Sunderland, with Netflix on their minds and Walsall to get out of our systems, made heavy weather of beating Bristol Rovers with a stuttering performance on a cold afternoon that saw the woodwork doing overtime.
Rovers' problems have been a result of not scoring. They don't let many in either, but if you don't score, you don't win. Simple. A busload of teary-eyed Netflix veterans set off early from Bish to "avoid the Christmas shoppers" (Wally)/get to the pub sooner (the rest of us). It being bloody freezing, we forsook the delights of the town and grabbed the seats by the radiator in the shiny new Roker End Cafe to get warmed up.
Matthews Loovens Baldwin Oviedo
McGeady Maja Gooch
...and a strong bench, but no Flanagan to be seen… Ruiter, O'Nien, Maguire, Ozturk, Sinclair, Watmore, McGeouch.
A couple of potential game-changers there. Oviedo was a late replacement for James, who probably thought it too cold. He was right - it was Baltic.
We kicked off towards the Roker End, with Oviedo getting a shot away almost immediately after a McGeady run. Things were looking positive when Power found McGeady again, but his shot was deflected over and the corner cleared.
It started going a bit awry when Oviedo gave away a free kick, and Rovers somehow powered the free header wide. Haway Mather, your man! A real let-off, but only for a couple of minutes, as we failed miserably to clear, and they thumped in. Like Accrington's last week, but without the rain as an excuse. Nine minutes gone, and there followed a long period of slack passing and what looked like lack of movement.
We picked ourselves up a bit, with Maja and McGeady combining to set Oviedo away, and his low cross came back out to Power, who put it wide. Matthews then nutmegged his winger but was pulled down. On 24, we got it out left again - which seemed our best attacking option - and the cross fell to Catts at the back, but his shot went off the bar. Soon after Maja shot across the face of goal from a narrow angle on the left, then Gooch fired over the top. We had another period of struggling to clear in our box, and we looked quite pedestrian when we did dig it out. With about half the crowd heading for the warmth of the hand driers well before the two added minutes were announced, they missed our reprise of Wolves' winner on Sunday. Honeyman and Gooch combined to pick out McGeady on the left, and when his shot was deflected, Matthews was free at the back to nod home. This made the added time a lot more rousing as we piled forward and were pretty happy to be level.
We wondered if Power or Catts would be replaced n an attempt to give shape to the base of midfield, but he survived. Two Bristol corners started the second half and fire up their large support, but we soon shut them up. McGeady took a pass from Honeyman, and bided his time before playing a perfect ball to Maja coming in from the right, and you know what usually happens...bang, low across the goal and in. Get in, bonny lad! 49 minutes gone, and plenty of time to add to that -we hoped.
With Baldwin looking slow and passing poorly, we needed a vital block by Loovens to end a Rovers attack before McLaughlin had the trainer/physio on to look at his back. Honeyman took his captain role a bit far with a tackle that earned him a booking, and just after the hour, the promised weather arrived - sleet joining the bitter wind which was blowing in four different directions. We replaced Maja and McLaughlin with Maguire and Ruiter, which had us worried, then Gooch was booked immediately before being replaced by Watmore on 83.
We raised our game, and played a few useful balls forward, with Honeyman somehow maintaining his energy levels. Power hit one from distance that came off the bar and Maguire hit the rebound off the foot of the post. There were five added minutes of cold during which they broke and hit the bar when closed down by Ruiter, then McGeady shot across the goal when Watmore and Maguire were free.
2-1, thank goodness
Man of the Match? Captain George, for his boundless energy