On a snowy winter’s day, and after what seemed like an interminable gap in matches, Sunderland edged past the League’s bottom club thanks to McGeady’s classy strike on 67 minutes. In truth, there wasn’t much to write home about, especially in the first half, but we’ve got three more points than we had before the match, so it’ll have to do.
It really did deem like an age since the last match, what with the schedule thrown up by League One and the Checkatrade (Pickadate, any date) Trophy, made even longer by the nonsense that is the transfer window, but at last we were back. Like a few others, I suspect, we took advantage of the free Saturday to jet off to the sun, where we spent the first couple of days in the company of the Czech Republic FA Referees’ Convention. Resisting the temptation to trip up the waiter and see who flourished the yellow card first, I tried but failed to spot any former players- not even Jan Koller was there, lining up yet another move to Wearside (ask yer dad). The wonders of the internet and social media meant that being abroad put no real distance whatsoever between myself and the rumour mill, and the afternoon blagging free beer at Wally’s all-inclusive hotel was constantly interrupted by pings – Marquis, Eaves, Moore, Roy of the Rovers, next door’s dog, people getting into electronic arguments over who was and wasn’t coming and why our owners weren’t spending the money. Listen, if it was that easy, we’d all be Directors of Football- leave it to the people with the money and the contacts.
In summary, we got what we wanted, at a slightly inflated price. More than just ability on the pitch has come with Grigg – what, you didn’t know? – as he’s a name, an international performer, a character, a ready-made terrace hero, and we don’t have to make up a song with lots of “na na’s” in it. He arrives with a ringing endorsement from Brentford fan Billy the Bee, and that’s good enough for me. As the always inventive club website put it, Sunderland fans are satisfied, Will Grigg has been hired. Now do it on the field, bonny Lad.
We’ve also pulled in Lewis Morgan, previously under Ross’s tutelage in Scotland, the highly-rated, speedy, but little-used Spurs player Kaziah Sterling, and some Lad called Leadbitter. At 33, Grant is someone we all know, being a Fence Houses boy and Sunderland fan who came through our ranks and is a proven performer at Championship level and above. We know his heart is in the right place, so expect some commanding performances from him.
A couple of days of snow and ice made for a wintry start to the day, but that was no bother to Geoff as he hauled the Bishop bus along the A688, the A167, and eventually up Houghton Cut to face the Wombles – bottom of the table, but conquerors of West Ham. Isn’t football brilliant? We met up with some Wimbledon lads in the Isis, including Jonesy, who’d arranged the original training sessions on Wimbledon Common that preceded the formation of the current club. Again, isn’t football brilliant?
A late withdrawal by Gooch meant a step up from the bench for Lewis Morgan, and we lined up:
Matthews Flanagan Dunne James
Morgan Honeyman McGeady
...and kicked off towards the Roker End. O’Nien could count himself a tad unlucky to be dropped given his recent performances, but we’d missed Honeyman’s presence behind the striker(s), so hi s return was to be expected. Returning local boy Leadbitter saw lots of the ball and showed what he’s going to provide – lots of talking, pointing, organising, the odd tasty tackle, and some clever passing. His experience bodes well for us. A warm glow from the box behind us belied the presence of Will Grigg, not fit to play but no doubt an interested observer, and he saw the visitors get the afternoon’s first shot away – thankfully sailing way off target. They went a lot closer on ten minutes, after Honeyman had shot wide, when an effort from about halfway needed a serious sprint by McLaughlin to get back and prevent a spectacular opener. Wimbledon should have scored from the resultant corner, but the shot was closer to their fans than the goal and we survived. Despite some nice moments from McGeady and his protégé Morgan, some decent passing and a couple of wayward shots from Leadbitter, and Honeyman’s industry, we didn’t create many chances. Wyke was well marked, and we couldn’t get close enough to him when he did win his headers, meaning that once the single added minute was played out, we were pretty glad to see the end of a fairly turgid first half.
No changes for the second period, which we started a bit more brightly than the first – not a difficult task, to be honest – but still there was a dearth of clear-cut chances. Nothing you could point at and say “Maja would have scored that”, so Ross gave it fifteen minutes and rang the changes. Wyke could probably count himself unfortunate to be replaced by Sterling, as I for one would have liked to have seen the pair together, and then Honeyman, probably still finding fitness after his layoff, made way for O’Nien. Luke presence was immediately felt by the visitors, as he buzzed about like a demented insect, putting his foot in here and his head in there. Two minutes after his introduction, McGeady side-stepped his way into the box from the left, set it up onto his right foot, and curled a beaut across the keeper and into the far side of the net. Lovely, just lovely – it’s moments; of pure quality like that which set some of our players apart from others in the division and will probably prove crucial come May. With half an hour still to play, there was plenty of time to kill the game, and we gave it a go with some speedy runs from Sterling, but real chances didn’t materialise. In fact, we needed McLaughlin to do the business when Wimbledon’s Wagstaff burst through our back line. Nice one, Jon.
On 83, Ross opted to bring on Watmore for Morgan, who’d done enough to convince the fans that he’s a shred acquisition, as we set out our stall to protect our single goal advantage. Some typical heads down sprints from Dunc, and similar stuff from Sterling, kept the ball close to the Wimbledon goal – well, the corner flags, actually, but they can’t hurt us from there, can they? A knock on O’Nien necessitated a lengthy application of the magic sponge (or equivalent iPhone App) as the ref decided he’d make a few strange drop-ball decisions to maintain our interest, then six added minutes were announced. We saw those out by repeating Watmore’s runs and with McGeady and Leadbitter keeping possession and ended up just about worthy winners. Wimbledon had defended well, but produced very little of the quick, incisive breaks that had seen them past West Ham.
Man of the Match? McLaughlin had little to do, but did it well, while his fullbacks both generally untroubled defensively tried to get forward when they could. The central defenders did their job and carried out Ross’s instructions to get the ball out to McGeady and Morgan whenever possible. Those two were proper pests to the visitors without creating too much in the way of real chances, while Leadbitter did the organising. That should have left Power with time to do the passing, which he tried to do but without too much success. Homeyman showed us what we’d been missing without quite linking properly with Wyke, who had two big defenders on his back all afternoon. O’Nien and Watmore did what they always do, and Sterling showed enough to make us think that he’ll be entertaining and have a few goals in him.
I’ll give it to Grant. Well played, Lad.