Good old Sunderland, I’m proud to sing that name, while we sing this song we’ll win the game – and we did just that, reprising our four goal salvo in Kent with another that not only got us the three points, but put a spark to Will’s fire. Despite some awful defending that gifted the visitors two goals and earned me a stern rebuke from some daft soul who’d backed us heavily to be ahead at half time and full time, we were more than worth the victory. Never has the phrase “eat, sleep, Sunderland, repeat” been more appropriate as we headed into our fourth game in not many more days. Relentless, but that’s life in League One, so we’ve got to suck it up, as they say, and get on with it.
A small but noisy band of Gills helped ramp up the atmosphere around kick-off, and Ross made a couple of changes
O’Nien Flanagan Dunne James
McGeady Honeyman Maguire
The visitors kicked off to the North, and we immediately ripped into them with Maguire continuing where he’d left off on Friday. He and McGeady had already swapped wings a couple of times in the opening minutes when we won a corner on the right. I joked with Brian in the next seat to watch Catts, as he was lurking with intent, and when the ball broke loose after we shouted for a penalty, it was Lee who was on hand to bray it into the net. The first home goal for the Teesside Terror, apparently (hang on, yes, checks memory banks, and it is), and a well taken one. Well, that’s the sort of start we’ve needed and deserved in recent weeks – but. But. But. They came straight down our end, McLaughlin didn’t pick it up swiftly enough, our defenders were nowhere, they got it back across, and their Andy Carroll lookalike, Tom Eaves, swivelled to fire home. Aww, man ha’way, we’re not even five minutes in!
Thankfully, the fans saw that equaliser as a minor setback and roared the Lads on. Maguire was on fire, holding it up and spraying it wide, or straight forward. We won another corner, this time on our left, and Leadbitter slung in a perfect ball for Flanagan to head home – nine minutes gone, we were back on the front foot (which we’d never really been off, to be honest), and Gillingham looked to be there for the pezzling. Unfortunately, Maguire’s exuberance got the better of him, and, after he’d fired narrowly wide, he tackled a defender thirty yards from the Gills’ goal, and their man’s knee went into the back of his. No intent, just unlucky, and he was down for a couple of minutes before briefly returning to the fray – we could all see he was not going to continue, with Gooch the obvious man to continue in the style Chris had established in his all-too-brief time on the field, and he was off with 15 played. Shame. We’d showed much more movement and fluidity than of late, with players moving across the pitch without being accused of not knowing what they were up to, so we need to continue in that vein.
McGeady, so often accused of being a bit lackadaisical, showed several spurts of speed that put those thoughts to bed, and while his efforts going forward didn’t get us another goal, the organisation at back around the half hour the kept the visitors at bay, that period of Gillingham pressure ending when Gooch was set away down the inside right channel, only to be pulled down. Yellow, and the visitors couldn’t argue with that one. Leadbitter slung in a deep one towards the back post from forty yards out, but the Gills cleared, as they did with a couple more of Grant’s superb deliveries – how many seasons have we missed corners that didn’t hit the first defender? Refreshing or what? O’Nien was next to fling in a free, from the right, but again it was cleared, and his forward movement was a constant feature – as was that of James on the other side.
With five to go to the break, we were more than happy to be a) ahead, and b) have scored twice in the first half – but then we conceded a corner on our right, failed in three or four attempts to clear it, and it fell to Hanlan, who drove it low to McLaughlin’s right for a second equaliser. Oh, Ha’way Lads, you had the chances to get shot – take them! Five minutes to the break, and all those nice folks who’s put a daft quid on us to be ahead at half and full time were cursing their optimism as the rest of us were cursing our defence. Had our centre halves met before? Since when were defensive headers directed downwards? Aaaaaagh!
McGeady, popping up in the inside left channel as he cut inside, was upended, leaving us with a free-kick on the edge of the box in perfect Aiden territory – so he hit it, but off the top of the wall and their keeper – probably the only one taller than Pantillimon – collected the looping deflection. Three added minutes were announced and another right-wing corner from Leadbitter caused the usual confusion, with Gooch doing well to pick an awkward ball out of the air and getting a shot away – but it wasn’t much of a problem for the keeper.
Level at the break, and that was a very frustrating score-line given the movement we’d shown.
The now usual half-time challenge saw a limping Gillingham fan take on one of our Lads who’d just run across sixteen states of the USA – no wonder he struggled to catch up, but he nearly did as the Gill just managed to bundle the ball home under pressure. In previous seasons, this would have been the highlight of the game, but not this season – thankfully.
No changes for the second half, and it was us that were under pressure first, with an uncharacteristic punch from Big Jon when a take looked the easier option. When we defended their first attack, Honeyman’s clearing header went the wrong way and set the visitors on the break again – so he chased back and took a yellow for the foul out on our left. A half –decent shot by Gillingham gave McLaughlin the opportunity to make a smart save and probably calm himself down after an uncharacteristically less-than-confident first half. He followed that with more typically confident catches of crosses, and our Bog Jon was well and truly back. Twelve minutes into the half, Grigg was clearly pulled down, but as the visiting defence had spent the previous hour or so with varying amount of his shirt in their hands, the ref could hardly be blamed for not seeing anything different – but the linesman should really have flagged.
Leadbitter, so often the instigator of attacks, carried the ball into space and had a go himself, only to see his low effort pushed away to the keeper's right, with Gooch putting the loose ball back in only for Honeyman’s effort to fly wide. Promising stuff after a lively start to the half by the visitors, obviously pumped up after their equaliser. Five minutes later, and it all turned rosy, as O’Nien, once again ferreting away down the right, swapped passes with Gooch and burrowed into the box, only to be knocked over. With the ref pointing straight to the spot, Lucky Luke celebrated as if he’d just won the World Cup a Lopes was booked for the foul. As we wondered who’d take the kick, regular taker McGeady handed the ball to Grigg and order him to catch alight. Which he did, sending the ball in the opposite direction to the keeper. Nice gesture by McGeady, and a nice penalty to follow.
McGeady’s cut-back to Honeyman deserved a better ending than their giant keeper tipping George’s effort over the bar, but that was what we had to settle for. Perhaps remembering Gillingham’s response to our first goal, Dunne got into a bit of a tangle as they immediately broke down their right, and conceded a free kick out wide and was booked for his misdemeanour,, but we cleared the danger without too much bother, setting McGeady away down the left, with his low shot being saved, as was another similar effort by him soon after. Lopes, who’d conceded the penalty, made way for Charles-Cooke. Say what you like, but he was tormenting them for long periods of the game, and he helped cue it up for Gooch, who saw his effort blocked. Our CaliforniMackem tried his trademark roll round his man into the box from the right three times in quick succession, but the visitors must have been watching videos, as they stood up to him each time.
With twenty to go, they replaced Oldaker with List, who presumably was to lean on people, but the attacks they did muster seemed to end with rather half-hearted efforts. A couple of minutes later, and O’Nien was at it again, burrowing into the box and being knocked over as he tried to retrieve the ball when it had got a bit far away from his toe. Sorry Will, this is mine, said McGeady, and stepped up to stroke the ball home for the tenth time this season. Nice penalty, and with fifteen to go, that was us home and dry. In the final ten minutes, Leadbitter signalled our intent by playing a corner short to O’Nien not long before he was replaced by McGeouch to generous and deserved applause. Soon after, Catts made way for Power, again to generous appreciation, as we decided that the visitors weren’t going to score – although they did put a couple of efforts high and wide wide when one of them should have been on target. Gillingham replaced Burke with Parrett – presumably he’d sit on the shoulder of Eaves. Sorry. Too easy to leave. Three added minutes were announced, we saw them out, in which their 15 scooped a decent chance well off target, the ref blew, and we were all happy.
A mention for the ref tonight, who allowed play to continue on several occasions when other, more excitable officials would have stopped play, and who didn’t miss much apart from the regular pulling of Grigg’s shirt.
Man of the Match? Nicely, there were a few contenders. Not our central defence, who once again had periods of shakeabilty, and weren’t on hand to hoof it clear before either of Gillingham’s goals. Both full-backs attacked when possible, with O’Nein a constant threat – he must be a bugger to play against – and James producing some fine runs in the second half. Leadbitter’s dead-ball deliveries were lovely, Cattermole’s reluctance to risk a yellow, despite a few tempting moments, added to his availability whenever needed. Grigg’s hold-up play, in the face of, or rather with his back to, some persistent defending, was admirable, and McGeady was all over the place being a general pest. Had Maguire survived for the anything like the full games, I’m sure it would have been him, but he didn’t, so I’m giving it to O’Nien for being fouled twice and showing energy above and beyond the call of duty.
Nice one, Lads. I enjoyed that. Most of it, as we’ve made up ground on those teams above us. Onwards and upwards, me Bonny Lads!