Apparently, it was a fiery encounter. After the heartless dross of the last two seasons (and beyond) a bit of blood and guts was very welcome. In yet another game where a ref showed his ineptitude, and in this case, more concern for his bouffant than the rules of the game, we seemed, through my red and white tinted eyes, to be on the wrong end of the majority of decisions. Yet we showed guts, fight, determination, and cunning (I'm talking about you, Chris Maguire) to chisel three points out of a game that we could have had wrapped up by half time. Ah, who cares, eh? We went for three points, and that's what we got.
With games coming as thick and fast as certain players, we’ve hardly time to reflect on one before another comes along, which is probably a good thing, although we’ll no doubt say the opposite next Saturday when we get a day off thanks to international commitments. At least Oviedo won’t get injured before his country’s game, what a coincidence (#conspiracytheory). With Catts and Honeyman back in the picture, Ross had the right kind of selection headache, having various midfield permutations at his disposal. Having spent the last three days watching and re-watching Maguire’s take-down and turn to set up Sinclair’s goal, our flying Scotsman has to be one of the first names on the team-sheet. Bradford has generally been a fairly happy hunting ground for us (last visit excepted, of course), with memories of Julio’s chip and Quinny’s heroics at both ends of the field still fresh in the memory. Covering those earlier games for the Northern Echo was Frank Johnson, who sadly passed away the other day. The old-school sports journalist’s old-school sports journalist, I remember seeing him outside the main entrance to Roker, on one occasion being battered with a handbag wielded by a woman furious at his assessment of what must have been her favourite player’s performance the previous week. Ah, the good old days and the Steve Bruce related news had us wondering why we didn't send some vegetables in Noyes's direction when the time was right. Ah well, every day's a school day.
It was a different journey down for me, from a University reunion weekend on Tyneside, therefore by train and putting myself at the mercy of the industrial action on the tracks but getting the chance for refreshment in Bradford town centre. There was an incident with a bottle of water coming open in my coat pocket, resulting in a few minutes at the hand drier in The Centurion. At least there was a scary looking ladies' 40th birthday party between me and the few late-travelling Mags - apart from the ones sat directly in front of me. The busiest of the week, apparently, and it got fuller at ever stop, with the front carriage full of the singing numpties.
There was plenty of time to rendezvous for a beer with Stubber and Colin the friendly Bantam. He doesn't support Bradford, he's just a small and particularly belligerent domestic fowl. Anyway, a couple of sherbets later we bade each other farewell, and I squeezed into the hopelessly signposted and hugely under-toileted Dallas stand. How in the wide world of sport they get a safety license for that end is beyond me...
Never mind, I eventually found my seat next to our Ian, and watched as we lined up:
Matthews Baldwin Flanagan James
Maguire Majah Sinclair McGeady
See, I’ve made it 4-2-4, like the olden days, because that's how we set about the game. Kicking away from the end that housed most of our fans, we tried to get forward early but there was a lot of good work by their number 40, who kept getting in the way if things. James in particular was making their players have to run hard for everything they got, and Catts was dictating play. He had to get in the way of a couple of shots, in typical Catts fashion, which got the visiting crowd going, then Maja nearly sent us ahead when Catts shot was going wide.
It's a shame that the ref already had "Cattermol" printed in his notebook, as he was embarrassingly eager to add the final "e" as soon as possible. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to their number 12, who introduced his arm into the chest/back/shoulder/hip if a Sunderland player in ever challenge. Look, I'm appreciate a physical challenge as much as the next person, but a foul is a foul, so call it, you coiffured mannequin.
Despite a couple of close things, including Baldwin heading just wide at the back post following a corner, but when McGeady's cross was only half cleared, Catts hit a right-footer from distance, Maja lifted his right arm out of the way, and steered it into the net with his kidneys/hip/arse. Anybody bothered? Thought not, and certainly not in the Dallas stand, where we went a bit daft. As you do. Father and son moments ball awwa the place.
Flanagan and Baldwin were called into action a fair bit, but it was at the other end that things nearly, but not quite, happened. As on Tuesday, we couldn't quite crate the shooting chances, but were by far the most threatening side as the half flew through the single added minute. A fairly breathless first 45, but nowt compared with what was to come.
No changes for the second period, and it was a the home side who came out of the blocks faster, although McGeady did bring a good save from the home keeper with a well-stuck effort. Six minutes in, a long throw, which was a nuisance all afternoon, and was not their first and certainly not their last of the day was headed in twice to find O'Connor beyond the back post, and he hooked it back access and in. Bugger. Not really deserved (sorry, Col) and yet another lead we'd let slip. Even more irritatingly, it prompted their bloody drummer into life, and he/she spent the rest of the afternoon tub-tub, tubbing the damned thing even when he/she couldn't think of a rhythm.
No matter, we were straight down the other end, where we won a free on the right. Maguire slung it in, Bradford didn't clear, and Baldwin hit it sweetly as he fell, sending the ball low to the keeper's left and in. Bwahahaha! Take that, and stick it where the sun don't shine, along with yer drum. We nearly put the game out of sight, but Flanagan's header came back off the bar. Nearly, nearly.
Ah, but. Ah, but. A high ball was hoisted into our box Power, captain again, went down with a home forward, then swung a foot at his opponent. None of our players contested the red card, but very obviously told the ref the think about what their player had done in the aforementioned tussle. Off went Max, up stepped Payne, down went McLaughlin to his right and made a great save. KEEEEEPER!
25 to go. Hang on, or go for the killer? Let's see what Maguire says. In that particular situation, I haven't see a Sunderland player so suited to seeing out a game. Catts managed to hit the ref's head with the ball, and the preening official spent the next few minutes putting his gelled locks back in place. Time better spent familiarising yourself with the rules of the game, bonny lad!
Obviously, changes had to be made to reshape the team, and it was Maja who made way for McGeouch, who held the ball, passed the ball, and kept the Bantams at bay. McGeady then made way for Honeyman, who proceeded to chase everyone in a Bradford shirt like a demented Jack Russell. Then Maguire came into his own, up front. With seven on the clock, Ross shut up shop by bringing on Ozturk for Sinclair, who seems to be getting more physical by the game.
Ozturk took to his task with glee, heading anything and bashing his way through the home forwards, but Maguire then took centre stage.
He saw them coming, and like Gatesy last time we were in this league, put himself in places where the opposition couldn’t resist fouling him. He urged the crowd on. He knew just how much to irritate the opposition without getting booked. He held the ball, he gave it to Catts, who in turn urged the Lads forward. He sparked a few confrontations. Seven added minutes were announced, Honeyman was fouled, and for some reason their man shoved George back to the ground. Be off with you, you silly bugger. More added time, more opportunities for Maguire to wind things both up and down as appropriate.
Whistle, over, and our Ian opined that he'd take a win like that over the 4-0 he'd seen all those years ago. I don't quite agree, but I know where he was coming from. The ref? Look, he can't get everything right, but when a free kick is allowed to be taken a full ten yards upfield from the offence, it's just weak, very well, and it encourages further insubordination. You're the boss. Get the simple things right. Be strong. Waste of my time asking that, really, based on what's happened recently, but it's not rocket science.
Anyway, Man of the Match. Matthews got forward lots, James forced a lot of running from his opponents, both centre-backs got in the way of things, and Catts was immense despite the ridiculous booking. McLaughlin saved a pen and just looked like Scotland's number one. However, it has to be Maguire, who'll be having the names of frustrated opponents tattooed on his arm as we speak.
Now to get from the Central Station to the rendezvous without having my colours spotted. Mebbe I should have worn a Sports Direct T-shirt... on the other hand, mebbe not. Bearing in mind what happened at Old Trafford as I was writing this I'd better keep my head down.
Oh no I won't.