Sunderland took on fellow promotion hopefuls Ipswich in a game whose importance to us increased after last week’s result, and sort of survived a first half in which we weren't as sharp as the visitors to emerge victorious in a classic game of two halves. After being largely just second best for a good few of the first 45, we emerged for the second with increased vim, vigour, verve, and va va voom to turn the tables and grab a vital victory.
I expect that Parky learned a fair bit during the game at Fratton, but it could have been so different had that shot in the first half been a couple of inches to my left and thus avoided contact with the post. Still, as it was February, our gaffer’s Manager of the Month award was already secure, and well-deserved, especially when it’s borne in mind where he had taken us from form-wise. I also learned a bit – during my pre-match chat with an old lad in the Rose in June, he revealed that as a teenager, he was one of a pair sent down from Scotland for a trial at Sunderland. He didn’t get taken on, while his mate did. Born in Coatbridge a few months after Billy Hughes’s big bro John (bringing up the intriguing possibility that they kicked about together as bairns), Danny Hegan set something of a record after he signed in 1961 in that it took him over 12 years to make his debut. After we released him in 1963, he snuck in nearly 300 games for Ipswich, Wolves, and West Brom before we took him back in 1973. Only eight games later, his rather hectic social life got in the way of his football career, and he was off to Highlands Park in South Africa, a game less spell at Partick Thistle, and a few years at Coleshill Town in division one of the Midlands Combination before fetching up running a football school at Butlin’s. Every day’s a school day, eh?
Of course, Lynch’s enforced absence following his enforced collision and subsequent splattering at Fratton meant that we needed another centre half, prompting the question “where’s Oz?” He seems to have vanished without trace, as there’s been no injury news, so it would appear that Flan’s the Man. Up front, should Wyke’s shoulder remain problematical, Lafferty, despite a rather anonymous appearance from the bench last week, would be an obvious replacement…..or could Parky spring a surprise and bring Grigg back in from his fireside? We reckoned Scowen could well be in for our George to save the latter from another yellow, amongst other things, but with a Manager of the Month award, the academy retaining its status, FPP Ltd being wound up, and the rumour that, in the unhappy event of us not achieving promotion, the asking price for the club will half, it’s been a busy week considering not a ball has been kicked in anger.
I got my first laugh of the day when I headed for the bus at half eleven, and bumped into the mag from over the road, who asked who we were playing.
"Down at their place?"
I rest my case, m'lud.
With storm Ciara looming, we took shelter from the sunshine in the Peacock. Ham and pease pudding stotties, Double Maxim, football on the horizon, could life get any better?. We then welcomed our fans from around the world, as it’s International Fans’ Day, and lined up:
O’Nien Willis Wright Flanagan Hume
Maguire Wyke Gooch
...and Oz reappeared, on the bench, in front of a large Ipswich following, and Ipswich kicked off north, but we won possession...and then a free on the right inside 20 seconds. Ooh, ref! O'Nien's lob found Wyke, and he won a corner on the right on two minutes, but Maguire's cross went for a goal kick after flying across the box.
I was a bit surprised to see Flan on the left of the defensive three, but that's where he was, although it was on the right where we needed a good block to stop a dangerous low cross after seven minutes. Our George to thank, I think.
A minute later, Wyke was called offside after toeing in a whipped cross from our right. Five minutes after that, we needed a Wright hoof to clear after they'd charged forward and dinked it over the outrushing McLaughlin.
There was a yellow for O'Nien as he challenged for the ball on their line, chasing a hopeful pass forward. Very, very harsh, then we had to put in several last-ditch challenges in our box to keep them out. It was getting a tad spicy, with a yellow to them on halfway as the ref needed to keep his eyes peeled for naughtiness and they flashed a shot wide.
Our best spell of passing to date, on the half hour, ended with another dubious offside call.
After a flurry of baffling decisions, starting with giving possession to Ipswich after stopping play for Power's injury when we had the ball, Dobson's shot was sliced wide with five to go to the break.
There was a single added minute, in which it was more of the same.
Overall, the visitors had put together the better-looking football, but we were a couple of offside inches away from being ahead. They'd done their homework on our left side, and it had taken a good while for Hume or Gooch to get a run in. At the risk of sounding childish, I have to ask how the football league manages to find a never ending stream of officials who simply don't know the rules or, in the case of the "assistants", are afraid of flagging for screamingly obvious shirt-pulls and fouls a yard from their nose-ends? Just 'cos the ref didn't whistle doesn't mean it didn't happen. Assist him, it's your job, and Dee knaars he needs every bit of assistance he can get if the first half is owt to go by.
After a pretty boisterous international half-time challenge which involved a lot of pushing and tripping ended with a goal (of sorts) to Ireland, we lined up unchanged, and very quickly attacked down the right. A goal looked likely when it flew low across the box, but Hume' wasn't sharp enough, as he's a defender, and his effort was blocked. A decent start, though, and whatever Parky had said or done over the tea and biccies, it had worked. As a local singer-songwriter recently sang (and wrote, obviously) "there's nothing means 'wake up' like a kick in the head" (copyright Gaz Fools 2020).
Four minutes in, Gooch did brilliantly to weave in from the right, but his left-footer hit the foot of the far post and Wyke's follow-up went into the prone keeper's chest. Aagh, Chas, man, should have been a goal. We followed that with our best period of pressure so far, ending when Wyke's charge through the middle ended with a rugby tackle. Free, in perfect Maguire territory.
It hit the wall, as did his follow-up, and Hume's shot was toed away for a corner. Another soon followed, with Power's volley going over the top. After fifteen minutes of Sunderland pressure, Ipswich's attack was broken up by a tackle, with the loose ball rolling to McLaughlin, who picked it up, as he was perfectly entitled to do. Free kick, said the ref. Back pass my arse. Anyway, Ipswich messed it up, thankfully.
Some lovely play won us a couple of corners and saw us shoot against the bar and have a series of efforts blocked. Close, very close.
With twelve to go, Lafferty replaced Hume as we went for broke and doubled our options up top at the expense of the left, with Gooch dropping back, and the effect was virtually instantaneous. A bit of awkwardness from Lafferty, a nice roll back to Maguire on the edge, and a low, accurate blast to the keeper's right. Boom, there you go. Brilliant goal, and a reward for patience and increased vigour after the break.
We needed a brilliant tackle from Flan, chasing back when they broke into the box, to save the day on 89, after Gooch had been dispossessed on halfway, and four added minutes were announced.
Gooch made way for McLaughlin 2 for some reason and we withstood a bit of pressure to claim all three points, with the visitors hoofing a half decent chance way over the bar.
Great result, dug out of the depths of resilience and determination
Man of the Match? He was the hardest-working Sunderland player today, and he scored. Chris Maguire, I've a diet coke waiting for you. Well played, and well played Parky for having the guts to change the personnel and the formation and go all West and Chapman. It worked.