Sunderland players made the relatively short journey down the A1 to Donny, the scene of victories in the last two seasons, while the fans, as usual, stayed at home. The team then did a typical Sunderland thing by largely dominating possession but failing to kill off lacklustre opposition, then conceding a late, late equaliser. To bring only a point away from a game against a team who posed such little threat for over 90 minutes is a very poor showing, with no advantage taken of the new five subs rule - five subs who could increased our lead, protected our lead, or, preferably, both. A 1-1 draw away from home might look OK on paper, but believe me it isn’t OK in reality.
Of course, the air this past week has been thick with takeover talk, wishing we were planning our trip to South Yorkshire, and wondering of Frank Lampard (snr) would turn up in the car park this time – I wonder what pearls of scouting wisdom he took back to wherever he’s doing a bit of work for last December? As none of our players have popped up in the Prem since then, I can only assume he either a) got lost, or b) is secretly a massive Lads fan.
I’d go for b), obviously. Frank, your secret’s out.
Meanwhile, Flanagan and McLaughlin have returned unscathed from International duty with Norn Irn, and while neither can be said to be our favourite two defenders, last weekend’s showing at the back, and the on-going niggling injury carried by Willis, mean that we need all the defensive bodies we can muster. I even managed a brief discussion on the subject with a fellow fan – shouted across the street at about the time we should have been boarding the bus/train for the match – for the first time on a matchday since dee knaas when. To say I’m missing my matchday marras is a bit of an understatement, and I’d like to think they’re missing me as well, but as we’ve not seen each other in eight months, it’s hardly surprising. Donny town centre is a cracking place for pre-match socialising, being handy for the station, and it was one that I’d have loved to have taken place…but that’s for another day, I suppose.
McLaughlin Wright© Flanagan
O’Nien Scowen Leadbitter Hume
Much as expected, and I expect Maguire to do a lot of drifting across behind Wyke and swapping sides with Gooch as and when the opportunity arises….or they forget where they’re supposed to be, and unless Gooch goes to wingback and Parky makes the decision to shift O9’s enthusiasm into a more dangerous are for the opposition. With five of the seven subs allowed to make an appearance today (aren’t they?), Parky’s gonna need a bigger spreadsheet to work out who’s gone and who’s on. Burge, Power, Sanderson, Embleton, Graham, Diamond, and Grigg – well, at least two of them have attacking intentions and a hint of pace, even if Dan Neil’s nowhere to be seen. I’ll let you guess which two they are. On for Donny was Reece James - no, not the England one, the one we used to have when we were all left-backs – and the emergency goalie who’d played against us for Gillingham.
Wearing our all dark blue kit, we set up defending the end I think we’d have been bouncing around in, and Maguire kicked off back to McLaughlin who hoofed it to Wyke on the right and a Donny throw. It only took a minute to concede our customary cheap free kick, this one on halfway when Gooch fouled. A couple of minutes later, a partial clearance came back up and we conceded a corner on our right – and headed from the front post by Leadbitter. Maguire seemed to be dropping a bit deeper to help Scowen with the fetching and carrying, which was a nice idea. He took a return from O9, but his cross was cut out and Donny chased the ball into our box before Flan got it away. Hume got his first run down the wing on 8 minutes, taking a nice one from Gooch, but he cut it back too far and it went to the edge of the box and a defender - he was probably trying to vary it from straight into the middle, but it’s always best to aim for a Sunderland shirt. Gooch came to the right and between him, O9, and Leadbitter we managed to lose control and concede a free just in the Donny half.
Despite the very obvious energy of Gooch and Scowen, we still took an age to get the ball forward in what was a fairly cautious opening fifteen minutes from both sides, which meant that the home side could get numbers behind the ball to deny us space when the ball did get into the last 30 yards. It seems that the only time we move the ball with any urgency is out wide, but even then it slows down if we don’t hit it into the box early and cut it back. We won a free out on the right when Wyke was fouled, and it was Scowen who curled it in – with O9 heading it well over the top and getting nutted in the back of his head as he did so. A few minutes lie down was required, and probably a whiff of the old smelling salts.
A Donny attack was broken up and Hume was set away, with Wyke beaten to the cross at the expense of a throw on our left, but Denver couldn’t beat the first man with his cross when he received the ball. He was in action again soon after, but Maguire’s longish cross was over the line before he could get to it as we started to settle into a bit of rhythm. McLaughlin skinned his man and crossed from the edge of the box, and when it was knocked out Maguire hit it with his left, but straight at the keeper. Decent effort, really, and the first of the game with 23 minutes on the clock. McL and O9 combined to get the ball into the box but Luke was crowded out, and with a bit of persistence we got it back into the danger area, the move ending with another Maguire shot into the keeper – a decent little spell of football, the best from either side.
Gooch was first to a good cross from O9 on the half hour, and looked to have his legs taken away inside , the box, but the ref wasn’t interested - and replays showed his disinterest was unjustified. A definite penalty, and a VAR red card, and to be honest, if Power’s was a penalty last weekend – and it was – that one was absolutely nailed on. As Gooch continued to fume, a corner from Scowen on the right was headed behind for another on the left, but the ref spotted a foul that time – by us.
Maguire carried the ball up from deep after a wayward Donny header, switching the ball to the lefty, but Wyke was beaten to the cross by a defender he mustn’t have seen. A low Gooch cross from the left was then poked off Wyke’s toe at the front post for another corner, but this one went right over and out for a goal kick. At least now we were pushing them back rather than allowing them to get behind the ball. An early cross from O9 won another corner after a patent build-up actually paid off, but the ensuing bout of head tennis was eventually won by Donny, although we kept the pressure up and it looked like it was only a matter of time before the home defence cracked. While we weren’t exactly peppering their keeper with shots, we were firing in a variety of crosses and winning corners. Gooch retrieved one that went a bit long, and was upended on the left edge of the box, with a yellow going to his assailant on 38. The big Lads piled into the box, but Scowen tried to go it alone, firing it just under the bar, where it was taken by the keeper.
Wyke chased a ball into the left of the box and fired it in from a narrow angle, but the keeper was down at the foot of the post to save. When Gooch couldn’t work a position for a shot, he laid it back to Leadbitter to see where he could put it – but I doubt if he expected Grant to do what he did, smashing an absolute buck snorter from 25 yards which was still rising as it zipped past the keeper ‘s outstretched right hand and into the net. What a goal, sparking an expression of disbelief from O9 and a just reward for a period of good football, and with only a couple of minutes to go to the break. A single added minute was added, which was strange as O9 had been down for at least that length of time. Never mind, we were still ahead when the whistle went, which is unlike us.
A very satisfactory half overall, despite taking what seemed like an age to get positive, but we eventually did as Donny kept trying to get numbers behind the ball, and while we might only have had to defend our lead for a couple of minutes, we did it successfully against a home side who’d only managed one header wide and one shot a very long way wide.
Two very different half time chats, I’d imagine, with a fair amount of shouting in the home changing room as their side were rightly berated for letting us get on top, and plenty of positivity in ours for sticking to our task and increasing the pace with which we got it forward. More of the same, please Lads.
No changes for either side, leaving the possibility of ten substitutions in the second half, and it was Donny who made the first move, getting a shot away that was blocked as they sought to be more positive. Yet again, we gave away a free, this one out on our left, but we won it back easily to get to forward to Wyke just over halfway – with Charlie getting the ball stuck under his feet and eventually being dispossessed. It took about four minutes for us to settle into possession after a bit of Donny enthusiasm, but we did and started passing it about patiently – but not too patiently. Their 9 took a ball on halfway but also managed to put his elbow in Flan’s face, giving us a free which the home side cleared, with us having to hoof it out of our own box then they built an attack down our right. They followed this with another attack, ending when Flan headed it clear only for a shot to be fired back in, thankfully the wrong side of Matthews’s left hand post on 53. Careful Lads, don’t let them back into this.
Leadbitter set Hume away, and the cross was good, only just knocked away by the home defence before it went back in – but again, Wyke was a bit isolated and well outnumbered. Another Donny attack saw a shot flash low past Matthews’s right hand post – off target, but still a sign that there was life in them yet. We moved it from right to left, and again Hume’s ball in was almost but not quite on a plate for Charlie, and when it came back down our end, we needed a decent save from Matthews when their man couldn’t quite decide how he was going to strike the ball. Gooch had an effort blocked, then Flan headed just wide, although I’ve no idea what he was doing up there in the first place. This half was shaping up to be much more of a football contest, with both sides trying to go forward, and on 62 Donny made the first change, replacing Lokilo with Brighton loanee Richards.
Leadbiiter charged down at attempted pass and broke down the left, but the eventual ball to the right was a couple of yards ahead of O9, then their keeper was collecting another cross. Hume was away again, and when he found Gooch, the shot wasn’t too much trouble to the keeper. Good try, though, after a sharp move. He was then lucky to keep both legs when their 5 did his best to remove them both, earning himself a yellow in the process. Scowen took the central free 25 yards out, playing it square and achieving nothing, but we quickly regained possession. As the last 20 minutes approached, the thoughts of fresh legs must have being crossing Parky’s mind, as Maguire found Gooch, who took it wide and hit a left footer which was blocked. Flan went down holding his back on halfway with the ball elsewhere, and on came the physio. Hume was fouled right by the corner flag as he held the ball up, and Scowen was on the dead ball again. He put it way too deep for O9 to recover it, and the situation was mopped up by the home defence. Not for long, as we kept getting the ball forward and not allowing them to stick to their plan of playing it out from the back. Decent work by their Smith saw us hacking it clear, and we did well to get hold of the ball, calm things down, and get our shape back. McL cut out a forward pass and charged upfield before playing to Maguire on the right, but his cross was headed clear as the pace of the game picked up. O9 did well to get in the way of a low cross into our box, putting it over the top for a corner, which took an age to be taken, and which we cleared.
Twelve minutes to go, and there’d still only been the one change between the two sides, which was a bit weird. Wright headed clear after Wyke chased back to hinder the cross from our right, but we gave it to them and they gave it back to us as holding the ball seemed to become a lost art for both teams. With nine to go, Maguire made way for Embleton, which seemed like the right thing to do, and they brought on Coppinger – who must be about forty by now – for James. Embleton quickly found his feet, and blazed a shot a yard or so wide of the far post as we eyed the final five minutes. He was there again, feeding Gooch who put it into the middle, but Wyke was slow to react and Donny got there first. Haway, man Chas – I know there’s no team-mates close to you, but just win the ball and see what happens, eh? Please Lads, if you’re not going to get a second, don’t give them anything.
Nice defending by Flan in the 89th minute broke up a Donny attack in our box, and then Wright had to be sharp when they got it back as three added minutes were announced. As Gooch left the field, replaced by Power, we rearranged our bodies to see us over the finishing line, then there was a nervy moment when Scowen dunshed their lad in the box, but it was shoulder to shoulder and the ref agreed. Phew….but only for a few seconds, as they came into our box on our left, McLaughiln got turned, Wright couldn’t deal with the low cross, and it somehow squirmed over the line. Oh, buggerbuggerbugger. So Sunderland. So what if we got it down the other end and almost created something - almost isnt; good enough....and that was it. Game over.
To concede so late is always bad, but it’s particularly galling when we’d looked likely to win for such a large part of the game. It’s frustrating in the extreme to have come away with just a point, but if you don’t kill teams off they’re likely to come back and bite your arse, and so Darren Moore continues to be our nemesis, just as he was as a player with West Brom and Huddersfield.
Look, I’m not saying we were brilliant and we were robbed, because we were OK at best while being better than the surprisingly negative opposition, but we had enough of the ball in dangerous areas to have been out of sight well before the end. If we’re not going to be entertaining, at least be efficient. What’s the point of having five subs to choose from if we’re only going to use one?
Man of the Match? It’s not going to be a defender, as, while the keeper did nothing wrong, those in front managed to get in a tangle when it counted and let a goal in. I can’t really fault Hume, as he put the crosses in, only for Wyke, while admittedly isolated for long periods, to be mostly rooted to the spit waiting for something to happen instead of attacking the ball rather than opponents. Gooch and Maguire need to take some responsibility for not being closer, although Lynden didn’t have a bad game overall. Scowen needed more help in being the fetcher and carrier in central midfield, so I’m basically left with giving it to Leadbitter simply because he was OK and scored a cracker.
Got to improve – what will Monsieur Louis-Dreyfus be thinking?