Sunderland progressed to the semi-finals of the EFL/Checkatrade Trophy with a comfortable 2-0 win over the babes of Man City, in a game in which the opponents were very much learning to emulate their first team’s style rather than going for the win. A goal in each half was probably scant reward for our more direct approach as the Blues were content to pass the ball around without any real cutting edge. TalkSport late on Friday night suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, as the draw will be made then.
It was a cold night, which meant that being crammed into the East Stand probably conserved a bit of heat, and I initially thought I had a good seat – row 17, immediately behind the walkway – but I’d forgotten that folks usually turn up closer to kick-off for night matches, and when you add that to the fact that we were in unfamiliar seats, the first ten minutes of the game was observed through a sea of heads, shoulders, and woolly hats as folks ambled around. Anyway, we headed South, kicking towards the Roker End, and the game quickly settled into the pattern that would define the evening.
Matthews Ozturk Baldwin Oviedo
City, with an average age of below eighteen and a squad numbers totalling way over 500, tapped the ball around nicely, using their keeper as the first team do, and showed commendable calmness. Just how many of these lads will be allowed to strut their stuff in the first team is another question, as their club might well stick to their policy of spending £50 million on a benchwarmer in preference to using talent they’ve actually developed. We’ll see. As they passed and moved, we passed a bit and hit it forward, with Watmore chasing a few things into the box or the corners of the field and O’Nien filling the “Honeyman Hole” that’s been bereft of a Sunderland shirt in recent games – and while decent balls to Kimpioka’s feet were at a premium, Lucky Luke was there behind him to pick up the pieces and start again, or hurl himself at a cross – which City seemed reluctant to get their heads to.
Maguire had been given a free role across the field behind the attack, but more often than not drifted out to the left, where he seemed to catch the City mindset, and be inclined to turn backover to retain possession rather than go for the kill. City’s kids, drawn from all over the world, showed plenty of ability with the ball at their feet, but lacked the quality of their seniors to turn that possession into chances, meaning that Ruiter had to come for a couple of crosses and gather several back-passes, but not any shots. Ozturk bullied his opponents, as you’d expect, with a physical presence that was simply too much for the much younger visitors.
When City did threaten to break quickly, on 17, Catts was booked on halfway for a clumsy challenge that ended that move, but five minute later things went well. A good move saw the impressive McGeouch get into the box via a one-two with Kimpioka, where his shot was blocked, but Watmore was on hand to hit the loose ball home with his right foot. Deserved, and great for the Lad to get back amongst the goals. For large parts of the game, we played virtually two at the back, with Matthews and Oviedo pushing so far forward, and prior the goal we’d seen crosses from both our full-backs almost produce goals. Watmore burst into the box from the right and hit a fierce shot that the City keeper could only push into the air and collect at the second attempt.
A foul on the edge of the area, when Kimpioka was upended, provided Oviedo with a chance to double our advantage on 33, and his effort beat the keeper only to hit the bar. There was a single added minute which was seen out in the same vein as the previous 45, and both the crowd and the team were happy with where we were. A second would have been nice, and deserved, but with City’s only attempt being blocked well before it troubled Ruited, we had no reason to suppose they’d change their tactics in the second half.
There were no changes for that second half, other than a number of fans moving seats to get a closer view of our attacking play at the North end – and it was more of the same. City did try a shot from outside the box, but it was comfortably off-target. Their number 78, playing on the left of central defence, probably had the ball more than the rest of his team put together in the second half, but we were content to let him carry it forward before turning back ten yards in to our half. We put together another impressive attack, with McGeouch starting things off before Watmore laid it into the path of O’Nien, and his belter from just outside the box swerved a foot or so wide of the upright.
That was about it for Dunc – he’d got his goal, taken a few decent challenges, and showed no lack of pace – and Gooch replaced him on the hour, taking up a familiar position out on the right and rekindling his partnership with Matthews. He’d already had a couple of runs when another clever move saw the ball played back to Matthews, who found his winger, and Lynden did what he’s done a couple of times already this season- cut in, moved it onto his left peg, and fired across the keeper and into the far side of the net. A cracking goal.
Job done, but there was almost a second when we played it across the box for Gooch to get in a low shot which squirmed from the keeper’s grasp but was snatched back from the line as we willed it to trickle over. Kimpioka and O’Nien also tested the keeper, a 21 year-old veteran, but couldn’t get the third. With fifteen to go, Catts made way for Ethan Robson, who was straight into the game, showing his allegedly more superior opponents that tackling is a very important part of the game. His were crisp and effective, and the passes that followed never wasted, allowing the likes of O’Nien and McGeouch time to find space. When Luke raced down the right in the dying stages, his marker was eventually booked for the foul but somehow found himself needing treatment as O’Nien made sure he landed on top. With a minute to go, young Connolly replaced Kimpiokia, and after a couple of minutes finding his feet, curled a clever shot around the defence that almost deceived the keeper.
City made their last substitution, bringing on number 96. Imagine being given that squad number – “gan on son, only another 85 between you and a place in the first team” – and he barely had the ball as three added minutes were announced. We retained possession, threatened their goal a couple of times, and smiled broadly when the whistle went. A highly satisfactory performance against a technically gifted, well-disciplined but ultimately ineffective side – perhaps coaches should try teaching young players that winning games is more important than looking good and trying to be the next David Silva. Thankfully, not our problem.
Man of the Match? Well, if Riuter has two more games in this competition as comfortable as this one, we’ll win the trophy. Matthews showed no signs of the injury that’s kept him out recently, and quickly linked with Gooch when the paring was reinstated. Oviedo came more into it in the second half, and was effective without being spectacular, while Baldwin had more than enough about him to keep the youngsters at bay, and Ozturk simply outmuscled his opponents and refused to be beaten. Catts perhaps withdrew a little after the booking, passing responsibility to McGeouch, who tackled and carried really well. As I’ve said, Maguire was a little reserved, appearing at times more casual than a pair of blue suede shoes, but still had more than enough to create stuff for us. O’Nien was his usual energetic self, leaping at crosses, banging in to challenges, and running onto passes, while Kimpioka was as unpredictable as ever, creating space where there didn’t appear to be any. Perhaps a Benji in the City front line would have made all the difference for the opponents, but he was in ours and we were grateful that he was. Gooch showed why he’s important to us in his half hour, and Robson really impressed in his quarter hour – he might feature quite a bit in the rest of the season, depending what happens with transfers.
McGeouch for me.
Peel those tatties and warm up that cheese.