the resulting penalty. It may have been a soft decision and had I been a Barnsley fan I might have argued it shouldn’t have been given, but after a stuttering run up and a brief pause that was just this side of what is legally allowable, McGeady sent the keeper the wrong way and tucked the spot kick away.

Oh wow oh it’s Maja – you know (again!)

One minute later we were two nil up. The ever improving Adam Matthews, once again marauding down the right, played a lovely ball in to Josh Maja, who took a touch with his right foot, made space and shifted it to his left and curled in a lovely shot from the edge of the box beyond the reach of Barnsley keeper Adam Davies.

Almost immediately, Maja could have, probably should have had a third, when he again headed off target after a wonderful cross from Chris Maguire.

We appeared to be cruising at this point and with half an hour on the clock, Gooch earned himself more Brownie points (which he was to need later), first by clearing off the line then going up the other end and finding the net to put us three ahead. The ball was played out to the left, Honeyman was tackled and left sprawling and whilst the crowd around me were berating the ref for not blowing, the skipper stuck out a boot and prodded the ball on to McGeady who set up Gooch for another left footed curler into the top corner from the 18 yard line.

This was a similar situation to that we had found ourselves in against Scunthorpe and the bloke beside me asked if I could settle. The lady in front asked if I had a bet on as I explained why I’m never relaxed unless we have at least a four goal lead. The next 50 minutes or so just reinforced my cautious approach as The Tykes got back into the game.

They got one back just before half time as full back Zeki Fryers got to the corner flag to set up Moore in front of goal. McLaughlin pulled off a terrific save but Gooch fluffed the clearance, first slicing the ball vertically then chesting it weakly straight to the feet of Moore, who had dropped back to the edge of the box. He made no mistake and scored the third left footed goal of the evening. McLaughlin might have saved that effort too but in trying to block the shot, Jack Baldwin deflected the ball over the Sunderland keeper.

Those around were complaining that we had taken our foot of the gas and it certainly looked that way as passes went astray, we struggled to maintain possession as Barnsley continued to press and the half time whistle blew at the right time for the red and whites just after Cauley Woodrow had swivelled and fired a right foot shot against the post. 3-1 was nervy enough. 3-2 would have been heart in mouth time.

Sometimes it is easier to criticise our own than give credit to the opponents. At 3-0 we were comfortable and showboating. The crowd were cheering every pass as we maintained possession, Matthews back heeled, Gooch performed what in ballet terms might be deemed an entrechat as he flicked the ball on and I wondered if we would start to tease the 1,500 or so visiting fans with a chorus of “It’s just like watching Brazil”, a song they sang themselves in their Premier League days. But they upped their game and made it hard for us, grabbing another when Moore headed home a corner unchallenged at the near post.

Gooooooooooooooch

Immediately before they scored Jack Ross had replaced Maja with Luke O’Nien, a move which which baffled some, but Maja walked off clutching his shoulder and as I pointed out to those questioning the absence of a recognised centre forward, we had scored twice at Walsall without an out and out striker on the pitch. But now the nerves were jangling as the Tykes were back in the game.

At the weekend we watched the game anxiously after the sending off, then with hope as McGeady pull one back, then with joy as the Lads fought back to earn a point in the last minute. Last night it was the other way round and at 3-2 it was a case of hoping not to see a comfortable lead wiped out.

As a Barnsley attack broke down Maguire found himself in the clear and one on one with the keeper, who had rushed out of his area, would expect to score 8 times out of 10 but this was one of the two when he couldn’t convert.

McGeady, who had put in a good defensive shift as well as causing the visitor’s defence problems all night, found space on the left and fired in a teasing cross which O’Nien got a head to but couldn’t deflect into the net. This was nowhere near as straightforward a chance as Maja’s two earlier headers, but the ex Wycombe man was to get his reward in the 84th minute when we found our passing skills again. With Sunderland pressing high up the pitch, the ball broke for Gooch, who side footed to the tireless Honeyman who drove forward a pace or two before sending out a diagonal ball to McGeady who in turn squared it across the keeper for O’Nien to side foot home.

And that was it more or less. Five minutes of added time were seen out. Oviedo was brought on to kill a bit of time and as the 4th official put the wrong number on the board, Honeyman handed the captain’s armband to Power, who had been effective, if low key, all night, before taking it back when the number 10 was swiftly changed to 11 and Gooch left the field.

At the end O’Nien, with his trademark massive grin, gave his shirt to a young lad and we left the ground happy with the three points. We had seen the potential this side has in the first half hour, then became frustrated as they let a strong position slip but let’s not do Barnsley a disservice. They are a decent team who will be in the mix at the end of the season.

And the rain had stopped on the walk back to the car.

Click here to see the match highlights courtesy of safc.com

View from the North West Corner: Sunderland U23s v Norwich City U23s

SAFC U23s 1 v Norwich City U23s 1

For some reason the Under 23s had elected to play their home fixture against Norwich at the Stadium of Light, rather than the Colliery Welfare ground in Hetton. I never seem to enjoy U23 games at the Stadium as much, partly because the small number of supporters gets lost in a ground designed to hold 48,000, partly because those that are there are confined to a small area in the West Stand and partly because they seem to attract some supporters who wouldn’t make the effort to get to Eppleton. For me it entails an extra 30 minutes drive but hey ho I went along anyway, expecting to see Pete Sixsmith there with the other Hetton Irregulars and half expecting him to do the match report but I caught neither sight nor sound so expect he was off to a Rugby League fixture at somewhere like Cleckheaten or East Ardsley or another equally obscure venue.

£2.60 for a brew at a reserve game seems a bit much but you can add a pretty rank, luke warm sausage bun for an extra £1.40 so being a tight sort, the diet went out of the window, which is totally illogical when you stop to think about it because I paid an extra £1.40 for something I didn’t want and didn’t enjoy! After quantities of draught Bass in Burton on Friday night, that’ll be me on the steamed fish and vegetables for the rest of the week then.

And so it was, cooped up in the padded seats with the arm rests I settled down for a game against the young Canaries. I must say that the North Stand looks a lot better now that you can actually read Ha’way The Lads picked out in white after the seat replacement in the week, but they must have run out of white bases with only three to go as the uncompleted seats stuck out like a sore thumb. See if you can spot them on the highlights package. I also wondered if they are planning to have the padded seats for the Black Cats Bar patrons steam cleaned as they were a delicate shade of grey, rather like my bathroom walls rather than brilliant white like my kitchen ceiling.

Legible again

It wasn’t long before I remembered why I find it hard to settle at these games at the SoL, with two 4 year olds in front of me, bored after two minutes and kicking off with the type of tantrum usually reserved for the household detergents aisle at Asda and some 18 year old arsehole, who loved the sound of his own voice yelling abuse at the referee, the Sunderland players, the ball boys but mostly just screaming “Gerrrrooonnn” at 104 decibels. And with no hearing aids to turn down there wasn’t a lot I could do to shut him down.

So onto the game itself. I have to say I am not finding the red shorts as offensive as I thought I might do and we lined up with a number of players with first team experience in Mumba, Ethan Robson and Kimpioka in the starting XI. It would seem that Elliott Dickman is trying to get his charges to play the same type of passing game that Jack Ross favours but it was Norwich who had the temerity to create the first clear cut chance, when also in a moment so reminiscent of the first team a little bit of defensive indecision gave Ant Spyrou the chance to flash a shot across goal, just wide of the upright.

Kimpioka reminds me a bit of Peter Crouch in that he can appear ungainly but seems to retain possession and create chances when you think he really shouldn’t. He’s got a decent turn of pace and when he wriggled past a couple of Norwich defenders and got a shot off, the blocked effort lobbed up for Robson whose side footed volley fizzed just the wrong side of the post. Then after another wriggling run he managed to get a shot off from a tight angle and though the goalkeeper’s block again sent the ball straight into the path of Robson, this was a much weaker effort and easily cleared.

Ethan Robson – two decent chances set up by Kimpioka

Not long afterwards, again mirroring the first team a long ball saw Bainbridge failing to deal with Spyrou who squared it onto the foot of centre forward Adam Idah who had the simplest of tap ins with Storey caught the wrong side of his man.

A dribble into the box from the right wing and a pull back to the waiting Simon Power gave the Canaries a chance to double their lead but a double block from Storey and Owen Gamble kept the deficit to a single goal and it looked as if Norwich would go into the break one up but just before half time Norwich defender Adam Phillips’ headed attempt to clear a corner from the left, only succeeded in looping the ball up to an unmarked Bainbridge who side footed home at the far post.

In the second half Norwich keeper John McCracken pulled off two decent saves from long range efforts from Kimpioka and substitute Jack Diamond whilst at the other end, Spyrou spurned the sort of chance where it looks harder to miss than score with goalkeeper Patterson stranded as a low cross came in from the Norwich right. And that was more or less it as the game drifted to an end.

A decent way to spend the early part of Sunday afternoon and one all was a fair result on the day. But next time the U23s play at the Stadium of Light I’ll get organised, have a bacon sarnie before I go and take my own flask of tea.

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.

Keeping a sense of perspective at the start of Sunderland’s season

Malcolm Dawson was back at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and enjoyed the feeling of an opening day win as much as anyone. But here in the post match light of day and with another difficult fixture at the weekend, he appeals for patience if the result from Kenilworth Road is not the one we may be hoping for. 

Taking Stock after the Euphoria.

I write this waiting for the window for permanent transfers to close, expecting some last minute comings and goings, though with the loan window still open until the end of the month and that on mainland Europe, today probably won’t be the end of the ins and outs at Sunderland.

This summer has already seen a big change at the club and the general air of pessimism and despondency seems to have evaporated in the minds of most supporters. After Saturday’s win, the optimism and expectation, which preceded the game and the susequent nerves for the first half of the game, resulted in the euphoria of a come from behind victory. With a tricky game at Luton coming up, maybe it’s time just to sit back and actually look objectively at where we are and temper those expectations. We will not win every game, much as we would like to.

If we start with the playing side of things it would seem that in Jack Ross we have a manager with ambition, tactical nous and an appreciation of what the fans want to see, both in terms of playing style and commitment to the cause. But let’s not forget this is a team in transition. It is a squad of players made up of those brought into the club who haven’t played together and a batch of inexperienced players who have come up through the U23s, with two of the three longer term members possibly on the way out.

Jack Ross looking intent.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we have the ability to mount a definite title challenge this year but it will take time for the players to get used to each others’ strengths and weaknesses and with so many injuries, even this early in the season, it could be a lengthy process. That Jerome Sinclair, who looked lively and changed the momentum of the game when he came on, took a knock and will be out for a few weeks is a blow, especially with Charlie Wyke’s first appearance still a while away.

The first half of the Charlton game showed that there will be plenty of opposing teams who will give us a run for our money. I thought we started brightly with attacking intent, but it is fair to say that The Addicks looked the more dangerous in the opening half hour. Our back four were not cohesive in those early exchanges but over the 45 minutes I thought we were unfortunate to be behind. Though there was no argument with the penalty it was perhaps a needless challenge.

The whinging of some Charlton fans is understandable. Losing in the last minute after being ahead for so long is always hard to take but we bossed that second period with Oviedo and Sinclair causing problems and Jack Ross’s change of tactics making the defence more secure. I didn’t see anything untoward and having asked a couple of people who watched the game on TV, one a Boro fan and the other an Everton supporter, neither saw anything other than an honest hard fought game and certainly nothing that suggested Gooch should have been shown a red card, as some of the away fans have suggested.

Of the new players, McClaughin looks like a decent keeper, Maguire was lively, Loovens steady if a little ponderous. O’Nien ran about a lot but was mostly anonymous and Ozturk looked shaky to begin with though he improved playing wider in a back three than in the centre of a back four. Of those who weren’t making their debuts, Gooch I’ve always liked the look of since first seeing him at the Hetton Centre and he looked to run with the ball at every opportunity, Maja worked hard and seems to be getting into the habit of scoring 18 yard efforts from nothing, Matthews was steady if unspectacular, Love might be OK at this level but is no Oviedo. Mumba played well. Unless you were aware of him beforehand there is no way you would have thought that he was a 16 year old with just one minute’s previous experience of senior football. Honeyman was efficient and should make a good skipper.

New kit, new number, new responsibilities

Those Charlton supporters criticising the way our fans reacted were totally wide of the mark in my view. They would have no idea of just how apprehensive we have become after years of dismal home form. Over thirty thousand home fans at this level is some achievement and for followers of a club whose average home gate last season was around the 11,000 mark to criticise the attendance is a bit rich.

Were we quiet? Well for some periods yes but nowhere near as silent as they would have us believe and there was decent volume for a lot of the game. I used to have a season ticket in the area where the away fans are now seated and believe me the noise from the rest of the ground does seem muted up there. What it’s like when there are no home supporters anywhere between them and the Directors’ Box I can’t imagine.

But the roar of encouragement from the home support following the Charlton goal, was something that must surely have lifted the players. Of course there was apprehension after going behind. After all it is not unusual for us to be in that position and resign ourselves to defeat as our record in recent seasons after conceding first is abysmal, but there was plenty of vocal support and none of the negative vibes which had become a factor in recent seasons filtering onto the pitch.

Just as important was the crowd stayed to the end, with just a few trickling out to beat the traffic or whatever and there was no repeat of the mass exodus of recent times which must be a dispiriting sight for the players and staff.

One of the great positives for me over the summer has been the way the new ownership team has interacted with the fans. Not only the involvement of the supporters in the replacement of the faded seats, the appearance of the board in the fan zone pre-match and the inclusion of pieces by The Roker Report, A Love Supreme and a bit by M Salut in the revamped programme but by their constant reinforcement of the principle that the club belongs to the supporters. The manager has also talked about the need for unity and the responsiblility he and his players have for giving something back to the fans.

This is a refreshing change of attitude from the previous regime. In the early days Ellis Short was appearing to try to get to know the club and the people who follow it but it soon emerged that he saw it as his club, just as he sees any other business he owns as his business. I think it is hard to overestimate just how big an influence a feeling of unity can have on a football club and how it is perceived by others. I hope that should we suffer a few setbackbacks in the next few weeks the crowd will still stick with the team and maintain this togetherness.

I am grateful to the Roker Report for directing me to Charlie Methvin’s interview with FC Business magazine in which he outlines the financial issues which the club need to address in the short and medium terms. It is well worth a read if you haven’t already seen it. (See it here.)

Charlie Methvin

All clubs, and Sunderland is no exception, have some fans who are impatient and who look at things in very simplistic terms, thinking the solution to all problems is to throw money at the business, that players can be brought in and offloaded just as easy as buying and selling at a car boot (and that any player we approach will jump at the chance to play for Sunderland) but the reality is more complex. As we have seen in recent seasons being profligate with our spending has resulted in our current situation. It seems the new owners have identified the problems and are looking to restructure the club in a way which will be viable and hopefully competitive in the long term by cutting the cloth accordingly.

We would all like to see our fortunes change immediately and that this season will bring instant gratification but it may not. I am optimistic that the way things are going the club is heading in the right direction and things will improve. I hope however, that should we suffer a few setbackbacks in the short term that those who turn up to the games and comment on social media will show some patience and not instantly turn their frustrations into criticism and negativity. Here’s hoping we win at Kennilworth Road, but should we not then it won’t be the end of the world.

Ha’way the Lads

Sunderland AFC and me: how I’ve been brought back from the brink

Monsieur Salut writes: I often envy the lifestyles of Pete Sixsmith and Malcolm Dawson, enjoying the North East without any longer the need to do much work – though both, in their own ways, remain active – and free to pop along to any match they choose. Then I read their accounts of afternoons or evenings wasted watching SAFC and, remembering too many similar experiences from my own life, start to feel a lot less envious.

Sunderland games have not always been Malcolm’s first choice in recent times. But he has stuck by the team through thin and thinner and is now encouraged by the new regime. He describes his return from the brink quite magnificently. Please read on …

Read moreSunderland AFC and me: how I’ve been brought back from the brink