Sixer’s Oxford United Soapbox: déjà vu as a Sunderland speciality

The Observer, Britain’s finest newspaper (remember those handy objects?) is awash with Sunderland today.

There’s an excellent sports section piece on the Netflix series Sunderland ‘Til I Die, focusing perceptively on Jonny Williams and Jack Rodwell. And there’s an interesting but incomplete feature by the author Anthony Clavane on the threat Brexit poses to Wearside, including chats with one or two of those seen in the documentary (Monsieur Salut admits to mildly sour grapes, having unsuccessfully offered two newspapers what he cheekily feels would have been a superior article).

The Observer found no room, however, for a report from our game at Oxford. But Pete Sixsmith, whose words occasionally graced its pages when Sunderland were in the Premier League, was there and he happens to be more than a match for any of that newspaper’s football writers …

The French phrase déjà vu means already seen. We use it when we are experiencing the same thing twice going through an overwhelming sense of familiarity with something that shouldn’t be familiar at all.

It’s a pretty accurate description of too many games this season where we have taken the lead against Luton, Coventry, Scunthorpe and now Oxford, only to be pegged back late in the game and surrender much needed points.

Here, on the very farthest edge of the city of dreaming spires, as at Scunthorpe a fortnight ago, we took the lead, failed to build on it and ended up second best to a home side who were scuffling around at the wrong end of the table.

The feeling was exacerbated when the results confirmed that Barnsley and Luton Town had both won again, ensuring that any catch up for second or top place had to be executed in the next 10 days; the three home games coming up simply must yield nine points or else we are in grave danger of being left behind.

In fact, had it not been for the excellent Jon McLaughlin we would have been further behind the front two. He made a number of outstanding saves, principally one from the rumbustious Jamie Mackie in the first half, and was calm and assured throughout. Would that some of his outfield colleagues could emulate his coolness when under pressure.

For this was not a good performance and Oxford have a right to feel aggrieved that their fight against relegation to the basement division is not two points healthier this morning.

They looked brighter than we did with excellent performances from wingers Gavin Whyte and Jordan Graham combined with an energy throughout their team that we did not appear to have.

Changes were made. Out went Flanagan with Baldwin partnering Dunne and out went Wyke for the division’s record signing, Will Grigg. Max Power and George Honeyman kept their places ahead of Luke O’Nien, a move that was not particularly popular amongst a wide section of the support, while Lewis Morgan was allowed to build on his promising debut last week. Chris Maguire and Kazaiah Sterling didn’t even make the bench.

Jamie Mackie

Grigg started well and played on the shoulder of the Oxford centre half. He did have the ball in the net early on when he was clearly offside but he showed enough in the 80 minutes that he was on the pitch to suggest that if he gets the right service, he will score. He needs a couple of goals to be up and running.

will Grigg score for fun?

Despite having the better of the first half hour, we could have been three down. McLaughlin made two excellent saves while Graham put a good chance wide of the far post.

Jamie Mackie is a player I have always liked; there are no airs and graces about him. He is as rough and ready as they come and now, in the twilight of his career, he proceeded to rough up both Dunne and Baldwin – particularly the latter. Elbows are flailing when he goes up for the ball, tackles are made a fraction late and he is very adept at pushing and shoving; everything a lower league centre forward was in the good old days. If any Hartlepool supporters wander onto this site, they will be reminded of Bob Newton.

But our quality showed on the half hour when McGeady won a corner, took it and planted it on the head of Jimmy Dunne, whose thundering header was reminiscent of the King at his finest. Now we could build on this, win relatively comfortably and hope that our rivals would drop points.

Enter déjà vu.

In the second half, Oxford did what Scunthorpe and Charlton had done and came at us. And we were found lacking.

They seized control of the midfield, ran the ball down the flanks and had they had a really deadly forward, they would have won. We never got to grips with them and looked as likely as closing the game out as Chris Grayling is to getting something right.

Changes were made. Off went McGeady, who looked puzzled by the decision and on came Wyke. He looked reasonable and used his bulk to push the home defenders about a bit and for a few minutes we were back in control. But Oxford steadied the ship and continued to feed their wingers, with Graham giving Adam Matthews a very difficult time down our right-hand side.

By this time, the midfield had just about disappeared and needed shoring up. McGeouch warmed up but it was Gooch who came on for Morgan with 20 anxious minutes to go. Morgan had shown some promise and reminded me of Allan Johnston when he set off on a couple of runs in the first half, but he looked tired.

Gooch managed to get himself booked within ten minutes of arriving and his contribution was not great. He didn’t do much to help out James and by the time O’Nien appeared for Grigg, Oxford were in full control.

The equaliser came with three minutes to go and unlike the worldie at Scunthorpe, this one was scruffy and contentious.

Jerome Sinclair, who had come on for wounded hero Mackie, chased a through ball and tangled with Dunne. Dunne went to ground, Sinclair had the ball and showing commendable coolness, squared it to Browne who put it into an empty net.

Could Dunne have done better? Almost certainly. He turns slowly as do all three of our central defenders and he is susceptible to falling over.

Could a foul have been given? I have seen them awarded but the referee thought that Sinclair simply outmuscled Dunne.

Could Sinclair have blazed it over the bar? Almost certainly had he been wearing a Sunderland shirt, but here he reprised his cameo in the opening game against Charlton and created a positive impression among the Oxford faithful.

After that, both sides had chances to win it. Baldwin missed a good header while the home team pushed forward for a famous win in their three-sided stadium.

When Scott Oldham blew his whistle after seven minutes of added time, there was modified rapture amongst those sporting yellow and disappointment, frustration and some anger among those in red and white. The ever so slightly overused word “sh***” was uttered by many as they filed down the stairs, passing a punch up between two large and extremely drunk Sunderland supporters.

The culinary delights of Britain

A similar result to Scunthorpe but a different day out. Instead of having to spend a couple of hours in Goole, a fate akin to having to listen to hours of Ed Sheeran, we stopped off in the quaint Oxfordshire town of Bicester, with its sandstone houses, wide main street and nearby “Shopping Village” where one can buy all the things that one does not really need.

It still has a Wimpy Bar, alas minus squeezy tomatoes that dispense ketchup, and it had an excellent coffee shop where I sipped a flat white and had a pleasant hour with Pete Horan and Clare Jeynes, his elder daughter, who has the gross misfortune to be married to a Mag (a jolly decent one, mind).

Pete Horan, looking young and fit, and one his charming daughters, Clare

To return to déjà vu; it’s also an album by that seminal 70s rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, containing such songs as Carry On (which we don’t want to do as we are dropping points), Helpless, (which is how we supporters feel as we see our players surrender possession so easily) and Déjà Vu itself, a feeling that is certainly beginning to haunt us.

On their previous album Crosby Stills and Nash (minus Neil Young), the opening track, Suite; Judy Blue Eyes has an opening line that goes:

It’s getting to the point where you’re no fun anymore

I have a concern that a fair few Sunderland supporters are beginning to feel that way.

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Sixer’s Sevens from Oxford United 1-1 SAFC: another letdown

Jake: catch Sixer’s instant seven-word verdicts throughout the season

Pete Sixsmith was happy enough at half time with a ‘decent’ first 45 and a Jimmy Dunne header – from a corner believe it or not – giving Sunderland the advantage. For those not among our 1,800 fans present at the Kassam Stadium, Barnes and Benno made for less reassuring listening. We appeared to live dangerously in all too familiar fashion before Dunne’s goal and again in the second half.

As stoppage time loomed, we looked as if we might hang on. ‘A win’s a win,’ said Nick Barnes and Oxford immediately equalised. Jerome Sinclair inevitably figured in the move; our players argued furiously that he had fouled Dunne before setting up Browne, to no avail. And meanwhile Luton and Barnsley just keep on winning and we haven’t managed more than one goal in a game since the stuttering 2-1 win at home to Bristol Rovers in mid-December.

Sixer’s considered verdict will appear in due course but his seven-word instant verdict sums up his frustration …

Read moreSixer’s Sevens from Oxford United 1-1 SAFC: another letdown

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Oxford United, Kassam and Manor

Sixer & carer, Pete Horan, yet another Shildon lad

Monsieur Salut writes: one of the joys of editing Salut! Sunderland is the chance it offers to read the gems of Pete Sixsmith even before they appear before the public gaze. Book publishers should be now be forming an orderly or disorderly queue to snap up rights to his magnificent twin series, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground, the title inspired by Ewan MacColl’s most successful song (for Ground read Face), and – when writing about home games – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team.

Sixer modestly dismisses is all as ‘mere ephemera’ but when did mere ephemera last present such a wonderful blend of football writing, travelogue, history, geography and wit?

Today – and doubtless Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, at heart Oxford fans (though also, at heart, Sunderland fans now) will cast a fascinated eye or four over Sixer’s prose. Today, it is right to take a look at both the Manor Ground and its successor, the Kassam Stadium. Neither fits Pete’s idea, nor mine, of the perfect football ground. But we did both see a fabulous Sunderland goal there back in 1973, when the white-hot excitement of FA Cup glory was still a warm glow …

Read moreThe First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Oxford United, Kassam and Manor

Charlie Methven’s Oxford Who are You?: (2) rebuilding Sunderland from ‘utter shambles’

Charlie and fellow-Oxford fans at that Wembley 2010 playoff final, OUFC winning 3-1 against York City to return to the Football League

Yesterday – check out this link – the first part of Salut! Sunderland‘s Who are You? interview with the Oxford-supporting Sunderland AFC executive officer Charlie Methven* brought us his thoughts on the ‘heart versus heart’ nature of torn-between-two-loves match between the two clubs.

In today’s second and concluding instalment, Charlie compares and contrasts Oxford United and Sunderland, guides us on the Jack Ross project for SAFC and appeals to our fans to show a little more business common sense than is always evident. It’s another great read but don’t expect a scoreline prediction …

Read moreCharlie Methven’s Oxford Who are You?: (2) rebuilding Sunderland from ‘utter shambles’

The Charlie Methven ‘Who are You?’: (1) Oxford heart vs Sunderland heart

Charlie in shades, with pals on a jolly trip to see Conference playoff success at Wembley in 2010

Salut! Sunderland wrote at length about SAFC’s executive director Charlie Methven* after he became part of his friend and fellow Oxford United supporter Stewart Donald’s takeover of our club. The vast majority of supporters are probably content with what has happened since. But both have inevitably and understandably divided loyalties as Oxford, having given us a fright at the SoL (it ended 1-1 with Charlie Wyke grabbing the equaliser), welcome SAFC for the return.

Charlie, who also gave a long interview to this site (links in the footnote*), has offered some further thoughts ahead of Saturday’s match, important to both sides for different reasons, important to him (and Donald) for irreconcilably emotional reasons. We shall divide the interview into two parts, the second to appear tomorrow (Thursday).

Read on today and tomorrow to learn more about Charlie’s ‘can’t we both win?’ feelings about the game, his happy times so far on Wearside, thoughts on Jack Ross’s developing squad, plentiful bouquets and a solitary (lightweight) brickbat for Sunderland supporters, his Oxford United passion – but no prediction of either a scoreline or SAFC’s finishing position this season …

Read moreThe Charlie Methven ‘Who are You?’: (1) Oxford heart vs Sunderland heart

Oxford United vs Sunderland prize Guess the Score. Return of the Donald derby

There IS a prize and you know what it is.

The start of a busy 11-day spell for Sunderland takes Jack Ross’s side to the Kassam Stadium for the second leg of this season’s home-and-away Donald derby.

Our owner’s connections and allegiance to the opponents are well known.

He and Charlie Methven, minority shareholder and executive director, have shown heartening commitment to SAFC since taking over from the absent and disillusioned Ellis Short. But both are fervent OUFC supporters and will remain so to their dying days even though they have – literally – bought into the passion and yearning for success on Wearside.

Read moreOxford United vs Sunderland prize Guess the Score. Return of the Donald derby

North Eastern Programme Club: past Boxing Day games vs Liverpool, Leeds, Derby and more

Sixer: ‘oh well, back to the day job’

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 …

Read moreNorth Eastern Programme Club: past Boxing Day games vs Liverpool, Leeds, Derby and more

Barnsley lurk behind Peterborough, Portsmouth and Sunderland, while Charlton and Coventry stutter.

With a break this weekend it’s time to revisit our “Ones to watch”.

If you’ve been following this series you’ll remember that we’re tracking six clubs over the course of the season. The six were chosen by a people’s vote, that new tool of democracy,  with the club which came top of the poll – Coventry City – also providing a baseline against which the other five will be compared.

If you’re wondering how Coventry came to be chosen click the hyperlinks at the bottom of the page. (And if you want to see how I’ve followed our selected teams in previous seasons you can follow this link ).

Read moreBarnsley lurk behind Peterborough, Portsmouth and Sunderland, while Charlton and Coventry stutter.

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

Malcolm Dawson writes…… 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

Sixers Sevens: Oxford United fight us to a draw

After 16 minutes of play came a text from Pete Sixsmith: “1 down from a free kick. Second best at the moment”.

Three minutes later came a second: “Power sent off for a ridiculous challenge”.  A minute or two later we got our third yellow of the game.

And then my internet connection went down.

It was Pete who kept me in touch, first a text with the single word: “Wyke”, which gave me hope, and then with a final seven words which summed up the game. You can read them below and return tomorrow for his take on a game that is bound to provoke discussion

Read moreSixers Sevens: Oxford United fight us to a draw