Pizza time! Not really, as a team that was essentially our youth side plus a few first-teamers lost a meaningless game at Fleetwood. Not even Joey Barton could find anything to throw a radgy about as our young guns dominated the first half and took a deserved lead into the beak, but injuries to us and an injection of beingbotheredness to the home side saw Fleetwood gain top spot in the so-called Group Of Death. So-called by headline writers at the Fleetwood Argus, as nobody had lost a particularly affectionate spaniel this week, necessitating headline-seeking elsewhere.
If supporting Sunderland is a mirror which reflects the soul of the fans, then, for many, that mirror cracked from side to side on Saturday afternoon. The result has been described by many as the worst result in our history, as Mansfield were near the bottom of the fourth division – but in reality that’s only forty places below us. “Only” forty. In January 1949, we lost THAT game at Yeovil in the FA Cup, a season when both teams finished eighth – us in Division One, and they in the Southern League, With the pyramid system having complicated things since then, the actual difference can’t be accurately calculated, but, giving them benefit of being in the equivalent of today’s Southern League Premier, they were still six divisions and well over a hundred places below us. And we were decent then – now, we’re just a slightly better than average League One side. Therefore, technically, Saturday was not the worst result in our history, BUT it was damned close, and was bloody awful, exposing the glaring lack of pace in central midfield and up front. It probably didn’t feel as bad either because it was only viewable on TV. No personal involvement, as with every other game this campaign, means that it’s a disjointed relationship between fans and players – you’re not there in the flesh, they can’t hear you (whether they take any notice or not), and it hurts a lot more if you’re actually present when it goes all Pete Tong. The longer we’re unable to attend, the harder it is to maintain an emotional attachment to what has essentially become a TV programme. Not even a reality TV programme.
I know Saturday saw a bit of reshaped side due to injuries, but it should have been a run out for the so-called “fringe players”. Normally, The Fringe is entertaining - ours wasn’t any sort of, and tonight’s game, which should have been an opportunity to give more fringe players a run out, became game in which we had to re-establish ourselves and get Mansfield out of our systems – fans and players alike. Would the management realise this? Would they care, as we’re already through to the next stage of this competition (which I still want us to win, poxy, tin-pot job or not)anyway? As if I wasn’t struggling to take it seriously anyway, it’s now called the Papa John Trophy, and we’ll all be wanting to see a pizza the action - although I suspect a few might be watching just in case the lovely Mr Barton explodes when he’s delivered the wrong pizza. Mind, who in their right mind would pay a tenner to watch our reserves in a game that doesn’t matter in terms of progress in a competition sponsored by a pizza company whose wares I’ve yet to sample? As if to ensure it’s not interesting, SkyBet were offering really dull odds of 11/10 Fleetwood, 23/10 the draw, and 19/10 Sunderland. Might have a daft 10p on Grigg to score
Willis© Taylor Younger
Diamond Dobson Embleton Neil McFadzean
Lots of names that aren’t that familiar to the average fan, mainly because we’ve not seen the Lads play, so working out who was supposed to be playing where. Wearing our natty away blue top/red short away kit, we set things away kicking from right to left. I think this is away from the end we fans normally be occupying. It was a more lively affair than Saturday’s effort, with the young guns moving forward at pace prompted by Embleton, who must surely have moved up the pecking order in the midfield choices for Saturday’s game. Positivity, looking forward, that sort of basic stuff for someone playing in his position. Patterson proved his worth with a handful of decent saves, none of which game him any real trouble, as the game opened up and both sides looked to attack – but we looked the more likely to do anything significant. A cross from our left saw Younger fly in only to see his effort bounce down off the bar and away to McFadzean, only for our Lad’s follow-up effort to be blocked. Close, and I expect Joey Barton was spitting pepperami at this stage. Another attack, this time down the right, saw the ball partially cleared as far as McFadzean in the left side of the box, and he calmly passed it along the deck nicely inside the far post. A very well taken goal. Well done, Lad, and with only fifteen on the clock it was looking quite canny.
This brought the home side out of their shells a bit – although both teams were already through to the next round, so it didn’t really matter – and they stretched themselves coming forward, which made life a bit easier for Diamond and McF, who took the opportunity to bomb down their respective wings – positive stuff. It looked like it had paid off when McF turned back and played it to Embleton, whose shot looked like doubling our advantage until it hit the post . Close.
A foul out on our left as defender Younger made good ground gave us a free kick, which Embleton whipped only for a Fleetwood defender to head onto the top of the crossbar and give us yet another corner. Unfortunately, Younger had come off the worse when fouled, and eventually had to give up limping about and be replaced by Dunne. I’m sure there were about five minutes of added time, but another dodgy stream (ha’way, Quiinny sort ot out) mean that I can’t be sure. However long it was, we went into the break a goal to the good and I, for at least one, was happy with the way we’d played, especially considering the number of Lads making their debuts.
There were no changes for the second half (thankfully, as it meant that nobody else had got hurt) for us, while they brought on Bagley for captain Rossiter. The home side looked a bit more positive than they had in the first half (mebbe their manager had threatened them with Chinese burns or summat) but we had to defend quite a bit in the opening minutes, with Dunne landing badly and knacking his arm. No amount of embrocation could sort it, so , after a mere three minutes on the pitch, Dunne’s debut was over, with Steele making his for his first game. Giving youth a chance.
Our right hand side then failed to deal with a Fleetwood attack, and when the ball came into the box, McKay was first to the ball for a fairly straightforward equaliser. Bugger, I thought, and, to be fair, that goal fairly knocked the stuffing out of us early in the second period. Fleetwood got their tails up and Morris, on their right, found some jetboots to give us real problems with his pace, Morris made Usain Bolt look like Jan Eriksen (ask yer dad) as he zipped down the line and cut the ball back for Duffy to slot home their second on 58. To be honest, at this stage, I was thinking that we needed a five minute time-out to regroup and sort ourselves out, but you don’t get that sort of thing in the Pizza Cup – not even if you order extra garlic bread.
Just after the hour, our latest impressive addition to the ranks tweaked a banjo string and had to leave the field, as McF was replaced by Wilding and the number of Lads on the field that I’d never seen play went up another notch. By this time we’d just about lost our shape and were hanging on for dear life, as all the changes had completely bugged up the decent shape and attacking verve that we’d hit Fleetwood with in the first half. The home side hit a free against the bar, then we had Dobson to thank for a brave block in the box as it got a bit desperate at the back for us. Fleetwood put a free-kick against the post and we hoofed the loose ball clear and tried to build an attack, but we couldn’t get into their box.
Hawkes, on his first outing for the Big Boys, had a decent effort blocked, as did Diamond in the odd periods of the second half when we built meaningful attacks – mind, that’s not to say that it was all back-to-the-walls stuff from us, but we did get a bit raggy at times. Duffy, that pigeon-heeled fashioner of their second goal, did a Howie (Gayle, ask yer dad) and looked to have bust a hamstring of his own with five to go, meaning a chance for the left side of our defence to take a breather – no that there was much point, if we were really bothered about winning the game, which our team selection showed we obviously weren’t – but I’m not moaning about the selection, as it gave a handful of Lads their first taste of first team action, and I don’t think any of them, while not pulling up any trees (which, let’s face it, is a pretty daft requirement for a footballer) let themselves down.
Does the result matter? No, not to Fleetwood and not to Sunderland – but it probably means a lot to the five Lads who made their first team debuts tonight. While history dictates that some might never see first-team action again, which I sincerely hope isn’t the case, some might go on to become SAFC legends, which I sincerely hope is the case, however unlikely that may be in the modern game. I can’t even say, no matter how much I want to “just the league, then” as we’re still in this wretched competition for the foreseeable future, and whiich we still need/have to win
Man of the Match? McF was again effective, and if his ham gets restrung, he’ll give Hume a run for his money as Micky Gray 2020. However, just for being a front-foot, positive midfielder, and one who came out on top in the battle of a frequently disappearing internet signal on my landing, I’ll give it to Embleton – his pass of choice was to a forward.
Am I likely to try a Papa Jon pizza after that? I wouldn’t think so.. .. but Wembley’s till on the cards, and a repeat of our Ian’s gleaning of paid-for drinks from all over the Wetherspoon world to the Moon on the Hill (Harrow) would be very welcome. Forget the extra portion of peas, though.