Sunderland, on the back of two consecutive acceptable performances, produced another one that brought a much-needed home victory to send the crowd home happy. After a first half that saw the visitors quite simply blasted out of our path, they worked out how to minimise damage and peg us back in the second period, but that’s as good as it got for them.
At last, it was Saturday, there were no more seasonal nibbles to be got rid of, and we actually knew what day of the week it was. There may not have been seasonable nibbles, but the pockets were still crammed with Jelly Babies, Chocolate Guinness Pints, and other stuff from Christmas stockings. So, we ate them, and sort of prayed for a third consecutive unchanged starting eleven. The news that Jack Rodwell had found a club when doing something other than rummaging in his golf bag came as a bit of a surprise and brought shouts of “two sides to every story” from his new gaffer at Sheff Utd. Aye, but if you don’t put yourself in the firing line the two sides are usually the same, Jack. Miracles do happen, apparently.
Anyway, there was only one change, with Flan in for the presumably injured Lynch... please be on the right, Tom.
Willis Ozturk Flanagan
O'Nien Power Dobson Hume
Maguire Wyke Goooch
..and we kicked off Roker-wards, with all of the energy and persistence that we'd been crying out for until two games ago. Flan was on the left, with Gooch in particular looking like he had a point to prove, and had a hand/foot in the move that won us the first of several corners. I don’t think Lincoln had been in our half before Maguire sidestepped a couple of defenders and left the keeper flailing, but the shot flew across goal and just wide. I don’t think they’d been in our half when Hume flew down the left and fired in a cross that had Charlie Wyke winding up to put it away until a Lincoln boot took it away and behind for a corner. Wow, this was all a bit too positive, and with only a few minutes on the clock, so we sort of settled down and drew breath – but almost entirely in their half. When we won another corner on about twenty, Maguire plonked it in, this time onto the penalty spot, and Flan was first there with a Hurley-esque header that went down and then bounced up into the net. No dodgy refereeing intervention this time, and the header opened our account for the afternoon. Boom, there you go, and it silenced the large away following - probably the biggest we've had this season.
We were still celebrating couple of minutes later when their keeper tried to play football, Maguire nicked the ball off him and dinked in a perfect cross for Gooch to head into an unguarded net. Awful play from the visitors – one for the end of season blooper video collection - but nice work by Maguire and Gooch. We were still celebrating that (or Flanagan’s, it doesn’t really matter) when McLaughlin mopped up what was probably Lincoln’s first attack and hoofed it upfield. He’s nee Jordan Pickford, like, but that hoof seemed to baffle the Imps’ defence, and they looked on haplessly and hopelessly as in flew over their heads and Gooch was onto it in a flash. A quick look up, then a carefully placed shot, and we were three up with barley half of the first half gone. At this rate, Enrico’s habitual bet on 6-1 was looking very much on the cards, but only if we gifted Lincoln a goal. Their number 28 had been quickly identified by the crowd as the man most likely to get booked, and he duly obliged when the ref had enough of is petty shirt-pulling and general naughtiness.
The rest of the half was a story of us, Maguire in particular, being in control of proceedings, and the visitors praying for half time. After a couple of added minutes, the first half was over, and we had a happy fifteen minutes dissecting that had gone on. A happy dissection over a pink slice and three jelly babies.
Whatever their manager said over their cups of tea obviously had an effect, They brought in a big centre forward, of the type that’s consistently given us problems over the years, and sorted themselves out. They formed three very strict lines across the field and pushed us back into our own half. Their change in formation and attitude should have brought a reward only a couple of minutes in to the half, but their big centre forward sub showed all the urgency and control of a baffled sheep and we cleared it. About twenty minutes into the half Maguire, who’d been running the show but was very obviously blowing hard, made way for Watmore, and he was straight into the thick of things with his trademark running at the defence.
However, it was the visitors who made the next telling contribution. Having persisted with their concentration on our weak links, they pushed down our left and pressured Hume, who lost the ball on the box, appealing in vain for a free-kick. From there it was a simple case of a shot that was half blocked and a tap in with McLaughlin unable to intervene. Sloppy, Denver, and weak, but it did serve as a bit of a wake-up and had the pessimists amongst us (and let’s be fair, there are a lot after what we’ve been through in the last few seasons) worrying about being pegged back. Dobson, as seems to be his style, grew more into the game and allowed Power the freedom to move upfield more. He also chased back well to help out Hume, which was nice of him. Taking advantage of the freedom, Max moved to the edge of the box and fired a shot off the top of the bar when a fourth was no more than we deserved.
Lincoln seemed resigned to their fate as we settled down and simply played the rest of the game out – and don’t forget this is the same Lincoln that whupped Ipswich very recently. O’Nien got forward and knocked a header a foot or so wide, we kept the game in north half of the pitch, and with the fourth official winding up the board to announce three added minutes, Gooch left the field to a good round of applause and Leadbitter came on. He was very obviously there to make absolutely certain that we didn’t concede another, but his first touch was a shot that zipped along the turf and flew a couple of yards wide. Then it was all over, with Paint Your Wagon booming out from the speakers, and not a moany face in sight - apart from the North Stand Upper section, of course.
Happy days? Well, the first thing a football club can do, and probably the least complicated, when things are going a bit wrong, is to win games. Two wins and a draw from our last three matches, with a formation that the players appear to have bought in to, has made pleasant watching, and all we can hope for and expect is a repeat of the application and energy next Saturday.
Man of the Match? Maguire had a great hour, Wyke was effective, and Gooch scored twice, but I think I’ll give it to our George for motoring about to great effect for the full ninety-odd minutes.