Sunderland travelled to Sincil Bank for new boss Lee Johnson’s first league away game, and did something that was unthinkable - deservedly winning, by four clear goals, and looking like an efficient unit, with substitutions made well and as effectively as necessary, and the Lads looking like they believed in themselves. Four nil at the team who started the day second in the league is something worthy of praise – so, well done Lads, and that includes the new gaffer. It’s amazing, if blindingly obvious, what a bit of pace coupled with a willingness to carry the ball forwards, will do.
Fourteen months after our last visit, when Jon McLaughlin’s timidity led to the Imps opening the scoring and incurring the wrath of the visiting fans to the extent that he left his towel and drinks bottle in the net at half time, there was, of course, no bait to be put up, no chatty bus ride, and no searching of Lincoln for a pub where the locals hadn’t gone back to the 70s. I wonder if, Lincoln being in Tier 2, the hard lads were roaming the streets picking fights with shoppers, steaming into Tesco and punching anyone within reach, or just knocking diners’ plates over in Spoon’s in search of a reaction. We’d had our first win under the new boss, and, although it wasn’t a brilliant performance, we saw the difference that a nippy forward makes. Johnson revealed that he’d discussed Sunderland with two groups of people who are trying to buy us, which makes us fans wonder just what is going on with the takeover – which was “days from completion” weeks ago. Haway, SAFC, what’s happening? Either it is or it isn’t as some French gadgie said : the worst thing about being lied to is knowing that you’re not worth the truth. Also, the papers have been referring to Johnson’s insistence that somebody put batteries in the clocks at the training ground as “Keanesque” – what? If it’s a clock, it should work – it’s hardly being a hard-line disciplinarian to want them to tick. The fact that they’d been indicating the same time for months smacks of the sort of amateurish attitude that the present regime promised us would be howked out of the club – something about a certain type of “party stopping here.” That’s worked well, hasn’t it?
On a sad note, I learned this morning of the passing of David Dent, secretary of the Sedgefield Branch and a familiar face at matches home and away for many years - a very sad loss to the SAFC family. Rest in peace, marra.
McLaughlin Wright Flanagan McFadzean
Leadbitter Power© Scowen
Diamond Wyke McGeady
The home side being in a pretty shoddy attempt at red and white, the rotten buggers, we sported our dark blue shirts and socks, and red shorts. The Imps decided not to feature Liam Bridcutt, even on their six-man bench, who’d been a towering presence, at 5 foot 9 inches, at the heart of the Bolton defence that frustrated us last season, although they did manage a place for guitar great Joe Walsh. While it was good to see that Diamond’s busy, pacey presence at Oldham had earned him a League start, it was perhaps a bit of a surprise to see McGeady in there again, although he’d had a decent evening at Boundary Park. Perhaps his reconciliation with the club is complete – whatever the reasons, let’s make the best use of his experience and talent that we can against the side second in our division. We named our subs as Matthews, Maguire, Grigg, Dobson, Graham, Sanderson, and Embleton., just to show that we’re still a big enough club to fill the bench.
Four at the back for the first time in a while in the league, having ditched the Parky system, we set up defending the end to the right of the camera, which is where (I think) we fans would have been rocking the foundations, and Lincoln kicked off. After a couple of minutes of seeing what was what, Wright lost possession and conceded a free on halfway, but we won the ball back and sent Wyke chasing towards the Lincoln box – but their keeper was off his marks quickly enough to get there first quite comfortably. McFadzean set McGeady down the left, with Lincoln heading away as they got there first, and then had to defend a bit more as we chased and closed them down. McFadzean weaved toward the box from the left and was fouled, with Grant stepping up to take the free – but it was a bit low and ended with McGeady winning a throw near where the play had started. A wild attempted tackle by Flan after Diamond has lost the ball let the Imps break, but they fired wide of Burge’s left hand post from just inside the box. A bit lucky there, Lads – as was Flan for escaping a yellow. When Diamond fed Power on the right, his cross was headed for a corner on that side, and Grant’s deep cross caused a bit of havoc before Power’s shot from outside the box was saved right in the middle of the goal. Lincoln cleared it, and got up into our box in no time at all, with Burge producing a decent save at his man’s feet, forcing the man wide to chase, and that man hitting the loose ball into the side netting. Another bit of a let-off, with 14 minutes gone. When Power and Diamond swapped passes on the right, young Jack burst into the box, and was pulled back before being tripped. Two decisions for the price of one, and the ref could hardly get either wrong, meaning that on the quarter hour we had a penalty. Up stepped Grant, calm as you like, with the keeper going to his right while the ball went to his left. Nice one, Grant. Could have been two down, but went one up. That’s the spirit, Lads.
A foul on halfway by Lincoln drew some unwanted comments from the home dugout, with the ref going over to tell them to shut it, as we knocked a few passes about – this time it was Wyke who was fouled, with a yellow to Lincoln for the offence on the edge of the box. Twenty yards out, in the inside-right channel, McGeady whizzed it around the wall but into the side netting with the keeper rooted to the spot. Flan was having a bit of a tussle with Hopper, and left him in a heap on halfway to show that he might be skinny, but he’s not frit of a bit of physicality. Don’t push it, Tom, he’s a fairly chunky opponent.
Diamond’s ball from the right caused all sorts of bother after Power again set him away, with Wyke nearly getting there, but when the ball came back in, Big Chas was in the right place to knock in our second. Get it you beauty. 25 minutes gone, and let’s hope that’s an example of Lee Johnson’s method of defending a one goal lead – getting a second.
Diamond was given a yellow for a foul on halfway – which seems to be the place for us to do such things, and, let’s face it, it’s far better there than near our own box, which is where we’ve been doing it of late. Another Hopper v Flan gave Lincoln a free on our left, which they whipped in to the front post – and away, with McGeady switching it to Scowen – but Diamond was offside. Shame – that was a good break. Our response to Lincoln’s attacks was looking canny, with the defenders getting it up the field quickly for the forwards to chase. Mind, we allowed them a bit of pressure after the half hour by conceding more frees than we should have been doing – or is it the Johnson way to let the other team know you’re not scared of leaving your foot in? If it is, it’s a bit dodgy given the way officials tend to watch us like hawks with whistles.
We had a nice spell of passing it about around the 37 minute mark, switching it from side to side and making Lincoln wonder where we were going next, but not quite being able to set anyone running into their box. The next attempt, though, was from the home side when they sliced a cross from their left that sort of turned into a shot – but was over the top as Danny and Frankie had to apologise for the choice language coming from the Imps’ bench. Get them banned, man, EFL! (the home bench, not Frankie and Danny)
At this point, the stream stopped in sympathy with Wyke who took a naughty whack on his ankle, with Grant taking the free forty yards out, only to see it cleared and Lincoln breaking again. As did the stream, giving us time to get bodies back into our box. . We then did the break thing ourselves, with McGeady winning a tackle then carrying it through with us outnumbering the home defence by 5 to 3, before rolling it to Diamond, who came in from the right and took his time before clipping it, left-footed, over the keeper and into the far corner for 3-0. A sparkling end to a lovely counter-attack, with a gem of finish (pun © T. O’Donnell). Wowzer – only 42 minutes gone, and that shows what a bit of positivity going forward can do. Get bodies into the box, put the ball in the box, and good things happen. Hardly rocket science, but seemingly beyond some managers.
Four added minutes were announced, despite the trainers (ask yer dad) not having been on the field and no subs having being made, and we continued to come to terms with the new-found knowledge that we could actually keep bodies at the back when passing it forward when we had players up the top end who can move quickly. All of which meant that we didn’t feel the need to hoy in a hopeful cross as soon as the opportunity arose, but could take a moment to see who was running (running!) where. Another Lincoln free was picked off Hopper’s head by Burge in the dying seconds of the half, as the stream decided to buffer every ten seconds, as if to give the home side a chance to do something sneaky while we couldn’t see, before the ref blew for brews.
Three up at half-time, and while we’d been the better side, Lincoln had passed up two chances to score before we did – but we’d been efficient when our chances had come. Unlike several other game this season, when the opposition had gone against the run of play to score – Wigan with their only shot on target, for instance – we’d been the clinical ones this time.
Perhaps with the yellow in mind, Diamond was replaced for the second half by Maguire – no carbon copy, and presumably he’d take up the same position on the right, but as he doesn’t possess the pace of young Jack, he could use his guile to replace that – and with a three goal buffer (the sort of buffer I can tolerate) he can mebbe be a bit of a tease. Like we know he can be.
Lincoln’s slightly brighter start to the second half was rewarded with their first corner of the game five min, which ended with a shot from distance that went wide, then McLaughlin was booked for a shirt pull out on the right. Daft bugger. Thankfully, Burge’s punch - when a catch looked the better option – went for another corner, on our left, which bobbled in the box before being ballooned over the top as the Imps brought Scully on for Ayome – a forward for a fullback, on 54. That might give them more options up front, but could give us more opportunities on the break. A little period of Lincoln pressure ended with a header flicked through –to Burge.
With that three goal advantage, we had no need to chase so hard up top, which meant that we could let them use up energy passing it about in their defence while we saved ourselves, and we won a free on the right. Grant ‘s kick from forty yards was collected by their keeper, and launched up our left side for a throw to us – thanks, mate. We spent a while, as the hour approached, passing it about patiently to draw the sting from Lincoln, with McGeady working a bit of space to force a decent save from their keeper at the foot of his left hand post. In the attempted clearing of the loose ball, we were awarded a free in Maguire territory, 25 plus yards out – which he put a yard over the top. Why not, at three up? I’d have had a penk.
Power closed the keeper down, forcing a loose clearance that gave us a throw on our left, and we built another period of possession. Maguire chased a loose one, crossed it, and could only watch as it eventually bounced off a Sunderland shin and into the keeper’s grateful arms. We’d weathered the understandable Lincoln pressure that followed the break, and been able to impose ourselves on the game again. Flan’s long free was taken by well by Maguire, who flashed a cross over, before Maguire jinked to the line and won a corner. Scowen had a couple of lie-downs before being replaced by our George as the corner came in, and, while it was cleared, we won it straight back to create a good chance that nobody took as the ball bobbled past four defenders who all failed to get a foot on it.
With twenty to go, Flan couldn’t resist, and knocked Hopper over again, but we defended the free well as Lincoln seemed to lose a bit of heart, and from the counter we set Maguire away. Down the right he galloped, into the box, away from his man, and put the cross low to the front post. That’s where Wyke was, and Chas hit it high into the net for our fourth with a lovely finish. Yee-hah!
Mebbe we could now concentrate on a clean sheet rather than winning? Burge did well to get down and thwart what looked like a dangerous Lincoln break with 15 to go, just to back up that thought of mine, as we started to think about how many Lads we could give some time to without knackering our formation. On came Embleton and Sanderson for McGeady and McLaughlin, which seemed eminently sensible – it’s not like we, even being Sunderland, were about to do owt daft with a 4-0 lead on 77 minutes. Leadbitter pounced on a bouncing ball after some nice passing to lob a shot goalwards, but it would have need Lee Camp to have been in goal for it to have gone in. Worth a penk, though. I’d have had one.
Despite my comments about us being comfortable, we still worked hard to deny Lincoln space and possession, exemplified by Maguire flying into a tackle up the right to prevent an attack coming from there with ten to go. Lincoln replaced Johnson with Howard as we did likewise with Grigg and Wyke, ruining any bets of a Chas treble and I cracked open a bottle of George Samuel’s Terminus IPA in premature celebration (unashamed plug for Shildon’s finest brewery). Plenty of energy was still on show from the Lads as we puffed out our chests and all wanted a piece of the action, with Embleton’s cross winning a corner, then Grigg following in on a long shot that was fumbled by the keeper - but being caught offside. A Dobson shot, after a good move down our left and a clever pass by Power, was deflected to Maguire, and his cross nearly ended in the right place as we kept running and chasing. In fact, as the five added minutes were announced, we were playing as if the game had just started. We looked as if we’d enjoy another half hour, while Lincoln looked like they’d love to join me on the 17:00 to Penzance for a Tier 1 pint – or a lie down in a dark room.
The last couple of minutes were a case of our defence playing with the pride that defenders play with when wanting to keep a clean sheet, and the rest of the side playing with the calm cockiness that comes with having built a four goal advantage away from home. Grigg wriggled into the box and fed Power, but the cross went too far. We managed to blot our copybook a tiny wee bit when somebody else got booked – sorry, but I was too busy smiling to see who it was, but then the ref blew and Lincoln said “thank goodness” as we said “gerrupppp!”
Fower nowt. Fower bloody nowt. Away from home. At the team who were second in the division. And we dominated the game. And we played nice stuff. And we deserved to win. And we did to the opposition what they’ve been doing to us since the season started. I’m not wishing to get carried away -actually, I’d love to get carried away, but I won’t- but equally I’m not wishing to pass up the chance to revel in the general happiness of a thumping win away from home. So I’ll not pass up that chance either. Where’s the bottle opener?
Man of the Match? There was a great first half from Diamond, who did exactly what we needed, and provided exactly what we’ve been missing – simple stuff like pace and willingness to run forwards with the ball, or into space. Solid at the back, and please don’t forget Burge- without that save at 0-0, things might have been different. But they probably wouldn’t, and the decision on who was our best player is made difficult for the unusual reason that they were nearly all in with a shout, rather than trying to pick the least worst. Therefore, and bearing in mind the luxury of re-watching the action, and the fact that it could have gone to any one of several players, I’ll give it to Power, who featured in most of our positive stuff.
That one was for David Dent – just imagine the scenes on the Sedgefield bus on the way back from that.