SAFC 1 – OXFORD UNITED 1
With Pete Sixsmith doing other things today, it’s me who has drawn the short straw to bring you my take on yesterday’s events. Thanks Pete!
You’d think after all this time that I’d give up expecting a dynamic start to Sunderland’s season. OK – last season’s opener against Charlton produced a last gasp come from behind winner which raised the spirits and left us all on a high after years of underwhelming performances, but yesterday’s was much more typical of the disappointments we have grown used to when we have our first game at home and I’m sorry to say that it was also more typical of the frustrations we saw on too many occasions last season.
You’d think by now I’d no longer go along to that first game full of optimism and confidence, expecting to come away having witnessed an exciting dominant performance as a precursor to walking away with the title come May. Well there was precious little excitement and not much optimism here this morning if that was anything to go by.
Because of parking restrictions in our usual spot and a reorganisation of the road system on the north side of Wearmouth Bridge, I decided to give the park and ride a go. For me this was probably the best part of the day. After a bit of a hold up because of the A19 roadworks by the Wessington Way junction, parking was easy, the buses frequent and free and after the match I was back at my car by ten past five, out of the city by twenty past and back at my brother’s house in Houghton less an an hour after the final whistle. And in the queue for the journey back I bumped into an old mate who was in the same class as me all through our days at Eppleton Infants, Juniors and Houghton Grammar. We even ended up skipping Class 3 of Junior school and ended up doing the same stuff in consecutive years in the top class. So it wasn’t all bad yesterday.
There were the same faces in and around my seat in the West Stand and the same sort of disappointing performance from the players on the pitch. Like last season, I can’t fault them for effort and commitment but like last season we just seem to lack that cutting edge that will allow us to take opponents apart.
I don’t like making snap judgements on players but from what I saw of Conor McLaughlin, Jordan Willis, George Dobson and Mark McNulty last week, I was hopeful that the defence would be more solid, the midfield more creative and energetic and the forward line more prolific and all four started yesterday. But with Denver Hume and Elliot Embleton also playing and Dylan McGeouch in the starting line up this was a very different side to the one which finished last season. And while the side did seem less pedestrian and less predictable there was still a dearth of clear cut goal scoring opportunities, coupled with plenty of slack passing and unforced errors.
The visitors had the first good opportunity to score when Fosu-Henry fired the ball across the face of McLaughlin’s goal but there was no yellow shirt near enough to get a decisive touch. Not long later, the pocket rocket that is Marc McNulty tried a decent long range shot after a neat one-two with Embleton, which the keeper palmed around his right hand post. McNulty was the major positive from yesterday and had a lively league debut.
Dobson and Conor McLaughlin had also started positively enough but it was a combination of the new boys which resulted in our going behind. Dobson scuffed a pass to the full back who failed to get the ball under control and it broke to Fosu-Henry who broke clear and comprehensively stuck it away. No fault to the goalkeeper but to use a tennis term this was an unforced error and from an innocuous position we found ourselves 1-0 down.
I commented last year on Oxford’s blatant gamesmanship and they were at it again yesterday. It took them ages to get back and lined up for the kick off while the goalscorer spent an age adjusting his boot by the corner flag. After only 15 minutes they were looking to take time off the clock and as they delayed returning the ball for a throw in the ref spoke to their skipper. It didn’t stop them falling over at every opportunity mind.
They got the ball in the net a second time and while they were celebrating, McLaughlin took the free kick that had been given but was made to re-take it. Karl Robinson who is an early contender for my “Most Obnoxious Opposition Manager Award” complained afterwards that there was no foul. Watch the highlights and make your own mind up. It was one of those that is often given but had it been our goal that had been ruled out I might have been more than a bit aggrieved. Robinson was in the 4th official’s face all game and even he admits he should have been booked in the second half but he had a case.
The second half started off as we would have wished, when Lynden Gooch was brought down as he tried to get to the by-line. He had done that a couple of times in the first half and his ability to get to the line and cut the ball back in front of goal can be a potent threat and he was awarded a penalty when he went down. There was contact but did the defender get to the ball first? Again I’ll let you decide after you have seen the replay but as with the disallowed goal, it could have gone either way. However, it was given and Gooch stuck away the penalty with aplomb.
And that was the end of the scoring. I won’t go through the game in any great detail. Frankly it’s not one I have any real desire to recall in depth and Sobsy has done a good job at ALS which you can find via the link below. Watmore looked lively when he came on. McGeady hit the wall with a free kick when the ref’s ten paces measured no more than 8 yards (look at the 10 yard D and the penalty spot) and Dobson just failed to connect with a pull back from Hume after he was put through by Geads.
Willis made a couple of slack passes towards the end to put McLaughlin under unnecessary pressure and the visitors had two players booked as they looked to waste even more time making a substitution in the dying minutes, trying to flout the new law. Hume didn’t look to be comfortable either in defence or attack and Grigg will have to start producing something soon. I have been telling everyone I fancy him to come good this season but that is not backed up by what I saw yesterday. I won’t criticise his work rate but he just never really looked like getting into a goalscoring situation. Ha’way Will man – relight that fire.
Juan Sartori was pitch side before kick off and the actions of last year’s idiots from Coventry and Portsmouth have obviously spread as there was another arrest yesterday after an object was thrown from the visitors’ section. Let’s hope this is not about to become a regular occurrence.
I had hoped that a year after the club was taken over by a new regime and a new manager appointed, we might be more ready this season than last but if yesterday’s game is anything to go by, improvement is needed and fast.