With both Pete Sixsmith and his normal stand in Bob Chapman both electing to give this game a miss we welcome a new contributor to the ranks of Salut! Sunderland and a fine job he does too. John Marshall is from North of the Tyne and like many children of the North East, moved away from the region to find fame and fortune, but whilst that river is sometimes seen as a dividing line between red and white and black and white hinterland, just as many sons and daughters of County Durham have gone over to the dark side, John saw the light at an early age and has been red and white ever since.
He did in fact spend some time in the Royal County and returned there yesterday to see a spirited performance and a fighting draw marred by a couple of defensive lapses of the type that we have seen all season to leave us 24th out of 24 with time running out.
Over to John……
It is indeed a rare event when Pete Sixsmith and Bob Chapman both miss a Sunderland game, so it was an unexpected pleasure to be invited to do this report. A big task though, as both are excellent writers, while my journalistic experience is limited to articles in the school magazine – so a bit like David Corner stepping in for Todd and Watson, but hopefully without his mistakes.
A brief intro to myself; despite being born in mid Northumberland, I chose in 1964 to decline the Mags and to follow the Black Cats, going to my first game at Roker during the 66 World Cup. I met Bob in Sheffield in 1973, and have steadily migrated further away from the North East ever since, and have been ensconced in north Somerset for the past 20 years. This means I only get to 5-10 games per season, with my appearance determined by where , when and whether I can get a ticket.
This is only my fifth game this season (and my last thanks to Sky), in a town I am very familiar with, having lived, worked and married in Reading; I was there for four years in the early 90s and was an occasional visitor to Elm Park and the Madejski. We haven’t played them much in the past and like the town, games I have seen have been good and bad, with a couple of wins and a 4-0 thrashing under Reid. Remarkably, after that game we went unbeaten in 16 and reached the playoffs, while Reading went down.
It being a weekend, trains for Bristol were disrupted and after a longer journey than usual though rural Wiltshire, I arrived in a very sunny Reading and settled into a nice pint of pale ale in the Greyfriar, a Camra listed craft beer pub close to the station. It’s always good to meet up with friends pre-match and I was soon joined by Mick, Bob’s Bedford-based cohort, Spenna, and Pete, my Cardiff supporting mate, who was in a more buoyant mood than the rest of us.
And so to the match.
I didn’t have great expectations. Both sides have similar records in terms of goals scored and lots conceded and that they are struggling but ahead of us down to their ability to hold on to win games. They had in fact won the last two home games 1-0, after replacing their manager. We lined up without skipper John O’Shea, replaced by Wilson, with returns for Oviedo and McNair and a surprise start for McManaman.
The atmosphere inside the ground was deafeningly quiet and it was all a bit like a gentle pre-season in the sun. We looked untroubled but not too threatening ourselves, while they settled and waited for our inevitable mistake. Camp gave us three – firstly a shanked kick out straight to their midfield, then spilling the ensuing tame shot before finally grabbing the legs of Bodvarsson instead of the ball. Clear penalty and 1-0.
We responded positively, Fletcher, who had a good game, shot across goal against the post, and McManaman’s follow up effort was headed off the line. But we were still one down at half time.
Don Vito Mannone got a warm welcome but was soon soundly beaten by a screamer from McNair. He and an excellent Cattermole were controlling the game now and we deserved to go in front when Catts got his head to a McGeady free kick. Fletcher spurned a couple of chances as well, while McGready was causing problems on the left.
With 15 minutes to go Reading brought on the veteran Kermorgant and a couple of minutes later he got above Love to head past the hapless Camp.
The last 10 minutes were frantic, both sides having good chances with both keepers making crucial saves and several corners, but no more goals. Overall this was a decent team effort, with good performances from most players but a point which would have been appreciated in August is too little to prevent the inevitable now.
In my five games I’ve seen a real mix of performances. We’ve rolled over at Cardiff, fought back at Bristol and looked uninterested at QPR. We are poor, but so are lot of other teams in this division. We should not be in this mess and as Reading showed, a competent goalkeeper and experienced strikers can just about keep you safe.
Ha’way the Lads – see you in League 1.
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