The Chapman Report from Peterborough: alarm bells or just a wake up call?

Jake goes all monochrome on a grey day

Malcolm Dawson writes…..with Pete Sixsmith having set himself a southern limit of Lincoln City for away days this season, Bob Chapman steps off the subs’ bench for his take on yesterday’s events. His full time 7 word summary said not a single positive from this shocker.  I have to say I thought we started the game the stronger and until the second goal went in I thought we were still in with a chance, though clear cut chances were few and far between. McNulty looked lively and perhaps might have done better on a couple of occasions but in the end we were well beaten. 

I was going to say well and truly beaten but although it was daft and undisciplined of O’Nien to raise his hands, for Ivan Toney to go to ground clutching his head was scandalous. It may be that the ref would have sent O’Nien off anyway but his shove on Toney’s chest was no worse than much of the pushing and shoving that goes on in midfield when players challenge for a goalkeeper’s clearance.

That’s not sour grapes or an excuse on my part as we were heading for defeat anyway but if video evidence can be used in an appeal then surely it’s not too much to ask that the footballing authorities look at that and similar incidents and think about issuing retrospective punishments to players who they deem have reacted in an unfair manner. It’s a form of simulation after all.

Whilst I am desperately seeking positives I can’t argue that they weren’t heavily outweighed by the negatives, but remember that had we lost 9 of our drawn games last season and won 9 others we would have had 9 more points. That’s a trade I’ll happily make this year but for now, let’s see what Bob thought of our first defeat of the season.

Jake’s view of the subs’ bench

PETERBOROUGH UNITED 3  SUNDERLAND 0 31/08/19

My first contact with Peterborough United came in 1967, when Bedford Town of the Southern League played them in a 3rd Round F A Cup tie. At that time growing up in Bedford, watching Sunderland was always a treat and invariably involved a visit to London. Consequently it usually resulted in a defeat and disappointment. Although there was the odd away win or draw I got used to severe thrashings at a very young age!

Yes, I was at Upton Park when Geoff Hurst scored 6 in that famous 8-0 defeat. I saw the great Jimmy Greaves score 4 in a 5-1 defeat at Spurs and I even managed and still have Colin Suggett’s autograph before another 3-0 demolition at Spurs. Visits to Roker Park were always at the start of the season when we were visiting relations during the summer holiday.

Yet despite all the drubbings and being 230 miles away, Sunderland was my team. My second team was Bedford Town of course. Before I started playing regularly at 14 I would frequently go to The Eyrie where the Eagles- Bedford Town played. I would watch the first team and the reserves play. Bedford Town were in those days one of the larger non league clubs and had an excellent FA Cup Heritage.

The Eyrie as it was.

So on the 26th January 1967 I set off on my bike for the 3rd round tie against The Posh. There would have been a crowd of at least 12,000 for the match, but unfortunately we succumbed to a 6-2 defeat to the league side. After the match it would have been a quick dash to Radio Rentals TV shop window in town to catch the Sunderland result as it came through on the BBC tele -printer. We beat Brentford 5-2 that day and guess who we got in the Monday lunchtime 4th round draw- yes it was Peterborough United.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Bedford Town had beaten Peterborough on that day and gone on to play Sunderland. Even then I had no doubt as to which of the clubs I would want to win and even though Bedford born and bred it would have been Sunderland. My brothers are all the same, so my Dad did a good job on us is all I can say!

Apart from that initial 4th round tie I am sure I have seen all 9 of the other matches with Peterborough, winning or drawing all but one of them. However despite this record I was not that confident about this particular match. Although we were unbeaten in five I am not convinced about our ability to keep a clean sheet. To achieve a 100+ point total will require a significant number of clean sheets. Where they are coming from I do not know, unless the manager can sort out our defence and especially the full back positions.

Where have all the left backs gone?

Problems again I thought when the team was announced without Denver Hume our only recognised left back. As the half progressed I couldn’t understand why I had been so concerned. The game was fairly even with few chances by both sides. Knowing that we always score in this league I was now quietly confident that we would come away with at least a draw.

However with 35 minutes gone and nearly 35 yards out Maddison changed all that. His free kick completely wrong footed our keeper who was left stationary as the ball flew into the net. It had to be Maddison didn’t it? I could have predicted that. I can understand why we didn’t pursue him at £2.5M when he is out of contract in the summer, but there was always the inevitability that he would come good against us.

At half time I was still optimistic that we could get something out of the game. Although McNulty had a chance in the first half, coming back from injury, he had been pretty ineffective and I hoped he would be replaced by Grigg. Wyke had won a fair amount in the air but had little support around him. Playing towards our supporters I was sure we would equalise at some point.

That dream was soon shattered in the 56th minute when Knight increased the lead. Having only created one chance so far there was no way back from this. Inevitably it was Maddison who finished the job off just 12 minutes later.

This was going to be our biggest defeat at this level I thought as both O’Nien and then Wyke were dismissed. My mind went back to Arsenal some 23 years ago when both Martin Scott and Paul Stewart got their marching orders. The referee that day was the incompetent Paul Danson and I felt the current official, Craig Hicks was not far behind. O’Nien fell for a sucker punch by the cheating Toney. As for Wyke just put it down to frustration on his part.

Stepping into Cattermole’s boots

Lets just hope this match was a one off and a wakeup call. A two week break may just give us enough time to sort out our defensive frailties. I felt the performance at the SOL last week was the best we have played during the last two seasons at this level. I can’t believe we can then regress back to sloppy defending and a lack of fire power up front in just 7 days.

In hindsight maybe I should have stuck with Bedford Town. However, maybe not as The Eyrie no longer exists. The club went bust in 1987 and the brewer Charles Wells occupies the site. The club reformed about 5 years later and now play in a much inferior Southern League Division 1 Central. It a far cry from the days when they attracted 18,000 for a cup tie against Everton in 1966.

And finally to finish off, why not ask your friendly Mag what they know about Bedford Town from 1964.

To save you looking, yes we beat them 2-1 in the Cup.

Highlights via safc.com – if you really must

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Sixer’s Wimbledon Soapbox: mama told me there’d be days like this

Malcolm Dawson writes……….for the owners of a EFL football club hoping to persuade a consortium of hyper rich American businessmen to invest in its future, then yesterday could hardly have gone any better at the Stadium of Light. The sun shone, the fans turned out in numbers and impressed with the volume and level of support, the team turned in their best display of the season so far and came away with a deserved three points.

The visitors’ start to the season would suggest that they aren’t going to be one of the front runners in this division and the lone Wimbledon supporter I spoke to, having a pre-match tab by the aquatic centre, didn’t hold out much hope for their chances that afternoon, but we can only play against the opposition we face on the day and looked by far the better side, had the bulk of possession, created more chances and came away worthy winners. 

Shortly after Stewart Donald took control of the club, we were already destined to finish bottom but managed to beat a Wolverhampton Wanderers side who had been crowned champions even before kick off. Since then we have only seen one league defeat on Wearside and unlike the impression of negativity I have (fair or not) of those commenting on social media, the supporters in the ground no longer seemed to get fazed when we concede, as despite our home record this past 13 months or so, clean sheets are still something of a rarity.  

Had our American visitors wondered whether or not the passion shown by Sunderland supporters in the Netflix series was overstated, then the response of the crowd yesterday, including the rapturous applause given to the three substituted players can only have helped to convince them that what they saw on screen was no flash in the pan. 

Twenty nine thousand plus home fans went home happy, one of whom was Pete Sixsmith. How happy? Let’s see.

SUNDERLAND 3  AFC WIMBLEDON 1  24/08/19

THE GOOD AMERICANS – WE HOPE.

Messrs Donald and Methven couldn’t have hoped for a better day to show Sunderland off to the new investors.

They must have had a direct line to the weather gods and those deities in charge of the fixture list because our new majority shareholders arrived on Wearside on the warmest day of the season to see us play the weakest team in Division One – if you don’t include Bury and Bolton Wanderers and we may not be able to after Tuesday of next week.

Possible new investors

All three of them were in the Executive area, looking casual in their suits and open necked shirts (you can’t imagine Syd Collings dressed in such a way) and smiling as they looked at their potential new purchase, basking in glorious sunshine, with an excited buzz all around the Stadium. If they can be as successful as the finest half back line that my generation has ever seen in a red and white strip, that of Harvey, Hurley, McNab, they will go down a storm with the support.

That they saw their new investment ease to a comfortable win over a very limited AFC Wimbledon side can only be for the good. A hat trick from Chris Maguire, the first one at The Stadium since Darren B££t rattled one in against Bolton in 2010 and a highly competent performance against admittedly weak opposition, would give them food for thought as they slept in their beds last night.

Jack Ross would have been pleased too. He was immaculately dressed in suit and tie as he patrolled his technical area, looking more like a man attending an interview for a job with an investment bank, possibly Goldman Sachs. The contrast between him and AFC boss Wally Downes, who looked as if he was the stand in manager for The Dog and Duck FC in his shirt, loosely tucked into his trousers and in permanent danger of flapping over the waistband, was immense.

Of course, Ross has far more resources to work with than Downes. There are still a fair number of Sunderland supporters who remain to be convinced that he knows how to use them, but there were clear signs in this performance that the team is settling down. He left out Connor McLaughlin for Denver Hume and that worked, partly due to Hume’s energy and partly due to the fact that Wimbledon left him more space than a warehouse full of Dell computers in which to get forward. The youngster took advantage of the absence of a right winger and right defensive midfield player and pushed forward remorselessly in the first half, combining well with McGeady, less so whenever Gooch moved across.

The solidity of the two central defenders had also improved the mood. Both have the physicality that previous combinations appeared to lack. Willis is the more able footballer of the two and almost scored for the second home game running with a clever backheel flick that was well saved by the Wimbledon keeper.

Starting to become a fixture

His partner, Alim Ozturk, does the basics well. He clears his lines. He wins headers. He barges forwards out of the way. Last week he neutralised John Marquis. On Tuesday, he kept the prolific and dangerous Ian Henderson quiet. Yesterday, neither Kwasi Appiah nor Michael Folvi caused him any serious problems. The crowd have taken to him and see another Paul Butler or Gary Caldwell there – a strong defender who does his job and who is effective at this level of football.

We are not quite firing in midfield. Max Power had a disappointing game – busy but not particularly effective. He was needlessly booked and when he was replaced by Dylan McGeouch, we looked tighter and more compact. McGeouch nurses the ball and carries it, Power is stronger and links well with Leadbitter. Not a bad conundrum for a manager to have.

The big disappointment was Lynden Gooch, whose game has not really moved on. Here he was hesitant, lost the ball instead of moving it on and never convinced against poor opponents. With his pace and trickery, he should be going past opponents and setting up the forward players, but too often he cuts back in and tries to beat the man again. He should have scored just before he was taken off to be replaced by Grigg. He wasn’t best suited and there was no handshake between him and the division’s best dressed manager as he went to sit down.

McGeady was McGeady. He hit the post after a splendid dribble and contributed well. Leadbitter was effective and industrious, Wyke battled away well and could, nay should, have scored before and after the interval.

Got another ball yesterday

But Maguire was the difference.

There was a piece about him on the BBC Scotland website, trying to work out why things had not quite worked out for him after an impressive start at Aberdeen. He did well at Sheffield Wednesday and Oxford United, less so at Rotherham United (I saw him play for their reserves against Hartlepool at Billingham Town where he looked less than interested) and Bury, which was an absolute disaster for him. Messrs Donald, Methven and Ross salvaged his career by bringing him to Sunderland and he has proved to be a wonderfully enigmatic signing, impressive and frustrating in equal measures.

This hat trick (his first since he notched one against the mighty Pinxton in a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie during his spell at Pride Park) showed his talents off to a tee.

Welfare Ground Pinxton

Number one was a delightful chip over Nathan Trott after Jon McLaughlin’s long punt upfield had been missed by the Dons’ central defenders.

Number two came after a fine corner by Leadbitter was cleared to him as he lurked on the edge of the box. He drove it in and although there may have been a deflection, it was certainly his goal.

The clincher came when he deftly headed in a lovely chipped centre from Luke O’Nien to claim the ball for his trophy cabinet, where it will go alongside his two Scottish caps and (presumably) his Derbyshire Senior Cup winner’s medal.

The League’s best dressed manager sensibly withdrew him after 82 minutes and he did a half lap of honour as he left the pitch in sharp contrast to Gooch 25 minutes earlier.

We could have had more. Wyke, missed two, Grigg did well to get into position and then put it wide and I have already mentioned the ones from Gooch, Willis and McGeady that could have settled the game comfortably. We could also have defended Kwesi Appiah’s equaliser better. It was a well worked and well taken goal but he was given too much room and some think that McLaughlin(J) should have come for the ball. A clean sheet is but a mere fantasy for us at the moment. (It looked to me as O’Nien failed to track Appiah leaving him unchallenged – MD)

Another massive crowd for step 3

And what of AFC Wimbledon? They are a club that I and I suspect many other football supporters have a lot of time for. They did well to get away from the bottom last season but on this showing, only another two clubs doing a Bury/Bolton may be enough to save them. Their manager is a likeable old rogue who I saw get sent off on a rainy night in Darlington in the early eighties and I wish him and his club all the best. He’s certainly a better man than that sour faced Kenny Jackett who was in Wally’s seat a week ago.

The investors saw a Step 3 game attract a crowd of just under 30,000. They are shrewd men and must realise that if they can play a part in getting this right, there is big money to be made. Supporters won’t see any of that but we will be able to hold our heads up just a bit more. We love our club and we are proud to be Sunderland supporters and all we want is a tiny smidgeon of success. It’s not much to ask for is it, guys?

Oh and the Mags to go down – but that goes without saying.

Ha’way the Lads

Match highlights via safc.com

Van Morrison – Days Like This on YouTube

Sixer’s Rochdale Soapbox: pints and points on the wet side of the Pennines

Malcolm Dawson writes……..make no mistake. This was no walk in the park and Rochdale made us work hard for the three points. If I was a ‘Dale supporter I’d have been disappointed going home last night. The home side were organised, kept the ball well and moved it purposefully. They were a constant threat and if they play like that all season they could well be there or thereabouts come the playoffs at the end of the season.

There will be doubtless be some followers of SAFC who will not be satisfied with our performance last night, despite the three points, but that is doing a disservice to our opponents. Despite some people’s opinion that we should be walking this division, our opponents do not go into games prepared to capitulate without a fight. Indeed the majority are motivated to show that they are not overawed by the size of our following or past glories and many will raise their game accordingly.

To me, from my seat low down on the front row, we saw the same level of commitment from our boys that they always give. Charlie Wyke had perhaps his best game in a red and white shirt to date and those around him never gave up competing with a decent Rochdale side. We are not Brazil or Barcelona but there is no faulting the attitude of the whole squad, no matter who starts the game. Rochdale played well, but we competed and this was a close, hard fought game in which I thought we did just about enough to justify the win.

Of course that’s just my opinion and I expect there will be a few out there who will be ready with the insults, and tell me I know nothing about football, but the fact of the matter is we came away with all three points in a game that could have gone either way.

How did Pete Sixsmith see things? Let’s find out.

ROCHDALE 1 SUNDERLAND 2 20/08/19

ENJOYING LANCASHIRE – ROCHDALE.

I seem to be spending a lot of time in Lancashire recently. Colne and Accrington last Wednesday, Manchester on Friday, Rochdale last night (Tuesday), Burnley next Wednesday and Accrington again, three weeks on Saturday. As a Yorkshire born lad and intensely proud of it, it’s not good for my constitution to spend too much time on the wrong side of the Pennines.

So far, it’s been a successful series of visits. Colne and Accrington were a great combination of beer, pub dog and decent football, while Manchester was interesting if extremely wet.

I visited the home of rain, Holt’s Bitter and barm cakes for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, where the magistrates of Manchester, encouraged by the usual wicked Tory government in London, ordered that a peaceful crowd of 60,000 should be attacked by the local Yeomanry for having the temerity to ask for the vote, higher wages and decent housing so that they would no longer have to eat their own internal organs.

Lugubrious Mike Leigh

It was an interesting event which took place on the site of the slaughter at what was then St Peter’s Fields and is now occupied by hotels, offices, the City Library and Manchester’s magnificent Town Hall. It rained heavily all day which was disappointing and made Mike Leigh, the director of the film based on the events, look more lugubrious than usual.

Four days later, having dried out, I took to the road to Rochdale. The two- and a-bit hour journey passed quickly and soon the Brains Trust were assembled in the Flying Horse, opposite the Town Hall, supping Rochdale brewed beers from the four breweries situated in the town. I sampled one from Pictish Brewery, who specialise in single hopped beers and it was a pleasant drink, although I would have enjoyed a darker beer.

Leaving the boys discussing the price of fish and whether the sweeper system works, I set out to walk the 1.5 miles to Spotland and to find exactly where the coach would be parked. Keen readers (there might be one out there) may remember that I got lost in April, causing helicopters to be scrambled, lifeboats to be launched and police to tour the streets of Rochdale with loud hailers asking people to look in their sheds and coalhouses to see if I was there.

The Brains Trust

Spotland is a tidy ground, one of which the club should be proud. Although it has no distinguishing features, it serves its purpose, is neat and tidy and, on the evidence of this visit, friendly and welcoming. A healthy crowd of 5,258 turned up and witnessed a decent game and a bit of a smash and grab raid by us.

Few could deny that Rochdale were the more attacking side. They played some neat and tidy football, with former Manchester United man Oliver Rathbone and ex Liverpool player MJ Williams dominating the midfield. They moved the ball about well, not allowing Leadbitter and Power any real opportunity to get hold of the ball and do something with it.

As is often the case, the pretty patterns they weaved came to naught and we took the lead in the 28th minute with our first real attack. Luke O’Nien moved the ball across the edge of the Rochdale box and set up Aiden McGeady. He took a step inside and planted the ball past Brighton loanee Roberto Sanchez for his second Lancashire goal in a week.

Geads celebrates his opening goal

The 1800 Sunderland supporters sat back and waited for more goals to follow. After all, ‘Dale couldn’t keep that level of football up and now they were a goal down, their heads would drop, and we would pick them off. And they had a child playing at right back so, the logic went, when it got dark, his mam and dad would come and collect him and take him home, so in the meantime, McGeady could torture him.

Well, how much do we know. Within five minutes, the always impressive Callum Camps (crazy name, crazy guy) had levelled after our defence showed a fair amount of indecision and the home team went on to dominate the rest of the half.

Maguire appeared distracted by being so close to Bury where he spent a miserable year, the little boy at left back left his Lego to concentrate on squeezing McGeady out of the game and Gooch had one of those ineffective games that too often appear in his season’s schedule.

Wyke at Rochdale

All of this left Wyke battling away up front on his own, but the new, sleeker, fitter Charlie shouldered the responsibility well and looked like a man who could fire the goals that might just get us back into the second level and the tantalising possibility of local derbies with…..wait, I’m getting carried away here.

Half time came, pies were eaten, texts were exchanged and the word “sh***” was used on a regular basis to describe the performance, the catering and the general state of the world. And things did not really improve in the second half, as the home team resumed where they had left off and took control.

We had a good view of Luke Matheson, the left full back. He’s not 17 until October and he looked at least two years younger. He had made his debut last season in an EFL Trophy game against Bury and had been on the bench for the opening three games of this season. It must have been a challenge for him to make his league debut against a promotion favourite and to have to mark a player who is widely regarded as the best in the division. He thrived on it and looks as if he could go a long way in the game. The cheeky little lad even put in two excellent crosses late in the game that could well have given ‘Dale a probably deserved equaliser. I am sure that there is a myriad of scouts who have noted him in their little black tablets.

Too young to drink or vote – Luke Matheson Courtesy of Rochdale AFC

He lasted longer than Lynden Gooch whose disappointing game ended in the 55th minute when he was replaced by the enigma that is Will Grigg. His fire has barely smouldered at Sunderland and his arrival was not greeted with any great enthusiasm. That overworked “s” word was used again.

Of course, we were proved wrong and he probably had his best 35 minutes in a Sunderland shirt. He linked with Wyke, took pressure off him and, suddenly, Rochdale began to creak. Luke O’Nien burst forward, collected a well cushioned header from Grigg and delivered a decent cross which McGeady headed in the general direction of the goal. Wyke took advantage of some slack work in the box by the central defenders, turned and scored a goal like the one that he poked in in April.

And so, we sat back again and waited for Rochdale to buckle. They didn’t. Max Power was replaced by Dylan McGeouch to no discernible difference, while the home side sent on the experienced Calvin Andrew to put pressure on Willis and Ozturk. They dealt with it well but Andrew should have equalised right at the end when Matheson plonked a cross on his forehead, but he headed it straight at the excellent McLaughlin(J).

And that was how it finished. It took ages to get out of the town and onto the M62 as the Lancastrian rain fell from the skies. The consensus was that we had worked hard against a good side and that they would probably feel aggrieved that they had not taken at least a point, but that we were just that bit sharper and crisper than they were in the box.

We still need to improve. Our midfield was quiet, and Power had a disappointing game, while McGeouch did little to suggest that he was worthy of a regular place. Gooch was involved in the opening goal but not much else and McLaughlin (C) does not appear to be happy at left back.

On the other hand, the goalkeeper is outstanding, Ozturk and Willis were sound and Wyke looked a proper centre forward. Plus, we may have seen a turning point in Will Grigg’s Sunderland career. The fire could be re-ignited against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.

Let’s hope so…..

Ha’way the Lads

See match highlights here via safc.com

 

View from the West Stand: Willis and Maguire leave Portsmouth pointless

Malcolm Dawson writes……..In a week in which a young bride excitedly looking forward to her honeymoon, wakes to find she is a widow and a family man is stabbed to death with a screwdriver in a busy shopping centre, apparently trying to stop an altercation, I find it difficult to put any real significance on the result of a football match.

But I was there yesterday in my usual seat and found the experience somewhat more satisfying than that of a fortnight ago. It was no surprise to find us one nil down in the first half – when are we not? But up until that point we had looked more lively than we had in the opening minutes of either of the two previous league outings.

I won’t harp on about lax refereeing as the defence really should have dealt with the move that resulted in the Portsmouth opener, and which came from an error in midfield, but Maguire and McNulty were constantly being manhandled by the Pompey defence and a free kick should have been awarded to us, immediately prior to their goal. I’d like to see where in the Laws of the Game it says it is permissible to grab a player around the neck with one arm, whilst simultaneously pushing him over with the other but referee Michael Salisbury seemed to find that sort of thing allowable. That said Alim Ozturk quickly realised this and used a similar tactic when he could. Doesn’t make it right though.

But it didn’t take long for us to get back on terms, Leadbitter showing why he is such a threat in dead ball situations, then McGeady and Maguire combining nicely for the winner and I went home reasonably satisfied.

Jake does his bit for the seat change

I’m no fan of these early kick off times, even though now it is a lot easier for me to get to a 12.30 home game since moving back to the North East than it was when a trip to the Stadium of Light was a three hour journey on a good day. So it was at a relatively civilised time I left home with time for a latte and a bacon sarnie in the Roker End cafe. Pity the 800 or so Portsmouth fans who had travelled up for this one, though the two I spoke to were students at the Uni and had an even shorter trip to the game than I had.

As Mickey Gray and his co-commentator faffed about on the touchline there was relative satisfaction around and about at the team that was announced, with only a couple of changes from the side that started at Accrington in midweek. McLaughlin J back between the sticks was no surprise and with McGeady replacing Grigg it looked as if Ross had decided to stick with a back four, two holding midfielders, two wide men in Gooch and Geads with Maguire just behind McNulty to form a two man mobile strike force.

We set down a marker straight from the kick off as a long ball, directly into the path of McNulty looked momentarily threatening, but it was too strong and was easily collected by MaGillvary, whose bright green kit contrasted sharply with the insipid grey effort that the outfield ten were wearing. We were quick out of the traps and the M people up front were lively, in sharp contrast to the slow start we made against Oxford. For Portsmouth Curtis found some space in the box and outjumped O’Nien, back in at right back, but his header sailed high over the bar without threatening McLaughlin’s goal.

Marc McNulty thanks to bbc.co.uk

With 24 minutes on the clock, McLaughlin sent a high ball up towards McNulty who was on the end of a two handed push from Burgess, the Pompey number 6 but with those of us who had a clear view of the foul screaming for a free kick, the ref waved play on. Not a lot of danger in midfield apparently, but when Power tried to get a foot in, he just succeeded in playing in Marcus Harness who burst forward into the box. We had chances to clear it but a couple of unintended deflections later it broke back to Harness who drove the ball, through Power’s outstretched legs, across goal and into the bottom corner.

We are so used to going a goal behind at home now, that it is no longer a cause for concern, at least where I sit, when it happens early in the game. Frustration only kicks in later if it doesn’t look like we are going to get back on terms or push on for the three points. And it didn’t take us long. Immediately following the goal, McGeady and McLaughlin C linked up when the latter’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Then two minutes later after a bit of pressure from McGeady who had popped up on the right wing, Burgess ran the ball out for another corner, taken by Leadbitter. The new skipper brings us a quality set piece delivery and his pinpoint kick was well met by the run of

Jordan Willis. Photo by courtesy of safc,com

Jordan Willis who got there ahead of the surrounding defenders and powered home his header.

Game on. Ten minutes later a hopeful high punt forward from Alim Asturk was controlled by McNulty, who somehow found McGeady. An attempted clearance ricocheted off Geads’  shin and he was away. A delightful pull back across the face of goal found Maguire who slid the ball into the empty net and we were in front. Now the big question was would we hold onto that lead.

Half time came and went and not long into the second period, the ever lively McNulty chased after a long ball and pulled up holding his hamstring. He went off to be replaced by Charlie Wyke, whose greater physical presence brings a different dimension to our attacking play and after he came on we won more clearances and his hold up play was good. Let’s hope McNulty’s injury is not too severe though.

Apparently we tried to sign John Marquis in January, and he had a great opportunity to put McLaughlin under pressure when he latched onto a ball on the right of the penalty area but his shot was way off target. The next best chance that Pompey had came from a powerful diving header, from Grant Leadbitter of all people. Fortunately the diving orange flash that was Jon McLaughlin pulled off a fantastic save.

Chris Maguire

We had other chances. Wyke just failed to get his outstretched toe on the ball to flick it home. O’Nien and Maguire had penalty shouts waved away, whilst at the other end Ozturk got a foot on a decent effort from Harness after a piece of free flowing build up play but this was a good three points.

I can’t say we dominated the game but we certainly showed more positivity than we had against Oxford and in that first half at Ipswich. We still look vulnerable at times but this is League 1. The pairing of Willis and Ozturk looked solid enough for this level, though by no means error free. Leadbitter and Power in front gives us strength through the middle and Maguire and McNulty showed good movement and moved the opposition about. Gooch had a decent game and O’Nien does a decent enough job at full back.

We are still a work in progress but we have a squad with enough players who are good enough to get us out of this division. The effort is there, the commitment is there. Now it is a question of finding the right combinations of players, implementing the right strategies and finding ways to change things around when they are not going to plan.

This was no classic but in case you have forgotten, we are unbeaten this season. My worry now is that with Rochdale on Tuesday and Wimbledon next Saturday, we will be expecting to be on 11 points by this time next week and if past experience is anything to go by this is a sure fire recipe for disappointment.

Prove me wrong boys.

Ha’way the Lads.

match highlights via safc.com

 

 

Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox: You’ve got to eliminate the negative

Easy Peasy says Jake

Malcolm Dawson writes……like a lot of us Pete Sixsmith was underwhelmed by our performance against Oxford and after the Ipswich game he e-mailed me to say that he was becoming disillusioned with SAFC and the game in general. It’s a phase many of us have been through and while I was disappointed by yet another two draws, as I see it, it is better than being disappointed by yet another two defeats and I remain convinced that we have owners who have the best interests of the club and supporters at heart, and a manager and players who are striving for success and never give less than 100%. Disappointment I can deal with if I can see commitment. Despite the disappointment, for me the football at League 1 and Championship level is closer to the game I have followed for nigh on 60 years, whilst the top half of Premiership with its ridiculous transfer fees, wages and player power is now so far removed from the game that was created for the working man and it is there I lose interest.

It was the nature of our performance against Oxford and in the first half of the game at Portman Road that was so frustrating. Last night’s game, as reported by Barnes and Benno, sounded much more open and whilst there were still some defensive lapses was, by all accounts, a much more impressive and attacking display by our boys in blue, with the first shot on target coming in the first minute thus immediately equaling the total for the entire 90 minutes last Saturday.

Pete Sixsmith was there and having instructed his manservant Bruce to retrieve the soapbox from below stairs, then to give it a good wax and polish, is now ready to climb back on it for the first time this season. Was he more inspired by last night’s performance in hilly east Lancs? Let’s find out………

ENJOYING EAST LANCASHIRE – ACCRINGTON STANLEY, LEAGUE CUP 13/08/19

What’s not to enjoy about a Tuesday night visit to Accrington?

It’s a pleasant run over the A59, down to Skipton and then along to Colne for a pre-match pint in Boyce’s Barrel, a pleasant micro pub complete with Sam, the Golden Retriever who will turn on his sad eye look in return for a crisp or two.

Boyce’s Barrel and dog

The beer’s not bad either. The Robbie’s Porter from Ayr was a welcome change from all the hopped pales and bitters that seem to be in favour at the moment.

The Crown Ground is neat and tidy (although it would benefit from a cover on the away end) and the stewarding is friendly but effective. Once through the portals, there is a pleasant alfresco bar area with relatively cheap beer and a splendid selection of Clayton’s Pies for those who are hungry.

Being a Tuesday night League Cup tie after a rather underwhelming start, the turn out was less than it would be for a league game, but 41%of the crowd of 2343 stood in the uncovered end or sat down the side, which is not a bad turn out at all – just under 1,000 made it.

Of that 1,000 (959 to be precise), the vast majority were non beer chuckers, non singers of songs about players they never saw and non-moaners, so that made for a pleasant evening as well.

The other thing I like about Accrington is that Aiden McGeady does something special there. In March, he opened the scoring with a fantastic strike from the edge of the box. Here, five months after the crushing disappointment of last season, he opened his account by scoring an even better one.

He arrived to replace an ineffective Will Grigg in the 69th minute, nine minutes after Stanley had levelled. Within two minutes, he had played a killer ball to McNulty, whose shot hit the bar and bounced out and then five minutes later, along came a wonderful goal to restore the lead.

He picked up a loose ball just outside the centre circle and bore down on the Accrington defenders as if he were a lion attacking a herd of frightened wildebeest. As they backed off, the McGeady twinkle toes took him into the box, from where he placed a superb shot beyond Dimitar Evtimov and into the net, to prompt wild celebrations amongst the faithful 959 who had made the trip.

Oooh that McGeady!

It also prompted one elderly female Accrington supporters to say to her friend, “That’s why I said s*** when he came on,” a comment that was picked up by Barnsey and Benno’s mike and faithfully relayed by Malcolm in his fine introduction to the 7. The ghosts of Cissie and Ada stalk the Crown Ground. I wonder if they heaved their bosoms up as effectively as Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough did…..

Enough of large knockers – there are a few of them that sit near me. Let’s do what Bing Crosby said and “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative.”

There were first outings for Lee Burge, Alim Ozturk, Max Power and Grant Leadbitter. All did well, encouraging us to follow The Ole Groaner’s advice.

Decent return to the starting line up for Alim

Burge was a bit shaky at the start and was well away from a ball across the box that could have led to an equaliser, but as the game went on, he grew in confidence and showed that John McLaughlin has genuine competition for the goalkeeping spot this season. His distribution was excellent, if not quite Pickfordian.

Lee Burge – competition between the sticks

Alim Ozturk also did well as the second central defender in a back four. He looked fit and capable of forming a partnership with Willis. Both are strong in the tackle, neither gets pushed about and Ozturk clears his lines. He’ll probably have a stinker against Portsmouth (Remember – Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative).

The midfield duo of Grant Leadbitter and Max Power gelled nicely. This looks like a good pairing, as effective as the pairing between Bluetooth and the various devices that run off it. It will do its job for most of the time but will occasionally need a reboot – or whatever computers call it.

Leadbitter was competitive and sat a bit deeper than Max, who showed why we were all raving about him this time last year. The ball he played for Maguire to set up McNulty’s opener was excellent and he continued in that vein until he tired near the end. On this performance, Dobson and McGeouch will find it difficult to get into the starting XI.

They were aided by Maguire and Gooch, both effective at times. Gooch still seems to need an extra touch on the ball and Maguire is reluctant to go into a hard challenge after his broken leg last year, but both did well.

Up front, Will Grigg had a decent first half and could (should?) have opened his account for the season. In the second half, his game collapsed and once again, he was hauled off to be replaced by the man himself, Aiden McGeady. I’m afraid the sands of time are running out for Grigg with the support and maybe the manager as well. He seems a decent guy so let’s hope he can turn it round.

Mark McNulty looks a completely different type of player. He is physical, puts genuine pressure on defenders and seems very keen to show that his season at Reading was a waste of a year. Having to play at the dreary Majedski Stadium in front of dreary supporters and live in a dreary town must have taken its toll, although you would have thought he should have been used to it having joined Reading from Coventry City.

At The Crown Ground, he showed exactly why Ross brought him in. He scored an excellent opening goal, rounding off a fine move started by Power and extended by Maguire and finished off the game by bullying a Stanley defender off the ball, going to the by-line and giving Charlie Wyke a gilt-edged chance that he took gleefully to make it 3-1. Effective running from a Sunderland forward in the 90th minute is as rare as a thoughtful intervention into the national debate from Nigel Farage.

Poor Conor McLaughlin drew the short straw and had to play at left back. No doubt there will be some on social media lambasting Ross, Donald, Methven and the tea lady for letting Donald Love go, but we do need to bring someone in PDQ. The Ulsterman was bombarded with long balls behind him at the start of the second half and when Jordan Clark got in front of him, a needless penalty was given away. He may struggle to get his place back on the right as Luke O’Nien was his usual chirpy self on that side. We shall see….

Stanley were ok. A bit niggly at times, but no time wasting and for a team that is always being rebuilt, showed some cohesion. I liked the look of former Leamington forward Colby Bishop who converted the penalty with some power and Sean McConville was tidy and organised. With only two relegation places available, they should be fine. The league game in four weeks’ time will give a clearer indication.

On the way out, I dropped some coins into the bucket of a Bury supporter who was collecting to try and save The Shakers from oblivion. He was pessimistic about their chances of survival. In a world where huge amounts of money are paid out for decent but not outstanding players, the £3.5m that the Gigg Lane club need is a relatively insignificant sum.

Brian Clough

There is no chance of them getting any aid from a league where clubs have just spent £1.4bn in the summer. And you wonder why I am becoming disillusioned with a game I fell in love with when people gasped at the £42,500 we paid for Cloughie?

Let’s hope that we can continue the good work on Saturday and see off Portsmouth and some of the moaners and groaners. Remember what the oldest one of the latter said….

You gotta accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mister In Between.

Ha’way the Lads

 

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The Chapman Report from Ipswich: Maguire makes a difference

Malcolm Dawson writes………..Pete Sixsmith is cutting down on his travelling to away games this season and e-mailed this afternoon to say that he is becoming increasingly disillusioned with SAFC and the game in general.

He’ll still be back on his soapbox after our Carabao Cup tie at Accrington on Tuesday, but gave yesterday’s long trip to the Suffolk wilds a miss, so Bob Chapman was our man at Portman Road. Bob doesn’t have many good memories of that particular ground (he must have missed the game in 1998 when John Mullin scored one of the best team goals I have ever seen MD) and yesterday was no different. His succinct summation was “absolute garbage again.” His more detailed report follows …



Bob Chapman: less than impressed

The last time I visited Ipswich was for a 3-1 defeat in 2006. I missed out on our last visit two seasons ago in the Championship as I was on holiday in Kerala, South India. I have followed Sunderland from this part of the world on a number of occasions. The most memorable being the win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in one of the great escape seasons of 2013/4. It was certainly a weird experience having to watch it in total silence to avoid waking my wife at the same time. There was no repeat for the Ipswich match. I had to follow it on the internet and gave up and went to bed when we went 3-1 down. I didn’t even check the final 5-2 score until much later the following morning. Already the rot had set in, I thought, and we hadn’t even got to October.

I have been to Portman Road numerous times over the years and to be honest I don’t have many good memories. I was there 15 years ago for a third round Cup win, but apart from that, defeats have been the usual fare. I well remember a marauding Titus Bramble in 2000 inflicting a 1-0 defeat on us. He was only a young lad at the time and I thought he would go on to be a top class act. Unfortunately he didn’t and ended up playing for us instead! By the way he was decent enough and I always quite liked him.

So, after last week I was pretty much expecting a similar result. I had so little confidence that I had compiled a Seven for Pete in advance on the journey there. I was going to go with “Tractor Boys plough Sunderland to another defeat”.

Arriving in town for 11.30 we headed to the Station Hotel. With parking nearby and only a five-minute walk to the ground it was an obvious choice. Decent beer and good company was spoilt by a lack of facilities. However that is no excuse for some men to think it is OK to use the ladies toilets and sinks as an alternative.

Off to the ground to find just two changes from last week.

Within minutes we were on the back foot. If you are going to score goals you need to get players into the box. We just don’t do that well enough. In fact the first half was so inept that the only point worth noting is their goal. Garbutt picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and ran with it before shooting between McLaughlin’s legs at his near post. The keeper will be disappointed no doubt, but we didn’t deserve any better to be honest. It really was dreadful stuff being served up for the travelling support.

As I made my way down to the concourse at half time I passed Gerard Woods. We greeted each other with the word shocking at exactly the same moment! Nothing else needed to be said, it really couldn’t get any worse. Having watched 135 minutes so far of a new season I had seen two shots on target of which one had been a penalty!

Made a difference second half

The second half couldn’t be this bad I thought and to be fair it wasn’t. Maguire was brought on and we had reverted to a more conventional back four. Like so many times last season we managed to get ourselves back in the game. A long clearance by the keeper was being shepherded out by Chambers for a goal kick. Perseverance by McNulty allowed him to get possession and then pick out Gooch who side footed the ball into the net.

Once we had equalised we picked up a little. The introduction of Maguire a half time had certainly made a huge difference. For the remainder of the half neither side’s defence was put under much pressure and the inevitable and all too common 1-1 resulted.

I am unable to get to the Accrington match on Tuesday, but I am sure I will see a number of changes made. Hopefully these changes pay off and the manager will have a side confident enough to tackle Portsmouth next Saturday. If there is no improvement then I can see there being problems and the change the manager bandwagon will understandably continue to roll on.

For myself, I hope he gets it right as this club needs stability and he needs time to build a side. However I am sure many will disagree and that we need to do the change now before it gets too late. If all we can hope for is a possible Wembley visit next May, I would be pretty confident of predicting the outcome of that!

Match highlights are available via safc.com

 

Sixers Sevens: Gooch rescues a point at Ipswich

Jake: ‘Sixer (or his sub) does it in seven words, no more, no less – unless he miscounts’

Malcolm Dawson writes….with Pete otherwise engaged today Bob Chapman was our man at Portman Road. Do people still do the pools? If they do then no guessing which team’s fixture should be marked with an X on Littlewoods or Vernons. 

We went behind. No surprise there then. We equalised. Not unusual either. I don’t suppose Paddy Power or BetDaq offer very long odds on any game involving Sunderland finishing 1-1. Our forwards have been getting stick for not scoring enough but the BBC stats show only 3 shots on target to the Tractor Boys’ 16, with the Suffolk side managing 6 on target to Gooch’s solitary effort for us so it would seem that maybe the problems lie further back.

A point gained or two dropped? A more detailed appraisal will follow and while we wait here’s Bob’s seven word summary.

10 August Ipswich Town 1 (1)  Sunderland 0 (1) *Decent recovery from absolutely shocking first half

3 August Sunderland 1 (0) Oxford United 1 (1) Looks like a repeat of last season

 

Sixer’s Play Off Soapbox: 1-0 at half time as Portsmouth up to their old tricks

Malcolm Dawson writes…..thanks to the Lads’ inability to get anything from their two days at the seaside at the end of the regular season, this was to be my last live game of the campaign as I have a hospital appointment for an old man’s scan on Thursday and a pre-arranged commitment back in Lytham, should we have to make a return trip to Wembley. Thanks to SKY TV and the armchair football fan it kicked off at the strange time and doubtless there were more than a few season card holders who refused pay the extra for this game or to give up their Saturday night at the pub and watched proceedings there. As much as I dislike the way fixtures are arranged for the benefit of TV, at least it means I shall be able to follow our progress in the quest for promotion.

I’m not sure if Pete Sixsmith was at the Bradford Bulls v Leeds Rhinos game yesterday afternoon. I know he was thinking of going, so if he did he was probably fuming on the drive back up the A1, after the Bulls, once all conquering and mighty, but now massive underdogs put their near neighbours to the sword.

Would events at the Stadium of Light cheer him up? Let’s find out

PORTSMOUTH SENT PACKING.

Played four, won one, lost one, drawn two. Goals for 5, goals against 6.

One penalty shoot out (lost), two red cards, one flare thrown, two decent performances, one disappointing one and one – this one- that had us reaching into our souls, dragging up almost the last reserves of energy and taking a lead into the second leg of a play off game. The previous three games had been memorable in their own way.

By all accounts, Portsmouth played well at Fratton Park and deserved their 3-1 win, albeit all of their goals came after a contentious red card for Glen Loovens and the Wembley final was the proverbial game of two halves, with us dominating the first 45 and them the second before extra time and penalties.

The league game two weeks ago saw a blinding performance from their keeper to keep out efforts from Wyke and McGeady and the general feeling was that we were the better side and certainly the one who declined to extend the limits of “acceptable” gamesmanship, particularly in the second half.

Both clubs would have been a tad disappointed to be in the play offs, especially as perceived “smaller” clubs had bagged the automatics by dint of being better. That was reflected in a reduction of spectator numbers from both clubs, with there being a good 15,000 less than those who turned out on the last Saturday in April. No doubt they will all have good reasons for not being there. Some of them may be genuine.

Having said that, their choice not to attend appeared to be vindicated in a tight and rather turgid first half. It was as cagey as one would expect a semi final first leg to be between two sides who know each other pretty well and who are both desperate to re-join the money loss machine that is The Championship with its 5.15 Saturday kick offs, ailing former giants and a whole hour of Colin Murray on Quest. Maybe we should stay where we are…..

Portsmouth made changes. In came Hawkins, a threat at Wembley, and Evans started, but our old favourites were still there. Thompson, he of the most conspicuous dive of the season, Lowe, the man who kicks the ball away at every opportunity and Burgess, a petulant child inside the body of a man, who thinks it is fine to manhandle Wyke but who squeals like a frustrated six-year-old when anything happens to him.

Sorely missed last night

We had changes as well after last week’s debacle at Southend.

O’Nien and Oviedo came in at full back, Morgan returned for Grigg and, prior to kick off, we thought that McGeady was back for Gooch. Alas, no. His foot was still giving him pain and he withdrew. Cue frantic tactical revisions in away dressing room as Portsmouth decided who to kick the most seeing as McGeady wasn’t playing and Maguire was only on the bench. Wyke got the short straw.

Stakhanov

He had the kind of game that we have needed from him all season. He was brave, he worked so hard that he put Stakhanov, the Soviet Hero of Labour, to shame and he had Christian Burgess to contend with. The constant fouling was bad enough, but for a lad brought up in Middlesbrough, it must have been the constant whining that got to him:

“Please Mr Referee, he stood on my foot. He’s not being fair. I only tried to pull the shirt off his back.”

“Shut the f*** up and get on with it.”

“Mr Referee, he sweared at me. That’s not nice. You should tell his mammy what he been and gone and done.”

Enter Captain Mainwaring type figure in referee’s kit;

“Yes, I will, Christian. Wyke, behave yourself and no more of that rough type of play. This is a game for gentle boys with man buns not craggy oafs like you.”

And so it continued ad nauseam.

We huffed and puffed and didn’t do a great deal in the first half, but they did even less and looked happy to settle for a 0-0.

The King was back!

Enter Chris Maguire. He replaced Lewis Morgan, who has ability but who does not relish a physical challenge – so Portsmouth will not be his favourite opponents. Maguire’s arrival came after McGillivray had made a blistering save from a Honeyman header and within minutes of coming on, the former Portsmouth loanee had won the game for us.

Wyke put pressure on the Portsmouth defence, a weak header landed near Maguire who produced a stunning volley to settle the game. Brilliant goal from a player who has dazzled and frustrated in equal portions this season. Should he start on Thursday, they will target him continually and he will have to keep control of himself.

Then we lost Ozturk to a poor decision by another poor referee.

Andy Woolmer had a decent first half but he must have had a message at half time from friends and family saying that they were disappointed that they hadn’t seen much of him, could he do something about it please because all the neighbours were round and Mrs Baker from Number 22 thought he wasn’t doing enough to get in the cameras. So he sent Ozturk off for denying Evans a clear goal scoring opportunity – except that it wasn’t. It was a foul and a yellow card, but Evans did not have the ball under control and was heading away from goal. The “last man” argument is redundant now – it has to be a clear opportunity.

Mr Woolmer got his moment of fame and Ozturk, who had been excellent and had many wondering why he hadn’t been in the team earlier with his lusty tackles, excellent positioning and competitive attitude – although he does lack pace – trooped off to the dressing rooms. Flanagan has looked far more confident alongside the former Hearts man and there were worries that Dunne may flounder. He didn’t and, apart from the subsequent free kick hitting the bar, the consistently excellent McLaughlin had little to do.

Jackett sent on the cavalry to try and take advantage of our numerical deficiency but we held on, with Cattermole and Power shielding the defence, the full backs working hard and Honeyman turning up everywhere. Maguire hit the post and we saw the game out successfully.

We go to Fratton Park and its decaying infrastructure on Thursday for what will be a very difficult 90/120 minutes. There are no away goals counting double, so we need to draw or win to go through. It will be difficult. They will have their usual 19,000 crowd baying for blood and putting pressure on the referee. It will be difficult, but the only time we have gone into a second leg without being a goal down, we won. Newcastle 1990 – Gates 13, Gabbiadini 85.

The home crowd for that tie was similar to the one on Saturday. The moaners who inhabit the seats behind me were not there and the whole experience was an improvement. The support roared the team home in the second half which is what support is supposed to do rather than moan and criticise. Few left before the end and many stayed to revel in a win. Biggest is not always best – as the actress said to the bishop.

Train tickets and hotel booked for Thursday.

Ha’way The Lads………

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Sixer’s Southend Soapbox: old grounds, new towns and penalties

Pete Sixsmith was planning a sporting Bank Holiday weekend, which is one reason why you’ve had to wait a little longer than normal to read his take on what was a disappointing end to our league campaign down on the Essex coast.

Friday was meant to be a stop off in Lincolnshire, where Durham were supposed to be playing in form Nottinghamshire in the One Day Cup but that game was abandoned without a ball being bowled, which was perhaps not a bad result for the visitors.

Then on Sunday he was due to break off his journey home in Northamptonshire, where Spennymoor Town were involved in a play off semi final of their own against Brackley Town, a game which finished 0-0 but the team from the North East ensured their involvement in the final by winning the penalty shoot out 5-4. Brackley wear red and white stripes but play at St James’ Park and Spennymoor’s first choice kit is black and white stripes, but their home ground is the Brewery Field. Knowing Pete’s sensitivities he would have had to put his emotions on the back burner to support a team in black and white stripes at St James’ Park, so The Moors obligingly wore yellow for this fixture. (Match report here.)

Sandwiched in between of course was a visit to Roots Hall where the regular season ended with a whimper. I wasn’t sure if Pete had gone to Headingly today, where Durham made a decent start against Yorkshire (though as I type Tim Bresnan has just taken a wicket) but it turns out it was Internet issues which delayed his report. But finally, he managed to get his views on Saturday’s game to us and though he pulls no punches, expect a balanced and accurate account of what went wrong.

Read moreSixer’s Southend Soapbox: old grounds, new towns and penalties

Sixer’s sub’s Fleetwood Soapbox: Sunderland’s season encapsulated in 95 minutes

Jake: ‘unprintable’

Malcolm Dawson writes………none of us really wanted to go through the playoffs, even those who would have settled for that scenario before the season kicked off, but for Pete Sixsmith they represent an increased workload. With 46 league games to report on, plus all those cup ties and his twin series of First Time Evers, he is doing far more than his fair share this season, so we agreed that I would once again step onto the soapbox to cover this game. 

Rest assured he was at Highbury last night and he will be at Southend on Saturday, where he is making a weekend of it, so you may have to wait until Monday to get your Sixer fix, via his final soapbox of the regular season. Until then you’ll have to put up with me and what John McCormick suggested might be a more measured assessment of events at Highbury Stadium than Peter might have provided.

About ten times a year I have a commitment which takes me to Lytham St Annes, just south of Blackpool, and this rearranged fixture with Fleetwood fell slap bang in the middle of one of those weeks. So last night’s game was only a short drive for me up the Fylde coast and knowing someone who lives only five minutes from the ground, parking was no problem. The final part of my journey was literally a walk in the park and while Pete Sixsmith was snoozing on the coach back to County Durham, I was back in my hotel having a brew and mulling over a game which to my mind was a microcosm of the whole season.

We started off well, and jumped ahead, seemingly in control and way ahead of the opposition, but failed to consolidate our start. Then came a bit of a wobble but with still enough of a showing to suggest we might find a way back, until crash, bang, thank you mam and our fate was sealed. This was the first time all season we have been beaten after taking the lead, but not the first time we have been unable to build onto, nor even hold onto an early advantage.

Fleetwood’s stadium has been smartened up considerably in recent years, but still retains elements which reflect the fact that not so long ago this was a club playing in the Evostick North including the clubhouse in the corner, which has to have advertising banners in front of the windows so you can’t enjoy a pint and watch the game at the same time – just one more thing for me to hold against Margaret Thatcher.

Fancy a pint?

The whole ground holds less than six thousand and from my vantage point I was able to scan our section of terracing and identify people I knew, including Wrinkly Pete and others of the HoE branch who I waved to, but who didn’t acknowledge my presence in the posh seats. Disappointingly, the stand opposite was only half full and almost half the total attendance of a tad over 4,000, would have been wanting a Sunderland win.

We started with three changes from Saturday’s team with Gooch and Maguire replacing Honeyman and McGeady and Will Grigg leading the line in place of Charlie Wyke. Grigg is a different type of player to Wyke and this formation saw us playing more controlled, possession football, looking to create gaps in the Fleetwood defence, rather than hump the ball to, then play off a target man. I thought we did it well in that first half. We dominated possession and moved the ball better than we have done for some time, but for all the attempts to create scoring opportunities, we were mostly ineffective. When we did lose the ball we never seriously looked threatened and McLaughlin was always in the right place and hardly had a save to make.

Up the other end Alex Cairns in the Fleetwood goal was seeing a little more of the ball, saving well from Max Power after good work from Maguire and a cross from Lewis Morgan. On another day it could have gone in but credit the keeper for a good stop and then grabbing the ball at the second attempt, before Power could finish it off. Soon after Will Grigg curled a shot onto crossbar. On another day that too could have gone in but rebounded to safety. Grigg had another opportunity not long after that, but this time a rather tame header was an easy catch for Cairns.

This season’s unlikely goal machine

Earlier, Lee Cattermole had tried his luck from outside the box and had seen his effort go high, but it was he who finally broke the deadlock and got us the goal our bright start deserved. A corner on the right was whipped in by Lewis Morgan and Catts got in a glancing header following his near post run.

One nil as news was coming in that the Posh were two nil ahead at Portsmouth and the buzz around me was whether the impossible scenario might still be a possibility come Saturday? Personally, at that stage and with how we were playing I thought it might be, but only if we could eat further into the GD deficit with at least another two goals.

There was little in that first period to suggest we wouldn’t go on to win the game, but anyone who has seen us on a regular basis would not have felt confident that we would.

I’m saying nowt

Joey Barton, who unsurprisingly had been the object of some less than complimentary comments from the away sections of the ground, made one change at half time but it wasn’t really obvious that there was any change in formation or approach from the Fisherman. Rather, as we have unfortunately seen several times this season, it was our own performance which slipped after the break. We became more wasteful in possession, lost more second balls and defended deeper, allowing the home side to play higher up the pitch.

We were still 1-0 ahead when Sterling replaced Grigg. Sterling I feel could make a decent player in the right set up and given the right sort of service but this was not the case last evening. Apart from Ozturk, Flanagan and McLaughlin, there was little height in the side and yet those at the back seemed to think the Tottenham loanee could do the job Charlie Wyke does and pumped long balls up for him to hold onto or head on. He did neither and apart from one run and penalty shout was pretty ineffective. Honeyman came on for Maguire in a straight swap and was immediately sent crashing to the floor by Wes Burns who was only yellow carded, when a red might have been more appropriate. It would be easy to say that this might have been a deliberate ploy from the manager, who we all know is no angel, but we have seen several teams at this level indulge in dubious practices and time wasting and Fleetwood were no different. Their time wasting saw the referee add five minutes extra time at the end of the ninety, but it would only benefit the home side in the end.

We were still 1-0 up at this point but it was difficult to see where any more goals would come from. Meanwhile, Fleetwood were starting to get back into the game as former Black Cat Ross Wallace showed us a bit of trickery and produced some decent balls into the box, but it was a neat bit of interplay between Paddy Madden and overlapping full back Lewie Coyle which brought about the equaliser, as Madden found the space to side foot Coyle’s pull back out of McLaughlin’s reach.

I couldn’t see any way back after that, even though a draw was no good to us. We had some half chances but even a 2-1 win was unlikely to be enough as despite the events at Fratton Park the required turn around in goal difference meant we would still be unlikely to catch Luton or Barnsley. So the losing goal in the additional time was pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, though it probably means we will have to face Charlton in the two leg stage of the play offs instead of Doncaster or possibly Peterborough. Despite my age I never thought I’d be able to say that I saw Eastham, in a red shirt with white sleeves score at Highbury, but it was Ashley, not George who grabbed the winner.

A different Eastham at a different Highbury

There were only three touches after that before the full time whistle went and a number of people around me went ballistic hurling abuse at the team and the club. I refuse to do that. I may criticise players who don’t show commitment or who are lacking in effort but I have never seen this squad fail to give 100%. The fact that they don’t always succeed or achieve the results we would wish to see is not down to those factors. The truth is that apart from Oviedo, Lee Cattermole and Lynden Gooch, the starting line up last night was composed of players who have learned their trade in Leagues 1 and 2 or the Scottish League.

I’d like to know how standing and berating players, including people like Jimmy Dunne who had spent the entire game running up and down the touchline in a training bib is supposed to help the side improve. Perhaps a former girl friend of mine was right when she accused me of lacking emotion, but while I am disappointed when we don’t win I can’t get angry about it unless I think the players are not trying and I can’t accuse any of them of that crime in any game I have witnessed this season.

Yes it is disappointing that we couldn’t be in with at least an outside chance of automatic promotion at Southend, but realistically we were always looking at the playoffs once we failed to beat Coventry. It has been a long season. We will have played more games than anyone else in this division, bar Portsmouth come the end of the campaign. We have a squad that was largely cobbled together over the summer, have had more than our fair share of injuries and they have, in my view, done well to achieve what they have. To my mind, Jack Ross has only made a few errors in his team selection (with Burton away being the main one) or in the way his teams have lined up, with Coventry being the most obvious example when we were too exposed at the back. Tactically we may have been more adventurous after opening the scoring as too often we have failed to press home an advantage. Hindsight would say that a few more wins and a few less draws would have been preferable in terms of points gained.

Southend is a bit of a no event game for us but could mean the difference between the Shrimpers staying in League One or being relegated. While I expect to see a few players rested for this game, we still need to put a decent side out and can’t be seen to take our foot off the gas with six teams still facing the drop.

The next time I am due over in this neck of the woods is Sunday 26th May, which just happens to be the day of the League 1 Play Off Final, so it’ll be an early drive over and find a pub showing the match if we are involved. The way things are going I’m not confident we will even feature in that game but nil desperandum. You know what they say about overweight divas.

Ha’way the Lads.

Highlights via safc.com

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