Sixer’s Southend Soapbox: no points for Sol from the SoL

Malcolm Dawson writes……the bus from the business park off Wessington Way to the ground was packed yesterday but there was no buzz of conversation or air of excitement pre-match. Whether this is a reflection of the type of supporter who elects to use the park and ride, rather than sink a few in the hostelry of choice I wouldn’t like to say but it strikes me as a little odd that a bus load of mainly home fans, who witnessed a 5-0 victory the last time they made the trip to the SoL and who had only witnessed one home defeat in the previous thirty one league games were so subdued, though I confess I felt much he same.

The atmosphere outside the ground was not alive with anticipation either and even at 2.40 there were no long queues at the turnstiles, yet I had to stand in line for twenty minutes to get a ticket for next week’s cup tie and there were still more than 30,000 inside. In fact the only bit of the kind of banter I expect before a Sunderland game, came as I walked from the ticket office to the ground where a young lad (he’d have been about 20) complained to me that his mates who would have been about 40, (so maybe one was his dad) were calling him Harry Potter because he had started wearing specs. He should know better than to look to a man in a red and white scarf for sympathy. “Don’t take it,” I replied “turn them into frogs” at which point his mates creased up and he learned the lesson that you need a thick skin to be a Sunderland supporter.

Our technical difficulties mean that for some reason the first comment posted after an article seems to be accepted before disappearing into the ether and blocking others from adding their two pennorth. Yesterday we came up against the team that would have been rock bottom had Bolton not had all those points deducted so a win was expected and the team delivered. You can see what Chris Boyle (aka CSB) thought of it here as he tried to comment at the end of Sixer’s Sevens. You can find out what the man himself thought of the game by reading on.

SHRIMPERS SEEN OFF BY YOUNG GUNS.

“Oh well, at least it hasn’t rained” was the underwhelming assessment of this uninspiring win over a team who look destined for the basement league next season. It came from my brother, spending three weeks in the British Isles (two in Ireland, one in Little Britain) before he returns to Thessaloniki, where he has lived since 1997.

He times his visits to the North East to coincide with a home game. In the past he has seen the likes of Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea – the one where Eden Hazard delivered a master class a few years ago- but never the likes of Southend United. Trying to explain where Southend was to Veta, his Greek wife was a severe test of our geographical and linguistic skills.

The last time he was here, in November 2016, we beat Hull City 3-0 as we dared to hope that David Moyes could get us out of the quagmire at the bottom of the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored that day and Victor Anichebe fired a double in the second half as we strung back to back wins together for the only time that season.

Now, instead of such Wearside legends as Papy Djilobodji, Didier Ndong and Billy Jones, we have Joel Lynch, Max Power and Conor McLaughlin, all three honest and committed players (as was Jones) but all a long way from the quality that we had for a few years in the Keane, Bruce, O’Neill, Poyet period of our history.

At this level, we need commitment and energy and a touch of class to make us stand out.

What we got against a side who have managed but a single league victory all season, was a performance that could be deemed no more than adequate and made Phil wonder whether an afternoon in The Bridges and The National Glass Centre with Veta might have been more productive and enjoyable.

National Glass Centre

So, five games into the new manager’s term of office and with the prospect of the riches of Croesus to spend in January (relatively speaking), where do we stand and what can we see in his team pattern and selections?

He likes his full backs to get forward, hence the selection of McLaughlin (C) and Hume. Both had good games, with Young Denver turning in a sparkling opening half hour until Southend worked out how to stop his foraging into danger areas.

The cross that the Northumberland born wing back put in for the goal was a cracker and the one that Will Grigg headed on to the post was almost as good. He foraged down the left-hand side to great effect and is one very good reason for using a tranche of the U.S. investment to maintain and improve the academy. Home grown players like him, Lynden Gooch, Elliot Embleton, Bali Mumba and Ethan Robson are important for the future of the club. We are finding it difficult at Under 23 and Under 19 level at the moment – let’s hope for an upturn in the next two years.

Both McLaughlins were competent on their re-calls although (J) seemed to be a little less comfortable than he was last season. He had little to do but one excellent punch out in the 93rd minute, as Southend filled the box for a “Hail Mary” free kick, wrapped up the points for us.

We played a 4-2-3-1 formation, not quite a Christmas Tree (plenty on sale now – I expect to see the first one up on the paper round this week) but one that gives us options. The donkey work is done by the 2 and Parkinson has handed the opportunity to Max Power and George Dobson to claim those roles above Leadbitter and McGeouch.

Both performed as expected. Captain Power, resplendent in his orange boots, took the responsibility of moving the ball forward and his young, fresh faced subaltern did the hard yards in tracking back and winning the ball. Aesthetically, the former Walsall man is not pleasing to watch (he has a rather ugly running style) but he gets there and he tackles well. He fits into Parkinson’s game plan well and should improve.

Power has matured as skipper. There was an occasion in the second half when he was lining up a shot and McGeady took it off his foot. Twelve months ago, he would have been enraged. Here, he bit his tongue and applauded the mercurial Irishmen as he had forced a good save out of the Shrimpers keeper.

Two of the three that played in front of George and Max were not so impressive. Both Maguire and McGeady try too hard to bring that extra bit of special to the team, which I presume is what Parkinson wants from them. Both can do it, but not to order and both were disappointing, with Maguire being the winner of the Most Disappointing of the Midfield Three competition.

He works hard enough but got himself tangled up a few times and seemed determined to relive that glorious goal of twelve months ago when he finished off Southend. It just didn’t work for him in this one and he knew that he had not performed particularly well when he was replaced by a much sharper Duncan Watmore midway through the second half.

McGeady also tries to bring off the spectacular and on his day is a threat to any opponent. Like Maguire, it didn’t quite work for him and he almost played himself into trouble on a number of occasions in the later stages of the game. Like Maguire, when it comes off, it’s spectacular but maybe in the latter stages of his illustrious career, it just doesn’t come off as much as it used to.

That leaves the club icon and testimony to the club recruitment policy, Luke O’Nien.

His enthusiasm and ability to play at full back and further up the field is keeping us afloat at the moment and there will surely be clubs further up the pyramid monitoring his progress on a regular basis. Here, he took his goal well, converting a splendid cross from Hume (another one whose radar blip will be increasing in size) with a fine diving header. He defends well, picks the ball up and runs with it, tackles, harries and scores goals. Whether his future is in midfield or at full back remains to be seen, but he has a future and hopefully it will be a Wearside one.

And that brings us to Will Grigg. Like many before him, he has not made a great impression in his time at the club and the goals we hoped for have been like a shower in a cheap hotel – the water comes through in dribs and drabs rather than in a flow. It could be a good shower but it just doesn’t work properly so nobody gets much benefit from it.

There were a couple of flashes here – a decent header from a a Hume cross and he started a move with a ball to McLaughlin(C) which led to another header that just whizzed over the top. Parkinson will have to persevere with him while Wyke is injured. McNulty looks like a half hour man and there is nobody else to call up.

As far as games go, it was as dull and dreary as anything I have seen over the last few seasons. The opposition were limited and, apart from one early chance, never looked like scoring. Sol Campbell has organised them, but we struggled to break down a team who have conceded an average of 2.75 goals per game and who have taken one point from the last fifteen available.

The evening in Durham was an improvement on the afternoon in Sunderland. A fine fish and chip tea in Bell’s Restaurant in the Market Place was followed by a most enjoyable evening in the company of Show of Hands, Miranda Sykes and Cormac Byrne at the Gala Theatre.

Show of Hands

When we left it was raining, but the brother was still on a high and hardly noticed it.

Had it been so after the game, he would have justifiably complained all the way home- to Thessaloniki, not Shildon.

Highlights for those in the UK via safc.com

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View from the West Stand: initially impressive Cats overPower MK Dons then hang on

Jake: ‘from Spain, it sounded like the classic game of two halves’

Returning visitors to Salut! Sunderland will know that Pete Sixsmith, our regular match correspondent, is a Guardian reading liberal (with a small l) with a well developed sense of decency and fair play but there are a few things that I guarantee will provoke him enough to elicit a barrage of anger and expletives, namely: Crystal Palace, Surrey County Cricket Club, Highways England, Rugby Union, Ant and Dec, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.  Oh and I almost forgot – franchised football.

I don’t know how many of you remember, but only a few days after our defeat to Millwall in the 2004 FA Cup semi final at Old Trafford, we had to travel to the National Hockey Stadium to face a club that had been allowed to up sticks and move lock, stock and barrel to a land of concrete cows and ring roads. It was there that my sister and I met up with Sixer and I had my first experience of a volley of Sixsmith invective, aimed at a youth of no more than thirteen years who dared to try and mock we three for supporting a club that had got to within one game of the Millennium Stadium, whilst his team, still known as Wimbledon had been knocked out  in Round 4. We won 2-1 that evening with goals from Darren Byfield and Marcus Stewart but would miss out on promotion after losing to a side from South London in the playoffs. See you bright young things, we have seen it all before.

Wimbledon on the other hand, would be relegated from what was then known as the First Division, but was really Division 2 in old money, before changing their name over the summer and sparking Alun Armstrong, a native of the North Durham village of Annfield Plain, to wear an AFC Wimbledon shirt on the newly aired TV series “New Tricks”. 

Was that really 15 years ago? It was and Pete still hasn’t forgiven the footballing authorities for allowing a club with a long history to move and change its name, so only a few weeks after we beat the real Dons at the Stadium of Light we agreed between us, that I should bring you the Salut! Sunderland view of a game that brought a welcome three points.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

M K DEFEATED

The Grand Canal Venice

Because of an imminent trip to Venice courtesy of a Thomas Cook package (fortunately our Ryanair flight took off a matter of hours before they went bust) I didn’t get to the Bolton match and followed the Carabao Cup tie at Bramall Lane via the BBC and SAFC text services, whilst cruising the Grand Canal and Venetian lagoon on my way back to the hotel on the islands of Murano.

But I’d made sure that I was going to be back in time for the next home game, although you wouldn’t have thought it on Friday morning when I looked out of my window, what with the amount of  water that was running outside my house and the state of my patio around the back. Fortunately, although it was still wet underfoot on Saturday morning, it had actually stopped raining so the Park and Ride option was still viable and in the end it turned out to be a pleasantly sunny afternoon.

View from my kitchen window on Friday

I’ve only started to use the P&R this season and one thing it does is to allow me to take a snapshot of the pre and post match feelings of a section of the support. Yesterday the atmosphere on the bus going to the ground was subdued but I detected an air of quiet confidence, whilst on the return journey there was a quiet satisfaction at a job done and the group from Milton Keynes who sat near me had enjoyed their day, were looking forward to an evening in town and weren’t overly disappointed at the result, having had no expectations of a victory before kick off.

As I passed on the copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport which I had brought back for Mr Sixsmith it was good to have a brief word with associate editor John McCormick who I last saw at the rainfest that was Accrington Stanley away last season and who has spent the past few months recovering from a particularly unpleasant form of medical treatment. At least the sun shone for him yesterday and he was to see a home win.

Whilst injuries had obviously limited Jack Ross’s choices, we now have a squad that not only seems well balanced, but contains a number of players who can do a job in a variety of positions. The starting line up reflected this, with a back four comprised of summer signings including Jordan Willis who was handed the captain’s armband. Laurens De Bock and Joel Lynch after getting midweek game time were considered fit enough to start and this not only gave the team a more balanced look, but also provided a bit more height and muscle to the side. Having the Belgian available meant Conor McLaughlin was able to play on his favoured right side and more importantly freed up the energetic Luke O’Nien to play in a much more advanced role. The central midfield was taken up by Power and McGeouch both of whom are more mobile than Grant Leadbitter and more experienced than George Dobson. Charlie Wyke was to lead the line.

No Aiden McGeady meant that Chris Maguire was to start wide right with Lynden Gooch taking up the left hand berth. I suggested in a GTS comment, that I thought sometimes the team plays better without McGeady, which is not to say that I wouldn’t have him in the starting line up, just that when he isn’t there others step up to the mark and can maybe play in their stronger positions. Maguire, as we know can operate in a variety of positions but for me he is most useful when he plays wide right and I prefer to see Gooch on the other flank, where he can twist and turn then cut inside more effectively to set up a shot with his stronger foot.

Chris Maguire

Despite the suggestions in the headlines of some of the more sensationalist websites, desperate for clicks and increased advertising revenue, it was not shocking to see Jon McLaughlin back between the sticks. Yes Lee Burge had a good game against The Blades but big Jon is first choice and will remain so until he suffers a loss of form, forgets to have his flu jab or needs a lie in on a Saturday morning.

Certainly with this line up we saw eleven players who knew their brief and in the first half especially, retained the shape of the side, with little lateral movement or swapping of positions. The basic shape was 4-2-4 with O’Nien, buzzing about just behind Wyke, but the two wide men were quick to drift back and make it a 4-4-2 when required and as the game progressed, the two full backs got forward more, not in the gung ho attacking style that we sometimes get when O’Nien and Hume take up the Cec Irwin and Len Ashurst mantle, but in a more considered supporting role.

Just as we had against Rotherham we dominated the first period of play. After only three minutes the MKD keeper Lee Nicholls was called into action saving at the feet of Charlie Wyke. Our boys were linking up well and retaining possession and on the odd occasion that the visitors pushed forward the defence looked solid and capable. There was plenty of interplay, short passing and running into space and despite the presence of Wyke, for much of the time we played the ball on the ground. It was this sort of play that produced the first goal.

O’Nien, tracking back in his own half, took possession and played the ball out to Chris Maguire who, surrounded by three yellow shirts did a bit of twisting and turning before sending a ball down the line to big Charlie who had drifted out wide. For a big man Wyke looks comfortable with the ball at his feet but he seemed to have played a poor ball behind O’Nien and into a triangle of opposition players. It was just in front of where I sit and there was a split second’s disappointment as it appeared that a promising attack had broken down, but what the centre forward had seen that we hadn’t, was the run of Max Power, who hit a beautiful curling shot that gave  Nicholls no chance and Power his second wonder strike within three days. One – nil and looking comfortable. Deja vu and not for the first time. We all knew that more was needed before we could feel confident that all three points would come our way.

But we kept going and within three minutes we were two ahead while Luke O’Nien might have had a hat-trick. Almost straight from the re-start Joel Lynch found Gooch in space on the left wing. As the defence moved across, our favourite American had jinked and twisted his way into the box before playing the ball back to De Bock, who sent a first time peach of a cross into O’Nien who was unlucky to see his header rattle the foot of the post before being put behind for a corner. The coaching staff and players have obviously been working hard on corner routines as there is now much more variety. Instead of simply lumping the ball into the box, there are a number of shorter options being used, as well as those finding players outside of the penalty area, like Wednesday night.

Although that corner came to nothing, from the resultant goal kick, the MKD defence got into a right pickle trying to play it short and a hasty clearance from Nicholls only found a rejuvenated Max Power, who picked up the loose ball and now full of confidence tried another 25 yard pile driver which deflected off a foot for another corner, this time on the right. Maguire curled one in to the near post where a stooping Luke O’Nien got off another great header, which was well saved and prompted the former Wycombe man to go over and congratulate Nicholls for the quality of his diving stop as we set up for another corner.

This too was defended effectively and the Dons broke forward but a fine tackle from Max Power not only stopped the visitors in their tracks but also won us a throw in. At this point one of our opponents decided that his white boots didn’t really go with primrose yellow so hopped off the pitch to swap them for a darker pair. More fool him because from the resultant throw, the ball was returned to McLaughlin C who lobbed the ball forward into the path of Luke O’Nien. Nicholls, unsure whether to come out and close him down or drop back onto his line did neither and O’Nien lobbed him in a way that reminded me of a goal I once almost scored myself in a 5 a side game at The Crowtree Leisure Centre. However, while mine bounced back off the angle of post and bar, O’Nien’s effort hit the post and side netting, with enough of the ball across the line to convince the referee’s assistant that it was a goal. From my seat I couldn’t be 100% sure all the ball was over the line before it was headed out, but hey who are we to argue with the officials when they rule in our favour? Having watched the replay it looks as if VAR could have decided either way and the 450 odd visiting fans might not have been happy but we were and our play up to that point had been worth more than a one goal lead. Luke O’Nien too was overjoyed. It’s not always easy to tell with our Luke as he plays with a permanent grin but his enthusiastic demolition of the corner flag as he went to celebrate with the fans said it all.

We continued to dominate, whilst the visiting defence looked shaky at times and another poor clearance found Gooch who burst forward and was unlucky to see a powerful drive from distance, pass just the wrong side of the far post. There was still time for one more bit of controversy as Max Power was fouled just in front of the technical areas and while the game continued, with the ref playing a good advantage, substitute David Kasamu did something to the prostrate Max Power as he ran past. We assumed it was a kick and there was plenty of shouting at the ref for a red card. After speaking to the 4th official Kasamu only saw yellow and then Max Power also went in the referee’s notebook, presumably for remonstrating as he walked away, although some thought it might have been for making out it was worse that it was. If I’m right and it was for criticising the ref, this is the second Saturday in a row that Power has picked up a stupid booking and while I like to see a bit of feistiness in our players it is no good if it means that player ends up missing games.

Anyone who knows me will confirm that I am rarely relaxed until we have at least a four goal lead and despite being two up at half time, the consensus around me was that we needed at least one more to settle the nerves. And true to form we were to endure a nervy second half as the Dons got into the game more effectively and halved the lead after only ten minutes of the half – although we might have had another goal before that, when a Chris Maguire cross found Lynden Gooch who was unable to shoot first time and in controlling the ball gave the defence time to re-organise and head clear, but only to the feet of Max Power, who tried his luck yet again with a right footed volley from the edge of the box, which scraped the post as Nicholls made sure it stayed out.

Their goal when it came was not great from a defensive point of view. I was explaining to the young lad who sits near me that the high pressing game we had employed earlier on uses up a lot of energy and that with a two goal lead, by defending deeper and allowing our opponents to pass the ball around in their own half, the emphasis was more on reducing passing options and managing the game but I was probably trying to reassure myself as much as him. The Dons had been passing the ball around more in our half and eventually Kasamu, crossed the ball deep to George Williams who had stolen in unnoticed on the far side. McLaughlin moved across to cover the near post but when Williams headed across the face of goal, he was forced to scramble back as Jordan Willis struggled to block the run of Jordan Bowery and somehow the ball ended up in the back of the net. McLaughlin protested he had been impeded but to be honest it wasn’t the finest bit of keeping I have seen from the big man. But there was confusion as first we thought the goal had been given, then disallowed, then given again.

There was some anxiety in the last half hour or so, which Chris Maguire might have alleviated had his effort brushed the underside, rather than the top of the bar as MK Dons continued to press but on the whole the defence coped well. As had happened against Rotherham we allowed our opponents the chance to get back into a game which we had started as the better side but we can’t expect other teams to simply roll over and capitulate. At the end of the day this is another three points and takes Jack Ross’s managerial record in league games as P 56  W 27  D 23  L 6 which takes him close to the two points a game target he sets himself. We have only lost once in the 28 games which he has supervised at the Stadium of Light. I don’t suppose the facts and figures will go any way to silencing those who think that a change of manager will automatically mean we will see a team winning easily each week but I do think constant criticism is not helping. Wins over Lincoln and Fleetwood would help.

Haway the Lads

Match highlights via safc.com

 

Sixer’s Sheffield United Soapbox: Blades cut down as Max Power switches on

Sixer by Jake

John McCormick writes: asPete Sixsmith notes, I’m making a long awaited trip up to the NorthEast this weekend where, instead of my customary seat behind the north end goal, I’ll be joining him in the East Stand. After the Bolton debacle I was wondering about the trip and how the team would fare.  Last night’s result –  on away turf and against a Premier League side  – has nicely set up my visit and the anticipation that goes with it.

As has this report, another gem from Pete:

Read moreSixer’s Sheffield United Soapbox: Blades cut down as Max Power switches on

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

Sixer Says: Pete Sixsmith looks at our January transfer dealings

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

Pete Sixsmith assesses our January transfer business.

THE WINDOW CLOSES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Dunne

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

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

Grant Leadbitter back in the day

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

All will be revealed between now and May 4th.

Lewis Morgan

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

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

Kazaiah Sterling

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

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

Let’s hope so.

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

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

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

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

And a win………

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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.

Power to Jack Ross; his faith in Max is rewarded

Max Power courtesy of www.saf.com

This absolutely must be posted. Salut! Sunderland’s gut reaction to Max Power’s sending off at Walsall was along the lines of “what an idiot”. Well some of those connected with the site – and many more beyond it – thought so, anyway.

But now the red card has been shown to have been a miscarriage of justice and has been rescinded. The appeal many said would be a waste of time succeeded. Jack Ross’s defence of the player is vindicated. Power is 100 per cent cleared. Another black stain on the reputation of League One referees.

Read morePower to Jack Ross; his faith in Max is rewarded

Barnsley Guess the Score: salute fighting spirit but it’s time to resume winning

No mugs this Tuesday but there is prize … read on

Before introducing Guess the Score, Monsieur Salut has some words to add on the Max Power issue. They are not the words I originally wrote to accompany the article …

What I felt and many others felt was the rank stupidity of Max Power, a gifted player enough suspected of possessing the suicidal tendencies often if wrongly attributed to lemmings, dumped Sunderland into deep trouble with his 23rd minute red card, number three of the season, at Walsall.

Read moreBarnsley Guess the Score: salute fighting spirit but it’s time to resume winning

Sixer’s Soapbox: Oxford United gain a point against powerless Sunderland

Malcolm Dawson writes……..in his programme notes Charlie Methvin spoke of the mixed emotions he would be feeling as a lifelong Oxford United supporter, now involved in the ownership and organisation of Sunderland AFC. I have to wonder what sort of mixed emotions he went through as the game progressed.

With his red and white hat on, I should think maybe a mixture of frustration at a team who were knocked off their preferred playing style by physical opponents not averse to employing underhand methods, abetted by as incompetent a refereeing display as I have ever witnessed, tension as we played out most of the match with only ten men and having equalised having to hang on with tired legs and opponents pushing for an equaliser and ultimately pride in a battling performance which saw us gain a point in the most trying of circumstances.

From his yellow and blue perspective I should think he would be encouraged by Oxford’s footballing display but I would hope have been embarrassed by their spoiling tactics and employing what appeared to have been a deliberate policy to con the referee. Max Power only has himself to blame for the red card and though some officials may have deemed it a yellow card offence, it was a reckless challenge, unlikely to ever win the ball cleanly. But the benchmark had been set as early as the twelfth minute.

In the type of incident that those in the ground could see clearly but which may not have been picked up by the TV cameras, Chris Maguire was trying to find space on the halfway line to offer Jon Mclaughlin an outlet to set up a quick counterattack. He was being physically held and manhandled by an Oxford defender, obviously worried by his pace and ability and prevented from going anywhere. Did the linesman see what we saw? If he did then surely it would have been a free kick to us and a yellow card to the man in blue. Instead, as Maguire tried to extricate himself the United player fell over clutching his face. The resultant free kick and yellow card against Maguire, was only the first of a number of poor decisions and our players were getting increasingly frustrated. 

I may question the morality of the Oxford United tactics but there is no arguing against their effectiveness. But then you haven’t come here to read my whinging on about referees and dubious opponents. You’ve come to read what Pete Sixsmith thought of a game in a league which is proving to be anything but boring. Over to Pete.  

Read moreSixer’s Soapbox: Oxford United gain a point against powerless Sunderland

Sixer’s Scunthorpe Soapbox: Iron can’t cope with the hard press

Malcolm Dawson writes……..two weeks ago we celebrated the first win of the Donald/Methvyn/Jack Ross era in a way that was hard to beat with a winner deep into time added on, having fallen behind in the first half. Today beat that. I’d like to say this was the perfect performance. It wasn’t and the manager admitted that there is room for improvement but hey this afternoon was the most enjoyable I’ve experienced at the Stadium of Light for I don’t know how long. It was better than the Charlton game because for this one the passing was crisp, the movement brisk, the energy levels stratospheric and we went ahead, then further ahead and after the third went in even I could relax just a little and savour the performance, with just the ever lingering apprehension that this is Sunderland and that anything can happen.

But this is a different Sunderland. Here is a group of players who seem to be revelling in playing for the club. They were organised, confident on the ball and worked for each other. Gosh they even moved about and made themselves available when we had a throw in and it’s an age since I’ve seen that!

The crowd was fantastic again and even sang Lee Cattermole’s name at one point perhaps showing those who were giving him some stick in recent weeks that he can still be an asset if an expensive one. The same goes for Oviedo who could have gone off following a painful challenge, but stayed on to finish the game. At the end Maguire, who had been subbed came back on the pitch to thank the crowd and was last off together with Loovens who looks as if he really can’t believe his luck at being signed.

Add to that the mentions the crowd got from Methven and McLaughlin in the programme for the roar of encouragement that went up following the Charlton goal alongside the piece from our own Pete Sixsmith.

Speaking of Pete I suppose I better stop eulogising and let him recount today’s proceedings in his own eloquent way. That’s what you are here for after all!

SCUNTHORPE UNITED

At half time, after we had stopped pinching ourselves about the score and the quality of football we had witnessed, Neil Scott, an irregular Hetton Irregular and who sits in front of me at The Stadium turned around and said, “When were we last 3 up at half time at home?”

Neither of us knew, although we both remembered that day in February 2017 when goals from Kone, Ndong and Defoe (2) put us four up at Crystal Palace in what was Bryan Oviedo’s debut.

We also remembered that glorious day in February 1964 when we were three up at home to League Champions Everton in an FA Cup 5th Round game in front of 62,817 thanks to goals from Jimmy McNab in the third minute, Charlie Hurley in the 27th and an own goal from Mick Meagan in the 32nd. We went on to win 3-1 and take on Manchester United three times in the quarter final. Some research back at Sixsmith Towers turned up a game against Stoke City in September 2011 when Titus Bramble., a Jonathon Woodgate own goal and a Craig Gardener free kick sent us into the dressing rooms 3 up. Seb Larsson wrapped it up in the 58th.

Since then, nothing – or at least until today, when Scunthorpe United were despatched in as comfortable a way as I have seen for a long time. Yes, it’s the Third Division, yes, they have lost some good players over the summer, no I am not going to get carried away – and yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So too did 28,000 Sunderland supporters as they watched a team that has been thrown together since July play in a swashbuckling way that has rarely been seen at The Stadium since the great days of Quinn and Phillips, Johnston and Summerbee and Makin and Gray.  Players looked comfortable on the ball. There was solid defending. The midfield moved quickly. There were spells of intense short passing and then, BOOM, a raking long ball from one side of the field to the other was played.

The goalkeeper was sound. Both first choice full backs drew on their considerable experience and went forward well. Oviedo was excellent both as an attacker and a defender. His cross for Max Power’s goal was as good as the one he put in for Gooch two weeks ago and he linked brilliantly with Gooch and Maguire.

Baldwin and Loovens looked as safe as the Bank of England at the back. Lee Novak, the Scunthorpe forward, had a very low rate of interest in this game, as Baldwin had him in his pocket for the entire ninety minutes and Loovens was calmness personified apart form a couple of minor blips.

But it was in midfield that the most pleasure was to be derived.

Cattermole – continually cajoling and directing affairs

Lee Cattermole’s recall was not greeted with universal approbation. Some thought it a risk. He had done well enough in the practice match that masqueraded as a League Cup tie on Thursday, but how would he cope with a league in which he had had no experience? Was he too slow? Would he be caught out? Was he a liability? “Nay, nay, a thousand times nay” as Frankie Howard used to say. Used in a role that suited him perfectly just in front of the back four and with willing youngsters there to do his running, he had a stormer and even got into the Scunthorpe box.

Aided and abetted by the impressive Max Power (crazy name, crazy guy), the industrious George Honeyman and the mercurial Lynden Gooch, The Iron were hammered into a shape akin to that of a flattened Tom Cat when Jerry Mouse cuts the rope thus allowing the anvil to fall on the foolish feline.

Chris Maguire popped up everywhere and Josh Maja produced some shimmies and moves that would guarantee him a place on Strictly were he ever to become really famous.

The goals were splendid. A powerful header from who else but Max of that ilk, reminded this watcher of Charlie Hurley in his pomp. The delivery by Oviedo was as out of place at a third level game as Richard Burton would have been at the Brandon and Byshottles Amateur Dramatic and Light Opera Group. It begged to be thumped in and it was.

Oviedo also played a part in the second, working the ball to Maja who whipped it into the net to keep up his average of a goal a game. He should have made it a goal every 0.75 of a game in the second half had he planted a ridiculously easy chance between the posts, But good players often miss easy chances – Kevin Phillips missed a few and Pop Robson once put one over the bar at White Hart Lane from two yards.

Will Maguire become a legend in the red and white?

The third was a sublime back heel by Chris Maguire after a wonderful one two from Honeyman and Gooch. Our American winger had destroyed the Scunthorpe full back, Lewis Butroid, a young player starting his second full season as an Iron first teamer. He will lock himself in a cupboard for the next few weeks whenever the name Gooch is mentioned because I have rarely seen a defender systematically destroyed as this young man was. Hopefully, his career will recover – or at least until January when we play them again.

Scunny were outclassed and outplayed. The penalty claims they made in the first half were genuine but a look at it shows that Baldwin got to the ball before George Thomas and headed it away before the forward tumbled over. The referee, who was at best ok, called that one right. But throughout the game the 10 outfield players pressed the men in yellow all over the pitch and never allowed the opposition to settle. Furthermore all 11 players made themselves available to receive a pass so there were always options for the ball carrier. Most times good decisions were made. Occasionally the desire to create openings and play the ball out from the back led to errors but Jack Ross is developing a culture where players are encouraged to play without fear.

One swallow does not make a summer but the signs here were very encouraging. When Matthews limped off and James came on, we switched to a back three and pushed Oviedo up. Would any of the previous three managers have done that? Answers on a postcard please.

There are two difficult tests looming next week. A minimum of two points is required and four or above would be more than satisfactory. Flanagan and McGeouch may be ready for one or both, leaving Jack Ross with some tricky decisions to make.

Good. That’s how it should be……….