Here we go again. Same faces, same seat on the bus, but with the added delight of the No.17 bar and bistro in Bishop as a watering hole before the bus. It's next door to the Green Tree, so it'll do nicely for somewhere to discuss where the new players will play.
For somewhere less than a fortnight of Neymar's wages, new gaffer Grayson has assembled a team. Whine as you might, but we are where we are, and we've got next to no money to spend, so we'll have to accept the squad as Simon Says despite the starting eleven having a total of around 300 Sunderland appearances between them. I'm not sure about you, but despite all the hard work we'd put into being optimistic, and the bombastic "we're back" attitude we'd tried our best to show, I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of sadness as I approached my usual turnstile. I'm not 100% sure why, but perhaps it was something to do with the fact that we (club, supporters, mascots) had put so much effort into the last decade only to end up in the bargain basement again - who knows?
Same seat, same old(er) faces, impressive turnout from Derby fans, who tried telling us that our support was f***ing s**t. Aye, right, see you at Pride Park. Different team, different strip, and a ground full of people wondering how to take the new season. The pitch had been shortened and narrowed, presumably to save on lawnmower fuel and white line paint, meaning that our seats are now even further behind the goal line. There was a nice ovation for young Bradley, then it began.
Jones Kone Browning Galloway
Catts Ndong Honeyman McGeady
Well, at least there was none of the pretentious nonsense of the Prem, where 4-4-2 was sneered at, and we set ourselves up to attack, kicking to the South. While not quite being Brazil, we dominated possession and forced some corners, and the scrambles that ensued made you wish for a poacher like Marco or Jermain just to apply the crucial toe-end.
Typically, as we are Sunderland, Derby's first attack saw Galloway turned inside out (not for the last time) and the ball into the box gave Steele no chance on 11 minutes. Goal down, heads in collective hands, here we go again? We all know that it's been five years since we won a league game in August or September (Wigan, Fletch, 1-0), but ha'way man -it's way beyond a joke now. The effort of the players can't be questioned, and even Kone looked like he wanted to play football.
There were several moments of scrambly stuff (see above) following corners, with Grabbam hoofing an effort well over the top, which just needed the killer touch, but it wasn't to be, and we headed towards the break feeling a bit (more than bit, actually) frustrated. The warnings from our friends up the road about the quality of football (if in doubt, hoof it as far as you can) and refereeing (don't bother looking at the rulebook, bring back Trelford Mills) certainly rang true as we tried our best to adjust to life at Championship level. I know it's only been ten years or so, but I don't remember it being this similar to my Sunday morning heyday.
Ndong dropped deep to get plenty of the ball alongside Catts, who accepted the responsibility of Top Man in the rather surprising absence of O'Shea. This allowed Jones to push on and supply the bullets to Grabban and Vaughan - look, they're no Quinn and Phillips, but they're what we've got and they worked hard enough, so we'll have to work on that. Catts got everything behind a shot that brought the best out of Scott Carson in the Derby goal as he palmed it away for yet another corner before Grabban shot over. Jones did his overlapping job well, forcing a bit of confusion in the Derby box and a wayward hand. Thankfully, Lewis did his bit by Grabban the ball (sorry, had to be done) ahead of Vaughan and planting the spot-kick firmly along the grass and just beyond the keeper's left hand.
That'll do nicely.
No changes for the second half, as we pondered Grayson's substitution mindset - is he a 60, 65,70, or 80 minute manager? Ten minutes into the second half, McGeady (socks down, wee man Scottish winger style) twisted and turned like a twisty turny thing, not for the first or last time, and found Grabban on the edge of the box. The resultant shot came back off the bar, and it wasn't the last time we went close. Vaughan fired across the goal and just wide, then Grabban had a shot blocked before Vaughan was very obviously hauled down in the box. I'm not sure what set of rules the ref had been swotting up on, but they certainly weren't the ones I've been used to.
Steele showed commendable bravery late on, getting down amongst the onrushing feet to keep Derby out, and generally collected well and commanded his box. They brought on Nugent, Bryson, and Vydra, while we brought on nobody. A draw stretches our "winless in August and September" even further from its 2012 roots (Wigan, 1-0 Fletch), but the manager will have learned a lot from the game. Personally, I'd have given Grabban, Vaughan, or both, a rest as they'd clearly run their hearts out, and a bit of youthful enthusiasm (Asoro, Gooch) or guile (Khazri) might well have swung the game our way.
Still, as the kids on Dundas street were singing, "we didn't get beat" and we have something to build on, although Galloway might well the first casualty of any team-building from Grayson, as he was frequently shown up. McGeady showed some lovely touches, twists, and turns, but needs to remember (he's 31, he should know by now) that twazzling on the edge of you own box is just not on. I'm not sure which of Grabban and Vaughan is the Big Man and which is the Wee Man, but for effort they couldn't be faulted. Kone actually looked like he wanted to play (scouts watching, chequebooks at the ready), but will surely be gone as soon as somebody signs a cheque and I'm wondering if O'Shea's organisational abilities might have outweighed this.
Man of the Match? I'd probably give it to Honeyman, for his non-stop effort and availability. What we have to get used to is being OK at being moderate, as that's what this division requires, and not rubbish at being decent, which is what the Prem was all about.
Keep the Faith
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