Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: Udinese like a Sunday morning

Malcolm Dawson writes……Following his most recent visits to the O3 Arena, Peter Sixsmith has developed a liking for watching a team in red and white stripes at St James’ Park, so when the Football League fixtures were announced he got Pardew, his faithful manservant, to organise a suite at the Exeter Travelodge and a ticket to see The Grecians play Pompey in what to many of us, is still the old Fourth Division. It was all sorted before SAFC announced their final pre-season arrangements and Pete will be at The Hawthorns next week to bring his unique insight into the first game of the campaign proper, but it fell to me to make the ten minute trip to Heritage Park, home of the “Two Blues”, for the final warm up match…..

Malcolm Dawson climbs up on the soapbox at Bishop
Malcolm Dawson climbs up on the soapbox at Bishop Auckland

Read moreSixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: Udinese like a Sunday morning

Sixer’s Stoke City Soapbox: no joy as Brown sees red

Browned off in Staffs
Browned off in Staffs

Wedgewood and Minton, Doulton, Moorcroft and Twyford. All names associated with the Potteries. Now after his performance at the Britannia we can add Kevin Friend’s name to the list. Not so much pottery but potty. His decision to show Brown a red has been widely criticised by all and sundry – though maybe not Mark Hughes – but even Charlie Adam trying hard not to criticise the ref seemed embarrassed in his post match interviews. Peter Sixsmith has endured some disappointing days indulging in his love of sport but events in Brisbane and Wembley were just a precident to another frustrating day watching the Lads in red and white, even if this time they were in blue and yellow.

A DISMAL SATURDAY IN STAFFORDSHIRE

Dismal Saturdays at Stoke happen with monotonous regularity.

If I wanted a cheap laugh, I could say every week, but we’ll pass on that one.

Pete Sixsmith shares his thought's on events at The Britannia Stadium
Pete Sixsmith shares his thought’s on events at The Britannia Stadium

The last few seasons in the Potteries have been fairly dismal. There was an awful 0-0 draw last season which was little better than Wearside League football. We won the year before on a day that was so cold that even the long suffering Stokies, accustomed as they are to watching football on top of a hill in a ground with only one filled in corner, had icicles on their moustaches. And that was only the women.

The year before that, on another nippy day, we contrived to throw away a game that should have been wrapped up long before City equalised and there have been occasions where both Fulop and Gordon have frozen literally and metaphorically at the sight of 6’4” midfielders bearing down on them. Not a happy hunting ground then.

To say that our cause wasn’t helped by the ineptitude and idiocy of Kevin Friend is like saying that the Heads of the Co-op Bank and Toronto’s Mayoral Office have nothing in common. Kev played a blinder, aided and abetted by his assistant, who also played a major part in “The Most Ridiculous Sunderland Sending Off Since Michael Turner at Manchester City” episode – a decision which was not only not overturned but earned an extra game ban for a “frivolous” appeal.

The assistant had given a ludicrous free kick against Brown for a non-existent foul on Jonathan Walters in the twelfth minute. The ball had been won, Walters had gone down with no expectation of a free but the assistant flagged for a foul. There was a widespread shaking of heads and cries of “I say, what a strange decision” from the Sunderland fans stuck in the corner, but the die had been cast or, as they probably still say in the Six Towns, “the clay had been placed on the wheel”. Twenty odd minutes later, and a goal down, Brown made the kind of challenge that he has been making since he was a nipper in Longsight and for which he is renowned. He won the ball, caught Charlie Adam a glancing blow on the ankle before coming away with the ball.

Enter the pantomime villain, Kevin Friend. Clearly influenced by the previous “foul”, he looked, thought and then, to the incredulity of the Sunderland team, bench and support, pulled out a red card and off went Wesley. Uproar from the Sunderland connections – amazement from the Stokies who could hardly believe their luck as one of the obstacles to their first win in 9 departed the field. Now, others may say that we were a goal down to a well taken goal that exposed our defensive frailties, so ultimately, the dismissal made little difference to the outcome. Others (include me in this group) would say that 11 v 10 for an hour is difficult.

Giaccherini, who had been playing well, went off and Roberge filled the gap at the back. He had a good game, looked a decent acquisition and could be a Di Fanti success story – although a certain Italian may disagree. But we didn’t really threaten the Stoke goal. They had a solid group of four at the back and a solid group of four in front of them and despite the best efforts of Adam Johnson, who I thought had an outstanding game, there was no way through.

Fletcher did much better when he wasn’t the lone striker and could have put us ahead in the first half after a superb ball by Johnson put him behind Shawcross. He was not able to get the ball down and Bergovic blocked it. That was the first of two blocks by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s No. 1. The second, also involving Fletcher, could have been a penalty, a sending off and an equaliser. Mr Friend gave nothing. TV replays suggest that he was less wrong on that one than he was on his earlier decision.

N’Zonzi, Stoke’s best player, wrapped it up in the 81st minute and we trooped back to the coach with a number of grievances some imagined but most real. We had played well in the opening twenty minutes, continuing the passing and pressure game that we had practiced against City in the previous game. The opening goal showed our deficiencies in that we did not pick up either N’Zonzi or Adam and Stoke probably had the better of the game after that – not surprising as all but 5 minutes of it were played with a man down.

The red card was thrown into perspective when I saw the tackle that Kevin Mirallas made on Luis Suarez. If Brown’s was a red card, the Belgian’s was worth three: it was high, studs up and caught the player, none of which applied to Brown. Phil Dowd may have been wrong but not anywhere near as wrong as Kevin Friend.

It wrapped up a dismal day which started as I awoke to hear David Warner smashing the England bowling around the Gabba and continued with Jonathan Trott’s eight ball nightmare as I drove to the coach pick up point. It got worse as New Zealand scored the winning try with a mere 20 seconds left to get to the Rugby League World Cup Final and break England’s hearts. Next week’s final will be an antipodean affair with Australia. Then we heard that Palace had won at Hull and we were back propping the rest up. We are still in touch with the other relegation candidates, but we need to start winning games against them. I would have swapped the wins against Newcastle and Manchester City for similar against Hull and Stoke, both of whom will be looking over their shoulders all season.
And to add to the crushing sense of disappointment, the Football Echo announced its closure at the end of this year. The real end of an era. I suspect there may be a nostalgia ridden piece later in the week.


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O’Neill is no longer resuscitating Bruce’s Sunderland: midfield is dead on arrival

Stephen Goldsmith writes: I refuse to get too carried away with all the doom and gloom just yet – as tempting as that may be! You certainly won’t be hearing me shout for a change in management amid all this poor show of form. The national media are particularly mystified as to why the Sunderland fans are keeping their patience with O’Neill, in an almost identical manner in which they were mystified as to why we wanted their pal Bruce out last season. Double standards springs to mind. The crux of it all is that last season’s mini-revival highlights the amazing impact that O’Neill had when he came here. Who can argue that the Ulsterman’s arrival resulted in a below average squad performing above themselves? They have now plateaued and it isn’t pretty. Had Bruce still been here we would be playing Championship football, a fact which nobody should doubt.

Read moreO’Neill is no longer resuscitating Bruce’s Sunderland: midfield is dead on arrival

The Lars Word: great centre backs from King Charlie to John O’Shea

Lars Knutsen: opening the defence case

Lars Knutsen, Sunderland exile in the USA, praises the contributions of our centre-back regulars to the unbeaten start to the new season and looks back at the rock-like figures who played for SAFC in the days when there was one in the middle and he was called the centre-half …

SAFC vs MUFCJohn O’Shea in action vs old mates: image by ‘vagueonthehow’

Read moreThe Lars Word: great centre backs from King Charlie to John O’Shea