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The Lads went to one of our least favourite spots, where we've not won since .. forever... and, despite the 1-2 score line, were soundly beaten. The referee had a brilliant second half, but only in comparison with his first half showing, which was utterly abysmal. We came desperately close to grabbing an unlikely equaliser, but had Coventry had their boots on their correct feet they'd have been out of sight.

As if there weren't already enough reasons to dislike Coventry, we can now add "getting us out of bed at 5am" to the list - and that early rise was worsened by the number six failing to arrive on time, necessitating a gallop home for the car. How can the first bus of the day be late? As usual, we tried to work out who Tony would give a day off, and whether the curse of the former player could possibly strike when Ben Wilson's only SAFC appearance was 64 minutes in the far east against Virgil van Dijk's FC Groningen a decade ago - in goal. Mind, we are Sunderland.....and Callum Doyle was playing, as well as Callum McFadzean's brother.

Apologies are also due to those with a better understanding of the Laws of the Game than I. My mention that we'd "taken the bounce" at Rotherham brought a swift rebuke from Stan, who rightly corrected this error by pointing out that it was a drop ball, not a bounce. That's me telt. Anyway, two laps of the stadium - so we could be picked up by the compulsory polis motorcycle escort, 'cos we can't be trusted - and we were the first bus parked up. Straight down the salubrious industrial estate to Dhillon's brewery tap, which is five times the size it was on our last visit. With DJ Big Smithy (a midlands version of Wee Philly) belting out mainly SKA tunes, it was a different pre-match experience. Especially as it seemed as if we were the only two Sunderland fans there - but every other Sunderland fan seemed to gravitate to our table.


Hume Batth (c) Ballard Alese

Neil Michut

Roberts Amad Clarke


..with Bass, Ba, Bennette, Ekwah, Lihadji, O'Nien, and Pritchard on the bench. Looked canny to me. What do I know, eh?

Once we'd negotiated the dozen jobsworth stewards blocking the stairs and knowing less about where our seats were than my cousin in Dusseldorf, we were in. I was still congratulating myself on getting Ron past "that'' statue without incident when the teams appeared - and it was Baltic. And they had a drum…

Gelhardt set it away towards our fans, to whom it quickly became apparent that Coventry are a robust side and the ref was allowing the bumping and barging - but it took our players ten minutes to work it out. Once we'd realised that, it became apparent that we weren't big enough to indulge in it where it mattered, in central midfield. After Hume had an ambitious shot from wide palmed away, there were a series of throw-ins awarded to the home side which were clearly ours, with the linesman doing nothing but point his flag wherever the ref indicated. One such throw decision, in front of the benches, was so ridiculous that it resulted in an off-field scuffle.

A free kick by Roberts, near the goal line after Clarke was tripped, was headed onto the bar by Batth, then another run by Clarke saw him bundled over in the same place - but a free-kick was given to the home side for handball. Unbelievable.

Dan Neil was booked for a foul, but I fancy it was more to do with the time he'd spent telling the ref what he thought of the throw-ins. Two minutes after that, what looked like two fouls ended with Cov breaking with the ball and crossing low for it to be planted past Patto and in. 0-1 with 24 gone, and we'd not really troubled their keeper.

Losing the ball in midfield was a repeating nightmare, and Amad was having one of those days when he seemed to turn back into congested areas rather than run into the space that was in front of him. Frustrating? You bet. He also tried a ridiculous backheel in our own half that set Cov away, but - not for the first time - their shooting was wayward. We had lots of possession, quite a bit of which we conceded, and Clarke seemed to be our preferred "out ball" and consequently he saw a lot of it. When Roberts got away from the defence, he cut inside and was fouled - but nothing was given until the 39th minute when he repeated the trick. His free-kick was headed over the bar by Ballard, showing again that we had the aerial prowess to cause problems from dead ball situations.

With half time approaching one of theirs went down with an apparent cramp, or hamstring issue. He left the field, came back on, and fell over again but continued. We had a sniff of goal when it fell to Alese at the back post, but his volley was already heading for a throw when it nicked off a defender and won us the decision. Embarrassment saved.

As the two minutes extra were announced, Amad drove towards the corner of the box from a central position, and was hoofed three times, with only the third prompting the ref to whistle. Another scuffle followed, producing a yellow for Amad, for retaliation, and his assailant. With the big Lads filling the back of the box Roberts tried a cheeky one, low to the keeper's right. It was saved but not held, and Alese almost got to it first. Of course, the keeper feigned injury and that was the half over. He's from Stanley - must be a mag.

Muscle in midfield was our priority, we experts reckoned, but the only change for the second half was the failure to reappear of Amad's gloves. Well, he was hopefully going to be playing at the sunny end, but we thought him lucky to be still on the field after a disappointing first half.

Anyhow, we looked a bit brighter and didn't let them get to the ball first nearly as often as they had in the first half, meaning that we won an early corner on our right. One of theirs went down on the halfway line, holding up play for ages. Off he went, came straight back on, and went down again. Cov were quite happy to play on until we won the ball - which we put out of play. No need for that, Lads - be ruthless, be unpleasant. Their player didn't have a head injury or a broken leg, even if he was subbed.

Alese stayed up front for a while after that corner and we went sort of three at the back. He was a bit of a nuisance, but very obviously not a natural striker. Amad had a shot saved to win us a corner on the right, quickly followed by another - and the game's third melee. Still not much for their keeper to do other than take an age over his kicks.

Gelhardt, Clarke, and Michut made way for Ekwah, the midfield muscle we'd been lacking, Pritch, and Ba with 20 to go, and it took us a while to adjust to the change in personnel. Once we did, Pritch had plenty of the ball, mostly on the left, and tried to set something up - but to no avail. For some reason - a goal up and not looking likely to concede - a home fan ran on the pitch, dropped a blue smoke-bomb thing and was chased around by a regiment of stewards before being rugby-tackled, taken out the back, and presumably shot.

Five minutes later O'Nien replaced Neil and his first touch was a 70 yard pass over the defence that found Amad zipping into the box, but his effort was kept out. With only the one goal deficit there was at least a point out there to be had, so Mowbray went for broke and gave a ten minute chance to Bennette, with Alese going off and us reverting to a very obvious three man back line. We were having most of the ball, but the killer final ball just wasn't happening, and the home side looked like trouble every time they broke.

Bennette showed a scandalous turn of speed as he flicked it past his man and zipped down the left. The ball had looked a yard out if play, but no official saw it - if only we'd not had our shots blocked it would have been a crucial contribution. Roberts looked certain to bury it, but bodies were flung in the way and the shot didn't get through.

As normal time expired, we lost the ball in midfield, they raced forward, and Snoopy declared "here's the second". He should have kept his mouth shut, as the low cross from our left was forced in. Six added minutes were announced and we needed a cracking tackle from Batth to prevent a third. Still, we pushed for something and with four of those extras gone Bennette got it to Amad. He simply stepped inside his marker and curled a beaut into the far top corner. Too little too late, probably, and the ref had to intervene to get the keeper - already booked for timewasting - to release the ball for the restart.

Those who hadn't nicked off when Cov's second went in roared the Lads forward for an unlikely equaliser, but we simply ran out of time.

Man of the Match? Amad's goal was a thing of beauty, and had it been the only one of the game, I might have given him the nod - but there were way too many wrong decisions from him. I'll give it to Roberts, as he managed to make something of what we produced on the right and should have been awarded more free kicks than he got as the ref allowed the home defence to trip at will.