Monsieur Salut writes: John Marshall can always be relied upon to step in as an admirable substitute on occasions when Pete Sixsmith is absent from a Sunderland game. Sixer did see a SAFC win – Shildon’s ‘best performance of the season’, according the manager, to beat Barton Town 2-0 away in the second round of the Buildbase FA Vase – but arranged for John to provide both the Seven and the Soapbox report on a terrific result that took us to five wins on the trot and a place in the top two …
No doubt there are several hundred people who awoke up this morning with sore backs and bottoms after enduring half a day on a coach, hoping that it’s at least another 11 years till our next visit to Home Park.
Fortunately, my journey was much shorter, being picked up in Kevin Spencer’s goodies-laden
limousine (corned beef sarnie anyone?), and accompanied by Mick Woodward, making his second trip to the South West in four days, and with whom I enjoyed several beers in Bristol on Thursday.
The area around the ground is parkland and housing, with only a very packed Wetherspoons in walking distance.
So, deciding against a hike into the town, it was into the ground at 1.30pm (something not done since a kid at Roker Park), with a look at the half-demolished main stand and a couple of cans of Tribute as the concourse filled up.
Bizarrely, Plymouth had decided that despite being sold out, seats were to be unallocated, so we took our position early and watched the warm up and inevitable chaos as fans scrambled for seats.
No Cattermole, so Honeyman dropped in alongside McGeouch, with Maguire playing off the returning Maja. Plymouth played deep, chomping at our ankles in midfield, and hoping to catch us on the break. We played tidily, George and Dylan dominating, but couldn’t get wingers into the game, so chances were limited to a couple of long range efforts from Maguire and Gooch, both
comfortably saved. Baldwin and Flanagan continue to bond, and were largely untroubled by a speedy front two.
Half time stalemate, but we were confident of goals as the team attacked the end where our fans were assembled. Gooch and Maguire changed positions, and there was more buzz up front as the American linked better with Maja.
On 53 minutes, McGeady picked the ball up deep on the right, ran forward and left and as the defenders backed off, planted a low shot to Macey’s left.
A fine goal that changed the course of the game. Argyle came out their shell and for the next 20 minutes, battered us. Crosses, corners and free kicks rained in as they camped in our half.
Penalty appeals were turned down, we had players booked. But, we defended gamely, with a post (or possibly a goal line clearance), brave blocks and two excellent saves from big Jon keeping us ahead.
Something had to change and Jack Ross made the changes with Sinclair on for a tired Maja, shortly followed by O’Nien for Maguire. Two minutes later it was game over, O’Nien was clattered in the box by the hapless Tafari Moore, and McGeady’s stuttering run sent Macey the wrong way.
Plymouth were deflated and we played out the remaining 10 plus six added rather comfortably.
Sunderland are continuing to develop and improve as a side. There is a good work ethos, with decent players knowing what to do and doing it with relish. A strong back four in front of a fine goalkeeper, busy and inventive midfield players and a lot of players capable of scoring.
We have stopped conceding early and keeping clean sheets is improving confidence. If Plan A isn’t working, we have a manager who tweaks and tinkers until another plan does.
Two weeks ago, I was at Shrewsbury in shorts and blinding sunlight. Saturday was a proper winter day: cold, windy, grey and damp, but as I made my way out of the floodlit ground in the dark to the car, I felt a warm glow of contentment, not unlike the boy in the old porridge advert.
Away wins on days like this are to be cherished, so enjoy the winter, folks, as I think we are going to see a lot more wins before the spring.