If you’re bothering to read this, well done – but you’re not going to find any answers to why we’re in the run of form we find ourselves in. Somehow, Sunderland managed to fail to match the apparent skill level, organisation, and application of a team towards the arse end of the fourth division and lose by three goals to nil. Our draw on Saturday lead to a draw for the next round that is about as exciting and inspiring as the release of a Daniel O’Donnell album entitled “B-sides you might have forgotten” – Donny or Wimbledon at home, should we do the unthinkable and actually win the replay, whenever that might eventually happen, and that only added to the general mood of despondency.
I should have expected it, really – somehow, the train company managed to double-book most of the seats on a half-empty train to Doncaster, then there were the inevitable delays as the Cleethorpes train picked its way through the puddles to Scunny. Sunny Scunny, where the pubs were either closed (as in boarded up) or offering a choice of beer that can only be described as “midweek, so we’ll not bother”. After a bit of seafood-based hilarity in the Penny Bank, involving a barman who liked cockles and a barmaid who retched at the very thought of them, I gave up, checked in, and walked the mile and a bit to Glandford Park to join the ridiculously large number of Sunderland fans who were probably, like myself, attending out of a combination of habit and blind faith. I suspect, for many, that the eyesight will be getting a bit less misty after the events that unfolded.
O’Nien Lynch Willis Hume
Dobson Leadbitter Power
We set things in motion, kicking away from our fans, and while we had a fair bit of the ball in the opening exchanges, we didn’t really threaten the home goal until O’Nien galloped into the box and looked to have been fouled – but, just like at Oxford recently, the ref wasn’t interested. There followed a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, with the home side regularly threatening down our left, and almost twenty minutes had passed when McNulty’s effort landed on the roof of the Scunny net. Rather than inspire us, it prompted the home side to press forward, and they out a shot just above Burge’s left hand angle of post and bar. Some of our fans (inadvertently?) lightened the mood by singing that Scunny was “just a small town near Norwich” before we won the evening’s first corner with only a minute of the half remaining. There was still time for Scunny to clear that and break, drawing a good save from Burge, diving to his left to put it behind for a corner. O’Nien, who’d been up and down the right side all half, somehow got his head in the way of the header from the corner to nut it over the top, an extra minute was announced, then it was time for pies and grumbles.
The general consensus was that we needed to change either personnel or tactics – anything to get a shot on target, in reality. We got one change, with De Bock replacing Lynch, who’d seen a lot of the ball in his defensive capacity in the first forty-five but had looked a bit out of sorts as the half progressed. We started the second period a bit brighter (not a difficult task), and twice McGeady almost got Watmore through on goal, but it was De Bock who had to produce the first decisive bit of defending at the expense of a corner. McGeady got in a cross from the left, finding McNulty, but he could only win a corner when his shot from a narrow angle hit the keeper’s face and went behind. There was a nervy period when Willis conceded a foul and we struggled to clear that, and the subsequent corner before Dobson played Watmore into the box and it took a brave dive at his feet by their keeper to keep Dunc out. Livelier, but still an hour gone and we’d not forced a save. We managed that soon after, but it was a cock-eyed effort with McGeady robbing an opponent and putting in a cross that the keeper blasted against a team-mate’s shins and back over the top for a corner. Not really a save though, was it? We wasted a free-kick after the ref refused McGeady the play-on, then a strong run from Dobson, down the right, to win a corner.
Them it all went to buggery. O’Nien chased their man into the box, was all over him, the ref blew for the foul and waved a red card. Novak put it past Burge, Power went to right back, and we had 25 minutes to score twice and stay in the competition – a highly unlikely proposition, given our lack of threat in the previous hour and a bit. Power was a tad lucky to stay on after sliding through their player in front of the dugouts, then Maguire replaced Watmore. Power did an overlapping thing and actually put a cross on McNulty’s head, but he was under pressure and the keeper gathered comfortably – our first effort on target, I believe. The minutes ticked away, the visiting fans ignored the “watch your language” signs to make their feelings known, and we conceded a corner with two minutes to go. We didn’t clear it, and it was banged past the helpless Burge. By the time we’d started complaining about that, three added minutes were announced, and we took full advantage of them by conceding a third.
Is this the lowest point in our history? Quite possibly. Blame the manager? Sure, he picks the team and decides the tactics and formation. Blame the players? Equally possible, as they’re the ones on the field with the ball at their feet. Whatever, the mood amongst the fans is understandably pretty foul, and they can’t be expected to feel positive with the way things are going.
Man of the Match? Must I? I can’t give it to Burge, despite him not being that bad, because he let three in. I can’t give it to O’Nien, despite his being the main contender (in my eyes) for the first 65 minutes, both in defence and getting forward, because he gave away the penalty and got himself binned. I can’t give it to McGeady because none of his patiently-crafted through balls actually got to anybody’s feet at the right time or in the right place. The rest just didn’t do enough to get mentioned in a positive light, apart from Dobson. At least he kept going, and has a decent surname.
Whither now, Sunderland? Personally, there was a decent pub opposite my bed for the night, even if the beer was nowt to write home about - although it was more deserving of comment that our performance on the pitch. At least there was a bit of fun explaining to the locals what we call different types of bread up on Wearside. Yes, it really was that interesting an evening.