Another Tuesday, another game, this time with Grayson’s Fleetwood coming to the SoL – I wonder what sort of reception he’d have got had we been in attendance – and in yet another seriously professional performance drew the sting out of an initially enthusiastic visiting side and stung them back. After growing into the game after Fleetwood’s initial zippiness had seen them dominate the early possession, albeit without giving Burge any bother, we played it about and goals from O’Brien (assisted by McGeady – if Chas can’t score, Geads will assist somebody else) and Power (thanks to some shocking marking, but well done anyway, Max) brought us the points we deserved. ..and as it’s the thirteenth anniversary of his passing, that win was for Egghead, one of Auckland’s top Sunderland fans. As Bev Wallace said, he might have been a crank, but he was our crank.
It’s been a good week, which got better by the day – restructuring of the academy, a couple more KLD business associates (family lawyer and family accountant) into the fray, and the Sky Bet team of the week for League One containing O’Nien and Leadbitter, which is fair enough – but no place for Wyke or McGeady seems rather strange, with six goals and six assists between them, statistics that no other players came close to. Never mind, it’s results on the pitch that matter, and with O’9 getting the NE Football Writers’ Association’s Personality of the Year award for his lockdown activities, he’ll rightly be double-delighted.
McLaughlin Sanderson O’Nien
Gooch Power © Leadbitter McFadzean
O’Brien Wyke McGeady
..and a bench of Matthews, Maguire, Diamond, Winchester, Jones, Vokins, and Younger.
..that formation is presuming we continue with the formation sort of forced upon us by Wright’s injury (that will keep him out for three weeks or so, according to sources), which will do for me, even if we didn’t much like it under Parky – and with the pace of Diamond and Jones, and the guile of Maguire, all of which were used to good effect at Burton, ready to jump off the bench, it was a strong matchday squad. With the Futureheads booming out over the tannoy, followed by Dance of the Knights, my front room got as close to the real thing as it’s likely to (apart from watching while drinking beer) and the Lads trotted out - thankfully, in my opinion, not to that interminable thumping thing Charlie Methven preferred.
The telly graphics agreed with my line-up arrangement, and, as usual, we set up with Burge in the North End goal and Fleetwood kicked off – wearing a cod-grey kit with lime-green trim (honest) – and knocked it back for a hopeful punt that rolled to Burge, as Swindon went ahead at Lincoln. A couple of punts into or around out box saw some defensive headers and another comfy take for Burge as the visitors went for broke early on – and kept at it. The first four minutes saw the ball largely in Fleetwood’s possession, and a corner on our right came when we had to intercept a low cross from that side. They were desperately close to being in the right place when a deep cross from their right was hooked back in and was inches from their inrushing player at the back post as they continued to dominate into the seventh minute. Our first real forward play saw us go down the right with Wyke holding it up well for Gooch to get a cross in, but that was cleared.
At least we’d started getting into their half, and a long one to the edge of the box was just too much for O’Brien to control before Fleetwood tried to build another attack as the game was played out with contrasting styles – they were fast and furious, we tried to be calm and precise. It was a shame Sanderson’s long one arrowed straight for a goal kick when he was presumably aiming for Wyke on 12 minutes, but it showed vision if not accuracy. Persistence by O’Brien won us a throw high up on the right, and we had to work hard to get it across to the other wing before being forced back. Wyke was tackled from behind ten yards into their half, earning his assailant a talking-to on the quarter hour, and Grant took the free. We eventually got it into a shooting position and Geads saw his drive deflected for a corner on our left, which the visitors eventually cleared as McLaughlin shaped to hook it back in.
On 20 minutes, Gooch ran into a defender and won it back to fed Geads, who very nearly set up Wyke with a typical drop of the shoulder and dinked cross, but after it fell during the challenge, the Grey defence got in the way of O’Brien’s effort and cleared. That was our best bit of play so far, and the closest either side had come to a goal. The balance of play had swung our way, and Power was next to try his luck, shooting a foot wide of the keeper’s right-hand post from outside the box.
Our first daft free (and second free of the game) was conceded on 28 when O’9 stepped up to knock their man over thirty-odd yards out, and we did well to whack it away when it fell invitingly in the goal area. Be alert, we need lerts. More McGeady magic on the half hour saw him retain possession under pressure and feed Wyke in the box, but his shot was blocked as the Cods cried for an offside decision that would have been incorrect, then McFadz won a corner on the left when his cross from the line was headed behind. It was mostly us by this stage, and the visiting defence was creaking a bit as we pushed down both flanks and the bench almost made up for the lack of spectators with their constant cries. The players were pretty verbal as well, and you could hear Grayson screaming (well, as close as he’ll ever get to screaming) instructions of assault to his defenders whenever Wyke of Geads had the ball.
The latter produced another drop of the shoulder, this time firing in a shot from the left to the near post which the keeper could only parry, and from the clearance we gave away a foul on halfway and had to do a spot of defending. When we got it away, Wyke came into our half to win it back, but Geads ran into a grey wall as he tried to break and possession swung to 62% in our favour as we entered the last five minutes of the half. Geads tried looping one over the defence to O’Brien, but it skidded off the turf in the box and went for a goal kick. Stop watering the pitch, eh?
A single added minute was announced as we broke up a Fleetwood sortie down out left, then Gooch lost out when trying to get a cross in and Sanderson showed his worth with a cracking tackle on the corner of our area as Fleetwood came down that side – and that was the last action of the half. We’d grown into the game after a bright start by the Cod to become the dominant force without bringing anything spectacular from their keeper - despite our 83% passing accuracy, and 70-odd% of that being in the attacking third, we’d yet to really trouble the him. The visitors were obviously following Grayson’s very audible instructions to stop Geads at all costs and pile into Charlie should they fail to stop Geads getting a cross in. It was sort of about right to be going in level, but with a little more guile, and a little more tiredness in the visitors’ defensive legs, in the second half, the game was there for the taking. They’d bust a gut to win their defensive headers, but surely Charlie would come out on top sooner rather than later, so there were no calls for changes just yet. Not in my front room, anyroad.
We were out well before the opposition, just like the first half, so more of the same, please, Lads, with a bit more oomph in the last few yards. After a few abortive attacks down our right, Fleetwood won the ball from us and broke, seeing a cross from their right hoofed to safety from just in front of Burge at the near post. Five minutes in, and yet another chop on Charlie, 25 yards out in the inside right position, gave us a chance to create or shoot. Geads got it over the wall OK, but also over the bar and several rows of seats. A close offside saw a Gooch’s run halted as we played a long one down the right, and we had to work hard to win the ball back when it came into our half. Geads and Gooch then swapped wings, and it nearly paid off on 54 when the former twisted and turned on the corner of the box to fire a shot to the near post that the keeper claimed. Gooch did really well to roll his man when taking a pass from Geads, and bear down on goal from the left, but the keeper was quickly out to block the low shot.
On 57, Fleetwood swapped Duffy for Biggins, and Saunders for Burns –which meant nothing to me, as I’d done no research and none of them had played for us. We were maintaining 64% possession on the hour when Geads did the shoulder-dropping thing again, this time back on the left, and darted into the box to angle back a left-foot cross, virtually over his own shoulder, to the back post where O’Brien met it with a fine header for 1-0. Lovely goal, assist number seven in a week for Aiden 1, and a cracking finish from Aiden 2. Well done, Lads - patience pays off.
There followed a bout of shocking language from mild-mannered Grayson as a decision went against his team, and we attacked down the left via a series of throw-ins and swearing. O’Brien did well to turn his man out on the right, winning a free as the dreaded blue circle started spinning on the screen. Wyke took a pass in the box and laid it back inside, but we couldn’t get a shot away and had to start again – with the eventual cross easy for the keeper, under no pressure. That was time up for Geads, replaced by Jones with 67 minutes gone. Probably a sensible approach – he’d done his job, and a different sort of player would be hard to adjust to for Fleetwood. Exactly as it proved, with a foul on Jones giving us time to swap Gooch for Winchester, presumably to shore up the middle and frustrate the visitors’ attempts to get through there.
With 15 to go, McLaughlin was splattered a couple of yard from our goal-line when getting his head to a cross from our left, eventually being awarded a free, as the opposition showed a new lease of life and poured forward as they had in the opening ten minutes or so. We retained our calmness to frustrate their attacks, and continued to pass it about. Jones did really well to control a cross-field pass and beat his man to get in a low shot that the keeper dropped onto at his right-hand post, and we decided another change was necessary. On came Maguire for O’Brien – again, job done- with a shade over ten to go, and we had to endure a spell of Fleetwood attacking, relying on O’9’s enthusiasm and Sanderson’s perception to keep them at bay.
A corner on our right with eight to go came over to the back post from Maguire, where slack marking meant that Power had time to basically kneel down, fasten his laces, and nut it past the keeper. Cheers, skipper, well done, and game over, I think. All we need now is a Wyke goal to absolutely settle things and make Grayson wonder how he couldn’t make it work for Big Chas. Maguire was properly lifted into the air on the edge of the box, but for some reason O’9 took it and could only look on as his low effort was deflected over for a corner on our left– which Fleetwood cleared. As we looked to be passing the game away, McLaughlin did a silly foul and deserved to be booked as we did everything to kill things off, much to Fleetwood’s frustration (oh, man, why was Barton not still their manager?) and four added minutes were announced. Jones took a bang to the head, and with opponents going straight over to see if he was OK, you had to wonder if they were fearful they’d taken their manager’s instructions a bit too literally.
And that was it. The pretend crowd sang “we’re on our way”, the DJ played “rockin’ all over the world”, we’d won a game without Chas scoring and in which our substitutions had been of people who’d done their jobs rather than people who were failing to. Well played Lee Johnson, that was a thoroughly deserved win. Well played Lads, I enjoyed that, and happy days.
Man of the Match? O’9 was as lively and effective as ever, while, alongside him, Sanderson once again showed that, with a sick-berth full of Sunderland central defenders, we should try to sign him permanently. He oozes the sort of calmness that could become class, and was unlucky to see yellow. Power once again showed that given the space that this division allows, he can revel in the deep midfield role alongside Leadbitter and dictate play. Wyke was well marked, but, while denied scoring opportunities, showed his growing confidence in good hold-up play while taking defenders away from O’Brien and anyone else who chose to get into the box, creating space for them.
Right, after failing to convince me for most of the season to date that was a reason for signing him, and after a very good game at the weekend, O’Brien gets my nod. A well-taken goal achieved by showing more desire than his marker, and a good performance overall. Nice one, Aiden 2.