With our FA Cup “free weekend” being hastily replaced with Boxing Day’s visit of Hull, all thoughts of taking advantage by nipping off on holiday, as in previous years, were replaced with reworking the hectic (I’m joking) Saturday evening lockdown entertainment schedule. The Wheel, The Wall, or the Wearsiders?
No contest, and Mr Honeyman (eight assists this season, in case you’ve not been keeping up) and company arrived, there having been no worry about the roads around the SoL being icebound, as hardly anybody had to use them. With Lee Johnson reporting that all Copvid tests on players in the past week had returned negative results, perhaps our Lads will be fitter than the opposition. Those Lads took on a second-placed Hull side that most of them had outplayed in the League Cup back in September (apart from the penalty shoot-out, ‘natch) and recovered from a daft goal to win a point as Hull dominated the first half and we did likewise in the second. Thankfully, there’s still enough games left to do something this season, and we have to remember that Lee Johnson is still very early in his tenure on Wearside, we’ve been battered by the virus, and the whole season is in a bit of a mess for every team in it. They’re not excuses, they’re reasons, and it’s me making a (probably vain) attempt to remain positive while conceding that we probably won’t go on a brilliant charge to the top of the table. We have to dream, though.
Much has been discussed about ins and outs this month, with Carl Winchester arriving to clog (pun intended) up central midfield a bit more, and leading to speculation as to who would be on their bikes. Our George is one who’s hardly set the world alight, although he’s been positively blazing compared to O’Brien, another name allegedly on Ebay under “football ephemera” alongside Danny Graham. One who isn’t going anywhere is Will Grigg (insert sarcastic comment here) whose injury requires only a month’s rest rather than an operation and a lengthy period of recuperation. Coming in to join Winchester? Who knows, but please let it be that mythical beast, the prolific goal-scorer. I know they’re worth a million in prizes, but perhaps Lee Johnson will unearth a gem from somewhere. Today’s fun facts are that Hull’s assistant manager is Big Face Cliffy Byrne, managed to get on the bench once for Sunderland without getting on the pitch, and that Dion Sanderson’s aunty Tessa went to six Olympic games and won a gold medal. Don’t say I don’t tell you owt.
Put on your red boots and play the game – play to the crowds, to an empty space, under the floodlights, the serious floodlights, and with my body clock telling me in no uncertain terms that this is simply not the time to be playing football we lined up:
McLaughlin Wright Sanderson McFadzean
Diamond Wyke McGeady
…with the bench crammed with Matthews, Maguire, O’Brien, Gooch, Embleton, Graham, and Younger – and no sign of Flanagan, leaving us decidedly lacking in defensive experience should anything happen to Wright or Sanderson. With one of the commentators referring to Danny Graham as a proven goal-scorer, you have to wonder what they’ve been drinking. Well, I saw him score at Everton, and even if it goes in off your arse, it’s still a goal. Oh, and apparently, we’re on the cusp of a new era, so let’s hope they’re right on that one.
After the minute’s silence in memory of fans and players who have left us in the past year, we defended the North End, and Hull kicked off, displaying a desire to get forward from the off. We broke up their attack in our right back area, and Scowen got it across to McFadzean who fed McGeady. The usual twisting and turning worked a bit of space, but the keeper was first to the cross. Honeyman earned a talking to for catching McLaughlin, but not enough to concede a free kick. Wright had to be on his toes to tidy up back to Burge as Docherty threatened, then Diamond’s speed took him on to Scowen’s pass to win a corner on the right. Honeyman hoofed it clear after the dead-ball failed to beat the first defender, and Burge had to be down sharpish at his opponent’s feet when Hull got the ball into our box. He took a bit of a bang in the process, so there was a lengthy application of some magic stuff – which didn’t work, as we were to discover soon after. The big muddy mark on his shoulder seemed to indicate the location of the problem, but the attention was more concentrated on his left eye, where replays revealed that Wilks’s knee had made contact. They also showed that Wilks could quite easily have avoided making that contact. Naughty boy. Still there was enough time to nip downstairs for a fresh bottle of Maxim and a bag of crisps -nee Bovril in my house, unfortunately. Five minutes of Vaseline and Burge was back on his feet, with the ball presented to him by the ref, and he punted it up towards the Roker End. McGeady got a bit keen with his defensive duties and fouled Honeyman out on our left, not far from the corner of our penalty box. In came the cross from that man Honeyman, Burge came for it, but it hit him on the chest and it was swept home by visiting defender Burke with 13 minutes on the clock. Oh dear – eye not working, Lee? Obviously not. The smelling salts aren’t what they used to be.
Wright was next to give away a free, and earn a yellow, this time on our right, but this time we protected our keeper as Honeyman slung the ball at him, and they kept us on the back foot for a while. We needed McLaughlin’s intervention to prevent another cross from their left, but the ball eventually went for a corner on that side. McFadzean got in the way of the resultant header, meaning a corner on the other side – which Sanderson headed away well. Apparently, we’ve yet to concede from a corner this season, and that’s just as well as the visitors weren’t letting us have much of the ball with Honeyman fleeing about like somebody with a point to prove. Leadbitter tried his luck from distance but it didn’t cause any grief to their keeper as we gradually got a bit of a footing and actually got the ball to Wyke a couple of times – probably his first touches of the game, after nearly twenty minutes. Leadbitter’s free kick, after Power was fouled, found Diamond and his lobbed cross from the right went right past the defence and there was McGeady to nod it back across and inside the keeper’s left-hand post. His first goal for over a year, and he celebrated with all the joy of someone who’d just found the toenail clipping that had shot across the room the previous day. Nice one, Aiden – boys keep playing, boys always work it out.
Thankfully the gap between the goals hadn’t been too long, as Hull were threatening to overrun us for a while and it knocked a bit of the stuffing out of them for a bit – just a bit, though, and on 25 minutes Wilks slung in a cross from our right and Eaves got in a free header, which thumped off the top of the bar. We’ll have to watch him, Lads. Diamond did well to beat his man and get into the box from the right, then ran out of ideas and sort of faffed it to the keeper. A McLaughin gallop up the right won us a free, but we played it back before we built a forward move and that move floundered on the edge of the Hull box. Scowen did well to nick the ball and set Diamond away again, but when he let Power take the ball we ran out of space and had to wait until McGeady put his foot on it and found Diamond again. This time young Jack was fouled, thirty yards out on the right. Leadbitter took the kick, placing way too high towards the back post and we had to make do with a throw on our left when it was cleared.
Determined chasing back by McGeady saw him rob Wilks on the edge of our box and almost set up an attack, but it was Hull who threated next after a free was played down their right and eventually drew a very good one-handed save from Burge when Eaves won another header – this time stooping at the back post. The “much-travelled Scouser” is apparently a bit of a handful in the air, and I’d agree with that. Anyway, we got the ball to Diamond on the edge and there were all sorts of arms and legs flying about as he looked to have been fouled when the keeper ran into him, but the ref waved play on and Hull came away with the ball. Just the sort of incident we’d still be watching that on endless VAR replays if it were a Prem game – which this fixture won’t be for quite a few years based on tonight’s showing, unfortunately. As we passed 39 minutes, Eaves sat down after being hassled by Wright and Power, and needed treatment on his right ankle before limping out of the action. You could just about hear Sanderson’s sigh of relief.
Power was fouled, taking the kick quickly himself to set Scowen away in the inside right channel, but in a physical battle with a big defender, Josh was never going to win the ball and the seven added minutes were announced as McGeady chased hopefully after an equally hopeful ball down the opposite channel. Diamond gave Honeyman a fair old nudge at the expense of a free-kick, which we cleared. Another late one by Honeyman on McFadzean earned him a yellow card and we had a free forty yards out on the left. Hull took an age to get it out of their box, even resorting to trying to remove Wyke’s shirt as Big Chas struggled to get only his third or fourth touch of the half. McLaughlin and Wilks were having a bit of a running battle, but I’d not seen anything done by or to either of them to justify it – still, mustn’t grumble, anything that adds a soupcon of spice to the game is OK by me. McGeady’s ball from the left should have set Wyke away down the middle, but he was very obviously held back – with the ref very obviously deciding that Chas would never catch it anyway.
Level at the break, and I was more than happy with that, considering that period around their goal when they threatened to kill us off. Our new tactic of pressing them higher up the field, which we were able to employ once we’d settled, meant that they were in bother if we won the ball in their half because we had extra bodies. Mind, I don’t think Wyke had more than half a dozen touches as the visitors obviously regarded him as our biggest threat – mebbe that’s why they left McGeady unmarked to score. A little more craft in the second half, and the song will come true – give the ball to Wyke and he will score. Ah, remember singing daft songs at football matches? The good old days - jumpers for goalposts, pies and Bovril, spectators, all that sort of thing.
Burge didn’t appear for the second half, sitting in the West stand sporting a cartoon shiner, with Matthews replacing him and Gooch on for McLaughlin – and Power moving to right back. Well, that should made finding a team-mate with a pass even more difficult. His first attempt was quite decent, winning us a free near the corner flag, but Hull got it away and Matthews got his first touch when he collected the ball in our box. More direct running by Diamond after winning the ball deep saw him get it out right to Gooch, and their keeper had to stretch to take his cross at the near post after our favourite Californian got to the line and attempted to dink it over to the back. With McGeady doing a bit more wandering into the middle than before the break, there seemed more of a chance of getting the ball to Wyke in the box, even if it was on the ground – but our next cross, from the right looked destined for McFadzean at the back stick before a timely intervention put it behind for a corner. We managed to win, lose, then win the ball again, eventually seeing the keeper almost do a Burge with the shot after we burst down the inside right channel. A bit of loose defending by the Tiggers gave us a corner on the left, which the keeper decided to punch, obviously with his last attempted catch in mind. Power did an overlap and won a corner, then made his way to the line when it was half cleared and got a cross towards Wyke – but he was eased out of position and couldn’t get his head to the ball. Close, Lads – keep it going.
Hull’s first real foray up-field of the half ended with a corner on 57 minutes, and Matthews took it comfortably at the back post before getting the ball up the field, only for it to come back from a throw. After Wyke was dispossessed on halfway, Honeyman nipped into the box to nod a header into Remi’s arms just to remind us that he was there. He was reminding again soon after, forcing a diving header out of Power as he intercepted a cross at the expense of a corner – and one that caused chaos as it bobbled about on the deck before we managed to hack it clear, only for Wilks to burst back into the box and fire a fairly weak shot low into the arms of Matthews on 62 minutes. Diamond found Gooch in the box, and his left-footed cross, hooked over his right shoulder, was headed towards the goal by Wyke but comfortably saved.
Another Hull attack ended with Honeyman (who else?) being the first player caught offside in the game – at 64 minutes, surely something of a record. As we approached the 70th minute, we won a throw up on the right, and got it to Wyke in the box, who did well to get it back to Power, but his pass back into the danger area was intercepted. We had Hull pinned back in that corner of the pitch, and Diamond’s run into the box allowed him room to try a cross which the keeper had to tip over the bar. Unfortunately, the corner was yet again cleared, and another Honeyman cross needed some very good defending to get it clear as Hull began to put a few things together again.
With fifteen to go, we brought on Maguire for Diamond, Graham for Wyke, and Embleton for McGeady – or some combination of that. That’s a lot of changes, and Maguire was first to show, with a short pass that Power ran on to and won a corner – and when it dropped in the box, I’d say Leadbitter was fouled. Unfortunately, the ref would disagree. Embleton and Gooch combined to set up McFadzean, and the cross was put behind for another corner on our left. That came to nothing, and when Hull came down our end, it was just as well they couldn’t decide what to do with the ball in our box, and we dug it out of a forest of legs and got it away.
A free kick against Honeyman for handball saw us waste a good chance to cross with a poor delivery, and the ball ran for a goal kick when it failed to beat the first defender.
Three added minutes were announced as we conceded a free on hallway and they quickly got it into our box, with Power hoofing it away once we nicked it off their toes. After we had a brief foray amongst the Hull back line, they got it back to Wilks in our box, and McFadzean flung himself in the way of the shot, conceding a corner which there was barely enough time to take before the whistle went.
Not a good game by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d prepared for that by watching Chorley v Derby earlier, and at least we looked better than both of those sides. Shame we’re not in the FA Cup, eh?
A draw was probably a fair result in a classic (mebbe the wrong word) game of two halves, even if both goals did come in the first of them, and it emphasised where we’re lacking. A striker who can actually be a threat without waiting for the ball to arrive at either his head or his feet, and a really accurate passer in the middle of the park. Johnson did try a brave move with the triple/treble/thropple substitution, but even the most optimistic, bog-eyed, or drunk Sunderland fanatic would struggle to claim it made any difference.
Man of the Match? Definitely not Burge. Sorry, Lee, but you know as well as I do that keepers can’t make any mistakes without potentially ruining game whereas outfield players can get away with a few apiece. There was more promise and actual contribution from Diamond, and more defensive resilience from Wright and Sanderson, although the latter was almost caught ball-watching a couple of times. I’ll probably give it to Diamond, as he was a constant threat and set up McGeady’s goal.