Sixer’s Rochdale Soapbox: pints and points on the wet side of the Pennines

Malcolm Dawson writes……..make no mistake. This was no walk in the park and Rochdale made us work hard for the three points. If I was a ‘Dale supporter I’d have been disappointed going home last night. The home side were organised, kept the ball well and moved it purposefully. They were a constant threat and if they play like that all season they could well be there or thereabouts come the playoffs at the end of the season.

There will be doubtless be some followers of SAFC who will not be satisfied with our performance last night, despite the three points, but that is doing a disservice to our opponents. Despite some people’s opinion that we should be walking this division, our opponents do not go into games prepared to capitulate without a fight. Indeed the majority are motivated to show that they are not overawed by the size of our following or past glories and many will raise their game accordingly.

To me, from my seat low down on the front row, we saw the same level of commitment from our boys that they always give. Charlie Wyke had perhaps his best game in a red and white shirt to date and those around him never gave up competing with a decent Rochdale side. We are not Brazil or Barcelona but there is no faulting the attitude of the whole squad, no matter who starts the game. Rochdale played well, but we competed and this was a close, hard fought game in which I thought we did just about enough to justify the win.

Of course that’s just my opinion and I expect there will be a few out there who will be ready with the insults, and tell me I know nothing about football, but the fact of the matter is we came away with all three points in a game that could have gone either way.

How did Pete Sixsmith see things? Let’s find out.

ROCHDALE 1 SUNDERLAND 2 20/08/19

ENJOYING LANCASHIRE – ROCHDALE.

I seem to be spending a lot of time in Lancashire recently. Colne and Accrington last Wednesday, Manchester on Friday, Rochdale last night (Tuesday), Burnley next Wednesday and Accrington again, three weeks on Saturday. As a Yorkshire born lad and intensely proud of it, it’s not good for my constitution to spend too much time on the wrong side of the Pennines.

So far, it’s been a successful series of visits. Colne and Accrington were a great combination of beer, pub dog and decent football, while Manchester was interesting if extremely wet.

I visited the home of rain, Holt’s Bitter and barm cakes for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, where the magistrates of Manchester, encouraged by the usual wicked Tory government in London, ordered that a peaceful crowd of 60,000 should be attacked by the local Yeomanry for having the temerity to ask for the vote, higher wages and decent housing so that they would no longer have to eat their own internal organs.

Lugubrious Mike Leigh

It was an interesting event which took place on the site of the slaughter at what was then St Peter’s Fields and is now occupied by hotels, offices, the City Library and Manchester’s magnificent Town Hall. It rained heavily all day which was disappointing and made Mike Leigh, the director of the film based on the events, look more lugubrious than usual.

Four days later, having dried out, I took to the road to Rochdale. The two- and a-bit hour journey passed quickly and soon the Brains Trust were assembled in the Flying Horse, opposite the Town Hall, supping Rochdale brewed beers from the four breweries situated in the town. I sampled one from Pictish Brewery, who specialise in single hopped beers and it was a pleasant drink, although I would have enjoyed a darker beer.

Leaving the boys discussing the price of fish and whether the sweeper system works, I set out to walk the 1.5 miles to Spotland and to find exactly where the coach would be parked. Keen readers (there might be one out there) may remember that I got lost in April, causing helicopters to be scrambled, lifeboats to be launched and police to tour the streets of Rochdale with loud hailers asking people to look in their sheds and coalhouses to see if I was there.

The Brains Trust

Spotland is a tidy ground, one of which the club should be proud. Although it has no distinguishing features, it serves its purpose, is neat and tidy and, on the evidence of this visit, friendly and welcoming. A healthy crowd of 5,258 turned up and witnessed a decent game and a bit of a smash and grab raid by us.

Few could deny that Rochdale were the more attacking side. They played some neat and tidy football, with former Manchester United man Oliver Rathbone and ex Liverpool player MJ Williams dominating the midfield. They moved the ball about well, not allowing Leadbitter and Power any real opportunity to get hold of the ball and do something with it.

As is often the case, the pretty patterns they weaved came to naught and we took the lead in the 28th minute with our first real attack. Luke O’Nien moved the ball across the edge of the Rochdale box and set up Aiden McGeady. He took a step inside and planted the ball past Brighton loanee Roberto Sanchez for his second Lancashire goal in a week.

Geads celebrates his opening goal

The 1800 Sunderland supporters sat back and waited for more goals to follow. After all, ‘Dale couldn’t keep that level of football up and now they were a goal down, their heads would drop, and we would pick them off. And they had a child playing at right back so, the logic went, when it got dark, his mam and dad would come and collect him and take him home, so in the meantime, McGeady could torture him.

Well, how much do we know. Within five minutes, the always impressive Callum Camps (crazy name, crazy guy) had levelled after our defence showed a fair amount of indecision and the home team went on to dominate the rest of the half.

Maguire appeared distracted by being so close to Bury where he spent a miserable year, the little boy at left back left his Lego to concentrate on squeezing McGeady out of the game and Gooch had one of those ineffective games that too often appear in his season’s schedule.

Wyke at Rochdale

All of this left Wyke battling away up front on his own, but the new, sleeker, fitter Charlie shouldered the responsibility well and looked like a man who could fire the goals that might just get us back into the second level and the tantalising possibility of local derbies with…..wait, I’m getting carried away here.

Half time came, pies were eaten, texts were exchanged and the word “sh***” was used on a regular basis to describe the performance, the catering and the general state of the world. And things did not really improve in the second half, as the home team resumed where they had left off and took control.

We had a good view of Luke Matheson, the left full back. He’s not 17 until October and he looked at least two years younger. He had made his debut last season in an EFL Trophy game against Bury and had been on the bench for the opening three games of this season. It must have been a challenge for him to make his league debut against a promotion favourite and to have to mark a player who is widely regarded as the best in the division. He thrived on it and looks as if he could go a long way in the game. The cheeky little lad even put in two excellent crosses late in the game that could well have given ‘Dale a probably deserved equaliser. I am sure that there is a myriad of scouts who have noted him in their little black tablets.

Too young to drink or vote – Luke Matheson Courtesy of Rochdale AFC

He lasted longer than Lynden Gooch whose disappointing game ended in the 55th minute when he was replaced by the enigma that is Will Grigg. His fire has barely smouldered at Sunderland and his arrival was not greeted with any great enthusiasm. That overworked “s” word was used again.

Of course, we were proved wrong and he probably had his best 35 minutes in a Sunderland shirt. He linked with Wyke, took pressure off him and, suddenly, Rochdale began to creak. Luke O’Nien burst forward, collected a well cushioned header from Grigg and delivered a decent cross which McGeady headed in the general direction of the goal. Wyke took advantage of some slack work in the box by the central defenders, turned and scored a goal like the one that he poked in in April.

And so, we sat back again and waited for Rochdale to buckle. They didn’t. Max Power was replaced by Dylan McGeouch to no discernible difference, while the home side sent on the experienced Calvin Andrew to put pressure on Willis and Ozturk. They dealt with it well but Andrew should have equalised right at the end when Matheson plonked a cross on his forehead, but he headed it straight at the excellent McLaughlin(J).

And that was how it finished. It took ages to get out of the town and onto the M62 as the Lancastrian rain fell from the skies. The consensus was that we had worked hard against a good side and that they would probably feel aggrieved that they had not taken at least a point, but that we were just that bit sharper and crisper than they were in the box.

We still need to improve. Our midfield was quiet, and Power had a disappointing game, while McGeouch did little to suggest that he was worthy of a regular place. Gooch was involved in the opening goal but not much else and McLaughlin (C) does not appear to be happy at left back.

On the other hand, the goalkeeper is outstanding, Ozturk and Willis were sound and Wyke looked a proper centre forward. Plus, we may have seen a turning point in Will Grigg’s Sunderland career. The fire could be re-ignited against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.

Let’s hope so…..

Ha’way the Lads

See match highlights here via safc.com

 

Sixer’s Sub’s Soapbox: Walsall can’t hold on as Sunderland close the gap

This is one Jake made later (his original, sent when he had to pop out, had the scoreline at 1-1 which he said, I hope you won’t have to use’)

Pete Sixsmith reported windy weather before trotting off to the SOL yesterday and Walsall duly put the wind up Sunderland, who produced yet another shaky start. It turned out well enough in the end, with four of the top six drawing and the seventh-placed club losing, to once more put us in control of our own destiny.

With no game between now and the Checkatrade Trophy final, the Salut! Sunderland team will no doubt be racking their collective brains trying to think up articles that will keep the readership ticking over. By contrast the past few weeks have been pretty hectic and in order to give Pete a bit of a break and allow him some time off to enjoy his other interests, Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson once more borrows the soapbox to report on yesterday’s game against our visitors from the West Midlands.

Read moreSixer’s Sub’s Soapbox: Walsall can’t hold on as Sunderland close the gap

Walsall Who are You?: ‘genuinely shocked Sunderland are not running away with League One’

 

Monsieur Salut writes: we heard a little from Darren Fellows* after the first of our earlier games against his club, Walsall.

This time, his answers arrived as both of us nervously awaited Tuesday night’s fixtures. We managed a draw at Barnsley, a result that was good in isolation but left us still chasing the top two, while Walsall did us no favours, beaten at home by Pompey. Over to Darren, who thinks we should be doing  so much better this season than to risk having to accept a playoff place.

It’s another interesting set of answers, though Will Grigg’s friends may want to keep it from his eyes …

 

Read moreWalsall Who are You?: ‘genuinely shocked Sunderland are not running away with League One’

Egrets, I’ve had a few as the Lads go marching on at Bristol

Me and Benno – some years back.

View From the North West Corner

(or in this case behind a very wet goalmouth at Bristol Rovers)

It is 290 miles from my home to the Travelodge in Weston Super Mare where I’d based myself for the Checkatrade semi final against the blue and white Pirates of Bristol. The drive down on Monday was straightforward enough and fortunately not subject to the ten mile stationary tailback that I saw stretching down the southbound carriageway from J25 to 23A on my return two days later.

Travelodges are OK if you just need a place to rest your head and for a couple of nights it served its purpose, though you only get 30 minutes free WiFi which is a bit mean these days, especially when you’re trying to register with Ticketmaster along with 30,000 others, the morning after the night before. I am a bit paranoid about missing out on Wembley tickets after the play off game with Charlton, despite having been to 43 games that season whilst living in the East Midlands so I was desperate to make sure I would be in line this time.

Great White Egret

I had decided to combine my trip to the semi final with a visit to RSPB Ham Wall and so spent Tuesday morning and the earlier part of the afternoon, looking at great white egrets, marsh harriers, both of which were almost impossible to find in the UK twenty or so years ago and a small flock of sand martens, which are always the earliest of the hirundines (swallows and martens) to complete their northerly migration but the first week of March is still early.

Despite stopping frequently my arthritic knees were beginning to play up as I just beat the rain and made the shelter of my car to head for the Gloucester Road in Bristol. How could I not go to the Drapers Arms after Sixer’s recent recommendation, but first sustenance of a more solid kind was required. Getting into Bristol at 4.00 pm meant finding a parking spot in the side streets near the ground was easy enough and crossword to the ready I went into Jean’s Bistro. Run by a Brazilian and his Thai wife, this is a no frills, cash only bring your own booze place, which has a limited but interesting menu. Spicy battered whitebait, veggie Thai curry with sticky rice and a milky coffee set me back around fifteen quid and more than adequately filled a hole as I waited for the shop/pub next door to open, where I had arranged to meet an old mate from the Heart of England Branch for a pre match bevvy.

Jean’s Bistro

It was not long after opening time when I wandered in and the place was already pretty busy but the first face I saw was Paul “Sobs” Dobson, sitting with Stan of the Durham branch and several others of our ilk. I wandered up to the counter, ordered a pint of porter and started chatting to a Rovers’ fan, who was having a pre match pint before setting off to the ground to do a bit of stewarding or programme selling or something. He didn’t say exactly what it was he was doing but did say he would probably only get to see the second half. There was a good range of ales on sale and chicken and chips for £1.50. Despite my appetite being sated from my hour in Jean’s I was tempted, but if ever you find yourself in the Drapers their version of chicken and chips consists of a pickled egg and a packet of crisps all crushed up. Mmm yummy as the Weight Watchers community would say.

The pub was beginning to fill, but wasn’t uncomfortable as my marra Jon turned up. He is now living in Monmouth and looking after 8 acres of wildlife friendly small holding, with it appears a wide range of mushrooms. Well he always was a fun guy. As the weather tried to emulate that which I had experienced at Accrington, Pete and his brother arrived and Jon and I gratefully swapped our standing tickets with the Twelvesmiths – ostensibly to save my tired knees but with the added bonus of saving us from the deluge.

It’s fair to say we were impressed with the side that JR had elected to turn out. I felt a bit for Robbin Ruiter and Alim Ozturk who I don’t feel have done much wrong in this competition but by the same token, as a fan I want to see us look to win every competition, even if that means fielding the strongest team and risking injury to key players.

Pete has covered the game in his Soapbox so I won’t go into too much detail. Grigg took his goal well and showed us what he is capable of. An excellent ball from Power played him in and Max had a good night, playing higher up the pitch, knowing Leadbitter was behind him.

Finished with aplomb

Hopefully he will also start to recover some of the battling qualities he showed before that sending off at Walsall.

Morgan had a decent game too and took his goal well following up Gooch’s shot. Too often in recent seasons we have had no-one on hand to snaffle up chances when a keeper has failed to hold onto the ball. McLaughlin took a bang on the head when he did just that but recovered to grab the ball at the second attempt and keep a third successive clean sheet.

This may not be the most prestigious of trophies in the football calendar and a fixture requiring two nights in a hotel and 580 miles worth of driving may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I had a great time. I’ve said it before I’m loving the whole experience of this season. Unfortunately I won’t be in the Royal County of Berkshire (or even Buckinghamshire – thanks Eric) on Saturday and prior commitments mean I have to miss that important game at Oakwell, but I will be back to see if we can beat Walsall at the fourth time of asking a week on Saturday, when the chances of automatic promotion may be somewhat clearer.

Ha’way the Lads.

Sixer’s Soapbox: Sunderland return to winning ways against Gillingham

There are a lot more games in the lower divisions than in the Premier League, and even more with our success so far in the Checkatrade Trophy, keeping Pete Sixsmith busy not only with his unique match reports, but also his reminiscences relating to previous encounters with our forthcoming opponents, so once again Malcolm Dawson has called round to Sixsmith Towers to borrow the soapbox with his view of events from his seat in the West Stand at the Stadium of Light.

When he arrived we were told that Jack Ross favoured an attacking style of football that would bring us plenty of excitement, a shed load of goals but might mean that at times we could look a bit shaky at the back. That’s certainly what we got in the early days. Good wing play, high pressing of the opposition when not in possession, attacking full backs and plenty of players getting forward and threatening the opponent’s goal.

That’s what we got in the first part of the season. But then for whatever reason, perhaps because of the frustration of our difficulties keeping clean sheets, perhaps because of the personnel that was fit and available, sometime after the defeat at Burton the set up changed, we looked to play a lower risk game, keeping possession whilst defending deeper and waiting for an opportunity to find the net. I’ve been trying to work out which game marked that sea change but it’s not jumping out at me – sometime around the FA Cup loss against Walsall perhaps – but I do recall mentioning a few weeks ago to anyone who’d listen that we seemed to be playing narrower and not getting behind the defence as much. Well that worked to an extent, because we still scored in every game, didn’t concede on several occasions and only lost once – away to (at the time) high flying Portsmouth.

However, in a way three successive home games against sides who we were expecting to beat has proved to be a two edged sword. Had we picked up maximum points all would be hunky dory but we have become the banker team for anyone who still does the pools and two points out of six against Blackpool and Accrington Stanley was frustrating.

The King was back!

But my feelings in those games (unlike some others) were echoed to an extent by Jack Ross in that I felt we looked more like the early season Sunderland, had got to the by line more, played good balls into the danger areas more frequently and created more opportunities to score than in the past couple of months. I also thought the team were still showing tenacity and fight in being able to come from behind in both games to avoid defeat. Yes it was frustrating and yes there are those supporters who feel we should be walking away with this league and for whom those results were unacceptable, but over the past few seasons I have got used to watching Sunderland sides who, on going a goal behind, capitulated far too easily. At least with this group of players I never see heads drop, nor ever feel we are completely out of the game.

That said, with this group of players I am never comfortable either until we are three or four goals ahead as we are always likely to concede possession and gift the opposition a goal or two. This is what we got last night.

Before kick off, chatting to those around me, I said I fancied us to get three or four and was hopeful that with Chris Maguire back in the starting XI we would make an early breakthrough and things started well. We were on the front foot and O’Nien threatened to make an early breakthrough in the first couple of minutes and it didn’t take long for the goal to come.

Our corner kicks have improved with Leadbitter’s return and we actually score from them on occasions now. It’s a few years since I remember feeling that a corner gives us a chance to score and after only 4 minutes, with the big men up from the back I was hopeful we’d get the early goal to settle the nerves. Leadbitter swung the corner in, Dunne and Flanagan were both manhandled to the ground and while we all screamed for a penalty, the returning Lee Cattermole came in from the back to stick the ball away. Who needs a penalty eh? (Watch this space).

Grant Leadbitter back in the day. His return has improved deliveries from the corner flag.

Yesterday morning I got a text from the GP’s surgery saying my blood pressure checks were overdue. They must have realised that it was match day and if it’s ever going to be too high that would be a good time to check as only a minute after taking the lead the game was back level. The Gills attacked down the right before trying to a play a low ball into the box. Flanagan didn’t deal with it too well, it broke for the pony-tailed man mountain who is Tom Eaves as Luke O’Nien was static and calling for offside. Eaves managed to nudge it away from the diving McLaughlin and stick it away before the despairing Tom Flanagan could do anything about it.

After a couple of poor performances, Jack Baldwin wasn’t even on the bench with Alim Ozturk named as defensive cover. Perhaps Baldwin needs a rest, physically and mentally, perhaps Ross decided that with such a big centre forward as Eaves up against us we needed more height at the back, but big centre halves can also be useful up the other end and it was Tom Flanagan who got the second, again from a Leadbitter corner, this time from the opposite side, and restored the lead with a powerful header into the roof of the net. Only ten minutes gone and three goals, two to players who had been brought back into the starting line up.

The third was Chris Maguire and he had come close to scoring just before Flanagan did so I was hoping he would complete the sequence, but unfortunately he got injured when attempting to win the ball back and was obviously hurt. He received treatment, tried to return but within seconds was back on the ground beating the turf in frustration, knowing he couldn’t run it off. Gooch was his replacement.

Though we were the better side, one goal is never enough and we all know there will be periods when we give the ball away too easily and that there will be opportunities for our opponents to find the net. On 40 minutes, a corner from the Gill’s left wasn’t dealt with. It wasn’t easy to follow the play from the opposite end of the ground but the ball bobbled around the box and eventually fell to the feet of Brandon Hanlon who equalised again in front of the 350 or so visiting supporters who looked lost and alone in the top corner of the North Stand Upper.

It’s a long way from Kent to Sunderland for a Tuesday night game but I suppose the fact that we couldn’t get enough tickets for the reverse fixture and packed out the away end is one of the reasons some fans feel we are too big for this division. But the reality is we are here because of past results and we all knew a third successive home draw would not be good enough to get us back challenging for an automatic promotion spot.

But the crowd and the Roker End in particular didn’t communicate this frustration last night and stayed behind the team. McGeady and Gooch both nearly put us in front again before the half time whistle but two all it was at the interval.

Plenty of this from the Roker End last night.

The half time entertainment now seems to consist of two ill matched people of various ages, running round the pitch before trying to score into an empty net at the north end of the ground. Last night pitched a Gills’ fan who was given a head start against a fund raising Mackem who had run a series of long distances in successive days. It’s not the most exciting of half time occasions but was of enough interest to stop the Gills’ sub keeper from doing his warm up. It would be the only other goal that someone in a Gillingham shirt would score.

We however, would get two more. Both from penalties and both the result of fouls on Luke O’Nien. The first was a push from the magnificently named Leonardo Da Silva Lopes after a Reece James’s cross evaded all the bodies in the box. O’Nien was charging in at the back post but for once the ref spotted the foul and awarded the spot kick. Immediately Will Grigg ran over and picked up the ball. Aiden McGeady is the appointed penalty taker but apparently was confident enough to allow Grigg to stick it away and hopefully ignite his Sunderland goal scoring career. I’ve seen penalties that are more difficult for keepers to save than this one, but the giant of a man who is Tomás Hóly went the wrong way and we were back in front.

I’ve said before that one goal is never enough for me to feel comfortable but I only had to wait ten minutes or so for the margin to be doubled. Lopes, who looks a bit like Miles Davis in his jazz funk period was substituted by Regan Charles-Cook who looks a bit like Miles Davis in his jazz funk period.

Miles Davis

So What? you may ask, but it was Charles-Cook who grabbed O’Nien’s ankle as he dribbled into the box to leave the visitors feeling A Kind of Blue when Aiden McGeady tucked away the second penalty in a similar fashion to Grigg’s. Mind you a finicky ref would have ordered it to be retaken as Cattermole was at least six yards inside the box when McGeady struck the ball. But he didn’t.

Honeyman could have made it five after good work from Aiden McGeady but sent it over the bar, rather than into the net. This was a more encouraging display and more like the early season Sunderland, although by no means perfect. We still have the propensity to give the ball away needlessly, the defence still looks shaky at times but that is the result of a more attacking mindset and personally I’ll be happy if we concede two every game as long as we score more than two.

Portsmouth and Barnsley both dropped points yesterday. Bristol Rovers on Saturday won’t be a push over – no games in this league are – and with us now in third place, four points behind Barnsley with a game in hand and the Tykes playing Portsmouth at the weekend the game at Oakwell in a few weeks could take on increasing importance.

Ha’way the Lads.

Highlights of the game via safc.com

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Sixer’s Substitute’s Soapbox: more of a damp squib than fireworks against Blackpool

Jake: ‘bloody hell, man. Thay’s 13 now’

The current spate of fixtures which are coming thick and fast means an increased workload for Pete Sixsmith so Malcolm Dawson relieves the pressure by borrowing his soapbox to give us his view of last night’s game at the Stadium of Light.

Still undefeated at home, only two games lost all season, the only team in the top four flights of English football to have scored in every game so far, comfortably in the play off positions and just off an automatic promotion spot with games in hand on the sides above us.

We were informed by Simon Pryde of BBC’s Total Sport before the game that this is Sunderland’s best ever start to a league campaign since 1963/64 which itself was the best ever start the club has made. So another point last night against a side which hadn’t lost since we beat them ourselves on New Year’s Day shouldn’t be seen as a poor result and yet it is. Two points dropped, rather than one point gained.

Last week I was up inside the Arctic Circle staying in the Norwegian city of Tromsö, a hotspot for those who wish to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. I travelled there in hope that I would get to see this natural phenomena, caused by the interaction of particles brought into the Earth’s magnetic field by the solar wind, but fully prepared to be disappointed which is rather like the majority of times I am when setting off for a Sunderland game – hoping for a good performance and a win but never taking anything for granted, knowing there are no guarantees in football.

Aiden McGeady

On the way in I put my latest theory to Pete which is that since Aiden McGeady has been fit and an automatic starter, the team has been less fluid and therefore easier to defend against and that while one of his great attributes is his ball control and dribbling, the number of early crosses we get into the box has diminished and we seem much more laboured in our build up play. It’s hard to argue against his stats and leaving him out of the starting XI might be difficult to justify in those terms but maybe Jack Ross and the coaching staff might encourage him to look to play the ball into the box earlier, more often.

M Salut knows my reasons for not involving myself in social media and I can imagine that many of those tweeting and instagramming their disgust at last night’s performance would be the same as those who had been full of praise pre-match for the team selection. I was certainly happy with the line up. Blackpool tend to set up in a diamond formation so I saw the choice of O’Nien at full back, with Gooch ahead of him, with Watmore alongside Grigg as an opportunity to exploit space down the flanks and test the Seasiders’ defence with a bit of pace.

And we started off brightly. Within two minutes Watmore got behind the Blackpool defenders and forced Ben Heneghan into conceding a corner. Leadbitter whipped it in from the left and the Blackpool keeper looked a little unsure as he palmed it away at the near post for another corner. Leadbitter and McGeady combined, allowing the Fence Houses born Sunderland supporter to fire in a shot from outside the box, which this time Mark Howard held firmly. Two good opportunities in the first three minutes and encouraging signs that the Lads had come out full of attacking intent.

Then a long ball forward, saw Will Grigg put the Blackpool defence under pressure and he blocked the attempted clearance and almost got there before the keeper who did just enough to get the ball away to Watmore on the right wing, but he couldn’t capitalise. We had other efforts with Honeyman and Dunne both having decent shots and whilst Blackpool were impressing in patches it was the home side who looked the more likely to score in that first quarter of the game.

But opposition teams deserve a bit of credit when they play well and it wasn’t long before Jon McLaughlin proved his worth yet again getting down quickly at the far post to palm away a decent header from Harry Pritchard.

Lively enough in the opening period

Immediately afterwards Will Grigg had a great chance to open his account when a swift passage of play down the right wing, started by Jimmy Dunne who had collected the ball from that save and involving McGeady and Honeyman, set Watmore away. As he bore down on the penalty area he played a neat pass to Grigg who took a touch and drove a firm left foot shot on target, but Howard made himself big and held on well. Credit to him for a decent stop.

It was all looking good but as is so often the case a near thing at one end was followed immediately by a goal at the other. From where I was it looked as if Baldwin was weak in his challenge on Armand Gnanduillet but a quick glance at the Sky Sports highlights confirm what Pete told me in the car after the match, that the man in orange had actually controlled the ball well, showed some strength to hold off and turn Baldwin before taking a couple of touches into space and rifling a shot from outside the box, across McLaughlin and into the bottom left corner. A cracking goal and whilst at the time I thought Baldwin was at fault I’ve revised my opinion. This was just a quality goal.

The home crowd however, reacted as they had when we went behind against Charlton on the first day of the season and roared the home side into a reaction. A minute after going behind we were on the attack again, O’Nien burst into the area and was clearly tripped. I thought so. Those around me thought so. O’Nien thought so, Jack Ross thought so but the referee and his assistant didn’t. It could so easily have been one all.

And two minutes later it almost was as a curling McGeady free kick just caught the wrong side of the post with the Blackpool keeper static on his line. Three inches to the right and it was in but as it was it went behind for a goal kick.

So we were in the game, but there were still too many occasions when we gave the ball away too easily. There were also, for my liking, too many times when the players bring the close control, once touch drill they do in the warm up into the game, when a quicker more direct flowing approach might pay dividends. That style of play almost got Will Grigg a goal and was more apparent earlier in the season.

As half time approached Blackpool were controlling the play well and certainly hadn’t come to let us have things all our own way. They might have gone into the break two goals to the good as the scorer Armand Gnanduillet , whose name sends my spell check into overdrive, missed the target with a header from a decent position. He will feel he should have done better.

The visitors also started the second period brightly and after seven minutes Jack Ross made his first tactical change replacing the ineffective Lynden Gooch with Charlie Wyke. It was noticable how much bigger the visitors were and this at least gave us a bit more of a physical presence. Things started to change and later the introduction of Tom Flanagan at left back for Reece James also evened things up size wise.

We once again began to get more of a hold on the game and I wondered if a repeat of that Charlton performance was on the cards. Watmore went close, Wyke went close and then on the hour mark, the manager decided it was time to put my theory to the test as Aiden McGeady was replaced by Lewis Morgan.

Will Grigg not quite on fire

Then came the best chance of the game as Jack Baldwin played a quick long ball out of defence and found Will Grigg who got between the two centre backs, took the ball round the onrushing keeper and passed the ball into the side netting. Only inches wide but success and failure is often defined by the smallest of margins and this was just the wrong side of brilliant. Of course it will lead to many of the social media warriors branding Grigg as a waste of space and those websites that like to use terms such as slated, howler and shocking the opportunity to once again air those sensationalist headlines. It was a poor miss but at least it shows that he can find the space and hopefully when he is a bit more up to speed he will be more clinical.

From this point on Blackpool faded and once again we started to show the fight and determination that had stood us in good stead at the start of the season. Eventually we got the equaliser when Baldwin headed home from a corner with 15 minutes left and we finished the game the stronger of the two sides, though unlike in the Charlton game we weren’t able to finish the game with a winner.

It would have been harsh on the Seasiders who gave a good account of themselves, apart from the cynical time wasting that is.

I thought we just about deserved a point and I would have taken three but in truth we just weren’t clinical enough and made too many unforced errors. We need to retain the ball better and when we pressed the opposition in their own half late in the game we began to look more dominant. We did that earlier in the season and perhaps it is another thing the coaching team should think about in the latter stages of the season.

Last Tuesday I spent four hours on a boat which cruised the fjords in search of the aurora, but a thick cloud cover meant the lights were not showing, which was a disappointment but next day a trip out into the Norwegian countryside produced a great show and made the trip worthwhile. After last night’s disappointment, which still gained us a point don’t forget, let’s hope the team can respond on Friday and next Tuesday to put on a great display and give us all a bit of a psychological boost as we get into the crucial last third of the season.

Ha’way the Lads.

Match highlights are available here at the SAFC website.

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SAFC vs Blackpool prize Guess the Score. Wanted: a winning home debut from Grigg

There IS a prize and you know what it is

Pete Sixsmith was at the disappointing 1-1 draw in the ‘Donald derby’ – reflecting the divided loyalties of our Oxford-supporting owner Stewart Donald (and his executive director Charlie Methven) – and will be writing about his day at greater length over the next 12-24 hours

But with three home games coming up in quick succession, and assuming a slightly worrying degree of significance as Luton and Barnsley set the pace at the top, we need to get the usual features out of the way even if they upset the natural order of Salut! Sunderland business.

Monsieur Salut accordingly brings forward the Blackpool Guess the Score competition and thanks the many thousands of people who came here last week to sample the goodies on offer …

Read moreSAFC vs Blackpool prize Guess the Score. Wanted: a winning home debut from Grigg

Sixer’s Sevens from Oxford United 1-1 SAFC: another letdown

Jake: catch Sixer’s instant seven-word verdicts throughout the season

Pete Sixsmith was happy enough at half time with a ‘decent’ first 45 and a Jimmy Dunne header – from a corner believe it or not – giving Sunderland the advantage. For those not among our 1,800 fans present at the Kassam Stadium, Barnes and Benno made for less reassuring listening. We appeared to live dangerously in all too familiar fashion before Dunne’s goal and again in the second half.

As stoppage time loomed, we looked as if we might hang on. ‘A win’s a win,’ said Nick Barnes and Oxford immediately equalised. Jerome Sinclair inevitably figured in the move; our players argued furiously that he had fouled Dunne before setting up Browne, to no avail. And meanwhile Luton and Barnsley just keep on winning and we haven’t managed more than one goal in a game since the stuttering 2-1 win at home to Bristol Rovers in mid-December.

Sixer’s considered verdict will appear in due course but his seven-word instant verdict sums up his frustration …

Read moreSixer’s Sevens from Oxford United 1-1 SAFC: another letdown

A belated welcome to Will Grigg from Salut! Sunderland – and Christopher Murphy

Kathryn is very welcome to the pages of Salut! Sunderland. And so is her son Christopher, who reached 13 the other day.

Before one more welcome event, the match that brought three points against Wimbledon, the pair of them had the chance to meet Will Grigg, signed at the last minute on Thursday but still not quite match fit, in the SAFC club shop.

Read moreA belated welcome to Will Grigg from Salut! Sunderland – and Christopher Murphy

Sixer Says: Pete Sixsmith looks at our January transfer dealings

Malcolm Dawson writes……this transfer window was supposed to be different. We were supposed to get players in in good time and we did get one new player and a loanee made permanent early doors. We also lost our top scorer. There was plenty of speculation throughout the month to suggest we wouldn’t be left to panic buy, but it took until the very last minute, with a permissible extension, to complete the business. The club’s official website unveiled two signings on the last day – one who had been reportedly putting pen to paper and having medicals over the course of the week and one who was totally left field and unexpected. The final piece of the jigsaw wasn’t officially announced until this morning but the club’s long running pursuit of their number one strike target was finally ratified by the football authorities earlier today (Friday).

Pete Sixsmith assesses our January transfer business.

THE WINDOW CLOSES.

Rade Prica anyone? What about Danny Graham? Anyone fancy Ashley Fletcher? Or Darron Gibson?

Those are examples of a few of the disasters that we have signed in the January window over the years. There are more – who could ever forget/remember Kader Mangana and Sotirios Kyrgiakos, signed by Paolo DiCanio and Martin O’Neill respectively. And Matt Kilgallon wasn’t exactly a roaring success, was he?

So the business done in January 2019 seems to be an improvement on that of the recent past. We have a returning supporter, a promising Northern Irish central defender, a winger who may be able to cross a ball, a young man who has been in the England system for four years and the player we have been pursuing like a fire engine hurtling to an explosion in a chemical plant. (Not forgetting the permanent signing of a midfielder with a powerful shot and the propensity to give supporters a free lift to the pub! – Ed)

We have shed a couple, both to Dundee, one on loan, one permanently and almost got one of the high earners off our books so I would imagine that the management, both on and off the pitch, will be reasonably pleased with what has gone on. Oh, and we lost our leading goalscorer.

I say reasonably because it looks like we may have had to pay a lot more than we hoped for when we finally prised Will Grigg away from The Home of Pies so that he could join his chums Reece and Max on Wearside. Stewart Donald’s tweet this morning is an interesting one, along the lines of “I hope we do pay Wigan £4m because that will mean that we are back in the Premier League.” That would be nice….

Of those who have come in, what do we know of them?

Jimmy Dunne

Jimmy Dunne played at Scunthorpe and looked sound. His style and physique are similar to that of Baldwin and Flanagan, so we now know what kind of central defenders Jack Ross likes – big, strong boys, similar to those admired by Sergeant Major Williams in “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” but with a wee bit of panache about them. Whether Dunne may turn into a permanent addition remains to be seen but we can but hope that he is as effective as the young Northern Irish centre half who joined us on loan in January 2007, one Johnny Evans.

We know lots about Grant Leadbitter. He scored a wonderful goal at Southampton in April 2007. He grabbed Lee Cattermole by the throat when Cattermole hacked him down at The Riverside. Keane thought he was good enough for the top flight, Bruce didn’t. He did well at Ipswich. He was very, very well thought of on Teesside. What’s not to like about that?

Grant Leadbitter back in the day

And he is a Sunderland supporter who clearly “gets the club” and that may be an important factor in signing him, as many of the players signed in recent seasons appeared not be fully aware of the power that this club has over the local population. It will be interesting to see where he plays. Will Cattermole or Power drop out? Will Grant start from the bench? Will he prove to be the midfielder who can get hold of a game and drive us forward?

All will be revealed between now and May 4th.

Lewis Morgan

Lewis Morgan is clearly a Jack Ross signing – like Dylan McGeouch and Alim Ozturk, only more so. He knew the latter two by reputation but he knows the former through working with him at St Mirren. He appears to be a winger who can move the ball quickly and if he can put in some decent crosses and even take a half decent corner, we will be dead pleased. He could be another Carlos Edwards with a bit of luck.

Kazaiah Sterling comes with an excellent pedigree. He is a part of the Spurs first team squad and they are the third best team in England. He is rated by Mauricio Pochettino and he is arguably the best manager in the Premier League. Sterling is part of the England set up and, most importantly, Victor Anichebe rates him.

Kazaiah Sterling

Welcome to the North East, Kazaiah. We hope that your stay is a fruitful one and similar to that of Jermain Defoe, the last player we signed with a Tottenham connection – I think.

Finally, and at the last stroke of Big Ben as it thundered out midnight, we got Will Grigg. Wigan quite rightly played hardball with us as we expected them to do and the package, with add ons comes to somewhere in the region of £4m. That’s about one sixth of the fee paid for a Paraguayan that nobody had ever heard of before the summer (let’s hope he is as good as Cristiano Riveros, one of Steve Bruce’s scattergun signings when he still had some credibility on Wearside) but it is a remarkable fee for a club in Division One (Three).

Let’s hope so.

Grigg has form in this league. He has been promoted out of it four times – once with Brentford, once with MK Dons and twice with Wigan and he has scored freely for the Pie Men. Last season, he notched 19 goals, two seasons before that, he rattled the back of the net 25 times. Double figures would do this time round.

He is a very different player from Josh Maja in that he combines speed and physicality in his game and has little of the subtlety that Maja possesses. I don’t envisage him scoring a goal like the Bordeaux man’s final goal for us at Scunthorpe – a brilliant pass to the full back and then a wonderful run into the box to head home – but I do envisage him feeding off Wyke (who might get a few good crosses from Morgan) and using his pace to run at defenders who much prefer brawn to speed.

As always, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, starting on Saturday. AFC Wimbledon were mightily impressive in their cuffing of West Ham United and will not be easy but the sight and sound of new players should help us to get back to winning ways. I expect this team to start;

McLaughlin; Matthews, Dunne, Flanagan, James; O’Nien, Leadbitter, Power, McGeady; Maguire, Wyke subs; Ruiter, Baldwin, McGeouch, Gooch, Watmore, Sterling, Morgan

And a win………

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