French Fancies: Marseille fans get Steven Fletcher’s goat (and not just his)

Probably for one week only, French Fancies returns to record the latest edition of the Mediterranean exploits of one Steven Fletcher, on loan from SAFC to Marseille …

There are worse things footballers can be called than goats, as Olympique de Marseille were during Saturday’s 0-0 draw on Saturday, a 14th home game in Ligue 1 without a win.

If the people calling you goats also happen to accompany the jibe with the Benny Hill theme tune played from the stands, it seems even less wounding as an insult.

Read moreFrench Fancies: Marseille fans get Steven Fletcher’s goat (and not just his)

Wrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

Peter Lynn: What does he think of N'Doye?
Peter Lynn: players must take responsibility?

Amid a barrage of criticism levelled at SAFC ownership and management, Peter Lynn offers an alternative view of on and off-the-field problems that include, in his view, the spectacle of supporters leaving the Stadium of Light early …

Read moreWrinkly Pete: wise men say only fools rush out

Wishing Fletcher well at Marseille, wishing he’d achieved more at Sunderland

Doing his bit for Hipster's everywhere
Doing his bit for Hipsters everywhere

No man should blame another for fancying a few months in the vibrant Mediterranean city of Marseille. If Joey Barton can return unscathed, so can Steven Fletcher.

It is a surprising move in the sense that many of us expected him to end up at Celtic or West Ham, maybe, not to go abroad. But no one will be shocked to see him go somewhere, with just the rest of the season to run on his contract and no appetite on Big Sam’s part for prolonging his stay.

Read moreWishing Fletcher well at Marseille, wishing he’d achieved more at Sunderland

Sixer’s Soapbox: Arsenal’s artful dodgers create hard times for Sunderland defence

Malcolm Dawson writes….Can we do in midweek what Oxford United have just done and beat Swansea? We need to and although the first upset of this season’s FA Cup third round has just happened, for a few minutes yesterday it looked as if a shock might be on the cards at The Emirates. But to no-one’s real surprise it wasn’t. At full time my sister’s text read “so tedious that it all went to script as usual” and so it did. Unlike the script of BBC’s “Dickensian” which has both Pete Sixsmith and I speculating on who finished off Jacob Marley. My bet is on one of the characters who writer Tony Jordan created for the series such as Mrs Biggetywitch, whose name no doubt was inspired by the 70s group Picketywitch. Their biggest hit “I Just Get The Same Old Feeling” sums up watching Sunderland which is what Sixer was doing yesterday. Here’s his account of a day which means we won’t be going to Wembley again this season.

Jake "another FA Cup one off special."
Jake: ‘another FA Cup one off special’

ARSENAL (a) 2016. FA CUP

And so our interest in the FA Cup is over for another season. Not the most surprising result on a day of few shocks. The only ones I could identify were Eastleigh and Bristol City getting decent draws with teams well above them, Newcastle losing at Watford (because they love the FA Cup on Tyneside and Mike Ashley had promised them glory – just like he promised to make Sports Direct as good as John Lewis) and Manchester United getting a last minute penalty which (and here is the surprise )they actually scored from.

Work commitments (Ho, Ho, Ho) had prevented me from attending Ashburton Grove in December, so I signed up for ticket and coach when I heard the draw. I like visiting Arsenal, although I wouldn’t want to watch football there regularly. I found the mood at this game very downbeat and found myself irritated by the flags and the lack of any kind of passion from the stands. Lots of tickets being bought outside and lots of tourists there means that is beginning to get a lot like Old Trafford and Anfield.

It was also an opportunity to have a couple of pints in The Lamb, a splendid pub in Bloomsbury where Charles Dickens drank and probably considered putting together a portmanteau of his characters à la the enjoyable Dickensian on BBC 1. The Lamb is marginally less dangerous than The Three Cripples and the landlord did not appear to have a wooden leg. The bright and sunny dispositions of Ms Coldwell and Ms Jeynes were preferable to the gin swilling Mrs Gamp and the terminally miserable Fanny Biggetywitch. Mind you, one or two of the males in the group had a look of Mr Bumble and Sir Leicester Deadlock about them. Tiny Tim failed to appear – too busy tiptoeing through the tulips no doubt.

Pete Sixsmith enjoying the beer more than the result.
Pete Sixsmith enjoying the beer more than the result

There was a good gathering of Sunderland fans including the esteemed editor and proprietor and the Young’s Bitter was on top form. It is one of the few pleasures of following Sunderland that you can drink good beer in splendid pubs with old friends from all over. It makes the long journeys worthwhile.

The team selected was a decent one with Jordan Pickford making his debut and Lens, Toivonen and Yedlin being given an opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place. Arsenal, keen to claim a hat trick of FA Cup wins, also turned out a strong side so the stage was set for a decent game. And that was what we got. Neither side were looking for a replay on whatever night the television paymaster dictated, so both went for a win. When Jeremain Lens took advantage of a slip by an Arsenal defender and beat Cech, our hopes lifted. Could this be the win that started the latest version of The Great Escape? Could we be heading for yet another Wembley final? How strong was the Young’s Bitter?

Reality was established when the now traditional huge gap appeared down one of our flanks and Walcott squared for Campbell to slot the ball past Pickford. They finished the half stronger and looked as if they were in a hurry to finish the job.

After an enjoyable conversation with Eric, oft of this parish (tough enough to wear a short sleeved Sunderland shirt and NO COAT – a veritable Bill Sikes), the second half commenced and Arsenal ramped up the pressure. It looked as if they were going to regain the lead but we came closest when an excellent cross from M’Vila was headed over by our resident hipster, Steven Fletcher.

Jake: Billy never at home in the middle.
Jake: Billy never at home in the middle.

Then the changes came. With both eyes on the game at Swansea on Saturday, the manger had already replaced a tiring Cattermole with M’Vila and then off came O’Shea with Billy Jones taking the role of centre half. Arsenal responded by taking off Iwobi (quite impressed by him) and Chambers and sending on Ramsey and Arteta. Somewhere out there, Ian Harte shuddered at the name of Arteta – he is Holmes to the Spaniards Moriarty.

The instructions were clear. “There is a huge gap down their left hand side. Their midfield enforcer and best central defender have gone off. They have a back four consisting of two full backs who can’t defend and a couple of worthy plodders in the middle. Go out there and seize the day and bring glory to the crowd. And try to wake them up while you are at it.” Of course, it worked. Bellerin exploited the space that Van Aanholt left and set up two goals for Ramsey and Giroud and that was it.

There was a late flourish at the end as Mavrias came on for his first game since Nick Clegg was a recognisable face (the less said about his foul throw the better) and we went out of the Cup with our heads held a little higher than they were at Valley Parade last year or the KC Stadium the year before.

There were positives to take. Pickford’s debut was one of them. His all-round goalkeeping was good and his distribution was better than some of our midfielders. He found a Sunderland shirt more times in one game than Bridcutt did in two years. Definitely one for the future and it means that we have a Romanian or Italian keeper going spare. I think it will be goodbye to The Giant Pantilimon. Lens did well in the role he was asked to play and he took his goal very well indeed. He gave the third best keeper in the Premier League (after Pickford and Lloris) no chance with his shot and he generally looked interested. There may well have been a scout from Roma or Ajax looking at him, but he worked hard and did all that Allardyce would have asked from him.

But there were weaknesses. Our full backs just cannot defend. Yedlin is busy and wants to be involved but he gets pulled out of position far too easily. Poor Danny Graham was given the job of covering for him and he did it effectively, but why should he have to do that when all he has on his mind is scoring, scoring, scoring? He was absolutely drained at the end of the game and must be looking forward to a nice rest on the bench on Wednesday. Van Aanholt goes forward well but, as the two second half goals showed, he simply cannot defend.

The journey home was a long one, the equivalent of Pip and Herbert Pocket travelling from London for Satis House in Rochester. It rained the entire length of England as books were read, Magnum’s were consumed and music was listened to. The ultimate Dickensian optimist is Wilkins Micawber with his quotes about misery and happiness. His motto is the same as that of the city – “Nil Desperandum” – “Never despair”. I wasn’t in despair after this game but a similar score line at The Liberty Stadium on Wednesday and I may well need to change my tack on this and ask “What the Dickens is going on here?”

The Crystal Palace v SAFC ‘Who are You?’: liking Wickham, wanting Fletch

Jake: 'let the Lads give us hope'
Jake: ‘let the Lads give us hope’

This is Jay Crame‘s* second trip to the Who are You? hotseat. Jay, founder and editor of the Crystal Palace fan site, The Eagles Beak, sat in it for the Palace vs SAFC fixture last season, predicted a 2-1 home win and was shocked to see us take the three points. Of course we all know what happened in the return game at the SoL. He thinks it’ll be comfortable for an even stronger Palace side this time. Can Big Sam prove him wrong? …

Salut! Sunderland: The Palace revolution keeps on delivering. Pardew appears to be proving last season’s excellent form was no fluke. What is going so right for you?

Jay Crame:
A lot can be said for feeling welcome at a club which is just it. It was no secret how he was treated by fans at his former club but he just fits at Palace. He has arrived at Palace as a former player so would always get more time than most but he has taken a decent squad on a few steps more and something quite special is being put together. Pardew was obviously key to us signing Cabaye which was a real sign of intent by the club heading into this season.

Cabaye has great class, as well as a nasty side, but who else has been key to your success this season?

Cabaye has been our marquee signing and proved that he has been worth every penny of the transfer fee we shelled out for him. Adds real quality in the middle of the pitch and his form has been instrumental in our good season so far. Him apart, his midfield partner James McArthur does not get enough praise. He does the quiet job alongside him and while he does not do the spectacular, he works so hard for the team it is unreal. Also Scott Dann at the heart of our defence, why he has not been called up to play for England is a complete mystery to many.

And I suppose Wickham will come on against SAFC and do what he rarely did for us – score goals. How has he been doing?

The signs have been very encouraging but he has missed a number of games through injury. He just fits out formation better than any striker that we have at the club and when he has played he has shown a lot of promise. He was excellent in our win away at Chelsea, man of the match for some without scoring but doing that lone striker role bringing into play our exciting quick midfield. Looking forward to seeing much more from him.

It is strange to think many neutrals thought the owners were either mad or bad in the way they handled Tony Pulis but I imagine most if not all fans would now be saying “thank heavens”. Your assessment?

We have plenty to thank Tony Pulis for but the way it ended left a very bitter taste in the mouth. Knowing what we know now, it all worked out for us (or at least so far) but it was all very peculiar two days before the start of a new season. It is no secret that there were disagreements about the wage structure and if that is part of the reason then as a club with a lot of history when it comes to financial difficulties, most fans are glad that the owners took a stance.

How far can they take the club? Can you use the lure of London to get the players to force a way into serious CL reckoning?

That is a massive question. To suggest Champions League football sounds completely ludicrous but when you think about is sensibly, if our home form was actually any good last season we could well have challenged. You simply cannot plan these things and have to take opportunities with both hands as and when they arise but for me it should be small steps. Finishing higher than 10th this season would for me be seen as a good season but if we continue to get results like we have of late then Europe League may well come into view. It’s very exciting times indeed.

You murdered us at the Stadium of Light but struggled in the earlier game at your place. How much better a side would you say you are now?

We had real problems at home last season where teams came to defend and the onus was on us to take the game on. This season is a little different in that we are beating the teams that we should, on paper, be beating at home.

Hopefully that continues as while our away form continues to a certain extent it is points at home we will be looking for more of this season. The squad is one of the best we have seen at Palace with plenty of pace and excitement. Cabaye is that focal point that feeds the likes of Puncheon, Zaha and Bolasie. When you consider last season we had Mile Jedinak in that role, no offence to big Aussie but it is a real upgrade.

Jay Crame: 'we could use Fletch'
Jay Crame, on the left: ‘we could use Fletch’

Have you been surprised by yet another wretched start for Sunderland or did you see it coming?

From the outside looking in, it is quite odd to see Sunderland do what they do season in season out. It is hard to pinpoint what the problem is, whether it is poor decision making in the managerial position or the owners of the club just content with just surviving each season. In truth, I am not
surprised where you find yourselves this season at all, and it is a similar pattern again with the change of manager at a very similar stage [Jay is obviously referring to what happened with Poyet replacing PDC, rather than last season’s late change – Ed] .

Is there a single player in our squad who could even win a place on your bench?

It is no secret that we have struggled up front at times and I have always thought that Steven Fletcher would fit out systems. I also think van Aarnholt and Lens are both decent players

And what thoughts do you have on our club, fans, city, region, Big Sam?

The appointment of Sam Allardyce is an interesting one and arguably the most sensible appointment that the club have made. He knows the Premier League and gives you a fighting chance of escaping the dreaded bottom three this season. You do not have to like the guy but he will get you the results as long as the players buy into his style of football. West Ham fans did not like it but he did do a decent job, particularly last season.

What are you highs and lows as a Palace fans?

How long do you have? There are plenty of contenders for each category there which could probably fill an entire book! I will have to say the lowest of the low was being less than 24 hours from going of business in 2010. That was simply horrendous to go through as a fan. As for highs, we have had some great experiences being promoted through the play-offs, not least the latest one again Watford but for me it is still the FA Cup Semi Final in 1990.

Liverpool had beaten us 9-0 in the league earlier in the season and it was billed a miss-match. Winning 4-3 and the way that the game played out was truly amazing.

Who have been the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d been around in earlier times to see?

Attilio Lombardo. A player with the calibre of the like I had not witnessed at the club before in my time supporting the club. He was head and shoulders above anyone else we had in the team at the time. It was a real coup at the time as there was no internet with transfer rumours going on, it was out of
the blue and he was a massive name in European football having arrived from Juventus.

And the worst duds?

There have been a few but the one I will mention is another Italian – Michele Padovano. Another player we signed from Juventus and it was for a big fee for the time. This one did not work out and through a combination of injury and poor form. He has since served time for drug offences so it did not really pan out for him after a lot of promise in his early years.

Jake: '16 days between games. Blooming ridiculous'
Jake: ’16 days between games. Blooming ridiculous’
Guess the Score in Crystal Palace vs SAFC and you may win a rollover prize whoever you support: https://safc.blog/2015/11/crystal-palace-v-sunderland-guess-the-score-rollover-another-monday-night-win/


What will be this season’s top four?

Arsenal for title just pipping Manchester City with Manchester United and Liverpool third and fourth.

Q. The bottom three? And our clubs’ finishing position if not mentioned?

I did have a real feeling that the promoted three clubs will end up going back down but Watford have really picked up of late. Having played them though, if teams stop their front two they have little else so a loss of form or injury will see them down there. I will say Bournemouth, Norwich City and one from a few clubs which I think will be very tight. At this moment I will say Villa but Remy Garde may well see them alright as will Allardyce for you.

Diving is alive and well. Time to stop fretting about it and get our players coached to do it better or should we come down on offenders as hard as it takes?

Come down hard on offenders even if it is retrospective action taken. Referees have such a hard enough job as it is let alone players trying to pull a fast one. It is happening all too often and if the penalties for diving were more strict then managers will have to tell players not to do it.

Best ref, worst ref in the Premier?

For us it has to be Mark Clattenburg as the worst as we have rarely got anything out of him at all. As for the best, that is a real struggle to choose as not one stands out for me.

One step the authorities or Palace should take to improve the lot of ordinary fans?

Safe standing. It is a no brainer for me. Already used successfully on the continent for years.

Will you be at our game and what will be the score?

Yes, I will be there being a season ticket holder although I have to say I do not envy Sunderland fans’ journey. I think the game was on a bank holiday last season and we play you at your place midweek later in the season. A big thanks to the so called fixture computer. We certainly owe you one from last season so I am going to go with a 2-0 win the Eagles.

Jake: 'catch this season's full series so far at  '
Jake: ‘catch this season’s full series so far at https://safc.blog/category/who-are-you-2015-2016/

* Jay Crame on himself:

I am Jay, founder and editor of TEB which has been going for over three years now and growing beyond anything I ever imagined. It has also led to work for PalaceFanTV and the Croydon Advertiser and I am also co-presented on the Back Of The Net football show (@_backofthenet_) as well as another sports show on community radio I have been a Palace fan since the late eighties so I have seen plenty of ups and downs in that time so thoroughly enjoying what the club are experiencing right now.TEB

Interview: Colin Randall



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Sixer’s post Everton Soapbox: no good at Goodison

Malcolm Dawson writes…..it could have been a perfect weekend for Pete Sixsmith. In fact it could have been a brilliant week as there was footy on every day, starting with the Under 21s’ game on Monday and ending with the senior side’s visit to Merseyside yesterday. It didn’t quite work out like that with a raft of disappointing results and extra time in an FA Vase tie meaning he had to miss a cracking concert at The Sage on Saturday night and then witness the shocker at Goodison.

SOAPBOXeverton

NO GOOD AT GOODISON

It would be correct to say that I have had better footballing weekends. I saw a grand total of 20 goals over three games which, even for the most demanding football fan would seem to guarantee a wide smile. Alas, eleven of them were conceded by clubs in which I take an interest, hence the gloomy cloud that is sitting over Sixsmith Towers this morning.

It started on Friday night where I saw a competitive FA Vase game between Bishop Auckland and South Shields, which the Mariners won by the odd goal in three. The attraction here was the appearance of one Julio Andres Arca in the Shields side. The former Willow Pond player (I seem to remember him playing the odd game for Sunderland and Middlesbrough) turned in a solid performance in midfield supported by such luminaries as Lee Paul Scroggins and Brian Smith. Rumour has it that Julio is on “gate money” – £1 for every attendee above 200. Shields’ last home gate was 1100+.

Saturday was a trip to Worksop (just) in Nottinghamshire for Shildon’s FA Vase game with Handsworth Parramore, a Sheffield based club who own Worksop Town’s former home at Sandy Lane. The Tigers are tenants much to the chagrin of their loyal support. Shildon were joint favourites for the Vase along with the reborn Hereford club. Alas, no longer, as they fell at the first hurdle, losing 5-4 to a stronger and savvier Handsworth team whose centre forward Kieran Wells scored a hat trick as the Railwaymen slumped to a 5-4 defeat after extra time.

The Shildon manager blamed his defenders and thought that his team were naïve in not closing the game down immediately after taking a 2-1 lead. Their cause was not helped by a needless sending off when the score was 4-3 and there was plenty of time to get back into the game. The afternoon was a major disappointment for the hundred or so who travelled south but who at least had the opportunity to visit The Mallard, an excellent pub on the westbound platform at Worksop station.

Howard Kendall
Howard Kendall, 1946-2015

Some of those who witnessed that defeat then set off early on Sunday morning for Everton. The Durham bus was by no means full, which gave ample opportunity to sleep, read the papers, listen to the cricket and wonder why experienced coach drivers find it difficult in setting the heating correctly on their coaches. After boiling and freezing in equal proportions, we parked up at 10.30 giving those who wanted to, time to look at the dignified and moving billboards that Everton had placed opposite Stanley Park celebrating the life of Howard Kendall.

The floral tributes alongside the Dixie Dean statue were from his family and it showed the love and affection that the supporters of this great club had for a Durham lad who played for and managed them over four decades.

Tributes from the family
Tributes from the family

I strolled down to the Leigh Arms, scene of a few decent pre and post-match drinking sessions, only to find the metal shutters up and an air of decay around another lost pub. It still had its Higsons signboards up, a beer that has become better with memory.
So, it was to another anodyne Wetherspoons that I sampled my single pint of the day, a Caledonian Brewery wheat beer called Flying Dutchman, an appropriate drink, we thought, for Patrick van Aanholt. John McCormick joined us and we had an amiable chat about life, liberty and the pursuit of three points although we decided that one would do.

And off we went to The Old Lady, a grand stadium in a world of bland new builds and one which we should cherish for all its imperfections. The wooden seats were reminiscent of Roker and there is still evidence of the Leitch lattice work above our heads as well as on the Gwladys Street stand. The Z Cars theme brings back memories of Wednesday nights sat in front of the Ferguson or Bush and waiting to see if Fancy Smith or Charlie Barlow walloped somebody and there was an impeccable silence for those who had lost their lives in foreign wars.

The Grand Old Lady
The Grand Old Lady

By the time the stadium erupted into applause after four minutes to remember Kendall (memo to Evertonians – don’t do it every game as it dissipates the effect) we had hit the post and looked good. Both wing backs were pushing forward and the balance of the team looked right. When we struck the woodwork again, it looked even better. And then……

The disaster started when Arouna Kone, a less than prolific striker since his move from Wigan Athletic, showed that there is much more to his game than merely ramming the ball into the net – although he did show us that later. His wonderful pass to Delofeu caught us in a state of defensive narcolepsy, as Van Aanholt was caught out of position and in a foot race with Billy Jones the young Spaniard was the only winner. He stroked the ball home to give Everton the lead. Ten minutes later, the supplier turned finisher when he rammed home a fierce shot as our defence (I use that term lightly) backed off Kone and allowed him a free shot which he accepted. Cattermole, already struggling with an injury, lost him completely while nobody else thought to go and make a challenge and perhaps make things a wee bit harder for him.

By now, the optimism had drained away as quickly as the beer had in the pub and Everton had more chances which they did not take. The central defensive trio were creaking and the full backs, looking good going forward, were far less keen to drop back quickly and it was apparent that Everton were happy to bide their time and pick us off. Cattermole disappeared down the tunnel and was replaced by a heavy looking Rodwell.

He received a generous round of applause from the home crowd who clearly sympathised with a young man who had followed the gold to Eastlands and had ended up as a sub in a rag bag of a team that, on this performance, is unlikely to dodge the relegation bullet this season.

A lifeline was thrown to us at the end of the half when the industrious and effective Defoe got onto and converted a long punt up field by Coates and it was even-stevens when M’Vila played a sublime ball into Defoe who brought Van Aanholt in and the full back’s cross was headed in by the hard working Steven Fletcher.

Jake: back on the score sheet
Jake:JD back on the score sheet

At 2-2 we needed to settle down, stifle Everton and unsettle the crowd. We did none of these and they proceeded to run riot. All four subsequent goals were avoidable, although three of them were very well taken and Lukaku would have headed in the third had Coates not got his boot there first.

It shows that our recruitment “policy” over the last three years has been an unmitigated disaster. The first choice central defenders are injured and we are left with a man whose best days are long gone and a Uruguayan plodder who can only play with O’Shea to talk him through a game. As a boy, I sometimes winced as Cec and Len (Power plus men in the words of the old Fulwell End song) stumbled through games but the current full back situation is an embarrassment and could well be a major part in the inquest that will follow our seemingly inevitable relegation/Great Escape Vol 3. The last half decent full back we had was Bardsley, the last decent one was probably Chris Makin.

I used the word rag bag earlier and that is what we are. Everton had a purpose and a style, one that Martinez has developed and they are a long way away from the more prosaic teams offered up by David Moyes. Their front three had pace and verve and completely destroyed our defence. Lukaku was outstanding, showing intelligence and movement and so much better than Steven Fletcher. Not that Fletcher had a bad game, but Lukaku has the luxury of having players behind him who feed him well and in Barry and McCarthy they have a central midfield who organise, think and who, on this performance, are four steps ahead of their opponents.

It was a chastening experience but utterly predictable after the shenanigans of the previous week. The manager has to coax a much more disciplined performance out of this lot for next week. He is already talking about moving those on who do not show what is required of him and there are five of yesterday’s starting line-up who should be looking to their agents now as I believe they have no future at this club.

Some small rays of sunshine in that going forward we looked better than we have for a while and a there was a decent cameo from Duncan Watmore. He may get the opportunity to turn cameos into full appearances, but not yet. The older players need to show the younger ones how you can take on board what a new manager says – problem is too many of them have heard new managers too many times.

SIXer’s post Newcastle Soapbox: Wonga boys lose interest at the SoL

Malcolm Dawson writes……one of the things that struck me about yesterday’s game was how similar the pre and post match experience was to any other game. OK the excitement, anticipation and nerves on the way to the ground were heightened and the euphoria, relief and general feel good factor on the way back to the car greater than usual, but I experienced no hint of the bile or threats of violence that had become commonplace in recent years. I am not naive enough to think that there won’t be some followers of both clubs who would like to inflict physical damage on anyone with a different affiliation, but I do believe that more than 99% of football fans are decent people who want a civilised day out without having to worry about their own safety and those they have to look after. The sensible low(ish) profile policing was such a departure from the bubble and bus them in approach and the fans responded to that. Yes there were plenty of police about, but in normal uniform and not the riot gear which can inflame rather than calm a situation. So well done to Her Majesty’s Constabulary and to the fans of both clubs who (in the now well worn phrase) kept the passion but lost the poison. Long may it continue. And now to the game itself, which was attended by the entire editorial team of Salut! Sunderland and of course our chief contributor Peter Sixsmith. Here’s his customary, though rather more euphoric than usual, view of another pleasant Wear/Tyne Derby day.

SOAPBOXmagsNEWCASTLE UNITED OCT 25th 2015

October 25th 2015 will go down in history as the day that we ran up the SIXTH consecutive victory in North East derby games. Never before has a team won SIX consecutive games in this clash which began when the Black and Whites won the first one at Roker Park on Christmas Eve, 1898. We reciprocated by winning at the soon to be renamed Sports Direct Arena in April of the following year.

Since then, both sides have had their good runs, but neither has ever won SIX in a row – until now. These are the days when you get great pleasure out of spelling out your surname if you are called SIXsmith. I took my pleasure on Sunday night by quaffing a couple of bottles of Wadsworth’s 6X and reminding myself of what an excellent chocolate bar Cadbury’s Bar 6 was, before watching Audrey Hepburn in The Inn of the SIXTH Happiness and listening to Sounds of the SIXties on the BBC i-player.

Jake: 'the world's a better place today'
Jake: ‘the world’s a better place today’

Right, that’s the cheap gags out of the way and I suppose the reader(s) will want the cool analysis and reasoned argument for which this column is famous, throughout the length and breadth of our great kingdom and far beyond the shores of our noble island. Fat chance after we have beaten them for the sixth consecutive time. All I want to do is revel in what was a great result with elements of an encouraging performance.

The whole game hinged on the decision that Wakefield referee Robert Madley made on the stroke of half time. After having had to sit and watch Newcastle weave pretty patterns all over the pitch without ever really looking like finishing them off, we broke quickly when Wijnaldum lost the ball in our penalty area. It was cleared up field and was played on to Defoe, who then played a ball in the general direction of Steven Fletcher. Fletcher got ahead of Coloccini and may have got to the ball before a hesitant goalkeeper but he was prevented from doing so by a hefty shove in the back by the Newcastle skipper. Penalty and red card for Coloccini, goal for Adam Johnson with celebrations aimed at Newcastle fans who had abused him roundly all first half.

Was it a penalty? Yes. I watched it last night and Coloccini shoved him. It wasn’t a shoulder charge; it was a shove in the back and was done to prevent Fletcher from (perhaps) getting the ball before Elliott. Was it a red card? Not as clear cut, but if the referee thought that Coloccini was denying Fletcher a goal scoring opportunity, it was. Some would say we got lucky here and that if it was the other way round, we would have been spitting feathers, but the decision was made and that was it.

The kick was taken perfectly by a player who has often flattered to deceive in the four years he has spent with us (5 managers have rated him in that time, so what do I know) and his celebration was aimed at those opposition fans who clearly have no knowledge of the law in that someone is innocent until proven guilty. I wish that he had gone to the corner where the Sunderland fans were rather than run the length of the pitch but I am not Adam Johnson and am highly unlikely to ever take a crucial penalty in a Sunderland – Newcastle game.

The second half performance was much better, although we had The Giant Pantilimon to thank for two excellent saves from Mitrovic and Wijnaldum, the first one being a game breaker. Had they levelled it would have made life difficult for us.

No doubt the bleating and the moaning will go on until March when we meet again, but by that time we could be in a far more secure position in the league as Allardyce’s influence and tactical nous should be having a much greater impact.
SAFC3 NUFC0
There were a host of positives to take from this performance, not least the realisation that, when he is focused and is concentrating, Steven Fletcher is rather a good centre forward. He worked hard throughout the game and made two excellent runs, the first of which resulted in the penalty/red card incident, while the second saw him sweep home Younes Kabouls’s cross into the net to become “The Official Icing on the Cake Man of 2015”. He defended well from corners and put in an excellent shift and has now converted me to the values of the Hipster Beard. Mine is growing as I type.

Doing his bit for Hipster's everywhere
Doing his bit for Hipsters everywhere

When John O’Shea went off (and don’t underestimate the role that he played in this game – his clattering tackle on Mitrovic, one which Sam would have been proud of in his heyday, effectively told the Newcastle player that he was in with the big boys and Mitrovic did little after that) there was a stifled groan around the stadium as Coates came on. Kaboul and Coates have had some difficult moments this season and are about as popular as Mike and Bernie Winters were at the Glasgow Empire.

The greatest heckle of all time came after Mike’s opening number and as Bernie shuffled onto the stage, a voice yelled out “Oh, f****** hell, there’s two of them” – but both were outstanding and did their job very effectively. Coates is a bit of a plodder but he reads the game well and makes solid interventions. Kaboul looked good throughout and the Allardyce effect may just see him become the next new Charlie Hurley. Yes, I am getting carried away.

I thought M’Vila was quietly excellent in midfield and thoroughly deserved to be man of the match. He broke up attacks and, once again, rarely gave the ball away cheaply. He is a very good player, far more effective than Sissoko, who is the ultimate “flatters to deceive” player and much stronger then Wijnaldum, who did impress me. Cattermole relished taking the armband and showed the leadership qualities that our Friends from the North patently lack. He showed restraint after being warned by the ref that the next foul gets you booked, he stood his ground when Wijnaldum tried to get past him in the 43rd minute and the tackle he made on Jack Colback was an absolute cracker. Colback twisted his foot as he went down, hence the injury. And finally, Jermaine Defoe showed what a quality player he is. Should he leave the club in January, he will leave us with much to be grateful for. The stunning winner last time and the wonderful ball through to Fletcher for the penalty justify his wages (ok, maybe not) and his all round play in the second half was sheer quality. John Anderson on BBC Newcastle made the point that as soon as he came on, it gave Sunderland more options and put immediate pressure on the Newcastle defence. He also thought it was a penalty and a sending off. A good man, Ando!!

showing some quality in the middle of the park
showing some quality in the middle of the park

We now have our first win and have lifted ourselves off the bottom of the league, dumping a Sherwood-less Villa there. The panic is setting in early amongst the bottom placed clubs and if McClaren loses two more games, he may well be the next one to cash in his contract. He is not a manager I either admire or warm to and he may find that Newcastle fans are not particularly forgiving when games are lost which should have been won. A good team would have been two up at half time. They weren’t. What’s more, as was pointed out by many on Radio Newcastle, their heads dropped after they went further behind and they lost interest.

The next batch of games is as always crucial. By the end of November we will have a clearer idea of Allardyce’s team and whether we can aspire to mid table drudgery. And there’s always March 19th to look forward to – can we make it the Magnificent Seven?

Sixer’s Sevens: SAFC 3-0 Newcastle United. The joy of six in a row

Jake: 'the world's a better place today'
Jake: ‘the world’s a better place today’


Monsieur Salut
writes: after an opening 40 minutes of worryingly inept football, Sunderland sprang into life to beat Newcastle 3-0 and keep the run going. Jermain Defoe’s introduction when injury left Ola Toivonen unable to continue made the difference. Suddenly, in first-half stoppage time, his pass of Premier League – one of few Sunderland mustered in the first half – cut open the United defence. Steven Fletcher looked about to reach it ahead of Ellott and Coloccini bundled him over. Clear penalty, clear red and Adam Johnson did the rest, sending us into half time with the lead. Shaky moments followed the interval but Costel Pantilimon, harshly blamed here last week for the WBA winner, pulled off a couple of terrific saves before Billy Jones and Fletcher made it comfortable. The season has started …and our seven-word specialist summariser Pete Sixsmith went home a happy man

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: SAFC 3-0 Newcastle United. The joy of six in a row

Dick’s post West Ham Advochaat: I’m proud of the players

Malcolm Dawson writes…..on the way back from today’s game Pete Sixsmith got a text suggesting that Big Dick had checked out of the Ramside and sent flowers to the staff. Of course with the international break coming up maybe he’s just off to see the missus to tell her that today the boys in red and white played their hearts out. The first forty five minutes produced some great attacking football and we didn’t look like a team in crisis. We could and should have had more. Borini had two great chances and I thought we might have had a penalty but the added time curse struck and the second half was a different story. This was one of those games where both sets of supporters might have left feeling disappointed but surely no-one at today’s game could question the players’ attitude. Big Dick was happy. This may be his last e-mail to M. Salut. I hope he stays. I fear he won’t.

 Dick by Jake
Dick by Jake

SUNDERLAND 2 WEST HAM UNITED 2

Dear Colin,

It’s the best game I’ve seen from our players; the way we played and got forward is what the fans like to see. We scored two beautiful goals; there was great movement and great action. The way we played the first half was of a really high standard.

At the end of the first half it was 2-1, had we gone in 2-0 of course it would have been better. We even had the chances to score 2 or 3 more goals, but it wasn’t to be.

After the red card it made it more difficult so I am happy with a point after that. The players gave everything and the crowd got right behind them, it was a joy to watch.

[Jeremain] Lens’ goal was particularly nice; [Steven] Fletcher’s was just as good and then the action we saw from Fabio [Borini] was great, he was finding space and if he had scored from the chances he had that would have been game over.

We just didn’t have any luck, that will change and I think we were the better side today. The players did very well, I’m very happy with their performance.

Thanks for your support,

Dick Advocaat



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