Sunderland battled against wind, rain, and a well organised Barnsley side to claim a point that leaves us no better or worse off than we were at kick-off, which is sort of OK but leaves us less games in which to overhaul tonight’s hosts – as Luton will have to have a major implosion to fall from the top. In difficult conditions, the team with the wind at their backs had the better of each half as anything above head height, and sometimes on the ground, either flew yards further than intended, or refused to go as far as intended.
With Storm Gareth supposedly on its way, there was a bit of wind and a lot of sunshine as we left our home county, and it stayed that way all the way to Barnsley, where we negotiated the side roads that lead to Oakwell, parked up, and wandered into town. Over a couple of pints in about the only pub that wasn’t heaving with Sunderland folk, the locals regaled us with tales of the legendary BFC steward from back in’t day – Ronnie Joyce. Apparently built like Geoff Capes, at the merest hint of any bother, he’d grab the perpetrators and throw them “ovver t’wall” and thus out of Oakwell. We countered with our opinion that football isn’t fair, what with that thug Bean of Wycombe getting a one match ban while his victim Watmore is out for the season, adding to the other three missing through injury or suspension following the weekend’s game. We asked if the locals understood the Checkatrade disciplinary rules, what with Honeyman being made available. They had less idea than we did. Add to that some cricketing tales, a staunch defence of Geoffrey Boycott as not a dull cricketer at all, and it was a canny way to warm up for a game. It made a change to walk with a crowd to an away game, as fans of both persuasions made their way matchwards, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped.
O’Nien Baldwin Dunne Matthews
McGeady Power Gooch
Fairly straightforward and understandable replacements for the Wycombe Wounded, we thought, as it’s a bit soon for Hume to be hoyed back in
With the wind swirling around, the home side kicked off towards the visiting fans, and it quickly became apparent who was going to have the majority of possession in that half, with the Tykes having the wind at their backs. We tried to get the ball out wide as we usually do, but it took a while for McGeady to see much of it, as he swapped wings for a few minutes in order to seek out a bit of space. We eventually found our feet and there was a spell of decent play – but mostly in the middle of the park and not in the Barnsley box, which is where we wanted to be. It took a great tackle from Baldwin to block a shot as Woodrow pulled the trigger in a period of home pressure. Soon after that, O’Nien, who’d been his usual surprisingly effective self in the air, tried to nod it back to McLaughlin when bonking it straight up and hoping Dunne or Baldwin would finish the job, and it fell woefully short in the box. Thankfully, Big Jon was out in a flash to spread himself and save Thiam’s shot.
We didn’t make the home keeper work other than gathering crosses until Gooch did well under pressure to hold off his man and get it to Power, and the curling effort looked destined for the far corner until Davies got across and tipped it away. Close, but no cigar.
Somehow, Woodrow failed to get a touch at the back post when a cross from our right flew across the box – probably because it was wind-assisted, then Thiam worked space on our left and beat McLaughlin with a left footer, but it didn’t dip enough and hit the face of the bar. We tried to set Matthews away, but he tried to use his right instead of his left, and failed to keep the ball in play. Big Jon was in action again soon after, doing well to keep out another shot, and the game continued at a fair pace, which was in complete contrast to the stop-start nonsense at the weekend. Proof of this was the single minute of added time. We’d done well defensively to cope with the wind, with Baldwin and Dunne getting to most things in the air, but getting it forward was a problem as it had to be kept on the deck if any accuracy was to be had. Getting to the break level was an achievement, and gave us time to take a deep breath and give it a go in the second half as it had started to get a bit hairy.
No changes for the second half, and it was immediately apparent just how much of an impact the wind was having, as we got forward a lot more, and the 4,500 in the away end got to see a lot more of the ball at Sunderland feet. The crucial goal looked on the cards on the hour when Baldwin showed great patience and played a beaut through the home defence to Power in the inside right position. Max did well to get into the box with a defender all over him – a premier league player would have been down in a flash once the edge of the box was reached – but with the ball bouncing up, he elected to go for the far side, rather than flick it to his right, and the ball went wide of the keeper’s right-hand post. Damn. Gooch was getting far more action, and when he fired in a cross (sensibly low) bodies flew in to clear with Catts in attention, but for some reason a goal kick was given – a strange decision, and it momentarily looked as if it had done us real harm when Woodrow put away a back post header. Thankfully, the offside flag was straight up, although this didn’t prevent the home fans to our left celebrating, with one youngster running along the aisle long after everybody else had sat back down – one of those moments that make football special. Gooch repeated the trick a few minutes later, and this time Catts did get on the end of it, but couldn’t keep it on target.
That could have been the moment that knocked the stuffing out of the home side and allowed us to take advantage in the remaining twenty minutes, but it so very nearly went the other way. Again, it was Luke attempting to get it back to McLaughlin, but this time he over-hit the ball and Jon had to sprint to his left as we held our breath and willed the wind to blow it away. Thankfully, our keeper was just fast enough to hoof it away and we breathed a sigh of relief. Morgan replaced Gooch for the final fifteen minutes, and showed some nice touches, but we still couldn’t get a decent pass to Grigg in a dangerous position. Leadbitter, who’d been taking his usual string of good corners, was blown over as he took a free awarded for a foul on Morgan, but it nearly caused Barnsley problems as it flew into the box at a funny angle. Nearly, but not quite. A home corner took an age to complete as the ball kept blowing away from the quadrant, then when Leadbitter sung in another from our left, Dunne stuck out a long leg but could only divert it just past the post. Power made way for Sterling as two added minutes were announced, but I don’t remember him touching the ball before the whistle went and we’d failed to score in a league game for the first time in 360 day, apparently.
After the nonsense on Saturday, it was nice to see a ref who took control of things and not get carried away. Of course, we didn’t agree with all of his decisions, because, obviously, we know better than him, but at least he appeared to know the rules.
Man of the Match? If it was down to the lads behind me, it’d have to be McLaughlin, as he was the only player who wasn’t referred to as “ f***ing sh**e” throughout the game. Leadbitter’s dead balls were as good as ever, but he withdrew a little after his booking, and that affected his game a bit. O’Nien was as energetic as ever, but scared the bejasus out of us twice, so he’s not getting it, while the wide men couldn’t find Grigg often enough. The central defenders did well, but I’ll give it to Catts, who played a captain’s role at the heart of midfield.
Bring on Walsall - again.