As I bade my friends goodnight yesterday evening we were all in a buoyant mood about today's game and, even taking into consideration the booze factor, we were confident of a win. This has been the longest gap between league matches in nearly all of our lives and the big win against Villa came at a perfect time to project us back into the main action. Okay, it looked like nobody had told the Villa team that they could head the ball but we showed that we certainly could and after seeing so many headers going wide in recent seasons it was great to see some going in. All of our strikers have found the net in the previous five games and Danny Graham did what he had to do in his re-debut and that was pleasing. Bristol will of course provide a tougher test than Villa did but if we continue to play in the attacking mode we've recently shown – getting to the line and putting crosses in - I feel that we'll beat them. Scowen (The Rat) has surely got to start as he can put a corner in where it counts. How many corners have we wasted in the last few years? When I was a teenager, we used to chant, “OOOOH! IT'S A CORNER” when we were awarded one as they regularly led to goals but of late I've just waited for them to hit the first defender or sail over for a throw-in. I was pleased to discover just now that dangerman Jonson Clarke-Harris, who scored twice in our last meeting, won't be upfront for them today as he thoughtfully signed for Peterborough a few weeks back. Thanks, Jonson. The absence of a crowd will equal things up more but our tails are up and I reckon we'll start with a 2-1 win.
I arrived at my friends' home and was disappointed to see we weren't starting with Scowen and he was accompanied on the bench by Wyke, Gooch, Graham and new boy Khemajli et al. So of our new signings we only had O'Brien in the starting eleven, which would make it easier for me to make out who was who. Usually I'm struggling in the first one or two gmes to identify swathes of new players. I thought Grigg had shown a marked improvement in the recent matches despite his penalty fluff last Saturday and a goal today would restore his confidence. We got the match on SAFSEE and my friend's predictions were 2-0 and 3-1 to us. I was pleased to see the ref was called Backhouse, which I felt gave us a slight advantage with its Sunderland associations.
Dobson conceded a free-kick in a dangerous spot in the first minute and when Westbrooke took it, Burge found himself all at sea before bringing down Mitchell-Lawson. The ref pointed to the spot and Leahy blasted the kick into the roof of the net to put them ahead. It was the worst possible start but we began to fight back. Little got the first yellow card of the game when he got the ball but also the man (Hume) in the eleventh minute and from the free-kick we won the first corner. It was taken low and cleared but after coming back in again Grigg had a weakish header on target. We were looking jumpy and our passing left a lot to be desired with far too many hopeful lobs. Bailey Wright was booked just before the midway point and five minutes later things were looking grim with Bristol ahead on corners and Burge looking decidely wobbly. Then a good O'Brien wriggle in their box set up Hume whose hard shot was tipped over by Jaakkola. The resultant corner sailed straight over in the finest non-Scowen traditions. Next thing O'Nien had a little run and a good shot so things were looking up a bit at last. Five minutes before the break O'Brien appealed for a penalty but Backhouse was having none of it. I just hoped we'd make it in without conceding another as that would surely be the end. We managed to do that but it had been a very uninspiring display from us with the exception of a couple of decent efforts. I hoped Parky would make a couple of changes sooner rather than later to get us firing and I really wanted to see Scowen on.
Three minutes into the second-half Hume put in a couple of good crosses and that was heartwarming but when Bristol broke, Wright's clear trip looked like he was sure to get a second yellow. For some reason Backhouse decided to let him off with a long talk and we breathed again. Next thing Maguire produced his best work of the game so far when he hit a low shot from the right of the box but Jaakkola turned it round the post. Ayunga had to replace the injured Hanlan ten minutes in and I was glad to see the latter go as he'd been in the thick of things. We continued to keep the pressure on but our final passes, especially from Grigg, were letting us down. The hour-mark came and went and Wyke was warming up. A Dobson header forced a good save out of Jaakkola and then with about twenty-five to go we brought on Graham for Grigg, which suited me. During an injury break Benno commented that we'd huffed and puffed but we lacked a bit of pace and quality. I thought it was going to be 0-2 when Ayunga went on a run down the left and lashed in a great shot just over the bar. With a quarter of an hour left we wondered who would be brought on and when with Gooch being the chief candidate. Soon both Gooch and Wyke came on for Wright and O'Brien and we went to 4-4-2. It was looking like the opening game would end in gloom but with seven minutes to go Gooch and Hume combined on the left before the ball finally fell to Maguire who smashed it home to put us level. I thought we were ahead through a great Power effort but Jaakkola had tipped it onto a post and away. There was bound to be at least four minutes of stoppage-time time due to several injuries so we could still snatch a winner. A Dobson effort was cleared off the line and then eight minutes of stoppage-time were announced! I felt we could nick it. Dobson was red-carded for a strong tackle in the ninety-sixth minute and that was the last action of the game.
I feel a bit pleased that it ended 1-1 but there's no disguising that this was a very disappointing result overall and it was two-points dropped. After they went ahead they sat back and let us come on to them. We had some decent efforts on target but really should've done a lot better with our finishing and final passes.