Vergini: adiós amigo. Forgive us for remembering that goal for Southampton

Not being part of Dick Advocaat’s plans
does not make Santiago Vergini a bad player. Nor does scoring the wonder goal you see above, sadly against his own side. Anyone selected to play for Argentina deserves respect.

But trips with the Development Squad to Tow Law – see Sixer’s first-class report at – are not what he came to the UK for. And, clearly, he’s not a player Advocaat would ever again willingly choose for a Premier League game.

Read moreVergini: adiós amigo. Forgive us for remembering that goal for Southampton

Sixer Says: Lawyers’ defence found lacking as Development Squad hit five

Malcolm Dawson writes….it’s not often you can see two full internationals for three quid but Pete Sixsmith, myself and a smattering of the Hetton Irregulars did today at Ironworks Road, Tow Law. Santiago Vergini and Charalampos Mavrias started with the majority of the Development Squad against a Tow Law side who, it has to be said, could well struggle in the EBAC Northern League Division 2 in the forthcoming season. If you’ve never been, Tow Law’s ground enjoys unprecedented views of the Durham Dales but is prone to cold winds even in the height of summer. Saturday afternoon was no exception. It may have been July but it could easily have been October as dark clouds scudded over and those fans in shorts regretted their lack of lower leg insulation. Kevin Ball was there. Chris Waddle wasn’t. Pete’s match report follows illustrated by a few of my pictures.

TOW LAW 0 – SAFC Development XI 5

Imagine that you are a 27 year old professional footballer. Not any old footballer but an international player who has appeared alongside Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria and Carlos Tevez. You have played at the San Siro, at La Bombareno, the home ground of Boca Juniors and at Old Trafford. You have just completed a permanent transfer to the richest league in the world, the English Premier League, albeit with a seemingly permanently struggling club. You have tested yourself against fellow countryman Sergio Aguero, golden boy Harry Kane and the pacy Alexis Sanchez. You have settled well into an alien environment. Life looks good. So, how come you end up at Ironworks Road, Tow Law?

Santiago Vergini, a regular under Gus Poyet, has been told by Dick Advocaat that there is no future for him at Sunderland, despite the club forking out £2m to sign him permanently. The new Head Coach decided after an abject display against Crystal Palace that he had seen enough and did not pick him again. The transfer was part of the loan deal with his previous employers and, unlike the Ricky Alavarez deal, it was watertight. Club and agent were paid, Santiago got what I imagine was a decent signing on fee – and he ended up at Tow Law.

From Santa Fe to Tow Law
From Santa Fe to Tow Law

For those whose geography of South Durham is patchy, Tow Law is a long village that sits on a ridge above Weardale. The A68 bisects it, it has areas known as Dan’s Castle and Inkerman, is the terminus of the Arriva Route 1 and has a football team that reached Wembley in 1998, losing to Tiverton Town in the FA Vase final. For many years, they could do what Sunderland had done up until 1958, and proclaim that they had never been relegated – until that is, they finished in the bottom three in 2012 and were consigned to the Northern League Second Division, alongside Ryton and Crawcrook Albion, Darlington Railway Athletic and West Allotment Celtic. They almost exited the other way last season, finishing perilously close to a place in the Wearside League for 2015-16.

Tow Law can be accurately described as cold. Consett is positively tropical when compared with this ridge hugging village and it was a brave man who stepped onto the Ironworks Road terracing without a fleece, on what was in the balmy environs of nearby Crook, a pleasant afternoon.

By it were windy!
By it were windy!

The Development Squad consisted of a two players who have made full appearances for the first team as Charis Mavrias was included. He is another from the Di Fanti/Di Canio era who has looked decent at times but who will never make it in the Premier League. There is talk of him returning to Greece to play in the domestic league there but I can’t imagine him wanting to dash back to the poverty, misery and chaos that exists in the birthplace of democracy.

All the way from HMNB Faslane - Tow Law's first sub keeper.
All the way from HMNB Faslane – Tow Law’s first sub keeper.

Mikael Mandron also played and he scored four of the five goals which sentenced the Lawyers to their second successive pre-season 5-0 defeat, the other one coming against Wearside League runners up Horden CW in mid-week. His first was a simple tap in from point blank range after a bit of a scramble in the Tow Law goal area. The resulting injury to the diminutive keeper led to his substitution and though his replacement was somewhat taller was also distinctly rotund.

Mandron's second - you can just about see Mavrias
Mandron’s second – you can just about see Mavrias

Mandron’s second was more stylish as clever footwork created the space for him to lash home a powerful drive from the edge of the penalty area. He grabbed a third from the penalty spot not long afterwards but the player who caught the eye was the young American, Lyndon Gooch, who turned in a very impressive first 45 minutes. He drove forward with pace and used the ball well. He has admirers amongst those of the Hetton Irregulars who turned up and he has the potential to improve. He departed at half time along with Vergini and Mavrias and several others as the game became an extended training session.

Mikael Mandron from the spot
Mikael Mandron from the spot

We did get to see an impressive 45 minutes from Republic of Ireland goalkeeper James Talbot, who creates a good impression every time I see him. He has good handling skills, runs his box well and moves the ball quickly. He is another one to watch. Mandron’s fourth came from an angled shot in the second half which found the bottom corner of the goal as the keeper struggled to get down quickly.
The home side also made a few substitutions and their third keeper of the day was even shorter than the first, and appeared in what were either Edgar Davids type specs or swimming goggles. His lack of physicality became apparent when he was sold short by a back pass from one of his own defenders and he was easily dispossessed by a strong tackle which gave the Development Squad their fifth goal.

Summertime and the livin' is easy in Tow Law
Summertime and the livin’ is easy in Tow Law

Tow Law made a few bob out of the game and produced excellent pork and stuffing buns at half time. Old friends were seen for the first time this season and there was much discussion about the prospects for the coming season and about the decision to play all home Under 21 games on a Sunday afternoon. Several of the Irregulars are god fearing, church going folks and may have difficulty making the games, but where there’s a will, there’s a way and I am sure that our paths will cross at Eppleton in August.

Next game up is at Consett on Tuesday. Will Santiago and Charis be there? Watch this space…….

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Sixer’s Southampton Soapbox: top performances from Jordi and a Geordie

Jake says "Something to celebrate."
Jake says “Something to celebrate.”
Malcolm Dawson writes….Recent victories for Leicester and Hull Cities, West Brom and Aston Villa see Sunderland still in the bottom three. It is becoming increasingly likely that it could be the free falling Magpies who will be the target if we are to avoid demotion to the Football League. Yesterday’s game versus Southampton was the latest in a series of “must win” home games but the difference this time was that we actually won. A win against Leicester in the final game of the season at the Stadium of Light might be enough but if we need more than three points then the remaining away matches offer little in the way of optimism. But as last season showed, funny things happen at the back end of the season. With a game in hand you could say the players of SAFC can still determine which division the club plays in next season but we have by far the hardest run in of the clubs in danger of the drop. Pete Sixsmith still clings on to the belief we can stay up but that optimism is balanced with the realism that it will still be tough as his report of yesterday’s proceedings shows.



Is it a case of too little, too late or is it the beginning of The Great Escape III? Will we pick up wins against Everton and Leicester to give us what should be a secure 39 points or will we fall at the last hurdle at Stamford Bridge in three weeks’ time? Will our Friends from the North continue to implode with the force of a dark star having a particularly bad day or will they scrape the points that they need to welcome their new Head Coach as a Premier League side?

Well, that’s a few rhetorical questions and here are some more. Has anyone seen a cooler pair of penalties than those taken by Jordi Gomez yesterday? Why has no previous manager/coach been able to coax a performance like that out of Danny Graham? And how did the man sat next to me manage to eat a pie while texting at the same time?

But let’s not carried away. Although it was an important win it wasn’t a scintillating display of classy football that tore the opposition to shreds. Nor did we ever look comfortable – competent yes, but comfortable, no. What we did do was play solidly, avoid a series of catastrophic errors and get into the opposition’s box a number of times. And that is what we need to do for the four final gut wrenching games that we have left.

Both penalties were correctly awarded by Mike Jones. I thought the first one a bit soft from my lofty perch, but television showed that Fonte had no need to lift his leg and he did bring down Graham, who was ahead of him. No red card was also a correct decision.
The second one was the result of a superb ball by Cattermole, a splendid chase and cross by Graham and a needless second touch by Defoe before Ward-Prowse clattered into him. Penalty yes, red card probably not – although it galvanised a torpid Saints side into actually stirring themselves and playing some football.

In between the penalties, we had played with some tempo and urgency and had shown that when we play to the strengths of the players that we have, rather than expecting players to fit into a rigid tactical plan, we aren’t quite as bad as the league position has indicated. The back four is still prone to drop the odd clanger and I don’t see that changing. To gift Southampton an equaliser within ninety seconds of going ahead was one example. The lack of communication between Pantilimon and Coates was on a par of that between Basil Fawlty and Mrs Richards as the Giant dropped the ball allowing the tetchy Mende to equalise.

Jake says "Buen hombre - Senor Cool!"
Jake says “Buen hombre – Senor Cool!”

There were other first half chances with Connor Wickham ending as good a move as we have put together all season by leaning back and putting it over the bar.

The changes that Advocaat made were simple and effective. Three forwards who were prepared to work and work, with Graham used as a battering ram to unsettle the Saints defenders. Wickham played wide left and Defoe tucked in, often appearing to be an extra midfield player. All three made a massive contribution to a vital win and I expect to see the same three lining up at Goodison next week.

In midfield, Larsson returned for the perpetually disappointing Rodwell and had a typical Larsson game with lots of running, prodigious energy and the odd really sharp and incisive pass. Alongside him Cattermole played effectively particularly in the second half, playing a sublime pass for Graham to run on to for what turned out to be the second and winning penner. The two full backs looked sound rather than solid, although that was a huge improvement on the previous home game. Jones gets forward well – although not as much as the BBC Football site suggests (they confused him with Graham for the first penalty) and Van Aanholt is a good outlet and his defending looked better.

O’Shea was concussed in the first half and went off allowing Vergini to make amends for his spectacular O.G. at St Mary’s. The disappointingly low turn-out of Saints fans demanded that he “shoot” every time he got the ball but he failed to oblige. I say disappointingly low, because if we were challenging for a Europa League place, our allocation would have been oversubscribed – theirs was considerably under subscribed.

Coates did well and showed that a good, solid stopper in the middle of the back four can make a difference. Take away the clattering into Pantilimon and the dreadful sideways pass to the newly arrived Djuricic and he looked decent. He stuck to his task and it will be interesting to see how he faces up to the likes of Lukaku, Vardy, Giroud and Costa in the remaining games.

Pantilimon held up his giant hands for the equaliser and then used them to tremendous effect to keep out a shot from Steven Davies in the 93rd minute and secure a vital win for us. He was feted as a hero by his colleagues and the crowd and he may well have other miracles to perform between now and May 23rd.

Should we start sounding more optimistic?

[polldaddy poll=8818549]

And now for a quick expansion of the poll to find out who Salut! Sunderland readers (who, don’t forget, may well again include supporters of the other six clubs) think will go down.

It does not need a tactical genius to dig out wins in the Premier League – Mark Hughes, Tony Pulis and Gary Monk have shown that. All three of them have produced sides who know exactly what they are supposed to do and do it without fancy plans for playing like Real Madrid or Chelsea. They are pragmatists while we have employed dreamers in Di Canio and Poyet. Now, with a pragmatist at the helm, we have given ourselves a chance of swapping Chelsea for Charlton and Liverpool for Leeds (and possibly both Manchester’s for Middlesbrough) but it is only a chance. Two wins and a draw would give us the required 40 points and would probably see us safe but seeing as we have not managed back to back wins all season, the chances are not great. Four more draws would probably not be enough – although Newcastle are in desperate straits at the moment.

As usual, it’s the hope I can’t stand.

Read M Salut’s take on event on his ESPN blog here!

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Pure Poyetry: understanding and control led to victory v Udinese

With the league campaign kicking off next week, this was Gus’s last chance to see his boys in pre-season. No doubt he is still hoping for a few more changes in personnel before the transfer window shuts but today he gave his main men a start and took another look at those on the fringe and some who surely will only feature if Lee Congerton and his negotiators fail to bring in more new faces. Overall the manager was happy with what he saw today as he explains in his post match e-mail.

Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Dear Colin,

Udinese are a very good team who know how to manage the tempo and you need to be spot on, to not make any mistakes.

We nearly gave something away in the first half but Costel [Pantilimon] came up and saved, and from then on we were quite comfortable.
I’m not saying we were the better team by far, but we were in control of the game and knew we would have a chance sooner or later. Overall it was very good preparation and I’m very pleased with the performance.

Santiago [Vergini] is a very good centre-half, but he was so impressive last year at right-back that, with Billy [Jones] out for a few more days, he was a perfect replacement. He gives us plenty of quality on the ball, that understanding, he cares a lot and he is massive [physically]. Sometimes last year I felt we were a little bit small as a team in the beginning.

You want to win games anyway, but when the strikers are scoring it’s even better because that word confidence is always there. Connor [Wickham] will feel fantastic to have scored. The most important thing is that we made a few changes but still had the shape, the understanding.

We will make sure we rest tomorrow and then get ready with a full week [of training] before the season starts.

Thanks for your support,

Gus Poyet


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