Our first FA Cup game of the season ended in disappointing fashion when, after a fairly level first half, we fell to a second half goal from a visiting side who looked more interested in the draw for the next round than we did. To be honest, it was no more than we deserved and the positives (Diamond, McFadzean, and a late cameo from Embleton) were well eclipsed by the negatives (failing to outplay a League Two side yet to win a league game) and should be giving Parky a fair amount of head-scratching to do.
Mansfield, the Stags, and Sunderland have an all too brief history, having met for the first time in. October 1977, when two goals from WonderWilf Rostron (one direct from a corner, if my memory serves me correctly) sparked joyous scenes amongst our fans. As it was the heyday of punk, we spent a good deal of the afternoon sat down of the open terracing, as a gradually increasing murmur of sound erupted into a mighty shout of “BOOGIE!” and we all leapt to our feet and pogoed like good’uns for a few minutes. Oh, to be doing that again – or just watching in real life. A 2-1 win made for a happy drive home, until my clutch packed in outside Stubber’s place, 300 yards from mine. Still, we got two points. Since then, we’ve won all of our other encounters, scoring eight times with Mansfield managing only three in reply. Ten years after that first meeting, we hit them for four twice – with six different players scoring. In July 2001, we popped down for a friendly to help Quinny’s recovery from a back injury, and they (of Division 3) whupped us (of the Prem) 3-1, with Liam Lawrence scoring their opener. Our last encounter, in the League Cup in August 2003, looks on paper to have been a fairly straightforward 2-1 win at their place, with the only points of interest being the home side featuring Liam Lawrence and Jamie Clarke, son of Jeff. The reality was a bit different, with us defending a one goal lead from the 18th to the 89th minute. That goal had been an OG, so with a minute left, second half sub Kevin Kyle put past Mart Pooooom to make a replay look certain before bolting down the other end to score the winner a minute later. That wasn’t the end of things, as John Oster, a last minute sub for Micky Gray, managed to get in a tussle with Mansfield’s Lee Williamson, earning the pair the 5th and 6th bookings of the evening. And it was Jeff Whitley’s debut – thank the Lord it didn’t go to penalties. All of which means they’ve not so much as taken a point off us. Dangerous talk, I know….
As for 2020, it’s the magic of the FA Cup, if the first round proper can be described as magic for Sunderland, offering, as it does, the chance to avoid the competition in 2021. Does Parky take it seriously, use it as a chance to try something and someone different, or something in between? Given that our defence has, in the main, been as tight as the skin on Neil Warnock’s cheeks, it would seem daft to mess with the formation, although against a side from the league below who’ve yet to win a league game (p11, w0, d7, l4) it wouldn’t be THAT daft. Just to confuse things, Mansfield still have Jamie Clarke in their squad, but as Jeff’s lad was last heard of coaching in Thailand it’s unlikely to be the same person. What they do have is a new manager, Nigel Clough, whose family connection to SAFC is well known. Whether he’ll be picking the team is another matter.
Injuries, of the type which in the most part wouldn’t affect league appearances, meant that Parky, sensibly, didn’t call on the services of Hume, O’Nien, Gooch, or the concussed Scowen. Perhaps we’ll see a start for Grigg, Graham, or Kimpioka – nowt much wrong with Wyke’s goals return, but any chance to get Will alight, or get Benji off the benchy, should be taken.
As the teams were announced, the lack of a crowd meant no abuse for former mag James Perch (well, apart from in our front room) in the Mansfield squad as they visited the SoL for the first time in their yellow tops and socks and dark blue shorts, as we lined up:
Sanderson McLaughlin Flanagan
Diamond Power © Dobson McFadzean
…a trendy 3-4-1-2, which was a bit of a surprise when announced, and had me wondering who’d play where. I sort of guessed that Diamond and debutant McFadzean would do the wingbackery and that Maguire would drift across behind the front two. With a bench containing Burge, Willis, Wyke, O’Brien, Embleton, Leadbitter, and Neil we surely had enough in the squad to be in the draw on… whenever it is. We set up defending the North Stand, as is only correct for the first half, and watched as the wreath was laid on the centre spot before the Last Post was played – which gets me every time. There might not have been anybody there in the stands to observe the minute’s silence, but, even on the telly, you could still sense a bit of an atmosphere as the bugle sounded.
We kicked off with Maguire knocking it back all the way to Sanderson on the right side of defence, and their new manager in the West Stand rather than the dugout. After a couple of minutes of… well, nowt really, Sanderson and Matthews did a bit of showboating (unintentional) with Dion having to head his keeper’s wayward clearance back to him. The Stags won a corner on their left after Diamond dawdled before recovering well, with Matthews punching the ball out for a goal kick – off the head of an attacker.
Power was filling the Leadbitter role, just in front of McLaughlin, and saw plenty of the ball early on, trying to bring the wide men into play with his customary “come hither” hand gestures. McFadzean got involved after Flanagan played it forward, and Grigg helped it on to Graham, who knocked it over the keeper but onto the front post with eight minutes gone. McFadzean was at it again, twisting around in the edge of the box before putting a cross to the back post, where Graham was a foot too far forward, right on the line, and somehow managed to head it upwards and off the face of the bar. Ha’way, Lads, get it in!
There were a few thumping tackles about form both sides as a bit of mist drifted into the ground and Mansfield fired one a yard wide of Remi’s left hand post from distance – the visitors looking like anything but a team yet to win in the league. After a couple of “nearly” moves that just failed to get us into their box, Sanderson knocked their man over as they broke down our right, but we cleared the free-kick comfortably. McFadzean was at the end of some nice passing by Power and Maguire, and his cross was put behind for a corner on our right. Maguire’s kick found Graham at the front post, and it needed Perch to intervene at the expense of another corner, which they cleared and built a break from – with Graham clearing an eventual Mansfield free-kick. At this point, halfway through the half, there wasn’t really much between the sides, with us trying to be calm in possession and the Stags trying to move forward at pace – and firing over on the end of another break. Graham was booked on halfway after chasing back to halt a potential break and hurting himself in the process.
Diamond won our third corner with his pace, and Maguire knocked it right onto the penalty spot only for Perch to head away. Young Jack was getting more involved down our right and put in a decent cross soon after, before McFadzean did the same from the other side – but Mansfield cleared both. The forwards couldn’t really moan about lack of service, as there’d been plenty from both wings in the field half hour, and when Grigg turned his man and ran onto Flan’s pass, his cut-back was knocked for a corner. Again, it was cleared, but only as far as Diamond, who saw his shot charged down. Maguire played it to Grigg on the left, and a quick burst of speed won us another corner, this one punched away for a throw on our right. Some short passing between Diamond, Power, and Sanderson ended with a foul on Diamond, which Maguire put in too low. McFadzean turned his man again in the box and fired a shot across the keeper which was tipped away to the offside Graham. There was a decent passing spell, ending with another Diamond cross, but we won possession back and kept the pressure on. What we probably needed was to be pressing, as the that’s the trendy word, in the final third to keep the visitors pushed back like we did at the weekend and on Tuesday. At least we were starting to get on top as we entered the last six minutes of the half, but we weren’t fashioning enough chances. Power broke up a Mansfield attack and found Diamond, who drove inside but ran out of space on the edge of the area and was on the ground when Graham tried to return the pass.
McFadzean was blocked out on the left as he fed Grigg, and he took the free-kick pass from Maguire and returned it, but Chris couldn’t beat his man, and when the next attack saw Graham put it back to McF, it bobbled up and he could only shank it high and wide. Can I call him McF, as it saves a lot of time?
Some good running by Flan was nowhere near enough to get to the ball as we played it nicely down the left as we entered the final official minute, and a single minute was added as Flan got in the way of a shot to concede a corner on our left. By the time it landed, the ref had blown and we had the break to reflect on the two chances we’d put against the woodwork and the fact that we’d allowed Mansfield only one that got through – but was off target. We’d ended the half much better than we’d started it, which wasn’t much of a relief, with McF the player who’d caught the eye and Diamond growing into things. In fact, it was those two who’d been our most creative players but we needed to attack their crosses with a bit more conviction.
Half time observation – the netty’s are a lot less crowded in our house than at the SoL.
No changes for the second half, with the first action being a comfy save by Matthews going down to his left to a shot from the edge. His clearance went to Grigg, whose opponent went down in a heap when conceding a throw - which went to McF, but he found too many opponents to create anything. Having listened to wise half-time words, the visitors had doubled up on him and he was crowded out. Mansfield played it out from the back and broke, with a great curling cross from the right being met by a thumping header for 0-1 on 49. Slack play there, Lads.
Graham got onto Diamond’s cross with a back-heel which was cleared, with the ball coming down our left for Flan to concede a corner. Matthews was grateful for Maguire’s presence to block a shot when the dead-ball fell nicely for the visitors, and the ensuing corner was well dealt with – but we couldn’t get our foot on the ball and Flan had to concede another, which was headed behind for one on the other side. We cleared that, and Diamond was away on his bike – which was crudely knocked from under him on halfway for a free-kick on our left. Crosses from McF and Diamond were cleared before Diamond beat his man to the goal-line in the box and tried to pick out a Sunderland shirt, but the visitors had packed the box and got a boot on it.
Mansfield were deservedly looking a bit full of themselves and were getting to loose balls first, but managed to blaze a decent chance over the top from outside the box. We were thankful for a good tackle by McLaughlin to break up a visiting attack as the visitors threatened to make things even worse for us watchers. Flan was first to the ball on the hour, but was clattered by their man who came off worse, and we had a free-kick which was launched into the box – and hacked away as we, not for the first time this afternoon, failed to dart onto the loose ball. Danny Graham might hold the ball up reasonably well, but, even when not putting his hair behind his ears, is slower than the US election count when we need a bit of zip over short distances up top. We put together a wee passage of passing, and Sanderson put in a decent cross which Grigg headed goalwards, but it was fairly straightforward for their keeper. At this point (65 minutes) Maguire and Graham made way for Embleton and Wyke (who’d surely have put that first half header away, mainly because he’s taller). Embleton was straight onto things, playing a number of good balls from deep, the second of which forced a corner, as he added a bit of positivity to midfield. Wyke was on to one of his passes, and while someone like SKP would have fashioned a shot, Chas isn’t that sort of player, and he laid it to Diamond who fired into the side netting with twenty minutes remaining.
Another attack broke down as we passed into space rather than to a man in a Sunderland shirt, but Mansfield couldn’t make much of it, and O’Brien came on for McF, which was a bit of surprise – let’s hope it was just because he’d run out of puff, and let’s hope that O’Brien does more in the remaining fifteen minutes than he has so far this season. Not much to ask, to be honest.
A period of patient play saw us probing until Diamond got to the line again and crossed, with the ball dropping awkwardly for O’Brien, but the shot subsequently lacked power and their keeper collected quite comfortably. This spurred Mansfield to bring on a defensive player and leave just the one up front – exactly what I’d do in their position with ten to go. Diamond’s deep cross found Grigg, but his chest control was - well, not good enough and it was cleared. An Embleton shot was blocked, then his deep cross was headed straight to the keeper by Wyke. Come on Lads, take a chance and hoy some bodies forward, the opposition are knackered- and when Dobson did just that, Perch prevented him from getting cleanly to the ball and the header looped up and in to the keeper’s grateful arms. O’Brien clipped a curled to the back post which was punched clear as we continued to alternate between battering away then seeing Mansfield break. Four added minutes were announced as the visitors brought everyone back into their own penalty area and we stared an FA Cup exit squarely in the face and lost the stare-out. We did win a corner, which Embleton slung in, but the next Sunderland player to touch it was Matthews, who hoofed it back up-field only to see Wyke’s header go wide. A foul on Grigg gave Embleton the chance to create something - a diving Mansfield header for another corner, which was cleared with Matthews in the “wrong” box causing a bit of typically clumsy but ineffective goalkeeper mayhem, then the whistle went and we were out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking.
An extremely disappointing result and performance. We knew what we had to do in the second half but failed to do it, with the only consistent good work coming from our wingbacks. As far as Man of the Match goes, the goalkeeper was keen and generally quick to get the ball to his outfield players, while the defenders and aforementioned wingbacks were OK. Central midfield and up front? Poor, very poor, until Embleton arrived and started looking forwards rather than sideways or backwards.
So McFadzean gets my vote…. and at least Wallace and Gromit are on the telly next.