Sunny South Shields, or to be more precise, Jarra, home of the Venerable Bede, Steve Cram, and Craig Russell. The weather forecast said rain, the weather laughed at them and the sun blazed down on Mariners Park. The bar was packed, like the ground, (balcony, apparently) so I whispered sweet nothings into the ear of the security person at the bottom of the stairs and nipped up to the posh end for a swift one and a brief chat with Micky Horswill and Charlie M. No takeover news, as you’d expect.
To save confusion, there was only one McLaughlin in the starting eleven. New boy Lee (bad name for a keeper, but give him a chance) Burge was between the sticks as we attacked the open end (sorry, I’m not familiar with the official names), and the other ten were:
McLaughlin (C) Loovens Bainbridge
McGeouch Gooch Robson (E) Hackett Honeyman
With our hands shading our eyes, I squeezed in at the corner as we attacked from the start, and with two up front in Big Charlie and Gangly Benji, there was a refreshing simplicity to our approach, although I’m never 100% comfortable with the tree at the back we seemed to be trying – especially when Loovens is one, although his lack of speed was balanced with Jack Bainbridge’s youth and exuberance.
With Kimpioka showing no interest in being “normal”, in that you can never tell what he’s going to do next, the home defence was always on the back foot, and he was part of the build-up that allowed Honeyman to hit a cross shot that unfortunately evaded everybody. Robson showed good maturity in taking charge of things in the middle of the park, taking a free-kick which whistled over the top. Soon after, Kimpioka let the ball go past him to Robson, and there was enough room for the lad to pick his spot and place it high past the keeper with his trusted left foot. Nice work, boys, and only twelve or so minutes on the clock. Fun in the sun.
We nearly made it two when Kimpioka twizzled his way through the Shields back line to force a decent save from the keeper, who managed to get in the way of Wyke’s effort from the loose ball. Burge had to make a couple of smart saves around the half-hour mark, firstly from a header then from a well-hit shot from distance, and we looked more comfortable than the single goal statistic indicated.
Pre-season substitutions? You know how it goes – ten of them for the second half.
Flanagan Baldwin (Bainbridge keeps his place!) Hume
O’Nien Embleton Leadbitter Maguire
I’ve put Duncy up front, but in fairness he was up and down the field like a mad thing, as is his wont, and it was great to see him displaying no injury hangover as he scudded about and I changed ends to be where the goals were (hopefully) more likely. We’d barely had time to see who was who when Embleton shot just wide, then Grigg almost turned in O’Nien’s cross – a lively start form a bunch of players who seemed intent on being noticed. Maguire was filling the mythical “number ten” role that folks believe to be imperative these days, picking up the ball and either picking a pass or moving into the space either side of Grigg. This patience allowed Watmore the chance to pick his runs, and when he took the ball past a couple of defenders and into the box, he rolled it to O’Nien and Luke stuck out his boot and put it into the far corner for the second. Happy days.
After Shields brought on a couple of subs, including the appropriately-named Triallist, we replaced Bainbridge with Hunter, Watmore had an effort touched onto the woodwork, then Leadbitter hit the bar with a typical “boomer” – surely a goal will come soon for him. We saw out the match with no further changes, but we’d seen 22 players, McLaughlin (Conor) had looked solid and Burge, while having little to do, looked capable enough. Nice to see Robson and Watmore back to what looks like full fitness and Bainbridge given a chance to show his talents. Also, nice to see lots of familiar faces in unfamiliar surroundings, and spend plenty of time responding to “alreet marra?”
I know it’s difficult to take much from a friendly against opposition from a few rungs down the ladder, but it was a decent game played in a good spirit, and we’ll probably play in front of smaller crowds in the coming season. All in all, a canny day’s work. Football’s back.