Donny came to Wearside and got their butts kicked, simple as that. Inaccurate going forward and defensively weak, especially in the air, they didn’t really provide any threat until we scored our fourth, when they had a little spell that brought their second penalty. Burge showed his worth with two penalty saves, and Lee Johnson was booked for protesting the first penalty – which brought back memories of Paul Stewart’s dismissal for handball at Highbury when Steve Bould had shoved him onto the ball. Overall, it was a controlled and efficient display, with McGeady’s crosses a delight and Wyke’s head writing him into the record books. For all the inefficiency of Donny, who’d been more Osmond than Rovers, you don’t win 4-1 by being moderate, and today’s was a very good performance.
Blah blah takeover, blah blah KLD, blah blah Remi Matthews, Willis, Stewart, Power, snow….I think that just about sums up the few days since the defeat at Shrewsbury. That and the surely iffy efficiency of our goalkeeping coach – one the one hand (pun intended, of course) you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s arse, while on the other hand, you should be able to instil some basics in those you coach. Give Monty a call for some assistance – he was a canny keeper in his day.
Lee Johnson made six changes from Tuesday’s line-up, with Burge’s recall coming as a big a surprise as it being a tad chilly underfoot when there’s snow on the ground. To be fair, even if a little unkind, Matthews would probably have dropped himself, in both senses. In front of Burge, Sanderson was in for Willis, also no surprise, and McLaughlin for Power – a bit of a surprise, but it’s high time we tried a defender in that position. Vokins made way for McFadzean, so it was to be hoped that Cal would up the defensive side of his game (spoiler alert - he didn’t). That’s a 75% new defence, and in midfield O’Nien was alongside Scowen and Power, presumably on the right, while McGeady would probably occupy the left. Gooch replaced O’Brien up front and Wyke kept his place.
McLaughlin Sanderson Wright McFadzean
O’Nien Power Scowen McGeady
Despite all those changes, it was still a fairly attacking line-up, and we had the potential to back it up with a bench of Matthews (not Patterson?) Leaditter, O’Brien, Diamond, Neil, Jones, and Vokins. Imagine the older fans discussing our defence – Lee, Callum, Dion, Conor, and Bailey. Whatever happened to names like Jim, Dick, Ron, Dave, and Ritchie? Round the edge of the grass, there were remnants of the snow that had presumably covered the playing surface as the camera once again revealed all those empty seats and the pre-match music boomed and echoed around them. The EFL graphics had us lining up 4-4-3, but I suppose you can count Geads as either midfield or forward depending on your outlook. Donny were expected to play just one up front, and included former Lad Reece James, a relic of the days a couple of years ago when we had loads of left backs. We defended the North Stand, as is the way this season, and must have won the toss as we kicked off with Scowen knocking it back to Power. After we tried a brief foray to the Roker End, Burge had to deal with a scuffed low shot from the edge of the box – which he did comfortably - then watch a hopeful cross float over and behind. A Donny attack saw McLaughlin drawn inside and Sanderson thus having to go wide and concede a corner, which was taken short and easily dealt with.
Geads popped up at right back after a few minutes, and hung about on that side for a while, his ball into the box winning us a corner on the left. In it came from Geads, to the near post, and there was Big Chas again with a straightforward header, hardly having to leave the ground, for 1-0 on seven minutes. Good goal, Mr Wyke – now let’s hope the Lads remain positive after scoring and inflict more damage. Which they appeared to do, pressing the visitors into their last thirty yards for the next few minutes. When Geads, who’d gone back to the left, teased his fullback and jinked to the line, his cross into the middle was again met by the head of Wyke, who leaped like a young salmon (© Frank Worthington) to plant it firmly beyond the keeper. Just what we needed to do after our recent habit of withdrawing into our shell/own penalty box after taking the lead.
A deep Geads free kick was cleared, but we nicked it back on halfway and played it around a bit before McLaughlin tried a run up the pitch and swapped passes with Gooch before the move eventually broke down and Donny attacked. They got to the edge of our area but we blocked the shot as soon as it left the boot of their striker, and the danger was averted, with the ball eventually trundling behind for a goal kick. After another period of playing the game in their half, we allowed them to get into ours, but their attempt at getting forward was a hopelessly inaccurate ball into the box with no dark-shirted player within twenty yards of where it landed. Power was playing the Leadbitter role, with O’Nien and Scowen scurrying about in front of him, and this restricted Donny to another hopeful shot from distance that Burge dropped onto before setting Wyke away, the big fella’s layoff finding Scowen running into the box, but the tackle was efficient. At the other end, on 25 minutes, the visitors should have done better with a solo run to the edge of the box, but, again, the shot was woeful and trundled wide, despite their being options that would have caused us bother. We countered this by going down the left and Gooch got to the line to hook it into the middle, but the keeper took it high up at full stretch.
We conceded our first daft free-kick on 28 (has the gaffer had a word?), out on our left, which we dealt with quite easily, and likewise the follow-up attack. Gooch played it to Geads on the left, he jinked about before cutting inside and dinking a cross into the box – and guess what? Wyke headed it in. Get in –and a pox on Sky Bet, which had gone ballistic a few minutes earlier as I was trying to put a daft quid on Big Chas to get a hat-trick. When was the last time a Sunderland player – or any player, for that matter – got three with his head? In half an hour? Who was the last Sunderland player to get two hat-tricks in a season? Charlie Wyke – record breaker.
Understandably, the visitors’ heads went down a bit, and Geads actually put in a cross that we didn’t score from before trying his luck from outside the box, only to see his right-footed effort flash a couple of yards wide. Why not, eh? If you can’t have hopeful penk at 3-0, when can you?
As the last five minutes approached, we won a free forty yards out on our left, with Gooch and Geads standing over it. The latter clipped it into the box and guess what? – Wyke didn’t put the header into the net! He was under pressure, and his marker ensured that the ball went up in the air instead, allowing them to clear. But we were back on the attack immediately, although Gooch took a knock on the edge of the box as it broke down, and took a while to get back to his feet. Our second dangerous free-kick was conceded on 42 (has the gaffer had a word?), this time on the right, but with the same outcome. It was Wyke’s turn to blooter it fifty yard from danger this time, meaning that he wasn’t on the end of the clearance – but you can’t have everything.
Gooch scampered onto Geads’s clever through ball, coming in from the right and into the middle, having time to work it onto his left peg as he went one on one with the keeper, and with “4-0” flashing before my eyes, the keeper stuck out a leg and saved. Should have been the fourth, even if it was a good save, then two added minutes were announced as Darren Moore no doubt worked himself into a frenzy for his half-time team-talk. Wyke and Gooch pegged the visitors back, chasing the keeper and defenders down to prevent them getting it anywhere near Burge. The whistle went, and the camera panned to KLD, who must have enjoyed his afternoon so far. Hope he buys us, eh?
Three up at the break, and that was no more than our display deserved. As efficient as we (Wyke) had been in front of goal, Donny had been wasteful - although, to the credit of our defence, we’d restricted them to having a pop from distance, and those pops had been pretty tame efforts that Matthews would probably have dealt with. Honest. In came a text from Brian who I sit next to, asking me to break out the Jelly Babies in celebration. Sorry, as I’m at home, it’s Liquorice Allsorts today, and they were gone by the 32nd minute, The stats said that we’d committed nine fouls, which I’d question, but, whatever the real number, the big difference was that only two were in our half, while most of Donny’s fouls were in their own half – because that’s where the majority of the game had been played. Also tellingly, we’d won 73% of headed duels, with three of them ending in goals.
Out of the goodness of our hearts, we allowed Donny a kick by letting them kick off the second half, with no changes for us and them bringing on Bostock in place of Antonio. Geads tried a shot from the right that took a deflection and thus gave us a corner on that side, which was cleared. It took over two minutes for Donny to get into our half, and that was only because we gave away a free near halfway, but it was us who threatened with the ball being scrambled away from their keeper’s left hand post when we looked likely to poke in the fourth. Geads, having had five minutes of fun on the right, came over to the left so that KLD would have a better view, and floated one just beyond the far post. We had to put in a defensive shift on 50 minutes when Donny got into our box, but a combination of flinging bodies in the way of shots and calm passing got us out of trouble before we put a shot just over.
In their next attack a shot took a deflection off Wright’s toe and fell perfectly to be put away for 3-1, although even then they nearly made a mess of it, with the shot hitting the post and going in off Burge’s back, but while I was still grumbling about that, especially it being given as “Burge OG”, we went down the other end, Geads slung in another cross from the left with the inevitable end result. 4-0, Wyke, an unchallenged header that the keeper couldn’t keep out. Whoop whoop indeed! I think that makes him the fourth Lad I’ve seen get four, alongside Gatesy, Little Stan, and SKP. Please feel free to correct me if that’s incorrect. On came Sims for Donny in place of John, and they when they got it our box I was relieved when the ref blew for a foul on O’9 – except he didn’t. Handball when he fell on it, apparently, but Burge left his leg in the way of the firmly-struck penalty and the ball shot up and over the bar. Nice one, Lee – you’re my number one number one. While we were waiting for the corner to be taken, Johnson was booked – presumably for calling the ref an idiot – but we dealt with the corner, and the one that followed.
On 66, Leadbitter replaced McLaughlin, presumably because Johnson felt he could trust Power in defence against this opposition and Conor was getting tired, and we kept up the forward play, with a cleverly worked short corner (honest) producing a run along the line and a cross that hit the foot of the far post and created a bit of a scramble. We allowed Donny up the field to shoot wide again – it’s what they do, apparently. That must have fired them up a bit, as they actually came forward a few times in the period that followed, but these forays tended to flounder on our back line. With twenty to go, they replaced Taylor with Lokilo, and Richards with Robertson to see what they could bring to the party. The game, with the visitors seemingly having thrown off whatever shackles had been holding them back, was a bit more interesting for the neutral viewer as both sides attacked, and the negatives amongst us wondered if they’d actually get a shot on target. While Donny hadn’t been much use at attacking, I’ve seen Sunderland enough times to know that relaxing was not a good idea, especially when they hit one from distance that whizzed past the foot of Burge’s left-hand post. I assume he had it covered, but it’s best not to let the other team get a shot away in the first place.
With fifteen to go, O’9 and Gooch made way for O’Brien and Diamond – I’d imagine someone with Jack’s pace is the last thing you want when you’re 4-1 down. Anyway, five minutes after that, McGeady, having had a decent run and another shot, was replaced by Jones. Job done, Aiden, and another pacey winger to run at the opposition defence. Understandably, we weren’t going all-out for a fifth to leave gaps at the back, so even when their number ten twisted into a shooting position and drew a comfortable save from Burge we kept our cool. Well, not quite, as with four to go, McFadz showed his defensive weakness by sticking out a leg to concede a penalty as obvious as the first was mystifying. Again, it was firmly hit, again Burge was equal to it - this time dropping to his left to take it in his midriff. Brilliant stuff, Lee – you’re my number one number one.
After Scowen’s firm shot had struck the bar, we had to defend a bit, with a last ditch tackle in the last minute giving Donny a corner which we dealt with, before they hoofed yet another shot off target and three added minutes were announced.
Then it was all over. Just what the doctor ordered - a well-deserved and comfortable win.
Man of the Match? Haway, you don’t score four and get to the top of the divisional scoring charts without getting my vote, but the scurrying Scowen and the graceful Geads (all those assists, man!) weren’t far behind. I’m guessing that KLD was mightily impressed and will be drawing up a new contract for Geads as I type. Fancy Parkinson thinking that we played better football without him, eh? And a word of praise for Burge – they might have been pretty rotten penalties, but you still have to keep your wits about you to stop them, and that will have done his confidence the world of good.
A real confidence-boosting win for the players and the club, which was great preparation for the midweek semi-final. Happy days indeed.