That was a pretty comprehensive win, 3-0 against the division's form team, and it was achieved thanks to the now customary mix of hard work, quality off the bench, and some well-taken goals.
Another day, another game – and one we’ve been looking forward to. Looking forward to a game, eh? An alien concept to us Sunderland folks over the last few seasons, but it’s the situation now, and long may it continue. As you’ll have read, we’ve been packing the away ends all season, and, as Charlie explained in his interview this week, that togetherness, that bond, that the team and the players are building, is what being a football fan is all about. You do wonder about some fans, though. After our win at Donny in the face of some pretty incompetent officiating, Donny fans took to the internet to claim that we’d only won because of our “big team arrogance”, because we were “better at cheating” than Donny, and that the ref favoured us to such an extent that they were considering appealing to the authorities about it. Considering the two red card offences perpetrated by the home side that he chose to ignore, that’s a bit rich. Anyway, we’ve had three exceptional awadays, in which Chris Maguire has risen to the top of the pile. As well as being awarded Goal of the Month for his consolation effort at Burton, he’s playing like he loves the game, the fans, and the occasion. The worky-ticket’s worky-ticket as far as the opposition is concerned, he knows all the ins and outs of the modern game, and is the polar opposite of Jon McLaughlin, but both are equally as effective in winning us games. We fans are no longer covering our eyes when the ball comes near our box, as we’re confident that Big Jon will do the right thing. The staff took part in a night out at the Terror in the Trees thingy at Beamish, being stalked through the woods by zombies, where Maguire was heard to ask one of the un-dead “is there a McDonald’s around here, pal?”
After those three absolutely brilliant awaydays in glorious autumn sunshine, we awoke to a North Eastern day of... snow, brought by a Baltic north wind. As they say in these parts, it was starvation out there, and it was a chilly and damp walk to the Tree for the bus, where it was nice to be reacquainted with the home game crew after we’d not met for ages. I wonder what they’ll make of their new seats. More importantly, how will the Southern Softies of Southend cope with a bit snow? Apart from Michael Turner, who wasn't scared by much during his time on Wearside.
After surviving a bus breakdown, we arrived in time to see us line up:
Matthews Baldwin Flanagan James
Gooch Honeyman Maguire
... and we kicked south, as I sat in my nice new white seat after the buglers did their bit in the bright and cold. There was a big and noisy away following, but, unlike other teams, Southend didn't come at us at 100mph. Sinclair had a header from a left wing cross tipped over only a couple of minutes in, and that set the tone for the afternoon. Gooch nearly got through onto a lovely long ball from McGeouch, then, after a Southend corner, Catts fired wide. The next visiting attack foundered on resolute defending, and we won a free which was headed wide.
There was a lengthy stoppage when their left back's knee went as he cleared, forcing the first substitution on 16 minutes.
As the half hour approached, we dealt with their attacks well and Gooch worked the space to dink in a nice cross which Honeyman headed home from the middle of the box. Lovely, and we followed that with some more relaxed play, but it looked like an equaliser when they got into our box, but even when a nasty rebound got in the way, McLaughlin was equal to it. Southend were starting to get the better of central midfield thanks to their number 16, and we needed Honeyman to drop a bit deeper to help out Catts and McGeouch. Flan took a knock as they shouted for a pen, and with their monstrous trainer waiting threatening to block the daylight each time one of theirs went down, there was plenty for our Lads to do. Not that we got desperate, but we had to be on our toes.
The expected five added minutes came and went, and we went for our half time cuppa worth the slender lead.
No changes for the second half, and Sinclair opened brightly down the right, but his cross was too deep. After we successfully defended a corner, McGeady was warming up and some of expected Maguire's first half limp to mean his replacement, but he had other ideas. Intercepting a Southend pass 40 yards out, he strode forward and hit October's goal of the month. 25 yards, straight as you like, Carlos Edwards, Vic Halom, and Kieron Richardson rolled into one. An absolute thunderbolt on 53.
That was the game won, basically. Maja replaced Sinclair soon after, produced some lovely touches despite wearing gloves, and another naughty deflection again brought out the best in McLaughlin on the hour. Catts was getting in the way of lots to set up our attacks, but was lucky to escape yellow. Pity from the ref for others he's not deserved? Mebbe.
O'Nien replaced McGeouch after Gooch should have headed home McGeady's cross, then Maja.won the ball and played in McGeady. He ran into the box and clipped it low across the keeper for the third with ten to go.
Three added minutes, home and dry, Man of the Match: Catts, although McLaughlin's contribution was again decisive.