Sixer’s Southampton Soapbox: JD spot on but Saints claw back a point

Malcolm Dawson writes…..Pete Sixsmith is slipping. His trip to the south coast last week meant he missed yesterday’s Under 23 game at Eppleton CW (a 3-0 win v Southampton) and this Bank Holiday Monday he will only make three games. The long journey back yesterday means that his much awaited match report from St Mary’s has taken a little longer than usual to reach us but here it is.

SOUTHAMPTON (a) August 2016

SOUTHAMPTONsoapboxThree years and four managers ago, Pete Horan and I discovered Salisbury. We found a Bed and Breakfast that suited us perfectly fifteen minutes’ walk from the city centre, with a good beer pub just around the corner and the railway station within sight and sound.

This was our fourth visit to St Mary’s Stadium. The previous three had gone like this;
1) late equaliser after taking an early lead.
2) a hammering which we shrugged off as “Just one of those things” while quietly seething.
3) and a very late equaliser after taking a late lead which was far, far worse than the 0-8 as this one was towards the end of the annual relegation battle , provoking fears that this was one struggle too far.

This year, we hoped for a win, feared a defeat and would have been satisfied with a draw.

There were two taboos that nagged away at us as we discussed the game in The Platform Inn on Southampton’s waterfront. Could we shake off the stigma of failing to win a game in August since the days of Steve Bruce and could Jack Rodwell, quietly impressive this season, actually start a game in a winning team? Add to that the goalkeeping situation, the Kone situation and the Lens situation and we had more situations than the BBC Comedy Department.

The Sausage Festival at The Platform went down well. I eschewed the Llama, Alpaca, Zebra and Camel varieties, opting for Venison (a trifle de(a)er I thought) and Lamb and Mint while PH went for a Continental approach, opting for Toulouse and a Bratwurst – a mix of last season’s midfield of M’Vila and Kirchhoff.

The bus ride to the stadium was interesting. Tony the driver, a lookalike for Bernard Cribbins, he of the Spoons salesman in Fawlty Towers, novelty discs like Hole In The Ground and Right Said Fred, railway hi-jinks in The Railway Children and Wombling narrator, eventually got us there after a half hour wait outside the Isle of Wight ferry terminal.

It meant that we missed the kick off, something which some fans regard as sacrilege while others merrily amble in five or ten minutes late having finished off their pints. We were in time to collect our red envelopes containing a tenner courtesy of Virgin Media, the Saints new sponsors. Jeremy Corbyn supporters refused the Branson shilling and suggested it would be better spent by using it to buy bigger carriages on the East Coast Main Line.

JP - unlucky 13 after a string of fine saves
JP – unlucky 13 after a string of fine saves

We walked in just as Pickford was making the first of a handful of decent saves and we saw plenty of the action in the opening fifteen minutes as Southampton attacked our “new” defence. Manquillo was tested and came through, Kone and Djilobodji began to gel and with Rodwell, Gooch and Pienaar beavering away in midfield, we gained a foothold in the game. The longer it went on the better balanced we looked and the more ragged the Saints became. Opportunities began to present themselves as Kone headed wide when he should have scored as did Rodwell but as the half ended, the team in the spanking new all white with a bit of blue in it strip, looked the more comfortable.

The second half reiterated that fact as we began to take control. Januzaj slalomed his way through a number of tackles and was brought down on the edge of the box only for Borini to take a feeble free kick and injure himself into the bargain. Watmore, on for Borini, delayed his shot after Lens, on for Pienaar, had played him in and gave a poor ball to Defoe. We kept pressing and then the breakthrough came. Lens broke down the left and played a smart ball into Defoe. The former England man moved into the box and encouraged Southampton captain Fonte to foul him. The Portuguese Euro Winner, who was sent off for a foul on Defoe last season, promptly did and it was a clear penalty. Up stepped Jermain to nearly lift the net off its supports. Ten minutes to go.

Could we hold on? Would we win in August? Would Jack have that elusive victory?

Of course not – this is Sunderland we are talking about. Southampton pushed forward and we were pushed back. With four minutes on the clock, Jay Rodriguez lined up a shot, hit it well and beat Pickford, who allowed it to go under him and into the net. Frustration on the pitch, much wailing and renting of garments in the away end and the home team pressed for what would have been an entirely undeserved winner. That we prevented that is a positive to take.

keep your shirt on - he's going nowhere - we hope
keep your shirt on – he’s going nowhere – we hope

At the end, some of the players came over and Defoe gave away his shirt, prompting thoughts amongst one of the party that he was on his way to Palace or some other such third rate club. There was sympathy for Pickford, a Sunderland supporter since childhood and there was hope that a solid performance from Kone indicated that he wanted to stay – although Moyes’ press conference afterwards made that look less likely. PH was impressed with Djilobodji and I was impressed with Manquillo. All of a sudden, things began to look better as we reached the dizzy heights of sixteenth in the first proper league table of the season.

It was a much more balanced team than the one selected for the Middlesbrough game. The back four looked solid, albeit against a Southampton side who like us, have hit the road stumbling. I think we can get better. I am not sure about them.

The transfer window will hopefully see a forward and a couple of midfielders in and Kone staying. If he stays and plays, we are a side who will be on the up. If he leaves and we have nobody to replace him, we may well see sixteenth as the optimum position.

The night continued in jolly style back in Sarum. The Turkish restaurant we ate in was interesting. The food was fine, the décor a tad faded and the front of house entertaining. The card machine didn’t work and the couple on the next table had to go to the Convenience Store next door to get cash. Mr Front of House had no change so they tipped him more than they might have done.

A brisk walk back to the Duke of York, a splendid pub if a bit quiet for a Saturday night, led to Matt the Landlord placing a whisky bottle on the bar and encouraging us to partake of it. Pete then fell into conversation with a surfing hippy who had been in France and I chatted to the drummer from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch. He was called John, the original drummer had been Stan and, although Dave Dee had died a few years ago, they still got together to play. He had fond memories of Sunderland Empire and liked “that thing opposite Newcastle that looks like a huge condom.” I assumed he meant The Sage and not Mike Ashley.

A good weekend ended with the sight of bleary eyed and gravel voiced Hull FC supporters making their way home from Wembley having won the Rugby League Challenge Cup. Horan and Sixsmith, the Old Firm, were not quite in that category but we were two tired pensioners when we got home. Listening to the stinker between The Baggies and The Smoggies didn’t help. May the transfer window bring us all we need in the form of arrivals and non-departures. I shall be consulting the various web sites with growing frenzy as Wednesday night approaches.

Finally, a happy birthday to M. Salut, who reaches the splendid age of 60+ a few today. Have a grand day down there on the Cote d’Azur.

On tour with Sunderland AFC: home thoughts from abroad with Peter Horan

Malcolm Dawson writes………I gave some serious thought to going down to France for the pre-season friendlies but in the end never got my act together soon enough then other commitments intervened. Our ace match day reporter Peter Sixsmith also gave serious thought to making the trip before failing his medical and settling like me, for the SAFSEE link.

But Salut! Sunderland and Shildon are represented by the presence of Peter Horan who sends us this brief account of events so far via the wonders of modern technology. So not technically a French letter but French i-phone e-mail doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Anyway – over to Pete H.

Peter Horan keeps Sixer company
A bespectacled Peter Horan keeps Sixer company


Welcome. Bienvenue.

Wherever you go, these words are used as a ‘thank you’ for visiting France. Despite a national state of emergency with the army patrolling the streets, the French nation remains determined and welcoming.

And so it was that three lads from Ferryhill and one from Shildon arrived at their first destination, the French resort of Evian Les Bains via an unfortunate detour into Switzerland, courtesy of a dysfunctional Citroen Picasso satellite navigation system.

The Stade Camille-Fournier, the venue for the first two games of the French pre-season, overlooks the lovely town of Evian and Lake Geneva. The facility was the base for the German National team during the Euros. An excellent choice by Big Sam who as things turned out preferred to take himself off to Burton on Trent, home of the FA’s new training facility and where sparkling spring water is converted into beer!

The first game against a modest Swiss team, FC Stade Nyonnais, offered opportunities for many of the development squad (with a sprinkling of established first teamers) to impress the new manager. Two Watmore penalties made it a comfortable 2-0 victory for the Lads in pink and purple, but let’s leave the field of play and concentrate on the antics of the bench.

Spot on Duncan
Spot on Duncan
Scissors, Paper, Stone was popular with Borini, Khazri, van Aanholt and a young skinny thing called Joel Aroso. Keep an eye on this lad. The half time warm up consisted of keepy-ups with a forfeit for failure. Khazri was stitched up several times, the forfeit being a finger flick to the ear.

Paper, Scissor, Stone continued after half time, then Aroso came on and he impressed us all with his pace and touch. I think he also impressed the new manager who was getting his second glimpse of his inheritance, having turned up at Rotherham within hours of his official appointment.

On the second match day, the County Durham lads planned a ‘cultural tour’ of Evian. Our hotel was close to the training complex and to reach the funicular railway, the start point of our tour, we had to walk past the training area. Our timing was perfect. The squad had just arrived via the funicular from the five star ROYAL HOTEL. What a wonderful opportunity for a scoop but no chance as they skulked onto the training area and immediately set to with another session of Scissor, Paper, Stones with one exception – Jermaine Defoe who appeared wearing boxing gloves and proceeded by sparring with a club physio. According to a club source the gloves were a penance for a hotel room incident.

Let's hope the gloves are off when he gets to Manchester
Let’s hope the gloves are off when he gets to Manchester

The second game was against Dijon FCO and the starting eleven contained ten regular first team players and Joel Aroso. He must really have impressed the manager on his first appearance! He showed his gratitude by scoring a goal and then creating one for Khazri. Borini scored a third from a penalty. Kirchhoff managed 90 minutes as did Kone. The three ‘K’s’ continue to impress.

The bench consisted of development squad. Not to be outdone by the previous game’s substitutes’ antics, Honeyman and Greenwood had a proper scuffle as to who sat where In the end they had to be separated and spent most of the game sulking.

As I pen these words we are in Switzerland, returning to Aix Les Bains for the final game against Montpellier. Well, that’s the plan. We may yet end up in Montenegro if we take advice from Sat Nav Picasso which like its namesake sees the world in peculiar ways.

Ha’way les Garcons.

The Johnny Crossan Story (1): Manchester City 0 SAFC 1

With thanks to

To Sunderland supporters of a certain vintage, Johnny Crossan – who scored 39 times for us in 82 games between 1962 and 1965 – is something of a legend.

“Before him, all my heroes were those of my dad,” one fan, Keith Scott, was telling Pete Sixsmith at a recent (Reserves) match. “Johnny Crossan was the first who was my own.”

Salut! Sunderland‘s mission to obtain an interview with the former Northern Ireland inside forward, 46 years after he last kicked a ball at Roker Park, is a legacy of another long-in-the-tooth SAFC follower’s trip to Johnny’s home town, Stroke City (as in Derry-stroke-Londonderry, according to where you fit in the nationalist/loyalust divide).

Pete Horan had been sent to work with people at the local tax office. In his luggage on departure was a book on Crossan that Pete Sixsmith asked him to take to his sports shop and have autographed. Raising the question at work, Pete was told: “You’re in luck: come along for a spot of five-a-side tonight and you’ll meet him.”

Read moreThe Johnny Crossan Story (1): Manchester City 0 SAFC 1

Soapbox: is James McClean our new Johnny Crossan?

The signing of a promising prospect from Derry City inspires Pete Sixsmith to reminisce about another Sunderland product of that club, the charismatic Johnny Crossan. There’s also a brilliant anecdote recalling the day another SAFC supporter was invited to play with the great man …

At a time when the opening day of the Premier League season is in doubt because of the large scale disorder that is sweeping parts of the country, it may well be no bad thing to look back to the calm and peaceful days of the 1960s when most people had an awareness of where they stood in society.

The catalyst for this piece of nostalgia is the arrival of James McClean from Derry City for the relatively modest sum of £350,000. He’s a left winger, highly regarded by both FAs on that divided island, who will with luck turn out to be as successful at Sunderland as another Derry boy, one John Albert Crossan was between 1962 and 1965.

Read moreSoapbox: is James McClean our new Johnny Crossan?

York Soapbox: making merry with the Minstermen

Bastille Day over here, the morning after the “start” of the 2011-2012 season back home. Steve Bruce famously dislikes pre-season. Pete Sixsmith rather enjoys it and was happy to spend an evening down the road in York watching the Lads, or certain of them, play with just enough urgency to get us off to a winning start …

There are few more pleasant places to start a pre-season than Bootham Crescent, York. The city is a delight with the evening sun illuminating the Minster, the Wetherby Whaler on the bypass is a Mecca for fish and chip fans, the other Minster continues to dispense excellent beer and the ground is a fine example of what a lower league club needs.

The game was an enjoyable amble for both sides. We turned out a strong side, with only Oumare Tounkara a name and face that few recognised.

Read moreYork Soapbox: making merry with the Minstermen