Sunderland took on Southend in the mood to shake off any hangover from Tuesday’s cup nonsense at Oxford, and disposed of the visitors in possibly the most one-sided 1-0 you’re likely to see. Not much for the football purists, but a clean sheet and three points were the target and that’s what we got.
Of course, the last couple of days have been spent trying to dissect the detail of the cash investment by FPP, which has apparently gone into the infrastructure rather than straight into a pot for the January sales. Complicated stuff, but any investment is good investment – those blokes have made a lot of money in business, so I suppose it’s good news that we’re now seen as worth investing in. Time will tell. Southend have had a poor time of late, losing 7-1 at home and then appointing the delightful Sol Campbell as manager. Two things spring to mind – is Sol going to pay himself minimum wage again, and will the ref have another card in his pocket as well as yellow and red, as it’s bound to be called for? In case you’re wondering, I don’t think much of Mr Campbell as a person.
Having watched, and completely failed to understand the rules of, the rugby world cup final, I was left glad that football, for all its failings, is pretty uncomplicated and only muddled by incompetent refs and cheating players.
Still no Burge or Wyke, and with Watmore having a runny nose or something similar and being on the bench, we lined up:
McLaughlin Willis Lynch
Maguire O'Nien McGeady
"Front foot" football, please, Lads, as Southend seem to like letting in goals. After an immaculately observed remembrance silence, we started proceedings towards the Roker. Maguire was fouled near the corner flag but hit the free into the face of the nearest defender, leaving him flat out and requiring the attention of several medical folks and a foot- pump to get him back on his feet. Maguire then drifted into the centre with O’Nien moving to the right as the opening minutes were spent almost exclusively in the Southend half, but it took until the ninth minute for the first meaningful effort of the day – and it was Southend, on the break, and it was woefully mis-hit at the back post A couple of minutes after that, McGeady took a pass from Hume and worked space on the edge of the box, but fired over the top His partnership with Hume was producing results, and when young Denver went on a mazy run, we were hoping for a spectacular finish but the space never materialised and the pass to McLaughlin was blasted back across the goal and wide. Oh for a toe-end to divert it home.
As the twentieth minute approached, McGeady and Hume combined again, and when the cross came in O'Nien dived in to head home. Lovely stuff, and a goal that we thought would open the floodgates. On several occasions we almost got in, usually thorough what must be Parky’s training ground speciality – the little dink into the box from the right – but Grigg, who did well to get to the ball, saw his shot blocked and it fall to Maguire, only for the shot to be sliced wide. With five to go in the half, the visitors had a great chance to level things, which would have been more than a tad undeserved based on possession, but made a real mess of the chance when the cross came in from their left. We went down the other end and came close when another cross from our left flew past the post. There were three added minutes in which we held onto the ball, then it was pie and Bovril time, and wondering whether Watmore or Kimpioka could be more effective than Grigg or Maguire, who’d both seen plenty of the ball but been unable to “click”, while McGeady was at least working well with Hume.
“Money” by Pink Floyd accompanied Danny Collins doing the draw, presumably as a nod to our new investors, and it made a nice change to see four reasonably fit people doing the half time challenge...soldiers of royal signals in their army issue trainers.
No changes for the second half, which carried on in the same style as the first, but with a bit more zip from Grigg, who chased things down well. O'Nien landed badly after a challenge near half way, winded probably, and needed a bit of treatment before getting up and re-joining the fray looking none the worse for wear. McLaughlin was pushing forward at every opportunity, and his cross found Grigg on the penalty spot, but after a great leap, the header went narrowly over the top.
Seven minutes in Hume went on a run that Messi would have been proud of, twizzling his way past several defenders to get within a few yards of goal, only for a desperate toe-end to get in the way of the shot and all we got was a corner. Soon after this, another McLaughlin run ended when he cut inside and scuffed a soft shot into the ‘keeper’s arms from the edge of the box, then it was time for a change. On came Watmore for Maguire, and his pace looked likely to create something in a game that was crying out for a second goal. McGeady worked some space for a shot, but the ‘keeper was equal to it, diving to his left to tip it round the post, then he set up Watmore, now on the right, who in turn played it to McLaughlin. O’Nien took the short pass and fired in a shot that the ‘keeper held comfortably.
Another Watmore effort was a foot too high, then McNulty came on for Grigg with fifteen to go, and those fifteen were spent tapping at rather than battering the visiting defence as the game went as flat as something I’ll not mention. They brought on a giant centre forward and we began to wonder if we’d do what we used to do a couple of years back and concede thanks to that physical presence, but he caused our central defenders no more problems than his predecessor. There were bookings for McLaughlin (suspension looms, I think), McNulty, and O’Nien. Leadbitter replaced McGeady on 85, there were four added minutes announced, much to the crowd’s disgust. The cheers when the whistle did eventually sound were as much appreciation that it was over as for the result – which is probably a bit unfair. As a mate who was late to the game due to work commitments commented "a bit like McNulty, I arrived with twenty to go, did nowt, and took three points."
Man of the Match? First half, Hume, by a mile. Elsewhere, McLaughlin was able to get forward thanks to not having much to do defensively, Willis and Lynch had a straightforward afternoon, and Power had all the time in the world to look up and try to pick his passes. Dobson grew into the game, and covered an awful lot of ground as things progressed, while Maguire and McGeady never quite got right into their stride, meaning that Grigg once again suffered from a lack of quality service. O’Nien, on the other hand got forward, tackled back, and scored. Luke it is for me. Just.