Another gutsy performance, another three points, and another win that showed that we’re learning to cope with what this division can throw at us – another opposing team who were well organised, who worked hard, releasing the ball forwards very quickly, but just lacking that little bit of quality when and where it mattered. A third consecutive win that had us wondering when that last happened, and those bottles of really nice whisky that our Ian got me for birthdays over the last few years but have remained only slightly sampled due to a distinct lack of things to celebrate, are in for a lot of use, I reckon. These awaydays are getting to be a lot of fun.
Thick and fast, that’s what this division is about, barley affording us time after Shrewsbury to wash the lucky socks and put up another lot of bait. At least this one was just down the road, so there was time for a snifter in Spenny before the relatively short trip down the A1 to Donny, go round the ground a few times, then park up in the official car park, a good half mile from the ground, past the 5 a side pitches and various other sporting facilities. We’d not had time to get into town, but the Belle Vue bar not only had proper beer (named after Jamie Coppinger) but the best organised, and therefore most efficient, bar staff I’ve come across at a football ground. Confusingly, both sets of fans were decked in red and white, but we managed to work out who to say what to, to catch up with Martin, formerly of Durham’s New Inn but now in Sheffield, and see the team sheet. A deserved lie-down for Maja, McGeady dropping to the bench, and Gooch and Honeyman starting. Good enough for me.
Matthews Baldwin Flanagan James
Gooch Honeyman Maguire
4-2-3-1 or just plain old 4-3-3, depending on which papers you read.
We kicked off away from the 4,000 visiting fans, towards their bloody drummer in the far end. Maguire went left and Gooch right, with Honeyman moving across the middle behind Sinclair. As at Shrewsbury, we had a bright start, but managed to make it last a fair bit longer than in Shropshire, and it nearly brought an opening goal when first Gooch shot not far wide, then Matthews crossed for Maguire, stealing in from the left, to get his head onto the ball, but it went off target. Our favourite Californian obviously worried Donny, and they walloped him three times in the opening few minutes without the ref feeling anything more than a free kick was necessary. That’s fair enough, but then McGeouch and Catts were booked for challenges that were certainly no worse than those dished out to Gooch. That was the pattern set for the referee – one of inconsistency and weakness, as he let players kick the ball away, scrub out the foam lines he sprayed, and encroach on free-kicks. Anyway, that took a bit of bite out of Catts’s game, and McGeouch who’d started well, drifted in and out of influencing things
Gooch was inches away from getting the vital touch to Honeyman’s driven ball into the box as the game continues at a fairly frantic pace. Donny wasted no time at all in getting the ball forward, with James and Matthews having to do a lot of chasing back to prevent crosses coming in, and Flanagan and Baldwin needing to be good old stand up centre-halves. We tried to get the ball down and play it wide for Gooch to drive forward, or Maguire to try some trickery on the other side, but the home side managed to get in the way of whatever we got into the box. There were a couple of yellows for them as they did so, and it certainly wasn’t a game for shrinking violets, and Wilks was lucky, in the opinion of 4,000 or so of the crowd, to stay on the field after getting involved with Maguire. Thankfully or man managed, just, to keep a lid on himself when it looked like he might react a bit much, but Honeyman got a bit carried away and was booked for a clumsy foul. We looked we might suffer for the ref’s leniency a few minutes later when Wilks was played through and found himself one on one with McLaughin, but our keeper was down bravely to block at the attacker’s feet, and when Donny retook the loose ball, Baldwin was on hand to calmly hoof it away from the line. As the half entered its final few minutes, the same scenario reappeared, with McLaughlin repeating the save, this time at the feet of Blair. As we marvelled at the sight of a keeper producing a Chris Turner-like display of how to take the ball off an opponent’s feet, a single added minute was added. We ended the half level, and despite those two chances for the home side, were at least worth that.
No changes for the second half, and there was another save, this time in the air, by McLaughlin, before we launched our first attack of the second period. Having switched flanks with Maguire, Gooch cut inside and thundered in a shot that beat the keeper, but thumped off the far post and back across the goal to apparent safety – but no. Matthews showed an impressive burst of speed to get to the loose ball first and fire in a cross a yard above the deck that had “smash me into the roof of the net in dramatic fashion in front of the visiting fans” written all over it – and that’s exactly what Maguire did from a few yards out. Brilliant piece of football, with some swift passing in the build-up, a cracking shot and lighting reactions to present the Greatest Showman with the perfect opportunity. Which he took, causing pandemonium as we bounced around the seats, with the belief in our team growing by the minute.
McLaughlin was called on again, this time pushing an effort away for a corner, and our defence had to stand firm as the home side had a real go, but three times it fell to Wilks and three times he blasted high and wide from distance as our Lads wouldn’t let them into our box.
There was an off the ball incident right in front of the linesman, when Sinclair was on the receiving end of something unpleasant, but the ref was unsighted, and the linesman was obviously a bit scared of the Donny centre-half involved and we remained 11 a side. With 25 minutes to go and the tackles still coming thick and fast, Ross did the sensible thing and replaced Catts with O’Nien, and young Luke thought he’d made the game safe ten minutes later when the keeper could only parry Flanagan’s shot following a dead ball, but the offside flag was raised before he thumped home the rebound. Gooch went off to rapturous applause, replaced by McGeady, who took up the left-wing berth with Maguire on the right. He did his usual teasing the fullback thing, and a couple of the crosses were tantalisingly close to Sinclair, but the Lad had run his legs off and lacked the zip over the vital yard.
Donny tried some fresh legs, replacing Blair and Coppinger with Anderson and somebody whose name I didn’t catch, but we were on the up and believed in ourselves. Maguire was loving it, running the game down, and when it looked like it might get a bit heated when he tangled with an opponent, he diffused the situation by picking the feller up and carrying him like a child. Job done, then five added minutes were announced, and we had to reset our watches and roar the Lads to victory. With the defence solid, Maguire and McGeady carried the ball to the corners and the whistle went, sparking scenes in the away end that should be recorded and used as an advert for this division – and this club.
As on Saturday, we were well worth the win in the end, with our superior fitness seeing us bossing the latter stages and our manager showing that he can use the squad to win games.
Man of the Match? Gooch had a terrific evening, all energy and drive, while Maguire produced his usual bag of tricks. Both fullbacks contributed to a defensive performance that showcased the growing partnership of Flanagan and Baldwin – those two through balls late in the first half excepted. However, those two through balls gave McLaughlin the opportunity to claim the plaudits this time. Well played Jon, well played Sunderland. We’re on a roll, and the momentum is building.
Jura Origin tonight, methinks. Slangevar!