Not as important, perhaps, but it gives us a glimpse of some players who might yet grace the famous grounds of the English Football League such as Roots Hall, Adams Park, Highbury, The Kassam three sided, The New Meadow and the Stadium of Light.
Salut! Sunderland is proud to contribute to SAFC matchday programmes. Finally free of his annual Santa duties, Pete Sixsmith joined the 46,039 present at the game against Bradford City. Those who bought the programme will have seen these recollections of past Boxing Day encounters …
This will be my final dodgy numbers post of the season. (If you haven’t seen the previous ones you can follow the link above, and/or those below). There is still a game to go, and two questions remain unanswered, but we can now look at the league table and judge how well our start of season pundits did. Their choices for the top six spots, in order of popularity were: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Fulham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland.
Three out of six, and wrong about the top two. Is that a “not bad” verdict or something worse?
Yesterday you might have seen how I – or rather our readers – came to select a number of clubs to follow over the course of the season. They were originally Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Fulham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland; Wolves, Bristol City, Cardiff, Derby and Sheffield United joined them at the end of the January transfer window.
Let’s go back to the start of the season (and don’t we wish we could).
I polled our readers as to who would make the top six. These clubs came up favourite ( in the order given) and I began tracking them and reporting on their progress from time to time:
By Christmas, if not earlier, it was obvious some changes were needed.
Most weeks, readers of Salut! Sunderland drop by on Friday morning to catch the latest instalment in Pete Sixsmith’s twin series, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground (if the game in question is away), Team (if it’s at the Stadium of Light).
This week, the Millwall edition was posted earlier than usual – namely at this link.
Malcolm Dawson writes…….well the Men and Women’s curling both proved to be a huge but not unexpected disappointment. I am becoming a bit fatalistic now in my sports watching and rarely expect those I want to do well to come up with the goods anymore. In my continuing refusal to actually spend any money following Sunderland, whilst the current owner remains, I didn’t go to yesterday’s game. I had listened to most of the Barnes and Benno commentary, but resigned to another defeat I missed the last minute and thought we had lost until I switched on Final Score. Like Wrinkly Pete I have no sympathy for the multitude who walk out early then miss the pulsating climax, yet here I was doing the auditory equivalent yesterday. Still whilst a point is better than nothing it’s not as good as three. (I’m stating the obvious in the hope that someone will notice and offer me a job as a TV pundit.)
Snatching a point in the dying minutes of time added on is much more uplifting than having the lead hoiked away, but did it leave Pete Sixsmith feeling that it had been a grand day out? Let’s find out…….
As we trooped out of the Stadium at about 9pm due to all the added time, the general consensus was that Callum McManaman’s welcome equaliser was “too little, too late”. Points wise, it just about kept us in touch with the other potential Checkatrade Trophy entrants in the relegation zone and it took the smirk off the faces of the Middlesbrough supporters, but it was another opportunity lost to drag ourselves into the heady heights of 22nd in a league that is competitive but not very good.
At least there was fight and spirit (although Jake Clarke-Salter took that a bit far) and after the last two wretched home defeats against mid table teams, we gave one of the so-called “better” sides a real scare. Ultimately, our appalling defensive habits let us down again. We have scored three goals four times this season which has earned us four points. That’s not very good is it!
There are some positives to take from this. We looked solid in the first half. Asoro took his goal well and looks a good player. Premier League scouts will have been alerted to his potential. We may make some money out of him to help pay off Ellis Short’s personal debt.
Paddy McNair had an impressive 41 minutes before limping off. Injured by a tackle from Lee Cattermole. He had been a very influential figure in the centre of midfield. He got about the field well and made some telling interceptions and some lung bursting runs. Should he tire of football (as I am doing) there is a career for him in the second row at Leeds Rhinos. It is to be hoped that his injury is not deep seated.
Cattermole showed that there is still some life left in the old dog. The legs are struggling at times and some of the passing leaves a little to be desired, but he and McNair blotted out Besic, Downing and Grant Leadbitter up to half time. Our former captain still found time to spray some decent passes around and even had a couple of on target shots blocked by desperate Boro defenders as we lay siege in the closing stages.
Williams and McManaman made positive impressions when they came on and both scored. Williams celebrated with the support while McManaman decided to continue his feud with Tony Pulis and gave the impression that that was more important than salvaging a point for his team. Pulis’s comments after the game were interesting – “I didn’t pick him, Sheffield Wednesday didn’t pick him and he’s not getting picked here. Maybe he has some problems.”
But there are the usual negatives. The defending for all three goals was truly awful. Kone (who did actually strengthen the back three/four) stood too far off Bamford and allowed him to turn and equalise. There was a lack of communication between keeper and defenders for the penalty that put them ahead for the first time and John O’Shea miscalculated for the third one, allowing the impressive Bamford to put the Smoggies ahead again.
The lack of cohesion between goalkeeper and back line is a real worry. Lee Camp is an experienced player who was brought in to restore some stability but looks no better than Ruiter or Steele. He was slow off his line when he gave away the penalty, ignored Cattermole’s indication of where Grant Leadbitter was going to put the kick (Catts was right, Camp was wrong) and does not inspire a great deal of confidence in the support. Coleman has a dilemma here; stick with Camp, restore Steele or take a chance with Max Stryjek. I suspect he will choose the first option.
He also has an option at the back now that Clarke-Salter is out for three games. His tackle was a straight red and as I protested (more in anger than conviction), the quiet, thoughtful man who has the misfortune to sit next to me said, “The referee was given a decision to make.” He got it right. Coleman now has to decide whether to restore Browning to a back three or stick with O’Shea and Kone until one of them implodes.
Flash Gordon had 14 hours to save the universe and, aided by Brian Blessed, managed to achieve it. Chris Coleman and his disparate band of loanees, free transfers, young up and comers and grizzled old pros has 12 games to save us from another relegation and what could be the closure of large areas of the Stadium of Light as crowds below 20,000 would be the norm next season. Fleetwood and Gillingham won’t bring many with them.
I targeted a possible seven points from these last three games. We got one. I’ll target one point from the next three. We may end up with seven. Or none…………
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We were 1-0 up when I started setting this up, just after half time. By the time I’d got the page ready for Pete Sixsmith we were 1-2 down, with the second being a Grant Leadbitter penalty.
Could we overcome being struck by the curse of the former player? Yes and no. Yes because we scored to equalise but no because they scored a third shortly afterwards.
But yes again because we came back strongly, which led to Pete changing his text at the very last minute:
John McCormick writes: I’d really have to think hard about whether or not I’ve seen us play ‘Boro at Roker. Away, yes – I’ve been to Ayresome Park – but I have no recollection of any game against them at home. I wouldn’t have been at the 1961 game Pete describes below, being only 10 at the time (my SAFC career began about the time Cloughie’s ended and I never saw him) and for much of the sixties I think we were were in different divisions.
Even so, this series by Pete Sixsmith is beginning to make me think my memory is seriously deficient.
I blame the drink. I’m clearly not getting enough
Monsieur Salut writes: having used up virtually the entire Boro-supporting side of my family (my sister has lived there throughout her adult life, for some years just around the corner from Ayresome Park), I scoured Twitter for a fresh pair of eyes. There I found Chris Blackwood*, a York-based lifelong Boro fan. He readily agree to share his thoughts with us. He rates Chris Coleman highly, thinks he might just pull us one or two places clear of the drop but clearly sees the necessary Sunderland points coming from a tough-looking run-in since he sees yet aother Stadium of Light home defeat looming for this weekend …