Sunderland’s Old Trafford glories: when Suggett, Mulhall and Seb buried Manchester United

SALUT! Sunderland is very sorry that the site was unavailable yesterday and that it appears to be making only a gradual return towards normality. The servers said “emergency” maintenance was needed but are notoriously bad at keeping people informed. This posting was therefore wasted yesterday so here it is again …

Beating Manchester United on their own ground is not impossible, even for Sunderland.

Some, like a Netherlands-based reader Paul Devine, remember the last-but-one actual victory at Old Trafford very well.

“Against Best, Law, Bobby, Paddy and the rest, no one gave us an earthly … I was there, transported on a Roberts bus (apostrophe or no apostrophe) from Wingate to Stretford.”That was in this game’s Guess the Score competition and Paul went on to predict the same scoreline for Saturday.

Read moreSunderland’s Old Trafford glories: when Suggett, Mulhall and Seb buried Manchester United

Sixer’s Soapbox: gloomy outlook after Doncaster display

Malcolm Dawson writes…I was tied up until 5.00pm but considered making the trip to South Yorkshire until first hand reports of hold ups on the A19 and A1(M) and the prospect of my Wednesday fix of real ale and pub trivia made my mind up for me. By the sound of it I made a good decision. Yesterday morning I was on the phone to a mate of mine who is a Leicester fan and providing me with free B&B for a few days either side of the game at the King Power stadium. It’s not much consolation but he was even more gloomy about the Foxes’ prospects for the up and coming season than I was about ours. But Pete Sixsmith is made of sterner stuff and he combined a trip to see the Development Squad on Tuesday with the delights of “Open All Hours” Doncaster. Like the weather in the North East this morning he is feeling decidedly gloomy.

Sixer's ordeals,  by Jake
Sixer’s ordeals, by Jake


In George Orwell’s political fable “Animal Farm”, the easily led sheep constantly chant the mantra “four legs good, two legs bad” whenever things appeared to be going not quite as well as the beasts expected.
Our mantra is “a good pre-season equals a poor start to the real thing” while “a poor pre-season equals a good start to the real thing.” On the evidence of last night at The Keepmoat Stadium, we will be dominating the early minutes of Match of the Day and forcing large numbers of pundits to eat their words.

This did not make pleasant viewing as we played the only worthwhile friendly that most fans could actually get to. The club hierarchy are very sensible in fixing up games as far away from the North East as possible as performances like this will do little or nothing to assuage the concerns that many supporters have regarding season number nine in the Premier League.

Let’s deal with the positives first. Jermaine Lens looked a good player. He has pace, imagination and a desire to run at defenders, something which we have lacked ever since we arrived back in the promised land of milk, honey and huge TV fees. He could act as a catalyst for the rest of the team and, with a reasonably competent centre forward could enable us to make that good start that the mantra suggests. And apart from that, not a great deal to lighten a mood already low after days of continuous rain and a long journey back from South Yorkshire last night due to the Highways Agency closing the A1(M) at Wetherby.

Younes Kaboul moved quickly when he came on in the second half although he was turned very easily by a pacy Rovers side that played some good football. He showed enthusiasm and I imagine that he will be used extensively during the campaign – if he can remain fit.

But all the old weaknesses were there and on display. Fletcher was dominated by a good third level centre half and looked as if he couldn’t wait to get away. He was replaced by Danny Graham at half time and for all his efforts, he is very clearly not a top class player. His anticipation and movement are poor and his control patchy. He might chase balls down, but next door’s Border collie does that.
Johnson played just behind the forwards and showed some decent touches but it looked like a role was being created for him rather than him fitting into a role. Obviously there are serious matters on his mind and maybe he needs to play to take his mind off them.

On the evidence presented here, the idea of a midfield three is struggling. Cattermole did not look comfortable as the central player as one midfield player less meant that he had to use the ball far more creatively – and this is an area of his game which he has always struggled with. He can chase, harry and tackle but he cannot pick out a pass and he cannot push forward. Rodwell is the man who should push forward for us and this he did in the early stages. But he faded away and, by the time Bridcutt replaced him, he was a peripheral figure and had played a major part in giving away the second and decisive goal. It is a huge season for a man who was the heartbeat of David Moyes’ side at Goodison four years ago. Things improved when Larsson arrived in the second half and Lens moved to the left. The Swede gave us a lot more thrust in the central areas and we did begin to create chances – but they were not taken. Giaccherini (underwhelming I’m afraid) missed a couple of good ones and Johnson needed too many touches. The Rovers keeper, Stuckmann, made some good saves but we never convinced at the top end of the pitch.

Jake: Billy mislaid his magic boots last night.
Jake: Billy mislaid his magic boots last night.

Defensively, both goals were sloppy and worrying. For the first, the defence was pulled around and both full backs (Jones and Van Aanholt) were culpable, one for allowing the cross, the other for not picking up at the far post. For the second, a poor clearance by Rodwell was despatched past Pantilimon with some aplomb by Forrester, a busy centre forward for the South Yorkshire team. There was little possibility of us coming back from that.

The 2,500 supporters who had made the trip were sanguine but disappointed. There is a growing acceptance that this is going to another difficult season and if we start poorly, it could be even more difficult than is anticipated. It is stating the bleedin’ obvious, but we still need a creative midfield player and a one who can and will fight for the ball and when he gets it, puts it in the net. There did not appear to be anyone there last night who can do that. Defoe was a peripheral figure and Wickham was injured. We can write off Fletcher and Graham as not good enough.

One more game in Hannover and I will be relying on second hand reports for that one. The weekend is taken up by a ground hop in Rutland – The Rutland Weekend Groundhop, with Nasty, Stig, Dirk and Barry. It must be love.

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Sixer’s Everton Soapbox: Graham and Defoe bask in deflected glory

Malcolm Dawson writes….Peter Sixsmith was not held up on the journey over the Pennines. He was there to see the whole thing through and for the second year in a row, the trip to Goodison was one he was glad he made. Everton hasn’t been much of a happy hunting ground for SAFC in recent times but this was a big result. Of course there is still much to do but time is running out and we are out of the relegation places. Next week a resurgent Leicester City will be no pushover but by the end of that game we may easily know if we will be watching Premier League football again next season. Pete is certainly more confident than he was a few weeks ago but takes nothing for granted. Here is his account of a good day out on Merseyside yesterday.


Napoleon once said “Bring me lucky generals.” On that basis, the ghost of Bonaparte is stalking the Stadium of Light as we carried a fair amount of good fortune in our second successive win at Goodison Park. It’s not that we didn’t play well in a limited kind of way. The players’ concentration levels were light years away from that exhibited in the Palace game and they were disciplined, organised and completely committed to the cause.

Jake asks - a lucky general or an organised one?
Jake asks – a lucky general or an organised one?

The two Sebastians typified that. Coates, who has hardly played since his arrival from Liverpool, was tremendous in the middle of the back four and played a significant part in keeping Lukaku as quiet as a Labour supporter was on Friday morning. The Uruguayan read the game well and put in some great tackles when he had to, as well as blocking the ball on numerous occasions. The other Seb, the Swede Larsson, did exactly what it says on the tin. He harried and carried all over the pitch and was always there to pick up a loose ball and move it on. Sometimes the unspectacular is needed and Larsson gives us that in spades.

However the two outstanding players were regulars; The Giant Pantilimon and Cattermole. Both were simply magnificent and showed that, should we go down, there will be a queue of Premier League clubs looking to employ them next season. TGP kept us in the game in the first half with two stunning blocks and was the personification of calmness and authority as he controlled his box in the second. A stream of corners from the Toffees came unstuck as he punched them away, caught them and, on one occasion, calmly raised a giant paw to swat away a header that looked to be heading in. Cattermole had the kind of game that would have him as a shoo-in for an England place if he played for a more fashionable club – or indeed, one that Roy Hodgson is actually aware of.

This was his kind of game, a “backs to the wall – let them come at us” kind of encounter, where he could exhibit all of his abilities as an interceptor, tackler and shrewd passer. He squeezed the life out of Ross Barkley, a player who looks destined to end up at Sunderland via Manchester City and end up as a “whatever happened to” midfielder, à la Rodwell. Gareth Barry was withdrawn relatively early as he lost the battle with the former Boro man and in the last half hour Cattermole was magnificent. It was his interception and pass that set up the second and clinching goal.

The goals were not things of beauty like Messi’s on Wednesday night. They were probably the scrappiest pair I have seen in a win at Everton, but they were worth their weight in gold. Danny Graham stuck out a leg to divert a weak shot from Gomez for the first and Defoe bundled his over the line after an excellent combination from the two subs, Johnson and Fletcher. Both made a real difference when they came on. Johnson had replaced a tired Danny Graham and his ability to hold the ball and take defenders on gave us an outlet. Graham’s departure left Wickham alone up front, not a role that he enjoys. He had done well as the third striker in the first half and even better when he dropped behind Graham and Defoe in the second. He has so much potential but just lacks the bite that a top class player needs. Maybe next year?

Jake captures that unique event - the DG goal celebration.
Jake captures that unique event – the DG goal celebration.

Fletcher’s arrival gave us someone who would hold the ball up and it was his run across the box (complete with falling down) that allowed Johnson to set up Defoe for the clincher. Jermain’s last goal was the stunner against the Mags – this one was a tad more prosaic.
As the game finished, there must have been a shudder around the Sports Direct and the KC Stadium. Although it was hardly “the shot that rang around the world” it was a statement of intent that these players will not lay down and die and that the Head Coach has got them organised. It’s not smooth flowing football and the purists will not be purring, but it is effective and it shows that the players will listen to someone who asks them to do the possible rather than the impossible. Defenders now win the ball and release it quickly up front. Midfield players move the ball quickly. Forwards no longer have to wait for the ball to arrive to them. It is simple, straightforward and, on the evidence of the last three games, effective.

There is much to do. Leicester are on a genuine roll and will not want to get dragged back into the trouble from which they have almost extricated themselves. Hull go to a torpid Spurs side needing the points while Newcastle could well be QPR’s last Premier League visitors for the next millennium. No room for complacency then – but I don’t think Dick Advocaat does complacency.

Finally, a word of praise for Everton supporters who showed their class on several occasions after the game in the Soccerbus queue, on the platform at Sandhills station and on the train back to Birkdale. They are very much like us; a proud club, somewhat over shadowed by arrogant neighbours and with a real feel for the game. I look forward to making their acquaintance again next season.

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Jake introduces the feature allowing you to have your say on topic or off
Jake introduces the feature allowing you to have your say on topic or off

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Seb: ‘the Lads are happier under Poyet’. Us: ‘our turn next?’

'Hop off the team bus Gus at Villa Park,' says Jake, 'and find us three points'
‘Hop off the team bus Gus at Villa Park,’ says Jake, ‘and find us three points’

It caught my eye that the Sunderland Echo – where’s that piece about the demise of the Footie Echo, Sixer? – was quoting Seb Larsson on how much happier the Lads all were under Gus Poyet.

Glancing at the Premier League table, there’s an obvious response. And the first batch of readers’ comments made it.

Here’s how I put it at

Read moreSeb: ‘the Lads are happier under Poyet’. Us: ‘our turn next?’

Martin’s Musings from Peterborough: it’s a real positive to get the win

Martin O’Neill is satisfied, in the end, with a comfortable win at London Road and progress to the next round of the FA Cup. And in his post-match e-mail, the boss makes special mention of the blossoming talent of James McClean …

Read moreMartin’s Musings from Peterborough: it’s a real positive to get the win

A tale of three Larrsons, lots of tattoos and Bendtner’s hard-won pizza

Time for one of Salut! Sunderland’s occasional looks abroad. Not French Fancies but Scandinavian Stars …

Salut! Sunderland has taken a while to get round to making up with Seb Larsson.

We’ll do it now but delay an olive branch in the direction of our other Scandinavian first team man, Nicklas Bendtner, until he 1) explains the pizza house shocker or 2) takes a leaf from Seb’s book and scores some winning goals.

Read moreA tale of three Larrsons, lots of tattoos and Bendtner’s hard-won pizza

Bendtner and Gary Speed: no case to answer

Salut! Sunderland hopes that when Martin O’Neill presides over his first press conference as Sunderland’s manager this afternoon, he is not drawn into pointless discussion of Nicklas Bendtner’s supposedly disrespectful body language during the pre-match tribute to Gary Speed at Molineux.

With carefully manufactured outrage, the website declares that the on-loan forward was seen “smirking and shrugging as the cameras went past all the players”.

Read moreBendtner and Gary Speed: no case to answer

Welcome Keiren Westwood and Seb Larsson. And that’s official

Salut! Sunderland is delighted to note the statement from Sunderland AFC tonight confirming 1) perhaps the worst-kept secret so far of the transfer market and 2) success in one of the most encouraging of our reported attempts to bring in fresh talent.

Terms have been agreed with Keiren Westwood, the Coventry City and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper, whose transfer has been reported as fact all or much of the day, everywhere from the Midlands press to Sky Sports, and with Birmingham City’s Swedish international midfielder Sebastian Larsson.

Read moreWelcome Keiren Westwood and Seb Larsson. And that’s official