Sixer’s West Brom Soapbox: well at least we didn’t lose

Malcolm Dawson writes…..

Jake: 'better, but no cigar'
Jake: ‘better, but no cigar’
“you must be pretty confident today” I said to the West Brom father and son combo as we grabbed a burger on our way up Millennium Way.

His reply “Not really – this looks like a nil nil,” led to my asking about his thoughts on Pulis and he admitted that although not his first choice the new manager had quickly got them organised and playing together. “He’ll have them sitting back and playing for the point,” was his spot on prediction. I probably enjoyed the burger slightly more than the game though not much more. It wasn’t a classic (burger or game) but if we’re going to draw 0-0 I’d rather we did it looking to get forward and win rather than by sitting back and risk defeat. West Brom rarely threatened and never looked liked scoring and we played most of the match in their half. But Johnson’s effort apart Ben Foster had a pretty easy time of it. He had one moment of nervousness after a cracking shot from Larsson but apart from that his only contribution was to catch the ball, run forward a few yards then throw himself on the ground unchallenged writhing around in agony as a vital few minutes ticked away. Pete Sixsmith was there and his post match comment to me “at least we didn’t lose” summed it up nicely. His slightly longer and more erudite take on things is here…..

SBOXWBAWEST BROMWICH ALBION (H) 2015

It was better than Queens Park Rangers and it was better than Bradford City – but really, it wasn’t very good as we huffed and puffed our way to an uninspiring goalless draw with an equally uninspired West Brom team who will be down there with us until the end of May.

There was an improvement. We never looked like conceding and we worked hard, particularly Seb Larsson, who is probably our outstanding player this season. He ran and ran and ran, urging the other players on and showing why he deserved his contract extension last year. However, all Larsson’s excellent running in midfield is to no avail if we have no creativity there – and we haven’t. His partnership with Cattermole (good to see him back) may well be crucial in keeping us in this league for another season of mediocrity, but the lack of players who can open up a defence is worrying.

Jake: 'Lee Cattermole - good to see him back."'
Jake: ‘Lee Cattermole – good to see him back.”‘

Alvarez shows signs of being able to do it, but he is frustratingly ineffective, often running up blind alleys and wanting to beat a man twice or even thrice. Do we persevere with him and hope that he comes good? We don’t seem to have much else , as Giaccherini appears to have succumbed to an endless series of ankle injuries. Johnson equally tried to open up a resolute and physical Baggies defence but he too got nowhere. Pulis has his midfield and defence so well organised that they fill any space available and it needs a quick killer pass to get round them – but we don’t do that.

After match discussion centred around the officials, as it usually does. Unlike Mourinho, both Poyet and Pulis voiced their opinions on the incident that could have been the turning point. According to Pulis, “old ladies on the high street take more of a knock than that and stay on their feet”, a statement which won’t win him many friends in the old lady department. Poyet, like 40,000 Sunderland supporters, thought it was a red card as Lescott denied a clear goal scoring opportunity and he was the last man. Initially, Mike Jones didn’t give it, but his assistant flagged, we hoped for a penalty and expected Lescott to troop off. We got neither, one rightly, the other wrongly. If it was a foul, it had to be a red; yet another serious error by an official and one which may prove to be very expensive.

The assistant then got himself in the old ladies’ least favourite manager’s good books when he gave Adam Johnson offside as he slotted home Ricky Alvarez’s clever pass. Those who stayed up late to watch MOTD know that Mr Hatzidakis got it wrong. No gifts from this man with a Greek sounding name.

The rest of the game trundled on and the crowd retreated into their coats as a cold wind swept the stadium. A flock of seagulls (real ones, not the ridiculously coiffured 80’s pop group) swept and soared and could have nested in either penalty area, there was so little happening.

Not quite a stinker in the QPR class or a disaster in the Bradford mould, but another lost opportunity and it means that we need to take points from the next two away games at Old Trafford and the KC Stadium. To do that, we need to display some creativity and urgency to go with the undoubted effort and commitment that the players showed on Saturday. The crowd got behind them and showed that they wanted manager and players to succeed.

But, as I often remind students, wanting to do well and actually doing it are two completely different things. At the moment, we are struggling to get a worthwhile grade in our annual relegation exam. The fear is still there that we might fail it this year.

Read M Salut’s ESPN report here!
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Fulham v SAFC – The Chapman Report: no disaster in Titanic fixture

SBOXFULHAM (2)Malcolm Dawson writes…..For this and the next few weeks a few lucky adolescents on North Teeside are the beneficiaries of Peter Sixsmith‘s years of experience of teaching History in his idiosyncratic style. “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?” (Click here to put into context!)

And here for the whole thing!

He wasn’t there at Craven Cottage but he kept up with events via Benno and Barnes and numerous texts from those who were, thus flummoxing John McCormick with his customary Seven. But you can’t do a match report second hand and so it is the fine figure of Bob Chapman stepping into the breach and onto the soapbox to bring us his take on the events from a chilly West London. Bob had to do a day’s work today but here is his view of Tuesday night’s win.

Robert Chapman on the soapbox from Craven Cottage
Robert Chapman on the soapbox from Craven Cottage

FULHAM 1 SAFC 3 – FA CUP REPLAY CRAVEN COTTAGE

Working in Bedford, I am in the fortunate position that I can travel to watch Sunderland during the working week. With a speedy escape from school, out of the door even before the kids have their coats on, I can get to most grounds in the country ready for an evening kick-off. I even made it to Exeter for a League Cup match 25 years ago, although that would be impossible today with the state of the current motorways.

So getting to Fulham on a Tuesday evening posed no problem whatsoever. I didn’t need to be first out of the door and even had time to set my year 7 class their homework on the science of icebergs and their role in the sinking of the Titanic. (Bet that went down well! MD)

Picking Mick up round the corner we headed for Bedford station for the train to St. Pancras. By the time some of my students would have arrived home, we were both sat down in The White Horse on Parsons Green. I invariably drink in this pub for both Fulham and Chelsea matches as it has its own micro-brewery and serves a good selection of guest beers. I decided on a pint of First Class made by the Titanic Brewery. (Bet that went down well! MD)

Mick had an obscure lager and we found ourselves without any change out of a tenner! London is a different world. With the amount of money they are charging it’s no wonder that this pub can afford to have patio heaters on full blast at 5.30 on a freezing cold winter’s evening and nobody sat outside. We had a couple of pints and discussed, because of the expense, whether it would be appropriate for a couple of middle aged men to get involved in an old student activity and in Mick’s case an army activity of ‘minesweeping’. I suppose it’s technically not legal but neither of us like seeing beer wasted! We decided against and left – back towards the underground station, past an estate agent with flats to rent from £3000 per week. London is a different world!

With a couple of pints of Titanic inside, a full moon and a cold northerly wind, I was hoping that we were not going to be hit by an iceberg and an exit from the cup. Although the match at the SOL had been awful I was confident that we would get a result tonight and I was even more convinced when a really strong attacking side had been selected, with Defoe and Wickham upfront supported by Giaccherini and Alvarez. Like the majority I was surprised to see Fletcher appear rather than Wickham. I like both of them. They both have good technique but are very different players. Gus will have to make difficult choices as to who plays up top with Defoe.

Walking up from Putney Bridge station it was evident that there was going to be a good turnout. The only disappointment being the “Steven Taylor” chants that you hear at every away match. A steward told me inside that they were expecting up to 4000 and that he liked us because we are never any trouble.

Jake says: Phew - We're through!
Jake says: Phew – We’re through!

The game started and within 30 seconds Alvarez had made a strong tracking back run, to alleviate Fulham’s opening gambit. I thought to myself, that Poyet must have told him that if he is to play regularly he would have to improve the defensive side of his game. This was a good sign and from the start we began to dominate the game. I lost count of the number of corners we had in the first 20 minutes and was beginning to think that just like the Titanic we were unsinkable and it was just a matter of time before we scored. Then in 28th minute, against the run of play we hit that iceberg! A McCormack corner caused a scramble in the box and Rodallega put it away off the crossbar. They didn’t deserve it to be honest, but you have to defend properly if you are going to win games.

However, the usual post conceding goal slump didn’t materialise and we continued to dominate. We were playing really well as a team and our quietest player was Defoe. Giaccherini, Alvarez, Van Aanholt were all having good games, causing all sorts of problems down the flanks for Fulham. However there was no breakthrough and I was beginning to worry at half time. That continued into the second half and I began to really worry when PvA missed an easy chance early on.

With a lingering depression beginning to kick in at the thought of meeting up with a Fulham supporting A level student next day at school, Fulham hit the iceberg! Bettinelli had the easiest of tasks collecting a high loose ball, but allowed it to slip from his grasp and it went over the line. With goals like that you always assume that there must have been something dodgy and double check with yourself before celebrating. Even at my age I don’t want to look a fool!

Nothing to worry about and it was game on for the win. Alvarez had been outstanding throughout the match.

Jake: 'you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind'
Jake: ‘you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind’
Even though the Fulham players were doubling up on him they couldn’t contain him as he demonstrated his international class. With 15 minutes to go he cut in from the right wing beating players and unleashed a shot that flew into the net. A goal of real quality and let’s hope one of many to come. He has the potential to change our season, just like Borini did last year. Remember, Borini couldn’t get a regular start, just like Alvarez, when he first arrived.

Another plus has to be the form of Danny Graham. He seems sharp and has done well in all the substitute appearances he has made. He made a good run in the final minute to win the penalty which finally sealed the game. So with the game won and not feeling the cold it was a pleasant walk back to Putney Bridge station. It was great to hear the chant changed from one about Steven Taylor to that of “Cheesy Chips down Wembley Way!”

Sixer’s Soapbox: winter draws on as West Ham take a point

Malcolm Dawson writes…..“Don’t be too unhappy going home girls – it’s a long way back,” I cheerfully remarked to two lasses in their claret and blue scarves heading for the North Stand Upper, before kick off yesterday. They probably weren’t, as a point each seemed fair after a decent game where both sides had chances. They may have been as disappointed with the penalty award as their manager, but a push is a push and was intended to stop Johnson getting the cross in. No Shearer on MOTD to say a forward is “entitled to go down when there is contact” but Messers Savage (who of course never tried to con the ref in his playing days) and Murphy felt it was soft. You’ll all have your own opinions. But whilst another draw is better than nowt, the inability to turn them into victories is cause for concern. Our biggest disappointment came as our American international once again failed to convert as simple a chance as you ever get in this league right on the stroke of half time. Well at least he’s consistent. Even we atheists were praying he’d have a good game yesterday despite being perplexed at the manager’s decision to start with him rather than Steven Fletcher. Gus was smiling after the game but I suspect his disappointment is greater than that of his West Ham counterpart, those two girls and the rest of the travelling support. Here’s Peter Sixsmith’s take on events.

SBOXWESTHAMSUNDERLAND 1 – WEST HAM UNITED 1

With the clock ticking down to the end of an enjoyable and entertaining first half, fought out between two decent sides, Seb Larsson took off on a coruscating run down the right hand side of the pitch, stretching a Hammers’ defence that never looked anywhere near as comfortable as their highly accomplished midfield. Our Swedish Svengali got to the by-line, looked up and saw Jozy Altidore, free of his marker, thundering in, with only goalkeeper Adrian to beat. It needed an inch perfect ball played into the feet of the American and surely we were 2-1 up.

In went the ball, a fantastic pass from a player who has had his critics on Wearside but who has had a very good season so far. Up went the crowd in anticipation of a half time lead and a chance to build on an encouraging performance. In went Jozy, all bustle and enthusiasm, desperate to score his first Premier League goal in 12 months. Here it was; the cheer was ready in the throats of the 40,000 Sunderland fans shivering in the Stadium.

And he missed it!

"We're gonna break out the hats and hooters when Jozy  hits home" - with apologies to Steely Dan and thanks to Jake
“We’re gonna break out the hats and hooters when Jozy fires home” – with apologies to Steely Dan and thanks to Jake

He arrived a split second too early and the ball, instead of being pushed over the line, was ever so slightly behind him. Not due to bad luck or a mishit pass or the ball hitting an emerging mole, it was entirely due to Jozy’s adrenaline rush taking over from what should be his striker’s instincts and his natural ability to be in the right place at the right time. Groans from the crowd, disbelief from the players and, apparently, tears from the man himself. That could well be his final act in a red and white shirt.

In my younger days, I would have probably castigated him mercilessly. The likes of Tom Ritchie, David Swindlehurst, and Mel Holden all caught some flak from the fat bearded type stood in the Clock Stand Paddock. But, as I have grown into my dotage, I realise that players do not miss chances on purpose and it is hardly their fault if they are not good enough.

My mood has been tempered as well by reading Ronald Reng’s powerful and moving account of the life and tragic death of the German goalkeeper Robert Enke, a man who succumbed to deep depression on two separate occasions, the second of which led to his untimely death.
He was a top notch keeper in the Bundesliga but had failed at Barcelona and at Fenerbache. Jozy has had two bites at the Premier League cherry and it is clear that he is not good enough to play at this level. His enthusiasm and desire cannot be challenged and I thought that he had a decent first half, but it was clear when he re-emerged for the second that he knew that the game was up.
Credit to Poyet for not replacing him at half time as that would have had a devastating effect on his self-esteem and when he was withdrawn on the hour for Fletcher, he got a sympathetic round of applause from fans who can see that, whatever his weaknesses are, lack of effort and desire are not amongst them.

Fletcher’s arrival and that a few minutes later of Ricky Alvarez, gave us our best spell of the game and introduced some pace and craft to a team that works very hard but which lacks the natural strength and inventiveness that the better teams have. Alvarez looked comfortable on the ball and clearly has the eye for a pass. He worked a couple of impressive openings down the right hand side with Santiago Vergini and had the previously comfortable Carl Jenkinson, struggling.

Connor Wickham blazed a couple of chances over the top and Adrian made an excellent save from another and we ended up with our ninth draw of the campaign. At this stage last season, a point from the fourth placed team would have been welcomed with cheers and huzzahs. This year, there was a sense of disappointment as we trooped back to the warmth of our cars and coaches and enjoyed listening to Arsenal rattle the goals in against the Mags.

On our side
On our side

How close are we to being a decent side stuck in the kind of mid table obscurity that we crave and how close are we to being seriously involved in the relegation battle? We are well organised and, by and large, have cut out the mistakes that have cost us dearly in the past. The back four is solid and with Jones almost fit and Van Aanholt resuming light training, we will have choices to make. Reveillere had another good game yesterday but he is 35 – positively ancient for a Premier League defender.

In midfield we are solid but we backed off too much yesterday. When Stuart Downing (and didn’t he play well) moved forward to hit the equaliser, Cattermole backed off and gave him the room he needed to rifle home his shot. What we had done against the patricians of Chelsea was not done against their more proletarian East London neighbours. Gomez moves the ball on well but is lightweight and I did not like the nasty foul on Downing for which he was deservedly booked. He took his penalty well despite Adrian’s attempts to distract him and all the hoo-ha about the award. It looked a soft one from the East Stand but who am I to argue. And we could have had one for handball in the second half.
I was quite impressed with West Ham. They played some thoughtful and intelligent football and it was a toss up between Downing and Song for their best player. The likes of Song will never end up in a city like Sunderland and the cosmopolitan mix of London makes it so much easier for West Ham, a club at our level, to attract European/African players.

We now have the week to prepare for our visit to the Sports Direct Arena. We should go with some confidence in that we are difficult to beat and we compete for 90 minutes. Gus’s team selection is very important for this one; do we bring in Bridcutt to tighten it up, leave Johnson to slip past their defenders or take a gamble on Alvarez to show his pace and his quality?

I suspect that Fletcher will be playing up front.

Read M Salut’s ESPN blog here

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