The pools are still a thing, so you’d have been daft not to put and X in the three point box for tonight’s game. Sunderland produced their umpteenth score draw after a first half that outlined our inability to do what we need to. An end-to-end first period ended with us a goal down, and we had to show considerable character to level things after going a further goal behind early in the second period.
To be perfectly honest, I’m getting more than a bit tired of writing about why and how we didn’t win games, but the Lads and the manager don’t set out to end up drawing. Ross doesn’t pick a team because they can’t pass the ball out of defence, but that’s what happened tonight.
With it being a night game (ooh!) on the telly and that, we had to make do with half an hour in the inappropriately-named Victory club – well, we had to try to influence the result somehow. With Mumba, Sterling, and Loovens in the box behind us, and following a great round of applause for Gordon Banks, Jack lined us up:
O’Nien Baldwin Dunne James
Gooch Wyke Grigg McGeady
...or more likely a good old-fashioned 4-4-2 – it’s not illegal you know, and most British trophies have been won with that formation. Anyway, we started proceedings by kicking off South (Roker End direction), in a fairly positive mood – probably because Ross has been listening to the little rumblings of discontent from the stands, justified or not. It was a bright start, but brighter in the favour of Stanley, who won a surprise corner in the first minute or so when our defensive header hit an arse of our own and went behind. Thankfully, they put the header over the top, but it seemed like while we defended the dead-ball well enough, but every time we went forward, they came back at us. McGeady got away down the left, but his effort went wide of the far post, and he also produced lots of nice touches and turns that didn’t quite pay off - perhaps he should sometimes remember that he’s playing with League One lads and not Robbie Keane and the like – they’re not all a perceptive as you, Aiden – as several balls went straight through the opposing back line and were picked up by their defence.
It was a fairly end to end sort of game, and we should have gone ahead when James got away down the left and out in a perfect ball for Grigg – but our latest striking option opened up his body too much as the ball came in from the left, and he basically passed it beyond the far post. Aww, bugger. With Honeyman sitting fairly deep alongside Leadbitter, his opportunities for forward runs were severely limited, and we saw precious little of our club captain as positive force in the first half.
McLaughlin had nothing more dangerous to contend with then a couple of looping crosses, which he dealt with well enough, but on the half hour, we allowed Stanley to play the ball about in our box and draw a silly tackle from Baldwin. Legs taken away, penalty as obvious as you like. Or don’t like – either way, Big Jon had no chance A real shame after being the better team in terms of attacking, but if you dinnet make the keeper work, then you’re not going to score. There was a huge shout for a penna from the Roker End, which the ref ignored, but subsequent irate phone messages sort of confirmed that it should have been a spot kick to us. Didn’t happen, move on, which we tried to do, but the distribution from central defence was awful, and Dunne was caught with the ball at his feet more than once.
After trying to dust ourselves of and starting again, Stanley came at us and Baldwin was booked for a fairly agricultural challenge as the visitors broke forward, and they were far from keen to keep the game moving, provoking some fairly rude, an entirely justified, criticism, for being slow to restart the game. We persisted with asking the central defenders to be the playmakers, which was a bit daft when Leadbitter was on the field, but Grant did his usual thing of accepting responsibility for everything – there were so many times when he was looking for someone forward than himself, to pass to, but saw nobody. The couple of minutes of added time brought us plenty of effort, plus half- chances for McGeady and Dunne, but with no reward, and it was inevitable, but disappointing and unjustified, that boos saw the Lads off the field at the break.
No changes for the second half, and we were by far the more positive of the teams as the game recommenced. Grigg got on the end of James’s cross to lay it to Wyke, but there was no room for our 9 to work any space, then Wyke was a yard too late as the ball flew in low from the right and his outstretched boot could only put the ball wide of the back post. At this stage, despite being a goal down, we could see one coming for us. We must have had our eyes on the wrong way, as the visitors went down the left and put in a cross that had two of their players fighting to get there first – and the result was a simple nodded header inside McLaughlin’s right-hand post.
Could a Friday get any worse? Well, it quite probably would have done if Ross hadn’t brought on the invisible man, Chris Maguire, who’d gone from top feller a couple of months ago to the fringe of the squad – and then it all went a bit daft. Maguire’s directness and general positivity quickly spread, most noticeably to Honeyman, who moved forward from his holding role alongside Leadbitter and as a result brought more energy forward. Where our passing had been precise (sometimes) but ridiculously predictable, suddenly Lads were moving into space and giving the ball back before finding more space. Receiving the ball out on the left, Maguire whipped in a cross with his right peg that caused more bother to the visiting defence than all our previous crosses, and there might have been the slightest of touches from Grigg to divert the ball into Honeyman’s path, but whatever it was, George put it away from close range. Boom.
Gerrinnnn! We’d got ourselves back into the game, and the introduction of Maguire had certainly got us going, with a couple of crosses requiring the visiting defence to work hard. Maguire drifted across the field then exchanged passes with McGeady, who stroked home the return pass. Right, Will might not yet be on fire, but we certainly were at that moment in time, and a winner was right on the cards with a good 25 minutes to go. A foul on Leadbitter (I think) gave us a chance 25-plus yards out, but the visitors showed their lack of faith (understanding ?) in their keeper, who’d just punched a perfectly catchable ball, by having someone jog back to the line when Maguire fired a beaut over the wall – and that man was on the line to hoof it off the line. That wasn’t his last effort of the night, with another one from distance going over the top, and another being blocked.
Gooch, who’d probably held onto the ball too long on occasions, made way for Morgan with fifteen to go, and the Scotsman carried on where he’d left off on Tuesday, carrying the ball nicely but perhaps suffering from SAFC syndrome by not releasing the ball at the right moment. Max Power replaced a tiring Leadbitter with nine on the clock, but by then the visitors were well into Blackpool timewasting mode –really the officials have to do more than look a bit concerned and need to get in the face of the manager rather than the captain and wave a few cards about. Anyway, Grigg shot over, O’Nien had a header in the net but was obviously offside (did he need to make the header?) and we generally ran into a brick wall that was the Accy defence. Morgan had a shot clocked, Honeyman tried to get into the box in the inside right channel but couldn’t get it out from under his feet, there were six whole minutes of added time – and it ended in yet another draw.
Man of the Match? McGeady did well but needs to remember who he’s playing with – not Robbie Keane or any other lighting-sharp attackers, but the Lads at Sunderland at the minute. Having said that, he had a canny game, as did Big Jon. Our defenders – well, especially the central two, they need to stop trying to be Franz Beckenbauer, or even Jan Kirchhoff, because the passing today was poor. For me, it has to go to the man who made all the difference – Chris Maguire. It’s amazing what a positive attitude can do for the rest of the team. We might have missed a great chance to move up the league, but (thankfully) we still have forty-odd points to play for, and a fair few games in which to set away a run.
Please, Lads, a run, and Mr Ross - tell defenders that their primary function is to defend and sort out Jimmy Dunne’s feet. He’s generally great in the air, but please don’t let the others give him time to think with the ball at his feet – a bit like Baldwin. If they’re not ball-playing centre-halves, please don’t ask them to be.