Pete Sixsmith isn’t envious of those who followed Sunderland’s pre-season tour, Ha’way Out West. After all, he’s had his share of exotic travel, too, rounding it all off with the Doncaster first-team friendly tonight …
The first team went to California and Ontario; the Development Squad had to make do with Consett and Boston – the one in Lincolnshire, not the one in Massachusetts. It was a evening out in a town that is going through many changes.
Malcolm Dawson writes….it’s not often you can see two full internationals for three quid but Pete Sixsmith, myself and a smattering of the Hetton Irregulars did today at Ironworks Road, Tow Law. Santiago Vergini and Charalampos Mavrias started with the majority of the Development Squad against a Tow Law side who, it has to be said, could well struggle in the EBAC Northern League Division 2 in the forthcoming season. If you’ve never been, Tow Law’s ground enjoys unprecedented views of the Durham Dales but is prone to cold winds even in the height of summer. Saturday afternoon was no exception. It may have been July but it could easily have been October as dark clouds scudded over and those fans in shorts regretted their lack of lower leg insulation. Kevin Ball was there. Chris Waddle wasn’t. Pete’s match report follows illustrated by a few of my pictures.
TOW LAW 0 – SAFC Development XI 5
Imagine that you are a 27 year old professional footballer. Not any old footballer but an international player who has appeared alongside Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria and Carlos Tevez. You have played at the San Siro, at La Bombareno, the home ground of Boca Juniors and at Old Trafford. You have just completed a permanent transfer to the richest league in the world, the English Premier League, albeit with a seemingly permanently struggling club. You have tested yourself against fellow countryman Sergio Aguero, golden boy Harry Kane and the pacy Alexis Sanchez. You have settled well into an alien environment. Life looks good. So, how come you end up at Ironworks Road, Tow Law?
Santiago Vergini, a regular under Gus Poyet, has been told by Dick Advocaat that there is no future for him at Sunderland, despite the club forking out £2m to sign him permanently. The new Head Coach decided after an abject display against Crystal Palace that he had seen enough and did not pick him again. The transfer was part of the loan deal with his previous employers and, unlike the Ricky Alavarez deal, it was watertight. Club and agent were paid, Santiago got what I imagine was a decent signing on fee – and he ended up at Tow Law.
For those whose geography of South Durham is patchy, Tow Law is a long village that sits on a ridge above Weardale. The A68 bisects it, it has areas known as Dan’s Castle and Inkerman, is the terminus of the Arriva Route 1 and has a football team that reached Wembley in 1998, losing to Tiverton Town in the FA Vase final. For many years, they could do what Sunderland had done up until 1958, and proclaim that they had never been relegated – until that is, they finished in the bottom three in 2012 and were consigned to the Northern League Second Division, alongside Ryton and Crawcrook Albion, Darlington Railway Athletic and West Allotment Celtic. They almost exited the other way last season, finishing perilously close to a place in the Wearside League for 2015-16.
Tow Law can be accurately described as cold. Consett is positively tropical when compared with this ridge hugging village and it was a brave man who stepped onto the Ironworks Road terracing without a fleece, on what was in the balmy environs of nearby Crook, a pleasant afternoon.
The Development Squad consisted of a two players who have made full appearances for the first team as Charis Mavrias was included. He is another from the Di Fanti/Di Canio era who has looked decent at times but who will never make it in the Premier League. There is talk of him returning to Greece to play in the domestic league there but I can’t imagine him wanting to dash back to the poverty, misery and chaos that exists in the birthplace of democracy.
Mikael Mandron also played and he scored four of the five goals which sentenced the Lawyers to their second successive pre-season 5-0 defeat, the other one coming against Wearside League runners up Horden CW in mid-week. His first was a simple tap in from point blank range after a bit of a scramble in the Tow Law goal area. The resulting injury to the diminutive keeper led to his substitution and though his replacement was somewhat taller was also distinctly rotund.
Mandron’s second was more stylish as clever footwork created the space for him to lash home a powerful drive from the edge of the penalty area. He grabbed a third from the penalty spot not long afterwards but the player who caught the eye was the young American, Lyndon Gooch, who turned in a very impressive first 45 minutes. He drove forward with pace and used the ball well. He has admirers amongst those of the Hetton Irregulars who turned up and he has the potential to improve. He departed at half time along with Vergini and Mavrias and several others as the game became an extended training session.
We did get to see an impressive 45 minutes from Republic of Ireland goalkeeper James Talbot, who creates a good impression every time I see him. He has good handling skills, runs his box well and moves the ball quickly. He is another one to watch. Mandron’s fourth came from an angled shot in the second half which found the bottom corner of the goal as the keeper struggled to get down quickly.
The home side also made a few substitutions and their third keeper of the day was even shorter than the first, and appeared in what were either Edgar Davids type specs or swimming goggles. His lack of physicality became apparent when he was sold short by a back pass from one of his own defenders and he was easily dispossessed by a strong tackle which gave the Development Squad their fifth goal.
Tow Law made a few bob out of the game and produced excellent pork and stuffing buns at half time. Old friends were seen for the first time this season and there was much discussion about the prospects for the coming season and about the decision to play all home Under 21 games on a Sunday afternoon. Several of the Irregulars are god fearing, church going folks and may have difficulty making the games, but where there’s a will, there’s a way and I am sure that our paths will cross at Eppleton in August.
Next game up is at Consett on Tuesday. Will Santiago and Charis be there? Watch this space…….
When there’s proper football to be had in the flesh, Pete Sixsmith isn’t likely to stay in to watch Man Utd vs Arsenal on the box, with United fans incensed at Michael Oliver’s application of relatively simple laws of the game. He took himself off to Hetton to see Sunderland’s Under 21s in winning action. The opposition, West Ham, are also the first team’s opponents for the next away game. Could it be an occasion for trying out one or two of the brighter sparks among the young ‘uns, if only because the seniors have repeatedly let us down? Maybe not, but who knows what a hungry Mandron or Watmore might do …
Malcolm Dawson writes……a few problems with the website server has delayed us passing on the contents of Senor Poyet’s post match e-mail to M Salut but we’re here now – better late than never. Now I’m no Hercule Poirot but I detect a few grumblings and mumblings amongst our regular readers and a growing discontent with the Head Coach’s style of play and decision making. Personally I have no such qualms…….yet. We need some stability at the club and chopping and changing the man at the top will not be a good move at this stage, but that’s just my opinion and I know not all of you will agree. But what does disconcert me in his missive is the claim it was referee Craig Pawson who provoked a reaction from the team. Perhaps he should have awarded the third minute penalty and sent off Wes Brown then we would have seen a reaction earlier. Three shots in the whole game tells its own story. True our ex goalie let us down by not making himself big enough to deflect Johnson’s rebound back into the goal but then Pants had a similar bit of luck with his elbow. It’s your job to get the team to react Gus. Time to throw some hairdryers mebbes!
I’m disappointed with the result because I was expecting better; the first half was very disappointing.
In the second half we came out and we had a go, even with 10 men; we applied pressure and we got forward and almost got something from the game, unfortunately it wasn’t enough.
(Liam) Bridcutt’s red card made the players react, they sensed they were in trouble and really pulled together as a team at that point; something they should have done a lot earlier in the game.
(Adam) Johnson went close to scoring for us; he is a player who is making a difference for the team, he takes a lot of responsibility. It’s been a busy week for him, becoming a father, and you could see he was tired towards the end but he insisted on playing today.
Mika (Mandron) came on and he brought a spark with him and he almost got a goal. Danny (Graham) did well too, he’s a great professional and he has a great attitude, he came back from loan sharp and that’s how he was involved today.
From our Own Correspondent, as the BBC might say. Richy Duggan, Salut! Sunderland’s man on the Algarve continues his diary of an enviable little break following the Lads – and the Boys, it seems – on pre-season duty. Mika’s tweet (see below) summed up his own feelings; the picture accompanying this introduction shows him in fan-friendly mode …
That was the tweet from Boulogne’s finest, Mikael Mandron. Great to see such desire from the 19-year-old forward whose penalty decided the first of an unfamiliar-looking Sunderland’s friendlies in Portugal. Here’s what the boss made of it in his customary post-match e-mail to Monsieur Salut and one or two others. Malcolm Dawson asks the delicate but pertinent question in Comments: what is the explanation for the boss’s repeated use of players most of us would have considered at best on the the fringe of his first-team squad? ….