Should’ve, Could’ve, Might’ve: Sunderland v Rotherham from sublime to ridiculous

Malcolm Dawson writes……..others I know will not share my opinions, but as I’ve got older I believe I have developed a healthy attitude to life and an ability to put into perspective things which seem to send others into paroxysms of rage. So whilst I walked away from the Stadium of Light frustrated at the overall performance of a team which dominated for the first third of the game and disappointed having dropped another two points, it didn’t take me long to get over it.

On the Park and Ride I had a chat with a young lad, not long out of college, who asked how long I had been following the Lads and on hearing that it was getting on for 60 years – 55 since my first visit to Roker Park, followed this up with “does it get any easier?” No prizes for my response.

I also had a bit of a chat with a Rotherham supporter and his son sitting behind me about a) the validity of McNulty’s goal and b) the first half penalty shouts that The Millers had. I had to admit that when I turned to look at McNulty he was already past his man so I immediately looked at the linesman who kept his flag down, whilst he didn’t think either of their shouts in the box were anything other than marginal.

Perspective! Watching football is something we do to fill in some time and hopefully keep us entertained. It is something we can get passionate about and we can experience a whole range of emotions following our team but at the end of the day it’s not, despite what Bill Shankley once said, more important than life and death and as I write safc.com tells me it’s only 3 days 5 hours and 29 minutes to the next instalment.

Climbing into the car I switched on Spotify, clicked on liked songs and set it off in shuffle mode. Driving towards the A19 the first three songs that came up were “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor, Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and Leon Russell with “Tightrope”. All appropriate in their own way.

The first a reminder that as we go through life, we all have personal issues to deal with and we will have had a pretty smooth ride if all we have to get worked up about is the failure of our football team to snatch a win. The second reminding me that I was 19 the last time Sunderland actually won a trophy of note and the only one in my 65 years on this planet, and the third with the lyrics “one side’s hate and one is hope” and “I’m up on the high wire, flanked by life and the funeral pyre” which if you were so inclined you might see as my attitude to watching football. But then you might just think I’m a bit of a tosser, who as an ex girlfriend once said is lacking in emotion. I get excited when we score and I enjoy it when we win but though I’m disappointed when we don’t, I’m not going to let it ruin the rest of my week. Oh and in case we forget we didn’t lose.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

COULD’VE, SHOULD’VE, MIGHT HAVE

And so to the match.

Here was a game we could have won and the way we started this was a game we should have won. By the end this was a game we might have lost but then we still might have won at the death – although over the course of the 90 minutes it would have been an undeserved victory had we managed to grab a winner.

In his pre-match press conference Jack Ross had mentioned that a couple of players had got through the Accrington Stanley game carrying knocks, so it came as no surprise that there were two changes. That one was Chris Maguire was disappointing. That the other was Grant Leadbitter was less surprising.

What is it with social media and radio phone ins? On Saturday Twitter and Radio Newcastle were awash with the views of those who thought we had put in a poor performance, despite the three points. Last night it was all “stick with the same team” and “never change a winning side” and “what’s Ross doing dropping Chris Maguire?”

Well for a half hour or so it looked like Jack Ross had got it spot on.

Marc McNulty thanks to bbc.co.uk

For those first thirty minutes, this was as convincing a Sunderland performance as I have seen for a long while. Within seconds of the kick off, which Rotherham took, Ozturk was awarded a free kick for an offence that no-one near me noticed. He took it quickly and by the time I had turned my head to follow the ball, McNulty had got behind the last defender, controlled the dropping ball beautifully and rounded the goalkeeper. It looked for a second as if he might have let the opportunity slip before calmly slotting home. It then took longer to get the game restarted than it had for us to take the lead.

We dominated that opening spell.

Luke O’Nien – busy

Luke O’Nien playing in the number ten role buzzed about, making himself available and was a constant threat. McNulty showed his customary energy and made a nuisance of himself. McGeady was showing his silky skills out on the left, combining well with Hume who was pushing forward whenever he could. This is not the same Denver Hume who looked nervy and unsure against Oxford. This is a young man learning all the time.

Conor McLaughlin was looking assured at the back, much happier on his stronger side and as as we grew into the game he pushed forward more too. Ozturk and Willis are developing a good understanding and Gooch was as industrious as ever. McGeouch initiated some nice passing moves and Dobson was physical. Our lack of height was noticeable but Dobson and O’Nien in particular win a surprising amount of headers.

Big Jon McLaughlin made a couple of routine saves from Freddy Ladapo but wasn’t really troubled during that opening spell. It looked as if JR had instructed the team to be more physical in this game and were well in control, competing for and winning second balls and carving out a number of decent chances.

Some smart movement down the left flank saw McNulty dummy to leave O’Nien with a decent opportunity to increase the lead but he was leaning back as he tried to side foot the ball home and it sailed over the bar. On 17 minutes, McGeady fired a powerful curling shot towards the top right hand corner, after good interplay from Gooch and McNulty. It looked in all the way until Iverson in the Rotherham goal pulled off a fantastic one handed save.

The Millers had a couple of half hearted penalty shouts waved away, but our defence was dealing with everything that was coming their way and then Conor Mclaughlin tried to get on the score sheet but his effort also went high and wide.

The general feeling around me was that another goal or two would settle matters and that opportunity arose just before the half hour mark, when some close passing between McNulty and Gooch, saw the American tripped by Clark Robertson and we all glanced at the ref to make sure he was pointing to the spot. It looked as if Gooch wanted to take the kick himself. The consensus was that he was the appointed penalty taker, but captain for the night Aiden McGeady took the ball from him and placed the ball on the spot. No bother we thought. We have one of the best conversion rates for penalty kicks in the league and McGeady knows what he is doing. There then followed one of the worst penalties I have ever seen. No power, no placement and never left the ground. Daniel Iverson made the simplest of saves and our best chance to put the game to bed had evaporated. Doubtless, had Iverson flung himself towards the post and the ball had trickled under his body McGeady would have been hailed as a genius but to be honest this was as feeble an effort as you are ever likely to see. I hope it was a mis-kick but if it wasn’t then the entire squad must be made to sit and watch this then spend twenty minutes at the next training session practising picking a spot and striking the ball firmly. Fair enough if the keeper makes a great save, but he could have put one of those sausage dog shaped draught excluders on his goal line and it would have prevented the ball going into the net.

Could’ve saved that pen

This seemed to deflate the home players and spur the visitors on as from that moment the tide turned and for the fans a whole hour of frustration was to follow. Somehow, if we had played badly for the whole 90 minutes and come away with a point it would have been more satisfactory than last night, after the perfect start then missing a golden opportunity to put the game to bed

McGeady might have made amends just before the interval, making space for himself with one his characteristic spins before curling a shot wide of the right hand post, but we went into the break with the Yorkshire side in the ascendency.

In the latter stages of the first half and immediately from the start of the second Rotherham looked by far the more fluent side. Our play became scrappy, we were losing out in situations which we would have won in the opening spell and it seemed like only a matter of time before the equaliser would come. We were also picking up stupid bookings with Dobson and McLaughlin (C) both going in the referee’s notebook for what looked like innocuous challenges.

At one point the visitors did beat Jon McLaughlin with a deflected shot but play had already been stopped with Jordan Willis on the ground with a potential head injury. There then followed an interchange between the referee and the players which ended in an uncontested dropped ball just outside the penalty area, which the Rotherham player, possibly under the referee’s instruction, passed out to the right wing before play continued normally. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like that before and presumably it is the result of the new laws as they are applied this season.

Wyke came on and introduced a more physical presence. It was McNulty he replaced so I can only assume the Scotsman had taken a knock as he had busied himself all game. O’Nien too had been in the wars and by now was wearing a numberless shirt. He had also been yellow carded for a foul.

Rotherham were piling on the pressure whilst we were on the back foot and it was almost inevitable that they would get one back.

It came from a quick break down the Rotherham right. With our defence flooding back the ball found itself at the feet of Freddy Ladapo who had the presence of mind to look up and spot the run of left winger Jake Hastie. With Conor McLaughlin way out of position and scrambling back hastily across the pitch, Hastie had acres of space and plenty of time to fire hard and low across the other McLaughlin to make it one all.

Maguire came on for McLaughlin as O’Nien slipped back into the number 2 slot and in the dying minutes Grigg came on for Gooch. As the minutes ticked by we were hanging on for a draw, but despite being second best for all but the first half hour, had two chances to grab a winner. First Wyke found himself in the clear after a slip by a Rotherham defender but his shot was blocked by Iverson. Then McGeady sent in another trademark curler across goal which grazed the post. In the six minutes of added time, O’Nien too found himself in a good position breaking into the box but ran it out for a goal kick, when with a little less desperation might have done better.

Must be as frustrated as we are.

A home win would have been hard on Rotherham and had we lost I don’t think anyone would have been surprised but we did dominate for thirty minutes and had we played like that during the last half hour rather than the first, we might have been happy with a point. But as the two blokes passing my open window as I am writing this were saying, it was frustrating!

Highlights via safc.com

Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox:Wham! Bam! Thank you Stan!

Malcolm Dawson writes……what a contrast between yesterday and my previous visit to The Wham Stadium. Less than twelve months ago I got absolutely drenched as we watched the Lads playing for 70 odd minutes in a mud bath before the game was eventually called off. What’s more my car had collected a slow puncture which meant that I had to stop twice on the way home to try and get some air in my tyres in Accrington town centre then somewhere near Skipton and I drove home in the pitch dark, through driving rain, with the air vents struggling to keep my windscreen clear of the steam rising from my soaking thighs.

Yesterday I sat in glorious sunshine in a tee shirt regretting the fact I hadn’t decided to put my shorts on nor brought along any factor 20 Ambre Solaire (other sun protection creams are available). They’ve done a bit of work to the ground too and I was disappointed to find the double decker bus that sold cheap beer had been replaced by a number of bespoke refreshment bars but with a pie and a pint deal costing only a fiver it was still an inexpensive way to take a break from the diet.

I couldn’t get to the two midweek games we have played since Noah and his sons were spotted doing a bit of DIY on the recreation ground next door but Pete Sixsmith did and he has yet to see us lose there. It’s not a big stand at Accrington and Pete was only a few seats away so I have a pretty good idea about his impressions of a performance which brought about another three points in another 3-1 win. You can find out too by reading yet another top notch match report. 

WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU STAN!

After a two-week break from the County Palatinate, it was back to Lancashire as we trekked over Blubberhouses Moor and along the A59 to Accrington via Colne.

For many of us, this was the fourth visit to the home of the Accrington Nori (it’s a brick) in 9 months. For part timers like me, it was the third one since April. Fortunately, all three have been bathed in sunshine rather than bathed in the precipitation that often hangs over Pendle Hill.

It was an important game for us after the unpleasantness at Peterborough. With more pressure on the ramrod straight shoulders of Jack Ross and players needing to cement their places in the team, it was a game we needed to win.

By 3.05, it didn’t look good. Accrington played a long ball forward, Willis and Ozturk showed perfect manners in leaving it for each other.

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

“After you, Alim.”

“No, after you, Jordan.” “

“I say Alim, what’s that cad, Jordan Clark doing thumping the ball into the net?”

“He’s not quite pukka, Jordan.”

The conversation on the terraces was probably not that polite.

(It wasn’t behind me with a proliferation of fs and cs and a bloke in front doing an impression of Bez from the Happy Mondays – MD).

The mood lasted two minutes. Denver Hume put a fine cross in from the left for Lyndon Gooch to volley home a spectacular equaliser, restore equilibrium and establish control.

Half an hour later we were well ahead with goals from Aiden McGeady and Mark McNulty and the game was all but over.

McGeady’s came after a penetrating pass from the lively Gooch. The mercurial Irish international used his twinkling feet to create space and scored for the third successive game in this little corner of North East Lancashire.

Ten minutes later, Accrington’s defence was wide open as Chris Maguire broke away, beat two defenders and slipped the ball to the industrious Mark McNulty who opened his league account for the club with a comfortable finish.

Kick off at The Wham

In between the two goals, Stanley could have equalised when a Cody Bishop shot struck Jordan Willis, fooled John McLaughlin, hit the bar and dropped just the right side of the goal line before being hoofed clear.

The second half was relatively comfortable as Accrington huffed and puffed and resorted to a long ball game, which Ozturk and Willis handled with reasonable aplomb.

McLaughlin had a couple of tricky moments but was never really in any trouble and we had opportunities to wipe out the three-goal deficit in our goal differences.

For Rob Mason, one of the Durham Branch’s intrepid travellers, emotions were split. Another goal or two would put a marker down with the other promotion rivals and quell some of the grumbling. On the other hand, he had 1-3 at 16/1 and with the Mason family mortgage riding on it, he exhaled loudly when Will Grigg fluffed a sitter that would have made it 4-1 and would have reduced he and the delightful Sandra to living in a cardboard box on the mean streets of South Hetton.

It was an adequate performance rather than a great one.

Accrington Market

The game was one that we needed to win and win we did, so what’s not to like about that? Well, it wasn’t the most coherent performance and there were some blips but we could put that down to being rusty after a couple of weeks off.

Stanley look like strugglers for the rest of the season. Without Billy Kee, currently having some serious mental health issues from which we hope he makes a complete recovery, they had little up front and, despite having a grip on midfield, never really threatened.

Sam Finley was the pick of their players and kept them ticking over. His career started at Everton and has taken in stints at Southport, Warrington Town, Wrexham, The New Saints and AFC Fylde before he pitched up at Stanley a couple of years ago. He is a busy player who can pass, tackle and move forward and I admired his technique and commitment. He may not go any higher than League One but it shows that there are players who deserve an opportunity at this level.

For us, Lynden Gooch made a massive contribution with a splendid goal and an excellent pass for the second one. He used the ball well and worked extremely hard. George Dobson, who replaced Max Power, drove us forward but this was not one of Grant Leadbitter’s better games as he was hustled out of it by eager if limited, opponents.

At the back, Denver Hume did well and once they had been re-introduced to each other, Ozturk and Willis looked comfortable. Luke O’Nien was as industrious as ever, but there is a feeling that a good winger will take advantage of him. Accrington didn’t have one.

I liked McNulty, who works really hard and who will score goals at this level, McGeady once again scored at The Crown Ground and Maguire did well enough. The arrival of McGeoch and Grigg reinforced the depth in our squad compared with the relative paucity of the opposition’s.

I enjoyed my day out. The bright lunchtime lights of Colne were not for me so I caught a train on the East Lancashire line that took me from Colne via Nelson, Brierfield, Burnley Central, Burnley Barracks, Rose Hill (change for the Todmorden Loop here), Hapton, Huncoat to Grand Central Station, Accrington before departing for (amongst others) Blackburn, Bamber Bridge and Preston. It crossed three splendid viaducts which gave a clear picture of theses old mill towns, tightly tucked into deep valleys where witches roam and Massey’s Ales are still fondly remembered.

Accrington is a small town of 35,000 people, slightly bigger than Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor and with a clear identity. They have a splendid classical style Town Hall, a shopping centre that has seen better days, a fine (but very quiet) market hall and tributes to The Accrington Pals and the groundsman’s dog from Peel Park.

Tribute to an Accrington groundsman and his dog

After three visits there, I hope not to be visiting again next season and will be happy to travel the rest of the East Lancs line through to either Blackburn or Preston. The two games this week, against Rotherham United and Bolton Wanderers may well define whether I am able to do this.

Ha’way the Lads (in American accent).

Highlights via safc.com

The Chapman Report from Peterborough: alarm bells or just a wake up call?

Jake goes all monochrome on a grey day

Malcolm Dawson writes…..with Pete Sixsmith having set himself a southern limit of Lincoln City for away days this season, Bob Chapman steps off the subs’ bench for his take on yesterday’s events. His full time 7 word summary said not a single positive from this shocker.  I have to say I thought we started the game the stronger and until the second goal went in I thought we were still in with a chance, though clear cut chances were few and far between. McNulty looked lively and perhaps might have done better on a couple of occasions but in the end we were well beaten. 

I was going to say well and truly beaten but although it was daft and undisciplined of O’Nien to raise his hands, for Ivan Toney to go to ground clutching his head was scandalous. It may be that the ref would have sent O’Nien off anyway but his shove on Toney’s chest was no worse than much of the pushing and shoving that goes on in midfield when players challenge for a goalkeeper’s clearance.

That’s not sour grapes or an excuse on my part as we were heading for defeat anyway but if video evidence can be used in an appeal then surely it’s not too much to ask that the footballing authorities look at that and similar incidents and think about issuing retrospective punishments to players who they deem have reacted in an unfair manner. It’s a form of simulation after all.

Whilst I am desperately seeking positives I can’t argue that they weren’t heavily outweighed by the negatives, but remember that had we lost 9 of our drawn games last season and won 9 others we would have had 9 more points. That’s a trade I’ll happily make this year but for now, let’s see what Bob thought of our first defeat of the season.

Jake’s view of the subs’ bench

PETERBOROUGH UNITED 3  SUNDERLAND 0 31/08/19

My first contact with Peterborough United came in 1967, when Bedford Town of the Southern League played them in a 3rd Round F A Cup tie. At that time growing up in Bedford, watching Sunderland was always a treat and invariably involved a visit to London. Consequently it usually resulted in a defeat and disappointment. Although there was the odd away win or draw I got used to severe thrashings at a very young age!

Yes, I was at Upton Park when Geoff Hurst scored 6 in that famous 8-0 defeat. I saw the great Jimmy Greaves score 4 in a 5-1 defeat at Spurs and I even managed and still have Colin Suggett’s autograph before another 3-0 demolition at Spurs. Visits to Roker Park were always at the start of the season when we were visiting relations during the summer holiday.

Yet despite all the drubbings and being 230 miles away, Sunderland was my team. My second team was Bedford Town of course. Before I started playing regularly at 14 I would frequently go to The Eyrie where the Eagles- Bedford Town played. I would watch the first team and the reserves play. Bedford Town were in those days one of the larger non league clubs and had an excellent FA Cup Heritage.

The Eyrie as it was.

So on the 26th January 1967 I set off on my bike for the 3rd round tie against The Posh. There would have been a crowd of at least 12,000 for the match, but unfortunately we succumbed to a 6-2 defeat to the league side. After the match it would have been a quick dash to Radio Rentals TV shop window in town to catch the Sunderland result as it came through on the BBC tele -printer. We beat Brentford 5-2 that day and guess who we got in the Monday lunchtime 4th round draw- yes it was Peterborough United.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Bedford Town had beaten Peterborough on that day and gone on to play Sunderland. Even then I had no doubt as to which of the clubs I would want to win and even though Bedford born and bred it would have been Sunderland. My brothers are all the same, so my Dad did a good job on us is all I can say!

Apart from that initial 4th round tie I am sure I have seen all 9 of the other matches with Peterborough, winning or drawing all but one of them. However despite this record I was not that confident about this particular match. Although we were unbeaten in five I am not convinced about our ability to keep a clean sheet. To achieve a 100+ point total will require a significant number of clean sheets. Where they are coming from I do not know, unless the manager can sort out our defence and especially the full back positions.

Where have all the left backs gone?

Problems again I thought when the team was announced without Denver Hume our only recognised left back. As the half progressed I couldn’t understand why I had been so concerned. The game was fairly even with few chances by both sides. Knowing that we always score in this league I was now quietly confident that we would come away with at least a draw.

However with 35 minutes gone and nearly 35 yards out Maddison changed all that. His free kick completely wrong footed our keeper who was left stationary as the ball flew into the net. It had to be Maddison didn’t it? I could have predicted that. I can understand why we didn’t pursue him at £2.5M when he is out of contract in the summer, but there was always the inevitability that he would come good against us.

At half time I was still optimistic that we could get something out of the game. Although McNulty had a chance in the first half, coming back from injury, he had been pretty ineffective and I hoped he would be replaced by Grigg. Wyke had won a fair amount in the air but had little support around him. Playing towards our supporters I was sure we would equalise at some point.

That dream was soon shattered in the 56th minute when Knight increased the lead. Having only created one chance so far there was no way back from this. Inevitably it was Maddison who finished the job off just 12 minutes later.

This was going to be our biggest defeat at this level I thought as both O’Nien and then Wyke were dismissed. My mind went back to Arsenal some 23 years ago when both Martin Scott and Paul Stewart got their marching orders. The referee that day was the incompetent Paul Danson and I felt the current official, Craig Hicks was not far behind. O’Nien fell for a sucker punch by the cheating Toney. As for Wyke just put it down to frustration on his part.

Stepping into Cattermole’s boots

Lets just hope this match was a one off and a wakeup call. A two week break may just give us enough time to sort out our defensive frailties. I felt the performance at the SOL last week was the best we have played during the last two seasons at this level. I can’t believe we can then regress back to sloppy defending and a lack of fire power up front in just 7 days.

In hindsight maybe I should have stuck with Bedford Town. However, maybe not as The Eyrie no longer exists. The club went bust in 1987 and the brewer Charles Wells occupies the site. The club reformed about 5 years later and now play in a much inferior Southern League Division 1 Central. It a far cry from the days when they attracted 18,000 for a cup tie against Everton in 1966.

And finally to finish off, why not ask your friendly Mag what they know about Bedford Town from 1964.

To save you looking, yes we beat them 2-1 in the Cup.

Highlights via safc.com – if you really must

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View from the West Stand: Willis and Maguire leave Portsmouth pointless

Malcolm Dawson writes……..In a week in which a young bride excitedly looking forward to her honeymoon, wakes to find she is a widow and a family man is stabbed to death with a screwdriver in a busy shopping centre, apparently trying to stop an altercation, I find it difficult to put any real significance on the result of a football match.

But I was there yesterday in my usual seat and found the experience somewhat more satisfying than that of a fortnight ago. It was no surprise to find us one nil down in the first half – when are we not? But up until that point we had looked more lively than we had in the opening minutes of either of the two previous league outings.

I won’t harp on about lax refereeing as the defence really should have dealt with the move that resulted in the Portsmouth opener, and which came from an error in midfield, but Maguire and McNulty were constantly being manhandled by the Pompey defence and a free kick should have been awarded to us, immediately prior to their goal. I’d like to see where in the Laws of the Game it says it is permissible to grab a player around the neck with one arm, whilst simultaneously pushing him over with the other but referee Michael Salisbury seemed to find that sort of thing allowable. That said Alim Ozturk quickly realised this and used a similar tactic when he could. Doesn’t make it right though.

But it didn’t take long for us to get back on terms, Leadbitter showing why he is such a threat in dead ball situations, then McGeady and Maguire combining nicely for the winner and I went home reasonably satisfied.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

I’m no fan of these early kick off times, even though now it is a lot easier for me to get to a 12.30 home game since moving back to the North East than it was when a trip to the Stadium of Light was a three hour journey on a good day. So it was at a relatively civilised time I left home with time for a latte and a bacon sarnie in the Roker End cafe. Pity the 800 or so Portsmouth fans who had travelled up for this one, though the two I spoke to were students at the Uni and had an even shorter trip to the game than I had.

As Mickey Gray and his co-commentator faffed about on the touchline there was relative satisfaction around and about at the team that was announced, with only a couple of changes from the side that started at Accrington in midweek. McLaughlin J back between the sticks was no surprise and with McGeady replacing Grigg it looked as if Ross had decided to stick with a back four, two holding midfielders, two wide men in Gooch and Geads with Maguire just behind McNulty to form a two man mobile strike force.

We set down a marker straight from the kick off as a long ball, directly into the path of McNulty looked momentarily threatening, but it was too strong and was easily collected by MaGillvary, whose bright green kit contrasted sharply with the insipid grey effort that the outfield ten were wearing. We were quick out of the traps and the M people up front were lively, in sharp contrast to the slow start we made against Oxford. For Portsmouth Curtis found some space in the box and outjumped O’Nien, back in at right back, but his header sailed high over the bar without threatening McLaughlin’s goal.

Marc McNulty thanks to bbc.co.uk

With 24 minutes on the clock, McLaughlin sent a high ball up towards McNulty who was on the end of a two handed push from Burgess, the Pompey number 6 but with those of us who had a clear view of the foul screaming for a free kick, the ref waved play on. Not a lot of danger in midfield apparently, but when Power tried to get a foot in, he just succeeded in playing in Marcus Harness who burst forward into the box. We had chances to clear it but a couple of unintended deflections later it broke back to Harness who drove the ball, through Power’s outstretched legs, across goal and into the bottom corner.

We are so used to going a goal behind at home now, that it is no longer a cause for concern, at least where I sit, when it happens early in the game. Frustration only kicks in later if it doesn’t look like we are going to get back on terms or push on for the three points. And it didn’t take us long. Immediately following the goal, McGeady and McLaughlin C linked up when the latter’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Then two minutes later after a bit of pressure from McGeady who had popped up on the right wing, Burgess ran the ball out for another corner, taken by Leadbitter. The new skipper brings us a quality set piece delivery and his pinpoint kick was well met by the run of

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

Jordan Willis who got there ahead of the surrounding defenders and powered home his header.

Game on. Ten minutes later a hopeful high punt forward from Alim Asturk was controlled by McNulty, who somehow found McGeady. An attempted clearance ricocheted off Geads’  shin and he was away. A delightful pull back across the face of goal found Maguire who slid the ball into the empty net and we were in front. Now the big question was would we hold onto that lead.

Half time came and went and not long into the second period, the ever lively McNulty chased after a long ball and pulled up holding his hamstring. He went off to be replaced by Charlie Wyke, whose greater physical presence brings a different dimension to our attacking play and after he came on we won more clearances and his hold up play was good. Let’s hope McNulty’s injury is not too severe though.

Apparently we tried to sign John Marquis in January, and he had a great opportunity to put McLaughlin under pressure when he latched onto a ball on the right of the penalty area but his shot was way off target. The next best chance that Pompey had came from a powerful diving header, from Grant Leadbitter of all people. Fortunately the diving orange flash that was Jon McLaughlin pulled off a fantastic save.

Chris Maguire

We had other chances. Wyke just failed to get his outstretched toe on the ball to flick it home. O’Nien and Maguire had penalty shouts waved away, whilst at the other end Ozturk got a foot on a decent effort from Harness after a piece of free flowing build up play but this was a good three points.

I can’t say we dominated the game but we certainly showed more positivity than we had against Oxford and in that first half at Ipswich. We still look vulnerable at times but this is League 1. The pairing of Willis and Ozturk looked solid enough for this level, though by no means error free. Leadbitter and Power in front gives us strength through the middle and Maguire and McNulty showed good movement and moved the opposition about. Gooch had a decent game and O’Nien does a decent enough job at full back.

We are still a work in progress but we have a squad with enough players who are good enough to get us out of this division. The effort is there, the commitment is there. Now it is a question of finding the right combinations of players, implementing the right strategies and finding ways to change things around when they are not going to plan.

This was no classic but in case you have forgotten, we are unbeaten this season. My worry now is that with Rochdale on Tuesday and Wimbledon next Saturday, we will be expecting to be on 11 points by this time next week and if past experience is anything to go by this is a sure fire recipe for disappointment.

Prove me wrong boys.

Ha’way the Lads.

match highlights via safc.com

 

 

Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox: You’ve got to eliminate the negative

Easy Peasy says Jake

Malcolm Dawson writes……like a lot of us Pete Sixsmith was underwhelmed by our performance against Oxford and after the Ipswich game he e-mailed me to say that he was becoming disillusioned with SAFC and the game in general. It’s a phase many of us have been through and while I was disappointed by yet another two draws, as I see it, it is better than being disappointed by yet another two defeats and I remain convinced that we have owners who have the best interests of the club and supporters at heart, and a manager and players who are striving for success and never give less than 100%. Disappointment I can deal with if I can see commitment. Despite the disappointment, for me the football at League 1 and Championship level is closer to the game I have followed for nigh on 60 years, whilst the top half of Premiership with its ridiculous transfer fees, wages and player power is now so far removed from the game that was created for the working man and it is there I lose interest.

It was the nature of our performance against Oxford and in the first half of the game at Portman Road that was so frustrating. Last night’s game, as reported by Barnes and Benno, sounded much more open and whilst there were still some defensive lapses was, by all accounts, a much more impressive and attacking display by our boys in blue, with the first shot on target coming in the first minute thus immediately equaling the total for the entire 90 minutes last Saturday.

Pete Sixsmith was there and having instructed his manservant Bruce to retrieve the soapbox from below stairs, then to give it a good wax and polish, is now ready to climb back on it for the first time this season. Was he more inspired by last night’s performance in hilly east Lancs? Let’s find out………

ENJOYING EAST LANCASHIRE – ACCRINGTON STANLEY, LEAGUE CUP 13/08/19

What’s not to enjoy about a Tuesday night visit to Accrington?

It’s a pleasant run over the A59, down to Skipton and then along to Colne for a pre-match pint in Boyce’s Barrel, a pleasant micro pub complete with Sam, the Golden Retriever who will turn on his sad eye look in return for a crisp or two.

Boyce’s Barrel and dog

The beer’s not bad either. The Robbie’s Porter from Ayr was a welcome change from all the hopped pales and bitters that seem to be in favour at the moment.

The Crown Ground is neat and tidy (although it would benefit from a cover on the away end) and the stewarding is friendly but effective. Once through the portals, there is a pleasant alfresco bar area with relatively cheap beer and a splendid selection of Clayton’s Pies for those who are hungry.

Being a Tuesday night League Cup tie after a rather underwhelming start, the turn out was less than it would be for a league game, but 41%of the crowd of 2343 stood in the uncovered end or sat down the side, which is not a bad turn out at all – just under 1,000 made it.

Of that 1,000 (959 to be precise), the vast majority were non beer chuckers, non singers of songs about players they never saw and non-moaners, so that made for a pleasant evening as well.

The other thing I like about Accrington is that Aiden McGeady does something special there. In March, he opened the scoring with a fantastic strike from the edge of the box. Here, five months after the crushing disappointment of last season, he opened his account by scoring an even better one.

He arrived to replace an ineffective Will Grigg in the 69th minute, nine minutes after Stanley had levelled. Within two minutes, he had played a killer ball to McNulty, whose shot hit the bar and bounced out and then five minutes later, along came a wonderful goal to restore the lead.

He picked up a loose ball just outside the centre circle and bore down on the Accrington defenders as if he were a lion attacking a herd of frightened wildebeest. As they backed off, the McGeady twinkle toes took him into the box, from where he placed a superb shot beyond Dimitar Evtimov and into the net, to prompt wild celebrations amongst the faithful 959 who had made the trip.

Oooh that McGeady!

It also prompted one elderly female Accrington supporters to say to her friend, “That’s why I said s*** when he came on,” a comment that was picked up by Barnsey and Benno’s mike and faithfully relayed by Malcolm in his fine introduction to the 7. The ghosts of Cissie and Ada stalk the Crown Ground. I wonder if they heaved their bosoms up as effectively as Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough did…..

Enough of large knockers – there are a few of them that sit near me. Let’s do what Bing Crosby said and “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative.”

There were first outings for Lee Burge, Alim Ozturk, Max Power and Grant Leadbitter. All did well, encouraging us to follow The Ole Groaner’s advice.

Decent return to the starting line up for Alim

Burge was a bit shaky at the start and was well away from a ball across the box that could have led to an equaliser, but as the game went on, he grew in confidence and showed that John McLaughlin has genuine competition for the goalkeeping spot this season. His distribution was excellent, if not quite Pickfordian.

Lee Burge – competition between the sticks

Alim Ozturk also did well as the second central defender in a back four. He looked fit and capable of forming a partnership with Willis. Both are strong in the tackle, neither gets pushed about and Ozturk clears his lines. He’ll probably have a stinker against Portsmouth (Remember – Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative).

The midfield duo of Grant Leadbitter and Max Power gelled nicely. This looks like a good pairing, as effective as the pairing between Bluetooth and the various devices that run off it. It will do its job for most of the time but will occasionally need a reboot – or whatever computers call it.

Leadbitter was competitive and sat a bit deeper than Max, who showed why we were all raving about him this time last year. The ball he played for Maguire to set up McNulty’s opener was excellent and he continued in that vein until he tired near the end. On this performance, Dobson and McGeouch will find it difficult to get into the starting XI.

They were aided by Maguire and Gooch, both effective at times. Gooch still seems to need an extra touch on the ball and Maguire is reluctant to go into a hard challenge after his broken leg last year, but both did well.

Up front, Will Grigg had a decent first half and could (should?) have opened his account for the season. In the second half, his game collapsed and once again, he was hauled off to be replaced by the man himself, Aiden McGeady. I’m afraid the sands of time are running out for Grigg with the support and maybe the manager as well. He seems a decent guy so let’s hope he can turn it round.

Mark McNulty looks a completely different type of player. He is physical, puts genuine pressure on defenders and seems very keen to show that his season at Reading was a waste of a year. Having to play at the dreary Majedski Stadium in front of dreary supporters and live in a dreary town must have taken its toll, although you would have thought he should have been used to it having joined Reading from Coventry City.

At The Crown Ground, he showed exactly why Ross brought him in. He scored an excellent opening goal, rounding off a fine move started by Power and extended by Maguire and finished off the game by bullying a Stanley defender off the ball, going to the by-line and giving Charlie Wyke a gilt-edged chance that he took gleefully to make it 3-1. Effective running from a Sunderland forward in the 90th minute is as rare as a thoughtful intervention into the national debate from Nigel Farage.

Poor Conor McLaughlin drew the short straw and had to play at left back. No doubt there will be some on social media lambasting Ross, Donald, Methven and the tea lady for letting Donald Love go, but we do need to bring someone in PDQ. The Ulsterman was bombarded with long balls behind him at the start of the second half and when Jordan Clark got in front of him, a needless penalty was given away. He may struggle to get his place back on the right as Luke O’Nien was his usual chirpy self on that side. We shall see….

Stanley were ok. A bit niggly at times, but no time wasting and for a team that is always being rebuilt, showed some cohesion. I liked the look of former Leamington forward Colby Bishop who converted the penalty with some power and Sean McConville was tidy and organised. With only two relegation places available, they should be fine. The league game in four weeks’ time will give a clearer indication.

On the way out, I dropped some coins into the bucket of a Bury supporter who was collecting to try and save The Shakers from oblivion. He was pessimistic about their chances of survival. In a world where huge amounts of money are paid out for decent but not outstanding players, the £3.5m that the Gigg Lane club need is a relatively insignificant sum.

Brian Clough

There is no chance of them getting any aid from a league where clubs have just spent £1.4bn in the summer. And you wonder why I am becoming disillusioned with a game I fell in love with when people gasped at the £42,500 we paid for Cloughie?

Let’s hope that we can continue the good work on Saturday and see off Portsmouth and some of the moaners and groaners. Remember what the oldest one of the latter said….

You gotta accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mister In Between.

Ha’way the Lads

 

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