Just the League, then? And the Checkatrade Trophy? It’s all very well saying that we can now concentrate on those competitions, but boy was it disappointing to go out of the biggest domestic cup competition in the world. A 0-1 defeat at home to Walsall was enough to reduce our options of glory (or a few hundred grand) on a cold and damp night on Wearside, with barely a hundred visiting fans, housed in the Western bit of the South stand to enjoy their triumph.
Early indications, or perhaps thoughts, were that Ross would try three at the back again, as he had in the Checkatrade game last week, and as it turned out, perhaps he should have. With the FA Cup attracting almost the same crowd at the Checka, it’s no surprise that the atmosphere almost equalled the domino handicap (with money added) at the Sportsman, Canney Hill, in 1985, but lacked the drama. If you’re interested, I had pie, chips, and gravy from the place on the corner opposite the statue, and it sort of went downhill from there.
This was the FA Cup, for whatever’s sake, and home advantage was clearly lost in a ground with only one sixth full. Which is absolutely rotten. I don’t care if it was cold, if it was wet, or if you hadn’t dried out after the weekend – it was the FA Cup. The FA bloody Cup. Even the Walsall following of a few dozen was shamefully small for this competition. Anyway, rant over, here we go…
O’Nien Flanagan Baldwin Oviedo
I’ve laid the team out in that formation because I’m not 100% sure where anyone was supposed to be, but as we kicked South, Sinclair moved to the left, Maguire to the right, and Watmore up the middle. Honeyman was sort of central behind Watmore, with McGeouch and Power sitting central and a bit deeper. Baldwin and Flanagan were where you’d expect them to be, with Oviedo and O’Nien as full backs. O’Nien had plenty to contend with early on but dealt with it well. We manufactured an early break down the left, with Honeyman playing it in to Sinclair arriving at speed into the box, but a defender made sure a corner was all we got. There was a spell where Honeyman and Watmore’s chasing the keeper looked like it might pay dividends, but all we got was a low cross from O’Nien which found Sinclair. He held the ball up on the penalty spot, but nothing came of it. Maguire was booked for catching their man with his (what they now call) his trailing leg – what the hell is that anyway? The free-kick came into our box, but McLaughlin dealt with it. When the ball came back again, Oviedo produced some overhead acrobatics to clear from near the corner flag.
Watmore swapped with Sinclair for a while, and the change in position nearly paid off when Baldwin played the ball to Honeyman, and he fired it long to Watmore, but all we got was a corner. This was cleared, and Walsall broke down their left, and we had to thank McLaughlin for standing up as long as he did and saving with his feet as their man cut in from their left. Thank goodness for goalie’s feet, eh? There was another yellow for Watmore, as he had his foot up on the turn but did all he could to pull it back. More than a bit unfortunate, Dunc. Sinclair eventually did what he was there for when he held the ball up and laid it back to Power, who struck it a yard wide of their keeper’s right-hand post. McLaughlin produced a brilliant stop, spreading himself front of what looked like a certain goal after another Walsall break when they crossed from their left, and prompting the ref to stop the game for a player holding his head in disbelief.
There was a single added minute, and we were off to consider what Ross was going to do to liven things up and get us ahead in the game.
There were no changes for the second half, which was a bit surprising. Six minutes in, they passed the ball beneath a tumbling referee, we forced them back ten yards, then stood off Kinsella as he teed it up and struck his first goal in over three years – mind, not the most mobile brick wall could have stopped it, so no fault can be apportioned to McLaughlin.
Five minutes later, McGeouch and Sinclair (the latter to cheers, as he’d played with two left feet) were replaced by Catts and Maja. For all the criticism Maja gets for not holding the ball up, he did it a lot more effectively than Sinclair, who was both loose in his control and hesitant in getting shots away. The game continued in the same vein, though, with us trying, and failing, to build effective attacks, and eventually replacing Watmore with Mumba – with about thirteen on the clock.
We sort of tried to make a shape out of what we had, but it didn’t work, Mumba tried his best in front on O’Nien, who’d faded from his first-half steadiness – no, hang on, that’s not fair. He showed that he can manage at right back, and he didn’t concede possession nearly as much as his centre-halves. Mebbe they were stretched too much by having an attacking left back and a midfielder at right back, but for all their running forward, the final pass was poor. Far too often, our centre halves were caught out carrying the ball but failing to find a man with the pass. If you don’t get shots on target, you don’t score, simple.
They added four minutes, during which we managed to get all exciting and positive, winning a load of corners that we didn’t seem to appreciate took time. McLaughlin came up for the last couple – which we won but headed wide.
And that was it. FA Cup campaign over, and another quiz question sorted. We’ll not be playing in the FA Cup in 2019 if we do what we’re supposed to do and get promoted. Am I disappointed to out? Of course I am – what self-respecting fan wants to be out of any competition? Trying to find a positive note – at least our game at Charlton won’t need rescheduling. I’m trying to convince myself that we were trying things in the cup that we wouldn’t try in the league, but that’s just me looking for excuses – of which there are none. They weren’t that clever, but they were clever than us.
Man of the Match? Let’s keep it simple, eh? Big John Mclaughlin kept our hopes alive in the first half with some good stops, but the one when he just flung himself where he thought the shot was going – brilliant.
Overall, mind, we were bad. Seen worse, mind.