Well, that was nice, wasn’t it? Our first clean sheet in donkey’s dots, and our first five goal haul at home in the dots of even more donkeys. New gaffer Parky switched things around again after Saturday’s disappointment and, even given that Tranmere looked like exactly what they are – freshly promoted through two divisions – gave us a most enjoyable evening. 5-0 can never be a disappointing scoreline, and the Lads were well worth it, with nary a shoddy performance out there tonight. Happy days.
After the nonsense at Wycombe on Saturday, many could be forgiven for questioning the appointment of Phil Parkinson, but hey – Stokoe lost his first game in charge, so let’s remember that he’d had 36 hours to work with his players before that game and little time since to impose his thoughts on the squad. Personally, the pre-match business started badly, with the “lucky” matchday socks being placed on the fireguard to dry – and they dutifully caught fire. No lucky socks for me at the match, but thankfully Parky tweaked the team to compensate. The fallout from the Ross dismissal and the weekend defeat meant that the mood was pretty low before the game started, and the lack of numbers meant no bus from Bish, so it was just myself and Rossy in the car and a single pint in the Isis with Dave, and a walk to the ground trying to estimate the crowd – and the mood. To be honest, it felt a bit flat, which was probably the result of yet another managerial change – no fault of the new incumbent, but more of the monotonous regularity and almost inevitability of yet another new man in the hottest seat on Wearside. Not as hot as my fireguard, obviously.
Never mind, things picked up in the Roker End Café with a steak and stilton pie – a beaut – which re-established my belief that good things happen on Wearside. Into the ground, with the line-up being discussed seriously, and some even claiming that 4-2-4 was disastrous (I refer my learned, or not so learned, friends to the Summerbee – Magic – Quinn- Phillips era, which worked a bloody treat). As it was, we lined up thus – with the stadium announcer doing the honours in formation rather than numerically, which made a whole load of sense:
O’Nien Lynch Willis Hume
Watmore Maguire Gooch
Nice to see our George getting a run out, and with a bench full of players who’d almost certainly be starting for most teams in our league, Tranmere kicked off North, towards their noisy fans, who kept up that noise for most of the game. I was obviously wanting Dobson to get on the scoresheet so that I could claim the free shirt printing, but George had a bit of a slow start as we worked ourselves into the game. He didn’t take long to warm up, though, and fired in a decent effort that clipped a defender and went for a corner. He was at it again soon after, helping Hume and O’Nien as our fullback pairing get forward, and there wasn’t going to be much sitting defensively from those two. Away we went down the right and almost immediately caused the visitors problems, but when they cleared, Maguire drifted left and put in a decent cross that Grigg met well on the volley, but it hit the keeper’s right-hand post and bounced away. Close, very close, and it got the home fans going with only three minutes gone. Maguire looked like he fancied this one, and he chased an opponent into conceding possession to Gooch, who found Power via a nice hold-up by Grigg, but a toe-end got in the way of the shot and all we got was corner. Dobson was booked, rather harshly and definitely over enthusiastically on nine minutes, as he looked to get the ball first as Tranmere broke from the corner – I don’t think I’ve seen a card produced as quickly without a fatality being involved.
Maguire, again out on the left, tried his luck from distance, but only succeeded in scaring someone in row 38 of the Roker End, then Dobson set Watmore, who was looking full of energy and bouncing off challenges without breaking something, away down the right. His pace took him clear of the full-back, but Maguire was a yard away from making contact with the low cross at the back post – twenty or so minutes gone, and we needed a goal to reassure the fans and to reward the players for their patient efforts. Please get one soon, Lads.
And we did, just after Burge had proved worthy of selection with a good save before Lynch hoofed away the loose ball. We went down the other end, Grigg took a pass in the inside right position and waited until Watmore had moved in front of him to pip a lovely ball into the box. Dunc fired right-footed across their keeper and just inside the far post to put a smile on every Wearside face – a lovely goal.
A couple of minutes later, Watmore raced forwards again, this time in the inside left channel, and was brought down on the edge of the box. No yellow, ref? Of course not, but Maguire set himself up and fired the free-kick past the end of the wall and inside the keeper’s left hand post. Ding dong, carry on, an absolute beauty. Enrico Milani’s usual bet of 6-1 to Sunderland looked like failing by being too conservative for once, as every attack towards the Roker looked like increasing our lead. Tranmere won a couple of corners on each wing – somehow, as their front men looked about as effective as a blindfolded Jozy Altodore, despite a lot of passing about. Most of their attacks floundered on Lynch and Willis, with the former simply playing it out to Hume, who was doing his best to be the new Micky Gray, bursting down the left at every opportunity and getting in some troublesome crosses.
For once feeling happy and comfortable with the way things were going, the crowd and the players relaxed, and the ball was stroked about patiently, which was nice. As half-time approached, Maguire clipped a lovely ball down the right for Watmore to run on to, and his low cross took out the keeper and all Gooch had to do was get there ahead of his marker, which he had the strength to do, and he arrived first to put it away right in the middle of the goal.
I could get used to this, and it almost got better when we looked to have got another when Grigg picked up a loosed ball after their defender and keeper had clattered into each other, but the ref, after initially giving the goal, decided that the linesman’s flag meant no goal. Shame, and based on the rest of his performance, probably wrong decision, as he’d consistently ignored fouls far worse and more calculated that Dobson’s and kept his card in his pocket. I probably sound a bit biased (‘cos I am), but the standard of refereeing in this division probably means that quite a few of them are taken out the back and shot after games…but not enough of them. Harsh? Yes. Fair? Also yes.
Anyway, very soon after that Watmore played in Dobson, and we discovered that young George is very much right footed, as, forced onto his left inside the box, he sliced his effort wide with his left. When you’re 3-0 up, you don’t mind too much, but another goal is always welcome. There were two minutes added, and if anything Tranmere were just hanging on for their cup of tea and a sit down - which they got.
No changes for the second half, which we started with pace, as you’d expect, although Tranmere had obviously had a rocket fired up their hint ends in an attempt to get them back into the game, and they went ahead in the corner count. Gooch did well chasing back before Hume cleared, but spent some time receiving treatment for what looked like a twanged hamstring. He was back on his feet, but only for a few minutes, as he broke down almost immediately on halfway. Twanged banjo strings do not mend that quickly, so on 53 he was off, replaced by McNulty with a more obvious two up front formation a result. Tranmere responded by winning a few more corners and giving that post the same treatment that Grigg had as Burge stretched towards the ball but could only watch as the woodwork did its job with the header.
A naughty foul, with their man as good as admitting he did it because he was caught out following a quick Sunderland free-kick, brought no yellow, which makes you wonder just what the ref had been smoking at half time. He couldn’t have booked Dobson faster, but despite several warnings, including one which looked very much like a last one to their number nine, there was no card for the Tranmere forward.
On the hour, McNulty teased his marker away from the ball and went down the left before squaring up and clipping what looked like our fourth over the keeper – but it was a foot over the far angle, and would have been a classic. Tranmere brought on their first sub, who gave a bit of pace and enthusiasm to a side who were, in all honesty, well beaten, but at least they kept having a go. Unfortunately for them, Willis and, in particular Lynch, were in no mood to give anything away, and the latter persistently ended the mopping up with a ball out to Hume. Young Denver was giving the visitors a hard time, and when he gave it to Maguire, an audacious chip over the defence let him head for the corner flag only to be fouled.
As comments about the miracle of Watmore’s continued presence on the field began to be interspersed with comments about him looing paggered, he was replaced by McLaughlin2, with O’Nien moving upfield on the right. After a couple of close things, we got our fourth when O’Nien and McNulty combined to drive into the box from the right, and what was probably a simple cutback from the line by the latter actually looked like he hit it off the post and several defensive legs before it arrived perfectly for Grigg to complete a good evening’s work with a simple tap-in. They’re all good goals, folks, and that might just be the one to set things afire. Lynch then went on a twazzling run through the visiting defence, producing three of those “stand on the ball and turn your marker while spinning like a top” things that Neymar has the world entranced with. I’m sure Benno would have loved to do that back in the day.
For Tranmere, that was game over, For Grigg, it was a deserved ovation as he left the field to give Benji Kimpioka a few minutes to run about. In truth, the youngster barely touched the ball, but there was still time for another free kick from Maguire, this time from wide on the left, and it saw O’Nien’s diving header make it five. A diving header. A clean sheet. Five goals. Luke celebrated in style, as he always does, staking his claim for Mr Enthusiasm North East 2019.
Three added minutes were announced, we played it about, Tranmere went through the motions, and it ended 5-0 for the first time since Bishop Auckland was a choirboy. Happy days, and welcome to the SoL Phil Parkinson. I fully appreciate that Tranmere are hardly Real Madrid, but if that’s the defensive stuff that we’ve been worried our new gaffer will produce, then I’ll take it every week. I know it’s early days, but he appears to have worked out who in our squad is good at doing what, and is quite happy to swap personnel to get the best out of them.
Man of the Match? Not a bad night for Dunc, still known by some as the crisp packet for the way he flies about the pitch, and another decent showing from young Denver – he might become the new Micky Gray yet, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves yet. To be honest, there was nowt to complain performance-wise from anybody tonight, although the visitors helped by being not that clever. Power played a captain’s role with patience and persistence, and Dobson grew into the game despite the albatross of that weird early booking.
Perhaps I’ll give it to Grigg for that delightful pass for our opener, and generally making the visitors’ evening so miserable – but fair play to their fans, they sounded like they’d enjoyed Wearside hospitality.
Five nowt. Five bloody nowt, get in. I’ll be bringing a pair of socks to be ceremonially set alight in the beer garden of the Prince of Wales in Shrewsbury on Saturday. Bring yer own matches.