An early visitors' goal, an equaliser equally as early in the second half from the spot, and a late penalty for Cardiff saw us beaten yet again. Dark days indeed.
Bang, and we were off again in the relentless slog that is the Championship. Without the blessed relief of a midweek without a game, thanks to our League Cup run coming to a sticky (geddit?) end at the hand so of the Toffees, we were back into the League with hardly a chance to draw breath. Thankfully, and despite Vaughan's seemingly insatiable appetite for clattering into blokes bigger than him, we picked up no injury worries at Everton, so we spent the time on the bus trying to select the team. As you do. It's compulsory. While, between them, our two keepers make one very good one, there are things in the game of each that need to improve. For McGeady and McManaman to become the new Johnston and Summerbee, they need to develop their understandings with the full backs - and we keep changing them. Oviedo on the left instead of Galloway - that'll do. Jones or Matthews on the right? Let's see. Centre half? Browning yes, Kone possibly, depending on his attitude, Wilson depending on his fitness. Catts, Duracell Bunny Williams, and Ndong means room for only one forward, so will Grayson sacrifice one of those three to make space for the second forward? Oh, we forgot - we don't have one with any real experience. That was the sum output of our discussions in the Isis and the walk to the ground, which included an inadvertent altercation with a fence that didn’t do my ribs any good. Of course, McManaman and Williams turned out to have somehow damaged themselves, so there were two important players out of the picture. Typical Sunderland.
Matthews Kone Wilson Browning Oviedo
We kicked off the wrong way (north), which was a bad start to proceedings as we wondered if it was three or five at the back – as I’m a fan of neither formation, the signs weren’t good. I like both Gooch and Honeyman, but neither are either wingers or forwards, and Gooch was Vaughan’s support up front today.
Our first meaningful bit of football came after five minutes when Matthews broke down the right, and his cross was met before the front post by Vaughan and his marker, but the ball hit our man last. The goal kick was punted upfield by the visiting keeper, headed on, and smashed past Ruiter by Bryson. Six minutes gone, and our defence had once again failed to deal with something painfully simple. Does Kone have a twin brother who played under Allardyce? What do our coaches do in training? Surely O’Shea should be contributing to defensive training, but we just seemed to get lost with the ball in the air.
Rather than get our heads down and getting back into the game, we seemed to stay nervous and allowed Cardiff to keep on the front foot. A strong volley was palmed away by Ruiter
Cardiff volley palmed away. Catts and Kone had to get in the way of shots in the box to keep the score the same, and our Vaughan was having a proper battle up front – in fact, his marker was booked on 18 for persistent fouling of our front-man.
As Oviedo was having a much better time when he pushed forward than when having to defend, Grayson (I assume it was his idea, but you never know…) shuffled things a bit with Gooch even closer to Vaughan, Brian staying further upfield, Browning going to right back, Matthews moving across to left back. Oviedo did well to find Gooch on the edge of the box, but Lynden’s shot didn’t cause the keeper too much trouble, but were definitely back in the game. Another foul on Vaughan gave us a free on the left which was cleared, then Gooch played the ball in from the left to Ndong – but the shot went over the top.
While we were putting the pressure on, there was always the threat of a Cardiff break, and it took a decent interception from Kone to break one up, then Oviedo, who’d drifted to a central position, hit a beaut with his right foot that looked a goal all the way, with the keeper not moving – but it came back off his left-hand post. The remaining five minutes included the two added, by the ref, and as the whistle ended the half, things went a bit daft.
My pre-match argument with a fence necessitated a half time visit to the medical centre, and that produced the surreal experience of listening to the second half in the company of St John’s Ambulance from the depths of NW corner medical room. Trying my best to make out what was happening on the field while being poked and prodded, and listening to the other afflicted folks describing their symptoms, meant that I thought I knew what was going on. I can tell a goal, but because it was a penalty (no surprise, as Cardiff hadn’t been averse to pushing Gooch around in the first half) there were two roars in quick succession, which was a bit baffling. Then loud booing, presumably because the ref had either disallowed a goal, failed to send a Bluebird off, or lost his temper with Catts.
What really happened was that Gooch was fouled and put the penalty away himself after eight minutes or so, thus putting us very much back in the game. It had been a fairly fast-paced start to the second half, with no subs on for us, and that got the crowd going – or does it just sound much louder from outside the main bowl? Anyway, after Cardiff had threatened a couple of times, Gooch had a shot saved and then came the penalty. 1-1
Honeyman made way for McGeady on the hour, and that should have given us a bit more trickery to open up the visitors, but apparently Ruiter was the busier of the keepers, having to pull off a number of saves, and Catts had to clear off the line. Then Kone’s twin brother reappeared and produced a dopey foul to gift a penalty with about 20 to go. Of course, it went in, and we tried to get back into the game by bringing on Robson(E) and Asoro for Ndong and Oviedo. I thought Oviedo was probably the player most likely to create something in the first half, so that was a bit of a surprise to me.
McGeady and Gooch combined to break through, but Aiden couldn’t get the cross in. It was no surprise to discover that we failed to take advantage of the numerous free-kicks Cardiff were happy to sit back and concede. That the visitors did this was equally unsurprising, as they are a Neil Warnock team, and all Neil Warnock teams do that. An anagram of his name is Colin Wan**r. Make of that what you will. I’ve no idea how much added time there was, but I’d guess at three given the fuss that normally accompanies a penalty.
There you go then. We’re in the relegation zone – there, I’ve said the “R” word and it’s only September, which makes me either as miserable a bugger as Moyes, or (more probably) a realist. I’d be as quick as anyone to point out that we’ve got Welsh, Irish, and English internationals in our squad, and other players who are, in theory (or past times), better than those at other clubs. What we don’t have is a team – it seems to be like Sunday morning football, where team selection is based less on tactics and more on who is available. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that the team meets up in a pub car park and smokes a few tabs while desperate phone-calls are made to get the keeper out of bed. I’m an optimist as far as Sunderland goes – you have to be, otherwise it’d be eternal misery (aye, I know, it is anyway) – and have listened to folks claiming this as the worst Sunderland team they’ve seen. They’ve got a point, as this doesn’t seem much of a team at all, despite the game (or the first half that I saw) being a lot more promising that the previous two. Actually, not a very lot, but I’m an optimist.
Man of the Match? Based on the first half, Gooch, as he was a big part of our getting back on top for the last 25 – and he scored in the second half
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