Unless it’s a bit of kiddology, we’re likely to be short of a few players through injury this afternoon. Catts is taking a good while to recover and he’s been missed but personally I won’t particularly miss Sinclair if he can’t make it as he doesn’t achieve much despite putting plenty of effort in. Walsall are currently mid-table and have lost six games while conceding twenty-four goals so I think we should be able to stick one or two past them. This season has been good for visiting some new stadiums at any rate so it’ll be another new one for me today, though I won’t be able to repeat the experience next weekend. Portsmouth are away today and if the stars align, we could go top but let’s just wait and see. Match prediction: 2-1 to us.
At 2.40 I was in my seat shooting the breeze with a couple of lads from the London Branch and I discovered that Maguire and Sinclair were on the bench while Oviedo was starting and McGeouch was off the map. Most of the stadium was very small and our fans filled both our end and the side on our right. A chorus of ‘Garden Shed’ was therefore entirely appropriate. There were a couple of metal stanchions in front of us, one of which conveniently blocked the time on the electric scoreboard and it took a considerable amount of neck-craning from then on to find out how long had gone.
We were playing in our black away kit while Walsall were in red and I found it a bit confusing at times remembering which one was us. Anyway, we started the game in fine style and had won nine corners by the twentieth minute. We were spraying the ball around great and looking threatening down both flanks with Power being in the thick of the distribution. Walsall had barely had a sniff of our goal and when they did get near, our defence battled and won everything. So far so great but there still wasn’t a goal. Walsall then started to show some threat and McLaughlin had to punch away their first attempt before making a great diving save a few minutes later to stop their first effort on target. I’d been talking before the match about hoping Power could manage to stay on the pitch for the full game and the answer to this speculation came around the twenty-third minute when he received a straight red for what looked at first glance like a meaty tackle. When I saw it later on a replay it looked worse and I don’t think he can argue. So, yet again we were forced to face the bulk of the game, in this case 75%, with only ten men. Mind you, several Walsall players put in some strong tackles themselves before and after Power’s dismissal and received no cards which, together with a number of other decisions that referee Craig Hicks made against us, did little to endear him to our fans. Walsall were in the ascendency for the remainder of the half but we held out till the break and managed to steady the ship somewhat. There were a couple of very nervy moments, though, one when Walsall had the ball in the net and another when they seemed certain to score after Baldwin and McLaughlin had got in a horrible muddle but somewhere the resultant shot from Dobson hit the left post with the goal wide open. Anyway, in the circumstances 0-0 at the break seemed okay. The ref was booed off.
Within seven minutes of the restart we were 2-0 down and things were looking mighty bleak. The first came shortly after the kick-off when a flowing move down their right produced a low cross that was hit home by Gordon. We brought on O’Nien for Oviedo but their second came out of the blue when a cracking shot from Ginnelly from the left angle of our box smashed into the top right corner giving McLaughlin no chance. Honeyman was booked for a spot of verbal and the game was threatening to erupt. On the hour we brought on Maguire for Maja and I wasn’t sorry to see the latter go off as he didn’t seem to be putting a full shift in. Within a couple of minutes we’d pulled one back and it was McGeady who fired home from close range after a battling run down our left and along the goal-line produced a perfect pass for him from Gooch. He deserved it as he’d been buzzing around like crazy turning, dummying and firing off passes left, right and centre. Our fans were mightily roused and the impetus was very much with us but Walsall were time-wasting a lot and at one point Maguire pointedly retrieved the ball for them and plonked it down ready for a goal-kick. Gooch was booked as well and there were more feisty moments all round but unlike in recent seasons when as a rule we’d drop our heads and maybe go even further behind, this new Sunderland gave us the hope that we really could get an equalizer. A Matthews header was blocked and next thing with less than two minutes to go we were level and it was a low shot from the left of goal by Gooch that did it. Cue scenes of delirium all round – I fell over backwards and a number of our fans were on the pitch embracing our players. Unlike Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous quote it wasn’t all over as six minutes of stoppage-time were announced. It was a real ding-dong climax and a shot from Gooch right near the end went only just over the bar. Final score 2-2.
I got the train back to New Street and it was packed to the gills by lads like me wearing black padded jackets mouthing off about the game and being very cheery. As one bloke said, “Getting an equalizer in the dying minutes after being two-down almost feels like a win.” It feels especially good after playing with ten men for most of the match. As regards Power the general consensus was that - how can I say it politely? - he should go away. Here’s a special hello to four year-old Lucas, who was attending his third game today. Hope you’ll remember it, son. Anyway, see y’all at the Barnsley match on Tuesday.