Fellow promotion hopefuls came to the SoL and attempted to attain victory over us at the third time of asking this season, and nearly managed it as they came from behind to force a draw. McFadzean’s superb, if surprising, headed opener from Power’s equally superb cross late in the first half gave us the upper hand, but an equaliser twenty minutes into the second half ensured the visitors shared the spoils. Not the end of the world, but with Hull only taking a point at Shrewsbury and Peterborough being pegged back to draw at Rochdale, we’d passed up the chance to close the gap on them. Those results do mean, however, that we ended the day in third place and eight points behind leaders Hull with two games in hand. No win, but it’s still going well.
It’s been a canny week and a bit for us, winning three times on the road, getting a trophy, busting the Wembley hoodoo, and seeing the impressive goal-scoring debut of the Quinny-sized Ross Stewart. While Wyke has been nodding them in (twelve headers, I believe, which must be some sort of record, included amongst his 26 one-touch finishes), Burge has been keeping them out – or rather, our defence – as patched up and makeshift as it is – has been preventing the opposition from troubling him. As injuries and suspensions eat into League One teams, our squad looks to be coping better than most and we’ve become the team to fear. Lincoln had serious doubts over the fitness of their first-choice central defensive pair, and nine-goal forward Tom Hopper is out for the season, so there would be changes to their line-up.
Away from Sunderland, there’s been the sad passing of yet another player from the ’73 FA Cup Final, Peter Lorimer – who was prevented from knocking my head off at Wembley by Monty’s save. Lorimer scored a record 238 times in his 705 Leeds appearances, the first of which was at the tender age of 15 years and 289 days which makes him their youngest ever player. He won all sort of honours, and will be remembered for his thunderous shots which brought a large proportion of those goals. He’d apparently suffering illness for some time, and eventually succumbed this morning – a sad loss to football, and another link to the golden age of Leeds gone.
After three away games kicking from right to left at the start, we were back to tradition at home:
McLaughin Sanderson O’Nien McFadz
Power © Leadbitter Winchester
Gooch Wyke McGeady
…with a bench of Matthews, Maguire, Younger, Stewart, Diamond, Neil, and Scowen
Grant set us away, with Liam Bridcutt in the opposition line-up just to keep us in fear of a former player doing the usual. In the opening exchanges, we dithered a bit on our left, eventually conceding a free for handball, before the greens of Lincoln had a shot blocked then sent a pass behind for a goal kick, from which we had a huge shout for a foul up near their box, but the ref saw nothing untoward. Presumably our gaffa said something, as the ref called him over for a chat, and to explain that he, like all other officials in this division, was contractually obliged to be biased against us. He was at it again soon after, explaining to Power and their 27 that he was the boss and would decide who was too close to a free kick, not them. Unfortunately, their keeper was closest to the free when we pumped it into the area, and he cleared for the Imps to win a corner when Sanderson blocked a low cross form their left. That was dealt with comfortably enough, at the expense of a throw on the same side, but we forced Lincoln back into their own half and eventually caught them offside.
For the majority of the first eight minutes, the ball had been in our half as we struggled to get going in theirs but got away our first shot of the day after Gooch’s cross was headed out, but it was way wide from distance. Not so our next one, when Grant fired in from outside the box and had the keeper scrambling to the foot of his right hand post to tip it behind for a corner on our left. Geads put it in, but a Lincoln head was first there – for the first of many times. The ref was having no nonsense with corners, jogging across to ensure the ball was inside the quadrant each time.
With twelve gone, O’9 looked to have won the ball fairly on halfway, but the ref saw it as a foul and we had a spot of mopping up to do from the free, with Power chasing back and Burge collecting. When Grant set McFadz away, he found Geads and another corner came when his cross was blocked – but the ref spotted something he didn’t like in the box, and it was a free to the visitors. Burge showed great confidence by doing a couple of turns with the ball at his feet, but then put his pass to McFadz a yard too high and into the East Stand. Footballing goalkeepers, eh?
McLaughlin’s cross caused a bit of visiting panic, but they played it out and switched wings for a run and a deep cross from their left, which we put behind for a corner on their right. A spot of defending ensued, with a lot of the play coming down McFadz’s side before they tried the other wing and blazed a shot into the Black Cats Bar from the edge of the box. Grant’s calm play allowed him to turn and send McFadz into the box, but the shot to the near post was put behind by the keeper for another corner, which Lincoln cleared.
A poor header by Luke, 30 yards out, as he tried to nod it past his man, allowed a run into our box from our left, but Burge was equal to the shot, diving onto the loose ball after his initial block to prevent a corner. Good save, but the chance was of our own making. Careful, Luke – don’t get too cocky. We passed the halfway point in the first 45 with the possession having been about equally shared, but the visitors had probably had more of the ball in our half than I would have liked. A ball aimed at Chas in the box was off target, but a wild clearance gave us a corner on our right. Geads again, and this time it was a low one that got tangled in legs at the front post and was hoofed clear for Lincoln to build an attack that we eventually frustrated with a clever tackle on the edge of the box.
McLaughlin did well to win a throw, which he took himself only for Wyke to be pushed/pulled to the ground in the box – a VAR penalty, I suspect, when it was nothing of the sort in the real world. Another VAR penalty would have been given soon after when McFadz got onto a great ball into the box, only for his opponent to knock him over and crawl on top of the ball. Corner in the real world however, which the massed green defence got away again as we passed the half hour. The visitors’ neat, short passing in midfield was helping them make inroads to our half, and we had to defend well to keep them from shooting, but Wyke was booked when he chased back to trip his opponent thirty yards out. Thankfully, the free sailed harmlessly beyond Burge’s right hand post. Geads did well to weave into the corner of the box, but his shot was a couple of yards too high, and we had to start again, winning a succession of throws down our right. After Gooch did well to keep possession near the corner flag, Power whipped in a cross towards the back post and there was McFadz flying in to head back across and in. A wonderful goal from a most unlikely source, and with only five minutes of the half remaining, a bit of a killer for the visitors. As if I cared how they felt.
Yet another free, this time 35 yards out and central, had to be defended, but we really needn’t have bothered as they carefully took aim at the Black Cats Bar again – and hit their target. Cries of “half time, half time” were booming from our bench, presumably instructions to the Lads to do nothing daft and protect the lead until the break, which sounded like a canny idea to me. It sounded like two added minutes were announced (there was a lot of swearing going on), and we carried the play towards the Roker End, winning a free near the centre circle, which Grant floated into the corner of the box, but as usual, Chas had two big lads in close attention and couldn’t win the ball.
Half time, and we were just about worth our slender lead. Once again, we’d allowed little to get through our defence, with Burge having just the one save to make, and not a single cross to catch, so we wandered off for our cuppas in a good mood as the ref went in search of a new pea for his whistle, having worn out the original. We’d upped our possession, as we usually do, to end up having had 63% of it after conceding the bulk of the early stuff to the visitors. Our five corners, added to crosses from both wings, had found Big Chas tightly marked as Lincoln did the obvious and kept the ball away from his deadly head – but as a consequence, didn’t pay McFadz much heed when they should have. On the downside, there were yellow cards for Wyke and Power, probably a normal return of cards for the number of times the ref had called foul or objected to somebody expressing an opinion. Other stats showed that we’d won every one of our tackles, which is pretty bloody impressive. On the other hand, the stats showed that the visitors had won only 38% of the “headed duels” which makes me wonder what they consider a “headed duel” when they’d seemingly won half a dozen when the ball had been aimed at Wyke’s head.
Would Johnson opt for another Ross introduction, and thus change our shape when we were winning, or stick with what we had? A good option to have, anyway, as we listened to DJ Jean’s The Launch (KLD’s influence?) and awaited the second half.
No changes for us, and Lincoln got things underway, ‘cos it was their turn. Geads continued in a role further away from the wing allow goal-machine McFadz the room to bomb forward, but Lincoln won an early corner on that side indicating that a bit of defending might be a good idea. He’s got a canny throw on him, with a foul being committed on Wyke as he tried to head it on up the left, giving us the chance to build. We didn’t do that directly, having to come back for Sanderson to jink past his man near our only penalty area and find Geads who was tackled to give us a throw – but McFadz didn’t take this one and the ball was won by the visitors. Another Geads cross was stabbed to the relative safety of a corner four minutes in, and we tried a low one, getting it back to the corner of the box for Grant to curl a cross to the back post, where Sanderson did well to recover it and cross again, but the header was a bit loopy and it was easy for the keeper to take the dropping ball.
Mebbe Chas was getting a bit sick of the close attention he’d been receiving, mebbe it was a complete accident (aye, right), but whatever it was, it left the centre half needing treatment as the pair competed to win Burge’s goal kick, and both sides took the opportunity for a tea-break. It was a fair old clatter, to be fair to the Lincoln man, who was probably still wondering, as he eventually climbed to his feet, how a bus had got into the ground and onto the pitch to run him over. The free kick sailed harmlessly beyond anyone in green and rolled for a goal kick with McFadz watching it out just in case. Another good cross-field ball from Power found Geads, and another cross was stabbed away from a waiting Sunderland shirt before the ball eventually found its way into the keeper’s arms.
More robust defending from Sanderson broke up the next Lincoln attack, then our back line showed its organisational strength by forcing another offside, and we built a promising attack with some neat passing and good hold-up play. McLaughlin looked to have held off a challenge on the corner of the box, but the ref gave us a free anyway – very soft – and Geads took it, blasting it along the turf to hit either the post or the goalie’s arms. Either way, it rebounded to the right wing and was cleared. It came eventually into our box via a series of headers, and Morton held of our defender to turn and shoot low into the corner for the leveller on 63 minutes. Bugger.
In response, Scowen replaced Winchester and we won a free out by the right corner flag, which Geads floated in and O’9 headed back across, but Lincoln got to Aiden’s attempted lay-off first and belted up the pitch to win a corner on their right. We cleared that, and the follow-up, but Grant was late in the tackle and there was a free next to the flag on our right. Burge did well to get back and save a low shot from the edge after we were carved up on our left and the ball was cut back from the line as the final twenty minutes approached, then the ref had words with Chas when our man caught another defender as he chased back. Off went Leadbitter, and on came Ross Stewart as we went for Wednesday’s match-winning combination up front and a change in formation.
Lincoln brought on Scully for Johnson as they went for the win, and we had another spot of defending to do, but came close to scoring when their keeper went down bravely at Stewart’s feet as our man threatened to get onto a ball at the edge of the box first. We got another free when Wyke was fouled thirty yards out, and took the opportunity to swap Gooch for Maguire, giving him fifteen minutes to save the world. He very nearly did it immediately, floating in the free kick and then seeing his shot from the clearance deflected for a corner. We were piling the pressure on as we entered the last ten minutes, putting in crosses from both sides, and won a free when O’9 was pulled over as he added his weight to the attack. Maguire was on duty again, from the inside left position, and the ball was curled towards the back post only to find a Lincoln head. We needed a very good save from Burge, dropping swiftly to his right, to keep out a shot after Lincoln had crossed from the right with five to go. McLaughlin was deservedly booked when hooking down an opponent who was about to leave him for dead – taking one for the team, I believe it’s called - and we had another free to defend. Or we would have, had they not punted it straight out for a goal kick.
With both sides looking for the win, the ball moved quickly from one end to the other, and we had to defend a corner as an extra five minutes were announced. We did that successfully, but the visitors kept pressing and we had to be on our toes at the back, with even Maguire doing good work back there.
And that was it. The ref gave his overworked whistle one last peep, and we had but a single, disappointing point. It had been a hard-fought game, and the attitude of our players after that final whistle was of players who’d just lost a cup final, but the result was probably about right. We’d done our usual, and let the opposition have the lion’s share of the first ten minutes before getting into our stride and getting a delicious opening goal. More than one was needed today, however, and with Wyke carrying defenders on his shoulders for most of the match, we couldn’t get it.
Man of the Match? Probably for that lovely cross onto McFadz’s head alone, I’ll give it to Power again, although he did a lot more than that in his more customary midfield role.