Sunderland produced possibly - no, probably - their least effective 45 minutes of the season in a second half which saw no shots on target. Against possibly the worst side we've come up against, all we had to show for the second period was a flurry of corners with five to go, and a couple of harmless shots that trundled wide. After a typical first half - you know the drill, pezzle the opponents out of sight but claim just the one goal - we simply didn't turn up after the break. To lose against Fleetwood is shameful - and that's not me being "entitled", it's us not doing what we should be doing with the players we have at our disposal. Bah...
The day started well, with sunshine across the A66 and an old haunt, the John O'Gaunt in Lancaster, happily with the Oliver Reed memorial headrest back in situ in the gents. We trotted up the road for a relaxed couple (of beers) in a new one, the Robert Gillow, where we picked the team. As our bus dropped us off in Codland, the Blackpool contingent disembarked from the trans (and tram replacement buses), we snuck in s quickie in the impressive clubhouse beneath the stand, then took our places on the terraces.
Changes had been expected, and we got them.
O'Nien Ozturk Flanagan Oviedo
Gooch Maguire Morgan
We kicked off away from the Percy Ronson end that housed our standing support, and it was quickly apparent that the home side weren’t up to much, even if they did have Ross Wallace in their side, just to have us fearing the curse of the former player. With no Honeyman, Catts was the captain and bossed things at the base of midfield alongside Power, with Maguire strutting across the pitch in front of them, pinging balls out wide and changing the direction of play. With a very (very) faint possibility of automatic promotion on the horizon (beat Fleetwood and Southend by a good few, and let Oxford beat Luton by a good few), that possibility was kept alive by our early endeavours. Lively, without quite (obviously) getting the goal, and faded by a home side who looked like they’d struggle to beat an egg without assistance.
We had a couple of chances to go ahead, firstly when a woefully weak back-pass let Grigg in, but he wasn’t sharp enough, and the Cod defence were back to prevent the goal, then O’Nien made his customary break to the by-line and fired in a cross to Power, but the shot was too close to the Cod keeper and the Cod army breathed a sigh of relief as he saved. Grigg was seeing plenty of the ball, but there were no darting runs beyond defenders to create clear-cut chances, although when he did work some space outside the box, he curled it beyond the keeper only to see it come back off the bar. We’ve been giving the woodwork a workout of late – perhaps a teeny bit more accuracy wouldn’t have us screaming “ooh, unlucky” so often.
After another Grigg effort, this time a header that gave the keeper little trouble, we almost buggered things up by allowing the home side their first real chance, but a combination of Flanagan and McLaughlin kept them out. Straight down the other end we went, and Gooch found Maguire, who made space for the shot, which was deflected for a corner on the right, In it came, and on the edge of the six yard box, Catts didn’t have to leap very high to meet it perfectly and head it past the keeper. That’ll do nicely, with less than half an hour gone, and we could surely take advantage of the deadlock being broken to increase our lead. News was coming in of Portsmouth going behind, which lifted our spirits a little more, and we kept up the pressure on the field.
Second goal? You must be kidding. This is Sunderland 2019 we’re talking about, so in the last five minutes of the half, plus the single added minute, we conceded a couple of corners and allowed Fleetwood to get a shot in, albeit one which troubled the seagull on the roof of the stand more than McLaughlin. After 35 minutes of virtual total domination, we were left wondering where the last ten minutes had come from, but looked forward to getting back on the front foot after the break.
No changes for us – in personnel at least, although the home side replaced Clarke with Sowerby, and the second half was eminently forgettable from our point of view. The ref, despite us calling him names, was sort of controlling things without giving us much, and it wasn’t his fault that we didn’t score again. A couple of runs down the right from Gooch didn’t break through, and Maguire created a chance for himself when he flicked the ball up and volleyed – but it trundled wide of the keeper’s right-hand post. A break by Wallace saw the former Lad shoot well over, then we brought on Sterling for Grigg (will the real Will please stand up?) with 35 to go, and the youngster’s pace lifted things for a bit. We were still largely on top, but not creating chances. With 20 to go, Honeyman replaced Maguire, who’d been our most dangerous player, but before play was restarted, George was flattened. The home side must have thought he was McGeady, as the first booking of the night arrived when he was fouled a couple of minutes later.
Another five minutes on, and they pulled the ball back, we didn’t cut it out, and Madden became the second captain to score when he prodded it home. Oh, man, Sunderland, this lot are woeful – how are we not winning this one? They even played the Captain Pugwash music in celebration to make us feel even worse. Wallace headed over – Wallace, five foot nowt – as Fleetwood got their tails up. As we entered the final ten minutes, Sterling cut it back to win us a corner, then Morgan hit a shot way over. The ref decided that Sterling had fouled his man as he broke into the box, when in fact any foul was actually the other way as the defender had leaned into our man. With five on the clock, we won a series of corners and piled on the pressure, but nothing looked like going in. There was a weird moment as two home players were booked for fouling Honeyman at the same time, four extra minutes were announced. Gooch cut across and sent a shot down the same channel as Maguire’s earlier effort, the home side went up the other end and won a corner which we didn’t deal with. Eastwood, second home goal, right on the whistle, and they played the Captain Pugwash tune again. just to rub it in.
At least it wasn’t another draw. Said nobody. Pompey had lost as well, so even when the Gods of football got our rivals to mess things up, we didn’t take advantage - all of which means that Luton and Barnsley are up, and we have nothing to play for now. All we can do is let someone else get Pompey in the semis. The Southend weekender, once a proposed promotion party, will be no more than a show of defiance and support, which I’m not that keen on in the immediate aftermath of tonight’s game.
Man of the Match? Maguire made a difference, bit seeing as Catts scored, I'll give it to him - even if he didn't use his captain's authority to tell his team-mates "I don't care what the boss said at half -time, just ignore him."