With Charlie Wyke’s weekend achievements still fresh in our minds, we took on Plymouth at the SoL (in a slightly earlier than usual kick-off, so they could get back in time for work tomorrow) and, despite just edging possession and a hatful of corners, lost by the odd goal in three. A disappointing night on a pretty dodgy pitch - for both sides – which didn’t allow for much flowing football.
While the bulk of SAFC chat since Saturday has quite rightly been about Charlie’s treble and the confidence booster that is for both team and individual, there’s been a fair bit about the appointment of a Chief Operating Officer. Steve Davison is a Sunderland fan, and with his responsibilities being everything on the non-football side of things he should have a good idea of what we should have been doing in that area over the last few years. Rolling Stones, anybody? The appointment looks like another piece in the jigsaw that is the new-look SAFC structure that should provide the framework for progression under the new regime – over to you, EFL, please get this bloody takeover ratified ASAP.
Wyke, the man of the moment, will surely have been the first name on Lee Johnson’s teamsheet, and I wasn’t expecting many, if any, changes from the weekend’s starting XI – unless we considered playing only players over a certain height because of the amount of water on the field, thanks to the arrival of Storm Christoph and the associated incessant rain. All of which prompted a pitch inspection – and drew some unbelievable comments on social media, complaining that the under-soil heating should have dealt with it. What would it do? Boil the water off? Sauna of Light(© G. Mooney 2021)?
Anyway, Lee made a shed load of changes, with new fella Winchester among those coming in.
Sanderson Power Wright© Willis McFadzean
Winchester Scowen O’Brien
Diamond Wyke McGeady
…and a bench of Matthews, Power, Maguire, O’Nien, Embleton, Leadbitter, and Younger
A rest for Power and Leadbitter, which might prove to be a sensible option, and to be perfectly honest, and with not knowing that much about Winchester other than it having an impressive cathedral, I was a bit unsure of who would be playing where. Mebbe Diamond would start deeper with O’Brien up front-ish, or vice versa. Diamond right wing-back? Nah, that was a Parky thing, not a Johnson thing. Apparently it was windy as well as wet, just to make Plymouth feel welcome after that long journey. The pre-match line-up graphic had Diamond wide right and McGeady wide left, with O’Brien up front, which sort of made sense, and that’s basically how we started. While none of the visiting players were familiar, they did have Kelland Watts on loan from mags at number 2, so there was someone for me to give grief to - as shouting at the telly counts as giving grief these days.
We lined up defending the North Stand, as usual, and Plymouth kicked off to the sound of the water getting into the electrics of the commentary gubbins and knocking up the commentary, and we went down our right before conceding a throw near the corner flag. McGeady made his way down the left before cutting inside and eventually curling one beyond the far post on two minutes. The ball was holding up, as you’d expect with all that water about, so letting it bounce or waiting for it to roll to feet were dangerous options. We won a free for a careless (or otherwise) elbow on Wyke out on the left 35 yards out, which McGeady took – straight into the keeper’s waiting arms at the back post. A bit of a waste, and McFadzean had to use his speed to break up the attack that followed before Burge was down smartly to his left to stop a low shot from distance which skidded along the turf. When Diamond chased a ball down the right, it decided that it would skid away from him rather than hold up, and the attack ended there. With ten gone, they came down their right and patiently worked it into the box and then patiently set up a shot that Burge couldn’t do anything about. Their second shot of the game, and we were behind without having got into the opposition’s penalty area or settled into a pattern of play.
With the visitors looking more comfortable with the conditions than us so far, O’Brien nearly chased onto a long one into their box, then we made some good progress down the left and Wyke was blatantly blocked in the box but the ref decided a corner would do. Foul or obstruction, certainly, but certainly not a corner on our left – which was cleared. We got another soon after, when McGeady’s cross from the line was blocked. This one was lifted in at the second time of asking after the initial cross dropped short, then O’Brien nearly did a Wyke with a clever near-post flick from Diamond’s low cross from the right – but the keeper was alive to it. A decent bit of pressure won us another corner, on the right, and one went deep and the header from beyond the back post bounced down and up into the keeper’s hands. That’s more like it, Lads. On 23 minutes, O’Brien moved forward and found McGeady unmarked in the box, but the keeper did his job very well and the shot was deflected wide. Close, but no cigar.
Sanderson got telt off by the ref after smacking into an opponent challenging for a high ball on halfway, and the free was headed partially clear by the same player, with Winchester earing a booking for arriving a little late to the challenge. A bit harsh, I thought, but we won a free of our own after some canny defending kept our left side secure – but the game was being frequently broken up by the ref’s whistle. Not that he was always in the wrong, but the conditions were adding a touch of clumsiness to many challenges, giving a bit of a Sunday morning feel to proceedings as players ran into each other, spray spun up off the ball, and we didn’t have enough players with the nous to overcome that clagginess.
A McGeady cross was headed away on 33 as we had another (honest, another) little spell of possession, but it ended with another opponent in a puddle on halfway and another free kick to the Pilgrims. After we dragged a shot cum cross across the face of the goal on 35, Willis went off and Power came on, with Sanderson moving to the middle. Not good news from an injury point of view – I’d not seen anything happen to Willis, but something must have flared up. O’Brien latched onto a ball over the top, but was dispossessed as he tried to jink into the box, but we came forward again, with Diamond winning a corner on the right. McGeady’s kick came straight back to him and he got the chance to try again – but Sanderson’s back post header was wide of the mark. Wyke seemed to be the subject of a fair few unfair dunshes, but there must be a League One rule that anyone who gets a hat-trick is fair game in the next match.
A nice bit of passing saw McGeady fire in a left-footed shoot that was deflected wide and the corner from the left was glanced beyond the far post by the head of Wyke. As two added minutes were announced, a hopeful ball over the left saw McGeady caught offside and another attack faltered. As did the stream (not the one down the side of the pitch) and the old blue buffering circle appeared for a brief while. When the whistle went for the break, I was more than a bit disappointed that we were still trailing, as we’d had three times as many shots as them, and had tried eight corners to the visitors’ none. Possession had been probably slightly in our favour, but in midfield Scowen likes to run with the ball a lot, and knock it past his opponents to do that, but in doing so seems to invite folks to nick it off him – which they did a number of times. It’s always disappointing to concede, but when the goal comes as the result of the only really incisive attack of the half, and their keeper has been called into action a lot more, it’s doubly so – even if none of his saves would have brought an “ooh” from the crowd. The halftime stats also claimed that there had only been nine fouls – I reckon the stat man must have nipped to the netty for ten minutes in the middle of the half.
Still, a whole second half to get this sorted - and with the DJ playing Aint No Stopping Us Now, the anthem of our 1992 FA Cup run, we should have had the crowd rocking the place. Nodding my head along in my front room just isn’t the same. The subs having all warmed up and gone through their required motions, they jogged off and the main combatants took to the field with O’Brien setting things in motion with a pass back to Scowen, who played it to the left. It didn’t take long for the first foul, giving us a free towards the right of the field thirty yards out, but that was headed away. We, in turn, gave away a free just in our own half when O’Brien pushed his opponent, but Wincheseter came off worse and their man earned a chat with the ref for an “after the offence” tackle. Things took longer to sort out than a VAR decision on a foggy day, but eventually we got going again with a hopeful punt toward the Roker End that Burge fielded. Power’s long one down the right won us a throw, which went to Diamond and he played it inside before we had to win it back and get down the left. Clever turning by Geads allowed McFadzean into the box on the left, and his cross was met in the middle by the head of O’Brien and we were level. Nice play, Lads. Our best move of the evening, and one that was deserving of a goal. Seven minutes in, plenty of time for more of the same.
That put an extra spring (splash) in our steps, and we had a little spell of passing it about just to make sure the opposition couldn’t get straight back into it, but O’Brien went a bit daft and had a shot well after he’d been caught offside. A pretty stupid booking, Aiden, and things soon got worse, with a free from our right coming in and going for a throw on the other side, which they worked into the box and beat Burge at his near post with a rising shot. Never a good one for a keeper to concede, and Burge will be disappointed with that. As they say in Plymouth – well bugger I down dead.
We attacked from the restart, O’Brien doing well to keep it in play from the by-line and McGeady wining a throw high up the pitch, which was quickly followed by another in the same place in our next foray forward. One of their lads sat down injured - he’ll catch his death sitting on that wet grass – giving Lee the chance to dispense drinks, and presumably tactical instructions. Reeves came on for Lewis (presumably the injured party) and we went straight back into the offensive (play, not behaviour) drawing a headed clearance and winning us another throw on the left. By this time, 65 or so minutes, the pitch was cutting up pretty badly, particularly in the centre of the southern half –mind, the west side wasn’t looking that clever either.
During one of the buffering breaks on 71 minutes, Embleton and Maguire replaced McFadzean and McGeady, meaning that we basically went three at the back and bugger the consequences. Maguire, as you’d expect, took charge of things, directing play and taking the frees and throws. A corner on the right was won by Diamond, and when it came in, their keeper punched it and they won a free when our challenge way out the back was deemed over-enthusiastic. Pfft. The stats flashed up that we’d had four shots on target to Plymouth’s three – which made them, statistically, more effective. And in reality, of course, the same was true. Diamond tried one from distance which the keeper made a real show of getting at the second attempt, but in reality he was probably just trying to use up a few seconds. On 77, Leadbitter replaced Winchester and sat in his usual position to allow the others to move forward. Five minutes later, their keeper was booked for wasting a few seconds too many, and when he did eventually get it up the field, we held off their man near the corner flag to win a goal kick. By this time, Leadbitter had realised that he didn’t need to sit as deep, as the opposition weren’t that far up the field, so he moved to the halfway line to try and dictate play. O’Brien did well to control a cross-field ball, but when he gave it to Embleton, Elliott let it bounce off him for a throw. Disappointing end to a promising bit of play, and with only three minutes left a lapse we could ill afford, and we changed again to two at the back as Power moved forward. As it was, Plymouth won a corner as six minutes of added time were announced and Sanderson slid in to block a cross. Six minutes? That’s what all those subs do for the game. O’Brien got on the last pass of a move down the right, and his cut-back found Diamond, but the ball was just behind young Jack and so his shot found only the Black Cats Bar. Burge took our next free, nearly halfway up the pitch, but that ended with a foul by Wright, barging into a defender in their box.
Their keeper must have been in serious danger of a second time-wasting yellow as he took and age to do anything but managed to get the ball up the field where we gave away a free near the South West corner flag - and the whistle went.
Another disappointing game, fitting worryingly nicely into this season’s pattern of good win being followed disappointing defeat. We’d had enough chances to win it, but not worked their keeper anywhere near hard enough. It had been a difficult pitch to play on, but the same applied to the other team and we had enough to get at them - especially in terms of corners, and we really should be getting a lot more from those situations, as we seem to win far more than the opposition in almost every game we play. It’s not as if we don’t have any big lads in the team – Wyke, Willis, Wright, Sanderson, even O’Brien – to take advantage of them.
Another game without a win means that the chances of a fourth season in this division is even more likely and those chances get larger with every game we don’t win.
Man of the Match? Nobody really shone, but on the basis that he scored and looks a lot more like a footballer than he did in the first half (i.e. the bit before Christmas) of the season, I’ll give it to O’Brien.