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.
Sunderland finished a dismal 2017 with an away win. Pete Sixsmith was there to see it and he finishes the year with yet another fine report.
Well, not quite, because later today there’ll be another of his “first time I ever..” series. It should appear just about when you’re returning from the pub and you’ll have time to read it while warming up the valves before tuning into Andy Stewart and the White Heather Club.
But first, here’s the aforementioned match report:
John McCormick writes: Rob Hutchison did his one-words verdicts, passed them to Olivia, who forwarded them to M Salut, who put them into an email in the hope that someone would be able to get them up before tomorrow, which will be very busy. And I just happened to pick up the e-mail.
Pete Sixsmith, back on duty, must have spent a good five minutes applauding. I can’t think of any other reason why his seven word summary took so long to arrive. It’s worth waiting for, however, as it contains a message of hope:
John McCormick writes: I’ve sort of begun a tradition within this series, of adding material, especially video, that Pete Sixsmith hasn’t come up with himself, although he has provided some great photos. I was setting this one up in advance, hoping as I did so that Pete would include something I could use to keep the tradition going. It’s Nottingham Forest this time, so can you guess what I put at the end in anticipation?
Pete delivered perfectly, but he also provided the opportunity for a mid-piece piece as well. And the beauty of it is that neither diverts from another fascinating reminiscence:
John McCormick writes: a midwinter journey to one of the proper clubs. Founded 1865, occupying the same ground during three different centuries, and they had the sense to take on the best manager we never had. And then it all went wrong.
But it looks like it’s going right again as we welcome Forest season ticket holder Dan Watts, founder of Talk Forest TV and spotted for us by our own Pete Sixsmith, to give us the lowdown …
Let’s not waste too many words. Chris Coleman said his players allowed themselves to be intimidated by Sheffield United. Maybe; we were second best all over the pitch and the game was already beyond us when Asoro and Maja came on.
Put it this way. Pete Sixsmith gives a lot more to the football-supporting public than he gets back.
He collects bits and bobs of beer money, the odd mug or print or match ticket paid for, but nothing that remotely reflects all he does, mostly for Salut! Sunderlandbut also in unpaid appearances on radio, in books and on other people’s websites. And he’s Father Christmas to boot – look out for him ho-ho-hoing his way through County Durham and Tyne and Wear in December.
We’re accustomed to the analysis, the seven-word instant verdict (Sixer’s Sevens) and the post-match Soapbox reports. But have you noticed how he also comes up with great ideas for series? “Sunderland’s 10 relegations”, “Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas” and now “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground” (or team if a home game).
This is the story so far for those who have missed it:
Malcolm Dawson writes……”he’s gone too wide, he’s gone too wide.” Memories of Sunday evenings and the voice of Phil Drabble commenting on the fact that Gip, the welsh border collie, wasn’t going to get full marks on the fetch in the grounds of Chatsworth House, where a frisky flock of border Leicesters were refusing to co-operate during another series of “One Man and His Dog”. I’m not sure why the son of a miner from a North East pit village should have been so fascinated by such a rural pursuit but I was. Now as the population of the UK becomes ever more urbanised one of the most popular programmes on TV is “Countryfile”. Would Pete Sixsmith rather have been watching it on “catch up” or at least been somewhere other than the Stadium of Light last night? Read on to find out.
“Better than Saturday but still about as entertaining as watching a load of sheep running round a field” said the man in the gents to his mate as we availed ourselves of that facility after another desperately disappointing evening at The Stadium of Light. And he was right.
That it was better than Saturday is damning it with faint praise. Had it been any worse, they would have been fishing people out of the Wear for hours as even the diehards gave up and settled for death by drowning rather than suffering by a thousand cuts. We can now give up any hope of being restored to our rightful place in the bottom six of the Premier League in the foreseeable future and focus on what could well become our new traditional place – bottom half of the Championship. A quick return to the top table is about as likely as Rick Stein opening a restaurant in Shildon or Harrods taking over the old Co-op Department store in Bishop Auckland as we look more and more like the Flying Dutchman – cursed to sail around aimlessly until the end of time.
There was a better shape to the team – it helps to choose proper full backs. There was plenty of effort – loads of scampering about and the odd flash of skill. There was some solid if basic defending – for 85 minutes at least.
What there wasn’t was any kind of guile and creativity in the middle of the park or any focal point up front. A goal never really looked likely and it was heading for a goalless draw until………….
Daryl Murphy suffered at the hands of some of the support towards the end of his time here. That was unjustified as he was one of the few players who actually improved over the years, going on to score some very important goals for Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane. Never a genuine top notcher, he has not been short of a good contract and managers like Neil Lennon, Mick McCarthy and Rafael Benitez have employed him and have been pleased with him. He did nothing for 85 minutes but when presented with Forest’s only chance of the game he drilled it into the net with some aplomb and had us thinking if that would have happened if our on field striker had been in a similar position. Answers on a postcard please.
The goal came from a catastrophic error from Tyias Browning who had done all that had been expected of him up until then. He defended solidly, booted the ball away when he had to and seemed to link well with Marc Wilson. But, with a tedious game drawing to an end and a point seemingly in the bag, he decided to pass the ball to Matthews and instead gave it to Barry McKay. The former Rangers man moved it onto Murphy who avoided Browning’s desperate attempt to retrieve the situation and before you could say “I think the phrase rhymes with clucking bell” the ball was in the net and the game was lost.
We had a flurry at the end but I don’t think that anyone in the ground really expected us to score and even the introduction of goal machine Billy Jones and the presence of Mart Poom wannabe Ruiter in the box for a couple of corners and free kicks, failed to cause Forest any real concern.
The difference between the two sides was in the substitutes. We have a bench that mimics the line up. Gooch and Vaughan came on for a wide man (McManaman, exhausted) and a forward (Grabban injured) but there was no discernible change to the pattern of play.
Forest, who had come to make sure that they didn’t lose, took off Bouchalakis, who had played as a holding player and sent on McKay who played wide and then switched the ineffective Brereton for Cummings, giving them more width. That altered the balance of the game as by then we had run out of steam and ideas. Losing Grabban gave Vaughan the opportunity to become a hero but he reinforced the view that we have another Prica, Graham or Tom Ritchie (what no Jozy? MD)– all forwards with decent scoring records until they pitched up here.
The midfield worked hard but to what effect? It never put an incisive move together, never put their midfield on the back foot and never opened them up once. Cattermole rolled his sleeves up, did OK (and got booked). Ndong seems to want too much time, McManaman may be a good outlet when he is up to speed and Honeyman scampered about. At the back, Matthews and Oviedo looked a respectable full back partnership in that both can defend. Oviedo can also get forward whereas Matthews can but doesn’t really like to. He plods quicker than Jones.
The situation is serious but not quite critical – yet. The great worry is that the home form continues to be dismal and an attendance of 26,061 shows that many no longer keep the faith. A lot of people I know (not just Malcolm) have not renewed and have stopped going this year. At least there was a more positive feel from those who braved a wretched night and the booing was restricted to a few seconds at the end.
The Hull game is of massive interest now as we need to show that like Forest, we can absorb pressure and catch a home team on the break. We did it successfully at Norwich and reasonably well at Hillsborough. Barnsley was different. We folded there and deserved the hiding that we got.
Grabban’s injury is a worry and we are desperately short up front. Neither Maja nor Asoro should be thrown into a struggling team and the return of Watmore is desirable. The Under 23s are playing Annfield Plain tonight and he may have a run out. It’s at Hetton but I am tired of all things SAFC at the moment and may well opt for Esh Winning v Tow Law.
Talking of Hetton, the Sunderland Ladies team have now moved to Mariners Park, South Shields and will train at Northumbria University rather than the Academy of Light. It looks as if the club have waved goodbye to them for the second time in recent memory as part of the inevitable cost cutting exercise. Perhaps they could ask some of the first team squad, wallowing in top level wages for third level performances if they would be willing to make a regular contribution to keep the only successful squad we have had for years on Wearside.