Another day, another manager, another disappointment as the Lads, under new boss Parky, succumbed to a first half strike to lose by that single goal deep inside an industrial estate in the leafy home counties.
Up in the dark, on the bus in the dark, bit of a snooze until the rugby commentary came in, and plenty of time to discuss the merits and otherwise of the new manager and more recent news that investment is, despite all claims to the contrary, imminent. Whoop whoop!
Further discussion accompanied the next rugby offering, in Thame, where we took cocktails and wasted our money on pro-Sunderland bets. Will we never learn? Not after this long we won't. It looked like there'd be plenty of time to meet folks in the beer tent at Adams Park, but the last few hundred yards took half an hour and by the time we'd squeezed the bus into the "entirely fit for purpose" coach park, it was half two and the bar was closed. think they need another access road, said Mr Obvious.
For whatever reason, we were in the side rather than the end this time, which meant walking across the end of the tunnel to find our seats – I was tempted to run in and have a look, but decided against it.
We thought Parky would stick with the same team as last time, but there were a few changes. Most significantly, there was no sign of McGeouch, and no start for McLaughlin 1, so we lined up
McLaughlin Willis Lynch Hume
Leadbitter (c) Power
Watmore O'Nien McGeady
…and attacked the goal away to our right, where the bloody drum was housed.
As we already knew, Parky favours a big bloke up front, and he's worked with Wyke at Bradford, so trying to hit him early came as no surprise. Wycombe's front man was Akinfenwa, who is as wide as Wyke is tall, and your need a full tank of petrol to drive around - and as they tried to hit him as quickly as we tried to hit Wyke, there were only flashes of passing moves in the early stages. Thankfully, there didn’t appear to be last season’s intention amongst the home side to break the legs of anyone in a Sunderland shirt, so O’Nien didn’t have to spend so much time watching where the next assault would come from. The opening ten minutes, while not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, saw us have the bulk of possession, but lacked the goal which would have given us a proper grip on the game.
As the game struggled to take a real shape, McGeady drifted past his man, as he does, and fired over the top – a taste of things to come? With him on the left and Watmore on the right, the formation was the one we’ve been getting used to, and with McGeouch not even on the bench, Leadbitter was captain and root of the midfield alongside Power. While there wasn’t the nasty edge to this season’s encounter, there was still plenty of beefy challenges flying in, and with Akinfenwa on the field, our central defence had their hands full as the barrel-chested forward clattered about. Despite our obvious shape failing to produce any fluidity, we thought we’d done the business when it looked like Wyke had put the ball in the net after Hume had burst down the left to cross, but a raised flag extinguished our excitement.
We managed to force a decent save from the home keeper, at the foot of his left-hand post, but our corner was cleared. Back down at the other end, we conceded the first of far too many unnecessary free kicks, this one in a central position 25 yards out. Despite our wall being six men wide, Jacobson fired past its end, forcing Burge to fling himself to his right and palm away the effort one-handed from just inside the post. Good save, and added to his confident handling, he gave the fans no reason to question his selection ahead of McLaughlin1.
On the half hour, it all went wrong from yet another free kick. O’Nien was unfortunate when, in the right back position, their man trod on the ball and fell into him, with ref Jimmy Somerville deciding our man was at fault. The kick was duly slung over to the back post, evading the defence, where Akinfenwa used his bulk to knock the ball down leaving Charles the fairly simple task of hitting a volley past the helpless Burge.
As we tried to get ourselves together, there could have been another couple of goals for the home side, first when a corner was only partially cleared and a shot fizzed wide, then when a clearance hit an attacker and spun over the bar. Another clearance, from Leadbitter, smacked into their number ten’s face, dislodging his headband and flying into the Sunderland fans behind the goal. Premier League players take note – he simply shook his head and retrieved his accessory before jogging back into the fray. Mind, the ref was very quick to wave on the veritable team of trainers/physios etc whenever a player didn’t get straight back to his feet after a challenge.
The final five minutes or so of the half saw us sort of get our act together, and we played our way upfield for McLaughlin to knock it down to Wyke, who in turn set Watmore away and his cut-back seemed destined for McGeady and 1-1 until a Wycombe foot put it behind for a corner. While it had been a disjointed game lacking any predictable structure, that goal would have brought us right back into it (obviously) and given our players and fans a big, big lift at a crucial time, but the next incident of note was the wrong sort. Wyke stayed down after a challenge on the edge of the home penalty area, but hobbled back into the action after treatment and seemed to have recovered, which was a relief as his presence up top looked like it might provide something for those following up, but the half ended with another Jacobson’s effort flying past Burge’s left-hand post. There might have been a minute or so added before the players jogged off to (hopefully) a bit of an ear-bashing from Parky and his crew.
Wyke didn’t re-appear after the break, and we wondered what Parky thought Grigg could bring that Wyke couldn’t in this sort of game, then the word filtered through that Big Chas had buggered his ankle so it was almost certainly an enforced change. Another injury, to someone who the new boos knows and appreciates, was not good news. Wycombe started proceedings in a novel way, passing straight back to the centre half, who simple stopped the ball and left it for the keeper to hoof upfield. Interesting. The opening period of the half was pretty much 50-50 in terms of possession, but much of it went sideways as Leadbitter and Power sought to find openings further up the field. When they did get it wide, Hume used his pace and a neat interchange with McGeady to burst down the left and curl a cross to the back of the box, where his oppo, McLaughlin, had galloped into loads of space, but put his shot wide.
Watmore had continued his first half tactic of trying to tip it past his marker and beat him for speed, and we wondered if a bit more guile from Maguire might serve us better. Obviously Parky agreed, making that switch on the hour, and it was about then than their keeper started the nonsense. He was already the subject of ridicule from the visiting fans because of the stuttering start to his run-ups, but he decided to test our counting skills by taking an age to clear the ball. Not only did he exceed the six seconds every time, he frequently went beyond ten, and carried the ball outside the box before hoofing it. As we were sat in line with the edge of the box it was easy to spot this, but the linesman didn’t think to have a look, and the ref simply ignored our chants of “8, 9, 10, HANDBALL!”
You do wonder why they bother writing some of the rules.
Anyhow, we were still struggling to get a pattern of play going, but at least Maguire was taking charge of things on the right, whipping in a couple of free kicks that were cleared. McLaughlin clashed heads coming forward, and there was a lengthy delay as most of Buckinghamshire’s medical professionals jogged onto the pitch to tend the wounded pair.
Restored to full health, or near enough, he re-joined the fray as we at last got a bit lively going forward, but still failed to give their keeper much to do other than waste time. Leadbitter made way for McNulty as we sought to put more bodies in the box, and one of his first bits of action was brushing past the keeper, who collapsed in such embarrassing fashion that Ainsworth was screaming at him to get up. Akinfenwa’s header could have put the whole sorry thing to bed, but he put it the wrong side of the post, and the announcement of six added minutes brought a roar from the visiting fans and suddenly we were on the front foot for a protracted period – OK, only a few minutes, but all things are relative. Perhaps it was the lass amongst us who set about screaming at the Lads in a voice Noddy Holder would be proud of, but they got a bit lively. O’Nien won a few headers near their box against much bigger opponents, Hume got down the left, and McGeady’s screamer from the edge of the box took the slightest of fingertips from the keeper and flew high in the air off the top of the bar. Encouraged by this, he had another penk, but this time he was way too far out and the ball ended up in the back row.
…and that was that. Positives? It was better than Lincoln and Bolton (but not much), they didn’t try to cripple us, Burge is a good keeper, and we can see what shape we’re trying to play. Trying being the operative word, as making that shape creative is what counts, and with only one effort on target in each half, it needs to become a whole lot more effective.
Negatives? There’s not much point hitting it long and high when their central defence see that sort of thing as meat and drink – oh, and as we were at the back of the stand, albeit that’s only seven rows, we couldn't even see the sky, therefore no red kites.
Man of the Match? It’s always tempting to give it to a player returning to his old club, but O’Nien, for all his energy and movement, didn’t get onto things often enough in support of Wyke then Grigg – which is not entirely his fault, but there you go. Hume got forward well several times, and McGeady showed well in patches. The central defenders generally held off Akinfenwa, the only player to wear his weight on his shirt, but lost him at the vital moment and hey – he’s 37 and as mobile as a tea-hut, so they should have done better.
As the one player who consistently got the crowd thinking positive thoughts, Burge gets it. There was that first half save, and confident handling throughout – there was even an effective punch in the second half, something Sunderland keepers have not been noted for over the years.
Now for half an hour getting out of the car park and another five hours mulling over the proceedings on the bus. Oh joy. This division was a bit of a novelty last season. Now it's an irritation, so over to you, Parky.