Sunderland drew again – what happened far too often last season happened again against Rotherham, but in a fairly mad game that saw McNulty score probably the fastest goal at the Sol (please correct me if I’m wrong), McGeady fail from the spot, and us concede thanks to some weak refereeing. 1-1, here we go again…
As social media provided evidence of the impending takeover with screenshots of the Companies House website displaying FPP of Sunderland as a new company, we charged our glasses before the game and prayed for a tomorrow as bright as the twinkle in Prince Phillip’s eye on the eve of the queen’s official birthday. As it was an evening kick off, interest in the Bishop bus was a tad low, but we still had to eject a couple of folks who’d assumed they were “on” even though they’d not expressed an interest, and after one had had his foot trapped in the bus door as he embarked. The bus knew. It just knew.
Without time to enjoy our usual pre-match time in the town, we tried a bottle of Maxim at the Fans’ Museum, where the table football featured Sunderland and some team in black and white. Suffice to say the 3-0 was an easy victory, with Titus Bramble scoring the third with an own goal of classic proportions to add to goals from Defoe and Kenwyne Jones. It’s easy when the barcodes are trying to score an OG, but there you go.
Change the team or keep it the same? Personally, I’d have kept it the same as Accrington and “rested” players against Bolton’s under 19s at the weekend, but Jack Ross decided differently. We discussed any likely changes as we passed the north stand/Dingly Dell and watched the police drug dogs sniffing wildly as about 10 of the visiting fans, who, wide eyed and legless, tried to object to having their substances identified.
McLaughlin Ozturk WillisHume
Gooch O’Nien McGeady
Personally, I’d don’t like one up front, as it immediately hands the opposition defence a free man. What do I know, as the only thing that happened immediately after the visitors had kicked off north was Ozturk launching a free-kick over the Rotherham defence for McNulty to control, take wide to the right, leaving their keeper for dead, and firing the ball into the empty net. 30 seconds? That’ll do nicely. Talk about a visiting side being caught before they’d woken up. Go on, I know you want to…and nearly got so much better when we kept on the front foot and pushed the Millers back. We could have been forgiven at this stage for expecting a cricket score – or, more realistically, four or five- as the visitors struggled to get their game in order.
O’Nien was trying his best to show that his best position is behind the attack, however many attackers we choose to have and buzzed into the danger area but saw his cross hit a defender, and then was first to McGeady’s pass but got underneath the ball and his effort was way over the top. Still canny stuff, though.
McGeady fired in his first curly sifter of the evening after leaving half of their defence for dead, only for the Rotherham keeper to pull off a worldy of a save, somehow tipping the ball past his left hand post when the top corner seemed a definite destination, and leaving those of us who’d chosen to celebrate wondering how it hadn’t gone in. We didn’t do owt with the corner – McGeady taking the responsibility in the absence of Leadbitter, relegated to the bench. After about 25 minutes, Rotherham came forward and O’Nien controlled a cross with his chest in our box, prompting the first of a million “handball” shouts from the visiting fans. It was nowhere near a penalty, and the next shout, when their 14 knocked it past Ozturk then jumped on his back, was embarrassing.
O’Nien, perhaps because he has enough energy to illuminate a small town, was causing all sorts of problems as he buzzed about behind McNulty- if you’re going to try one up front, then please do it with Luke as the main support – and he was involved in setting Gooch, who’d been doing well down the right, into the corner of their box on the other side, and – even from my seat in the north west corner – the challenge that took Lynden’s legs away looked a most obvious penalty . I know that McGeady is the main man from the spot, but Gooch has taken them before, and as was the aggrieved party, I’d have thought that he’d get the chance to convert it. Not that I was complaining when Geads set the ball up, but what followed was the weakest penalty on target at the SoL since Jeff Whitley’s gentle chip into the grateful arms of the Palace keeper all those years ago. To be honest, if the keeper had dived the wrong way, he’d still have had time to wipe the mud from his knees and walk back across his line to drop gently on the ball as if falling onto the couch after a decent night out. As it was, he dived the right way and didn’t have to worry about the furniture analogy, gratefully pulling the ball into his midriff (which is what goalies call their stomachs) and almost certainly having a little chuckle to himself.
That was just before the half hour, and a couple of minutes later, as the Millers upped their game buoyed by the penalty miss, Dobson was booked for a clumsy tackle as they moved through the middle. Big Jon got up well to collect a header that was heading just under the bar, a comfortable by necessary save, then the ref, who’d sort of been OK, started going a bit daft. First, he awarded a free against McLaughlin 2 when he was very obviously brought down by their left winger having both arms around our man out wide on halfway, then a repeat of the Dobson tumble brought a yellow. We’d lost our way a bit (quite a lot, actually, as the Yorkies forced us back), and were looking for the tea and comfort of the half-time break to gather our senses and be told who should be where. A Rotherham corner hit McGeouch, but their attacker could only head wide, much to our relief, but just when it looked like we were losing out, McGeady showed trickery that would have had Messi purring (had he been a cat) to hit another right-footed curler than, once again, failed to find the top corner by a foot or so.
Two added minutes were announced, but thanks to the ref’s literal interpretation of the new rule which states that the game has to stop if somebody looks a bit hurt, it went on for quite a bit longer than that. O’Nien looked like he might get in, but Rotherham’s big lads at the back got in the way and the chance never materialised. To be perfectly fair, after the way we’d been forced back in the last fifteen minutes, we were a tad relieved to go in level – but we could have been four goals to the good had the penalty been taken well, and Aiden’s other two chances been a few inches away from where they ended up.
No changes for the second half, after Nick Pickering had drawn number 23 as the winner of a grand (at least the other Paul Dobson didn’t win this on), although we had been discussing replacing McLaughlin2 with O’Nien, as Rotherham’s left wing was proving too fast for our right back as another booking would be unfortunate, and bringing on Maguire to play either alongside or just behind McNulty.
It got a bit tasty early in the half, with O’Nien getting three elbows in tow challenges that the ref thought fair, but we didn’t, then five minutes in the ref stopped play as Rotherham saw a deflected shot leave McLaughlin wrong-footed and end up in the net – as Willis had been fouled, apparently. Well, he was lying on the ground, and he’d stopped play several times already for visiting players to have a lie down. I’m not sure about this new rule about injuries, as it had to be applied too many times in this game.
Not that I’m saying that all of the injuries weren’t genuine. Just most of them. On the hour, McNulty, who’d been looking sharp but who had also been doing a fair amount of hamstring stretching since the restart, was replaced by Wyke. That change gave our back four somebody to aim at with long balls, and they duly responded by aiming clearances at Chas’s head. O’Nien, chasing back to defend, took another bang to the head and spent a fair while on the floor being stuck back together. At thjis rate, we thought, he’d end the night with a head like Tyson Fury – without the beard, of course, and with a Michael McIntyre wig – but he went off and re-entered the fray with a new shirt. No number, as John Cooke had forgotten his marker pen, and it was more defensive work for Luke as Rotherham didn’t allow us the time to impose ourselves on the midfield. Barring a couple of nice passing movements involving Dobson and McGeough, it was largely chasing about and relying on the defence to get in the way of things – and decent save off Big Jon’s shins as we had to defend. A ball up to Wyke on our left ended with Charlie putting it out for a throw ten yards from the North Stand. The ref allowed Rotherham to steal 25 yards – I know I’m very biased, but this is absolutely accurate within a foot or so – for the throw in, got it up and across their left via a shout for an offence, and Hastie once again had too much pace for McLaughlin 2 and fired across McLaughlin1 for the leveller. It was too far away for me to see into much details, but others have questioned our keeper’s positioning for that. Still, on the balance of play, it was deserved, if not acceptable.
Well there was still 25 minutes to go, and surely we could pull ourselves together and build a move or two that would win us the game. We tried, but failed to get through the visiting defence, and one of McLaughlin2’s contributions was to engineer a one-two that saw him get the bye-line and put in a cross that was blocked. Thankfully, O’Nien covered as he chased back into position. To be rewarded with a switch to right-back as Maguire came on for Conor with 20 to go. Magic in his boots? Let’s hope so. McGeady, was booked for (presumably) gobbing off at the linesman after a decision deep in our half went against him, and we wondered if his time was running out in this game – he’d done some wonderful things, could have scored four, but also been guilty of losing possession in dangerous positions.
After a couple of sort of promising moves broke down, then, after defending a couple of threatening situations, we added some forward thrust to our game, but despite Wyke winning his fair share of headers, none fell conveniently for us. They made their substitutions, bringing on another big lad to counter the threat of Wyke in the air, and we fetched on Grigg for Gooch. Six added minutes were announced, we overlapped down the right, O’Nien worked his way into the box, and as he ran along the goal-line, the ball cannoned of a defender for a… goal kick? What? A minute later, he was in the box again, this time in a great position to shoot, but presumably because it wasn’t sitting comfortably on his right foot, he did neither nowt or summat, and nothing happened apart from the ref’s whistle – oh, and a one-man pitch invasion from the west to the east stand, where the perpetrator was hauled to the ground as he bounded up the terraces by an agile east-stander.
1-1 and deeply disappointing performance- but, when the facts are laid out, and while Rotherham’s possession probably deserved a point, they only scored one, and that was down to an abysmally weak piece of refereeing. You can say that our manager’s personnel selection and tactics were wrong, and I’ll not disagree with that, but he didn’t make McGeady mess up the penalty, and he didn’t allow Rotherham to gain unfair advantage by taking a throw-in from the incorrect position. I’ll accept that we didn’t play well, that Rotherham played better for large parts of the game, and that we should have done better, but... ahh, bugger it. We didn’t win, we didn’t lose. Ross out, Ross in. Moan, put up with it, don't put up with it… let's see what the new people think, with all their American statistics and stuff. Not a good night at the SoL.
Man of the Match? O’Nien, who took a fearful battering as he covered almost every blade of grass – but still should have scored at the death. See you at whatever the Reebok's called these days