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Sunderland put in a similar performance to that which brought three points home from Milton Keynes on Saturday, but this time the first half dominance didn’t bring any reward and the second half falling away allowed the Brewers to nick the game’s only goal. A late, late Flanagan header looked to have rescued a point, but it was called offside by a linesman who’d been more interested with looking cool than keeping up with play all evening. I’ve seen a hatful of photos, some with Flan onside and some with him off, but none clearly show his position at the split second Gooch struck the cross. I’d say there’s more evidence for on than off, but I’m biased. Only a teeny-tiny bit, but biased all the same.

A second away trip in a matter of days didn’t deter the Red and White Army from mobilising, and the roads south from Wearside were packed with travellers. It being Burton, there was no need to stop anywhere else for tea, as firstly there aren’t that many Burton fans, and they’re not of the sort likely to cause us grief anyway, and secondly there are plenty of refreshment opportunities there. Mind, it nearly did kick off (only joking) when the pair of polis doing their pub check had a friendly chat with a couple of young Mackems (young = about eight or ten), one of whom promptly spilled his drink before knocking the polis’s helmet off the table then knocking his stool over. The tension was almost unbearable, but thankfully a trained negotiator (fatha) was on hand to diffuse things. Phew.

Back on the minibus, off to the ground, and onto the terraces – yes, real, legal standing – and the visitors made up a large proportion of the 4,239 crowd. Defending the goal immediately in front of the majority of the travellers, we lined up (in our stripes):


Winchester Doyle Flanagan Cirkin (pronounced Sirkin)

Embleton O’Nien Neil

Gooch Stewart McGeady ©

No sign of Evans, and it’s to be hoped that Saturday’s injury isn’t to be the signal of a stop-start season. On the bench were new boys Broadhead and Alves, alongside Pritchard (also relatively new), Diamond, Wright, Patterson (rumours of an imminent loan and another keeper incoming), and O’Brien.

..and we kicked off. From the off, we looked to replicate our first half showing of the weekend, with Geads and Gooch running at their fullbacks and Stewart a handful in the middle. Not a real piling in, more a thoughtful and patient probing (ooh-err missus!) and after about ten minutes it nearly paid off when the home side didn’t clear properly, and Geads, having a spell infield, picked the ball up in the centre circle and galloped unhindered toward the right side of the goal. When just about every Sunderland fan expected him to cut it onto his left to take the keeper out of the game and slot it home, he opted for a rather half-hearted chip with his right, which Garratt got a hand to and instead of the lead, all we had was a corner. Bad miss, Aiden.

Stewart was showing his mobility by popping up in wide positions with either Gooch or Geads taking his place in the middle, and we were nearly through again when he crossed for Gooch to shoot, but that effort hit a defender and went wide. Corners were coming thick and fast, and Stewart picked up the ball in an attack that followed one such dead ball and charged forward, but that keeper was in the way again. A lot of what we were creating was coming through Dan Neil, who has shown great form so far this season, and his linking with his team-mates, Embo in particular, was a delight to watch.

Geads had a chance to redeem himself when he twizzled his way past two defenders as he came in from the left, then played a one-two and shot low – but it fizzed across the face of goal and just wide.

When Burton did get forward, they found Doyle his usual composed self, and when they managed a set-piece, Stewart was back to do his defensive duties well – but a shot that was deflected wide and another that Doyle headed away were the sum total of their efforts. At the other end, Embo tried one from distance that didn’t quite dip enough, Gooch had another shot saved by that bloody goalie, while Stewart’s long leg stretched out to reach an Embo cross and almost poked the ball home – but for that goalie. With a single added minute played, we went in more than happy with the general play – apart from the finishing. With that amount of shots, we should really have been several miles back along the A38 with the three points in the bag, singing songs of victory.

But we weren’t, we were still at the Pirelli Stadium (which I never tyre of visiting –geddit?) and started the second half with the same eleven on the pitch - but this half started in a more urgent manner than the first, probably because Burton realised they had to up their tempo if they were to avoid a tonking. We needed Flan to be on his toes to get in the way of a shot after a speedy Burton attack, and our defence came under a lot more pressure than before the break. Another attack was broken up at the expense of a free kick, which evaded Doyle, Flan, and Stewart, but was headed over the bar to jeers from the opposite end of the field. Things were getting a bit tense, and the visiting fans roared the Lads on while the home fans beat their pigging drum. Why is it that the only rhythm they can manage is either dum-dum-dum or dum-de-dumdum-dum-de-dumdum dum-de-dumdum dummerdummer? Use your imagination or get some lessons from Cozy Powell at Accrington.

Sorry, back to the football. Having weathered a bit of a storm, we had recovered our composure and begun to have to bulk of possession, with Neil at the heart of most things, and built an attack with Winchester, marauding up the right, trying his luck from distance only for Garratt to save well. On 66 minutes, though, it all went wrong when we allowed Burton to get men in the box on our left, and Smith hit a beaut across Burge that curled into the far side of the net. Bugger – but we had options on the bench, and twenty-odd minutes to reverse the score-line, so five minutes or so after going behind, LJ swapped Cirkin and Embo for Broadhead and Pritchard (who looks scarily like a scale model of Jonny Williams) with Neil dropping to left back and Pritch taking up a more forward role than Embo. Broadhead’s movement was immediately apparent as he darted about just behind Stewart, but it was Burton who came close next, with Mancienne (aye, he’s still around) shooting wide.

Stewart got in a strong header, but this was knocked wide for a corner which was defended successfully, but we were at them again soon after with Garratt in the way again, this time stopping a decent low shot from Broadhead. Burton were not content with their single goal, and that man Smith smacked a shot against the post when a second looked inevitable – how it stayed out can only be explained by someone who was at that end of the ground. Back at our end, a cross from our left was cleverly nodded back across the box by Broadhead, but the home defence got to it first to clear. Gooch had gone to the left and Geads to the right, and the former saw a lot of the ball but usually had two men to contend with. Despite this inequality, he managed to dig out a few crosses, but the home defence got in the way and denied Stewart the chance to bonk a header home. When another of these was knocked away, it fell to O’9 who leaned back a touch as he hit it with his left foot, and it zipped a yard over the top. Ah, Luke, man!

Four added minutes were announced, we screamed at the Lads to get into the home side, which they did. The ninety minutes were well gone when Gooch, again surrounded by defenders on our left, managed to find room for a cross to the middle of the box, on the edge of the goal area where Flan was lurking. He out-jumped his markers and thumped his header home to spark riotous scenes in the away end – and then the lad behind me, who I was by then facing as I hugged a relative stranger, pointed and mouthed the dreaded word – “offside”. There he was, the preening linesman, pointing his flag across the pitch as we stared in disbelief. How could he have been offside? There was a man clearly closer to goal than he was, there’s even the line of the goal area to use as a point of reference – but there’s no VAR in League One, so there was nothing we or the players could do about it. We were still having a good old moan when the whistle went and we’d lost.

Lost. Why? Not turning first half dominance into goals, and generally failing to convert any of twenty shots, with their goalie, Garratt, understandably getting the Man of the Match award. He had a blinder, but a bit less showboatery from Geads with that early chance and Garratt’s confidence might have been at a lower ebb for the remainder of the game. One Burton shot on target to our seven is a bit sickening when we lost. Putting our failure to score aside, it was a decent enough performance and one of the type which will bring us three points more often than not, so there’s not too much to get despondent about – not that we weren’t despondent several times over as we moaned about that late decision and our inability to score on the night. There was plenty of time for reflection as night-time roadworks denied us the use of much of the M1 and A1(M) and we saw parts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire best reserved for when you’ve taken a wrong turning (Derbyshire) or are on the way to York races (Yorkshire).

Man of the Match? Stewart had a fine first half, at both ends of the pitch, but didn’t score, so, for dictating a lot of the play and switching effectively to left-back, I’ll give it to Dan Neil.