Following on from Saturday’s defeat of Ipswich, Sunderland produced another game of two halves as they comfortably disposed of a pretty limp Rochdale side to claim another three points, with the damage being done with a ruthless first half display and two goals from Gooch either side of a generous OG. The second period is probably best forgotten in terms of attacking football, but we kept our goal intact and allowed it to be threatened just the once.
With the weather dominating our thoughts even more than the possibility that Parky wasn’t just being kind to the press and giving them something to fill their column inches with when he raised the possibility of Wyke and Lafferty forming a partnership, we wrapped up warm and hopped aboard the God’s Country and Cardboard City branch bus (honest), as our regular wasn’t running. After a tour of South West Durham, we were at the ground in time for a swifty at the Colliery before heading to the chill of the seats. To be honest, while it was far from warm, I’ve been to many much colder matches, but the first half performance was enough to keep everyone warm.
Despite the Lafferty talk, we lined up unchanged – as you do when you’re winning and nobody’s injured.
Willis Flanagan Wright
O’Nien Dobson Power Hume
Maguire Wyke Gooch
Rochdale, backed by a small but perfectly formed band of fans up the north stand upper, started proceedings towards the north and soon showed that they were the exact opposite of Ipswich. From the off, they appeared to shrink back into their own penalty box, and while they deserve credit for not reverting to the big hoof out, they were in no way, shape, or form capable of playing it out, no matter how often they tried. With Hume bombing down the left aided and abetted by Gooch, and O’Nien and Maguire producing some lovely interplay down the right – all clever little passes and flicks that unerringly found a team-mate – it was a miracle the visitors goal remained intact for as long as it did. The wind didn’t seem to be having much of an effect other than to produce a veritable dancing troupe of crisp packets in front of the dugouts, and we won our first corner on the left when Wyke chased a ball over the top for the second time, having been beaten to the first by the keeper. Maguire slung it beyond the back post, but Wright could only head over the bar.
Maguire and O’Nien linked yet again, with a clever ball over the defender by the former allowing the latter to get to the line and fire in a cross, but Gooch’s touch wasn’t a clean one and went past the back post. With ten minutes gone, our right side repeated the trick, but this time it was Maguire who fired in a perfect ball and Gooch could hardly miss near the back of the goal. So he didn’t, and we were ahead, raising the temperature in the stands a few degrees as we took the opportunity to jump about a bit in celebration. We kept the pressure on with a Hume cross that Wyke couldn’t stretch enough to reach. Close, but we didn’t have to wait long for the second.
Again, Maguire was instrumental, this time picking up Gooch’s ball into the box and lifting a cheeky lob towards Wyke at the back post. The keeper leapt to claim the ball, but a defender got a touch and the keeper could only fall backwards over the line following the ball, saving us trouble of having to put the ball in the net. Cheers, mate. My bet of Gooch as first goalscorer, 2-0 at half-time and 3-0 at full-time was looking unlikely to come off as there were only sixteen minutes gone and we were on course to dish out a good old-fashioned tonking. Lovely stuff.
After another ten minutes of Sunderland pressure that was only sporadically relieved as Rochdale barely crossed the halfway line, the first yellow card appeared when, on one of those rare breaks forward, Henderson led with a very naughty elbow into Wright. It looked as if Power might lose his rag and get overly involved, but thankfully he managed to keep a lid on it. Just.
As the half hour approached, the visitors actually put a break together, but Flanagan produced one of his now customary telescopic-legged tackles and the danger was over. Some of our passing, no doubt born of the confidence of a really dominant display, was superb, especially out to the wings, and Rochdale appeared to have no answer to it. We picked out way through and beyond the visiting defence, with Maguire (that man again) seeing his pass only partially blocked, and O’Nien fired in a shot that the keeper could only knock down, and there was Gooch to pick his spot. 3-0 and only 33 minutes gone – this could end up a cricket score. My bet was shot, but I didn’t care – let’s go to town, boys.
We so nearly did a minute later, when O’Nien nearly got onto Hume’s deep cross and Willis couldn’t quite place his cross back in. A couple of minutes before the break, O’Nien took a pass from Gooch and hit a left-footer which a defender did well to get his head to, only for it to fall nicely back to Luke. Unfortunately, the keeper was equal to the second shot and it stayed 3-0 through the three added minutes, and we were very happy bunnies as the players left the field for a well-earned sit down.
No changes for the second half, with Rochdale having made their first change just before the break when the magnificently-named Rhys Norrington – Davies didn’t recover from a hefty challenge with Flan. Their next came barely five minutes into the second period, just after Gooch had seen a low shot saved, when they brought on Wilbraham, drawing comments of “he’s a big bugger, mind” from the football purists in the seats. He was obviously on to add some power to the visiting front line, and he did exactly that, although they still didn’t cause us much trouble in the box. Rochdale moved their whole side a few yards up the pitch and made a lot more of the game, but still without looking very dangerous, while we were content to let them try to play football and deal with whatever came our way.
Just before the hour, McLaughlin had to make what was I think his first save, standing strong to palm down a shot from distance.
There were plenty of opportunities down our left, but Hume seemed to have lost his desire to get crosses in, turning the ball back to Flanagan most of the time. When he did go for it, playing a one-two with Gooch, he looked to have been tripped as he sped towards the return ball in the box, but the ref was having none of it. With the game having taken on the form of a pre-season friendly where nobody wants to get hurt, they made things interesting by taking off Done (must have been done in) and replacing him with McLaughlin, presumably to confuse us with names. It didn’t work, although the new bloke was wearing number 2 and took up position against Hume. Maguire, who’d been involved in a couple of heavy challenges, was replaced by Semanyo with twenty to go, the home debutant taking up a sort of inside left position and Gooch moving to the right. He showed some nice touches and produced a slaloming run through the visiting defence – there’s definitely a decent footballer in there, and he’s quite a big lad, not afraid of a tackle.
With no need to work hard for the win, the game had gone a bit flat (he said, using understatement as it’s meant to be used) the chance of Gooch’s hat-trick was looking unlikely, so Watmore replaced him for a quarter of an hour. He too produced an impressive run past a handful of defenders, but the visiting defence stood firm. There were a couple of routine saves by Rochdale’s keeper, then with ten to go McLaughlin (our McLaughlin) got caught off his line when they got into our box, but their man (Henderson?) somehow lobbed it off target. Oh dear.
Down in the other half, Semanyo turned well to set Watmore away, and Dunc’s ball to Wyke was laid out to O’Nien, who smashed it towards the goal – but the keeper got a hand, or hands, to it at the expense of a corner. Watmore struggled to take it as the wind kept blowing the ball away, but he eventually managed, only for it to be cleared. Lafferty got his customary run-out at the expense of Wyke, three added minutes were eaten up by us passing it across the middle and back, and the whistle went.
OK, you could grumble that we should have doubled our score and given our goal-difference a boost, but 3-0 is a good score, and the second half was – well, the job was done in the first, so no need to bust a gut, or a leg, in the second, with a tough one coming up on Saturday. Rochdale were never going to cause us any real problems, so we concentrated on keeping a clean sheet – which we did. Let’s be positive and celebrate a solid victory, and although it’s a shame we couldn’t have banged in a few more goals, I’m still very happy with the result.
Man of the Match? Had he lasted the full ninety minutes, it would undoubtedly have been Maguire based on his first-half showing, which included a hand in all three goals. However, I’ll give it to his partner in crime on the right, O’Nien, whose energy lasted right to the final whistle.
PS the ref wasn’t rubbish. Probably ‘cos he had a proper ref’s haircut.