Sunderland eventually got their just rewards for hard work and sticking to their task when, after being largely second best in the first half, Gooch produced one of his specials. The curling left foot shot as he cut in from the right was a moment of pure class that deserved to win a game at any level and set us up to take a deep breath and see the game out. Three extremely welcome points to add to our recent canny run and make for a happy homeward journey, and a burgeoning reputation as the team to be feared. Psychology, it’s a great thing in football, and can get your points when they’re not really there.
Milton Keynes, eh? It’s rubbish, isn’t it? A very good friend and fellow supporter refuses point blank to attend our away games there, on the basis that the club should not be in the football league, and I can see his point. We visited what was left of Wimbledon FC at the national hockey stadium (Matty Piper even played) as that club breathed its last few breaths, then looked on in disbelief as the powers that be allowed the franchise system to rear its ugly head and basically buy a place in the league while other clubs struggled legally up the pyramid system. Thankfully, the original Wimbledon managed to resuscitate itself and is now back, but the abomination that is Milton Keynes Dons still holds its undeserved position as a football league club. Add to that the fact that Milton Keynes is a New Town, and thus devoid of character, with lots of right-angle junctions and square buildings, and you get somewhere that’s not high on people’s list of “must visit” places. Having said that, Rob decided to travel yesterday and stay overnight. Nee accounting for taste, I suppose, but there was a Spoons top tick off. Oh, and the football club employed Paul Ince. Boo.
Thankfully, it's also joined at the hip to Newport Pagnell, so we swooped in there and took the window seat at the Cannon. Equally thankfully, the wasp plague that had interfered with out last visit, on the way to Luton in August 2018, wasn't repeated. So, as usual, we picked the team and got it right, easy when you're winning and injuries are your only potential problem.
O'Nien Ozturk Willis Lynch Hume
Maguire Wyke Gooch
See, I've mixed them up a bit, but it was exactly the same formation as last time.
Digesting that was done in the concourse of an impressive ground which would have been more impressive had they not had to hang plastic sheets to separate the seats from the concourse. You could buy a glass bottle of beer but had to pour it into a plastic glass. Hmm. Anyhow, we lined up as listed above, in our blue kit 'cos MKD play in white and the rules say we have to have a plain white back on our shirts, and kicked off away from the half of the crowd that say "bath" and not "barth"."
Our early attempts to carry playing as we'd done in the last few games were eventually trumped by a home side who played us at our own game, harrying us out of possession and playing neat triangles that took them up into our half. Despite this, we got the first shot away when Maguire, after a good bit of hassling by Wyke, stepped to his right and fired one a foot or so over the bar from distance. Would this be a precursor of another flurry of goals? It looked possible five minutes later when a free kick found O’Nien, but his diving header went across the goal and past both Ozturk and the far post. Stick a leg out, man, Oz! Thereafter it sort of calmed down a bit, with plenty of forward movement by MKD, but little real penetration.
Once the first twenty had passed, and the home side had won a few corners, it became apparent that we weren't going to get the early flurry of goals seen in the last couple of games. It also became apparent that, for all their persistence and forward movement, MKD had less of a bite than something with no teeth. McLaughlin took a few crosses, we defended the corners and a couple of daftly-conceded free-kicks, and tried to hit the home side on the break. Their Kasumu was booked for a rather naughty dive in on Dobson, getting a yellow, and six minutes later George exacted his revenge (probably) with a clatter and got himself a matching card for the offence in the centre circle. After we conceded a few more corners, a free kick gave us the opportunity to take a deep breath and compose ourselves. Oz took a free kick into the box and found his marra Lynch, but the header lacked proper direction and the keeper didn’t have to move much to collect. Shame.
There was just the one added minute announced, and we ended the half sort of happy that we’d kept the home side at bay, while acknowledging that they probably struggle to score from open play anyway. Still, 0-0 away from home at the break isn’t a bad place to be, even if the standard of football we’d produced hadn’t approached the heady heights of the last couple of games.
No changes for the second half, but there was certainly a change in attitude. Not that we’d had a bad attitude in the first half, but we’d sort of allowed them to stop us playing. Not so in the second period, as we played them at playing us at our own game, if that makes sense. We went on the offensive from the off, with more pace than they could deal with, and were nearly rewarded when Hume’s cross fizzed into the box, but an outstretched MKD leg put it behind for a corner. Right in front of the git big massive away following, who probably outnumbered the home support, Maguire planted the ball and milked the applause. He’s clever at that sort of thing, and not bad at corners either, with this one creating a bit of havoc in the box – but not nearly as much as the one five minutes later, which saw Gooch’s shot blocked on the line and fall to Wyke, whose effort also found a home defender between the posts to hoof it clear. Damn, does this mean that it’s going to be one of those days? Let’s hope not.
With the visiting fans providing plenty of noise as the team pushed forward, Gooch was looking to burst towards the box but was tripped – Maguire territory, if a little further out than we and he would prefer. No matter, the main man placed the ball, and whipped it over the wall to draw a decent save from the keeper diving to his right. That’s the thing with Maguire, you can predict to within a foot where the free-kick is going to end up, and it’s fun watching the opposition defence trying to do the same and deal with it.
Shortly after the hour, MKD actually got a shot on target – their only one, as it turned out, but it was straight at McLaughlin, who merely had to bend down to take it into his arms, They then made a change, taking off Kasumu, who’d been a bit of a pest and certainly not Dobson’s favourite person, but like last season’s wasps in the Cannon, nothing more than a pest.
The home side conceded another free, this time too far out for even Maguire to have a pop, so he floated it to the back post where O’Nien came steaming in, only to plant his header into the outside rather than inside of the net. Bugger, a good chance passed up. They tried a shot from distance that was way off target, but looked set to break soon after – only for Oz to collect his customary booking for simply doing the sort of thing that would have us screaming for a red if the opposition did it. They used to call it a professional foul. A more cynical ref might well have produced a different coloured card, and VAR would certainly have been called into action.
Ten minutes after that, as I’d accurately predicted, we brought on Lafferty for Wyke. Chas was a bit unfortunate, as he’d done nowt wrong, but if you’re going to bring on a git big centre forward and not change your shape, which didn’t need changing, he had to be the one to be replaced. Kyle’s first touch was a swing of his left peg from the edge of the box that produced a shot just over the bar, and his presence certainly gave the hard-worked home defence something even taller than Charlie Wyke to think about. We were still roaring our appreciation of that when Gooch, for some reason, popped up on the right, and cut inside along the edge of the box. Before we’d had time to think “hang on, he usually has a shot in these situations” he curled an absolute beaut across the keeper and into the far side of the net. GOOOOOOOOOCH!
Absolute bedlam in the away end, and around the corner flag, with Maguire cannily picking up the red smokey thing and tossing it off the field, and us in the seats (dead comfy, if you ever got the chance to sit on them) belying our age (whatever your age is, you belied it) in wild celebration and the players lowping around that corner flag with some of the more energetic fans as if we’d won the World Cup. Ten minutes of normal time to go, and the stuffing had been knocked right out of the home side. A win was surely a certainty - but we had to defend a corner before threatening to double our lead, which we really should have done a couple of times. First, another Maguire free went to the back post where the ridiculously long leg of Lafferty put it back across, and with an empty net screaming “IN HERE” Oz somehow allowed his defender’s instinct to get the better of him and dived in to nut it over the bar. Oh dear, that really should have been the sealer, the killer blow, the icing on the cake, the bonus goal, the settler. Second, we got the ball in there again and had their defence all over the shop before they eventually cleared.
Four added minutes were announced, and Maguire was more than a tad unlucky to be booked for getting in the way of a home free-kick, especially when their keeper had been warned twice about time-wasting in the first half without punishment. Anyhow, they had some more corners, which, thankfully, they continued to be useless at, and the ref blew his whistle to signal another SAFC victory on the road, so stick that in your pipe/electronic smerking replacement device and smerk/vape it.
Not the prettiest game in the world, and a world away from our last two wins, but you have to win all sorts of games to get on whatever division you’re in. The home side didn’t let us play in the first half, but we responded by getting right in their faces in the second to stop them from playing, and were worthy if not spectacular winners. Am I bothered that we weren’t Brazil again? Nah, a win’s a win.
Man of the Match? Willis was superb at the back, marshalling his defence to keep an admittedly blunt MKD attack at bay, and Hume got forward well again. O’Nien was just…well, O’Nien. His enthusiasm is infectious, and probably gets the rest of the team up on their toes. Power and Dobson combined well at the heart of midfield and brought the wide men into the game – and that’s where we won it. With Wyke, then Lafferty, ever-willing targets, Maguire and Gooch were able to do the damage. Had Maguire scored the goal, he’d be my pick, but as Lynden did, with an absolute gem of a strike, he’s the man. Gooooooch!
Savour the present, life will be delicious.