Our first trip to Oldham, brought us the win that keeps us on our only available route to Wembley, as we came from behind to end up more comfortable winners than the 2-1 score-line suggests. Mind, we are Sunderland, so anything less than a four-goal lead is always a bit iffy – but fair play to the Lads, they did what they needed to and we’re in the next round. Pizzas are round, aren’t they?
After Saturday’s disappointment (he said, in a massive understatement), Lee Johnson was given another quick chance to evaluate the assets at his disposal as he attempted to get our season back on track. We went down to Boundary Park for the first time since March 1996, when Shay Given let in his first Sunderland goal as we took all three points thanks to a late, late goal from Bally as he avoided the attentions of Chris Makin in the home defence to head home the winner. Not the highest ground in the land, but it always felt like it, as it was one of the few football places colder than the Roker End. With us not being that bothered about progression in this tournament (aye, right, until Wembley hoves into view we’re not), Johnson stated that it was “an extended training session” which is fair enough, as he’s still to see many of the squad in proper action. On a personal level, it was a shame to miss a trip to this part of the world, as, despite Oldham giving me the worst pint I’ve ever had (Oldham Bitter, now sadly gone to that great brewery graveyard in the sky), there were the carnivorous delights of the UCP (United Cattle Products) café, with tripe, cowheel, ox tail, various pies, and all manner of offal on the menu. Shamefully, those cafes now only exist in the form of a nostalgic website, brimming with tales of gourmet cow parts. It’s the sort of match where, back in the day, you used to be able to say to your mates “meet you in the pub nearest the ground” without fear of getting a good hiding from the locals – even if you did look at their weird idea of a dartboard and ask “what am I supposed to do with that?” Yes, they did allow darts on a match-day in sight of the ground.
Anyhow, Johnson (Lee, not Boris – shall we call him LeeJo, just to keep things clear? Thought not. Sorry.) decided to try out a number of fringe players (and I don’t mean haircuts) as we retained our four-at-the-back system and lined up:
McLaughlin Wright Flanagan McFadzean
Power © Leadbitter Scowen
Diamond Grigg Maguire
Well, after all my wowling on, we finally got Jack Diamond in the starting line-up, so at last we got a bit of pace up front – assuming that’s where he’d be operating – in what was officially “a strong line-up for this competition.” If ever there was a statement that sums up the real value of a competition, that’s it. Oldham are only 30 places below us in the league system – hey, that’s more than a whole division! – so it was basically a good chance to test previously unseen players against a team eight places off the bottom of the fourth division. After a load more wowling on my part due to it taking an age for the stream to start, I was then further frustrated by the continued appearance of Frankie and Danny (nowt personal, lads) – until I eventually discovered that traffic problems had delayed the start by twenty minutes, and that Sanderson, initially named in the starting eleven, had been replaced by Flanagan. Presumably another injury, knowing our luck. Apparently it’s knockout football – unfortunately not a description of the potential quality on offer, although that may turn out to be true – so we’ll be on our way to either Wembley or the off-licence before the evening’s out.
We set up defending the end to the left of the camera, on what looked like a damp and misty (typical Oldham, to be honest) night, and the home side set things away. It took barely thirty seconds for Grant to concede the first free kick, allowing the Latics to hoy one into the box, which we cleared. Diamond took a return pass from McLaughlin to zip into the box from the right and cross, setting the pattern for his evening, with Oldham scrambling it away and setting up an attack. That brought a fine save from Patterson, and we took a deep breath and got the ball up the pitch for Power to cross low from the right and force another clearance in what had been a positive start from both sides.
Maguire tried to find Diamond, but his ball from deep on the left was a few yards too far ahead of young Jack, as our cunning gold head attempted to take advantage of our enthusiastic youngster’s willingness to run at and beyond the fullback. McLaughlin’s low cross was almost onto Grigg’s toe, but the keeper dropped on the ball and eventually kept hold of it – and the stream stopped working. I tried switching to another source, and at least got something other than a blank screen – but only a frozen one. I was stuck on 8:23 for what seemed like forever, but it was only 16:20 when I got it back – and we were a goal down. I’ll be asking for a refund for this. Apparently it was a bit of a pot-shot daisy-cutter from well outside the box that Patterson should really have done better with. I’ll take somebody else’s word for it, although the half-time replay confirmed that description.
Anyhow, Diamond won the first corner of the game on 18, on the right, with Flan heading down and into the keeper’s arms from the back post. Another Diamond cross went to Maguire at the far side of the box, and his chest down and shot brought a fine save at the expense of another corner on our right. We took it short, but play was stopped as Wright had taken a whack to the face on the edge of the box. He got up to head goal-wards and win another corner, but that was cleared. If this sounds like it was getting a bit one-way traffic, it wasn’t, as we needed another save from Patterson after we lost the ball weakly near the edge of the box after failing to maintain possession in a vital area. Power cut in from the right and had a shot blocked as we tried to back up Diamond’s runs down the right with a bit of variety. After a McFadzean shot was charged down, we got the ball back into the box and had a big shout for a penalty, which ref ignored. Soon after, as the half hour approached, Diamond crossed from the right again, with Flan’s touch baffling a defender to the extent that he knocked it up in the air near the back post, where Maguire stuck out a leg and turned it back and into the net. Get in, CAPITAL LETTERS. It just shows what having a nippy forward who can cross the ball can do for your fortunes.
A foul on Power was eventually acknowledged by the ref, and we got it out to Diamond again, and when Leadbitter got it to Grigg, he moved to the right and crossed to the back post only for McFad to head it up in the air rather than into the net. Flan and an opponent were spoken to following a spot of handbags – there, I’ve said it, let’s see if I get banned – before Diamond took Power’s pass, put the ball into space and Grigg crossed to the back post again, only to realise he’s the one we need on the end of such things. Still, it was the third or fourth time he’d made the same run out to the right side of the box and got a decent ball in. Maguire passed from deep on the left to Power who knocked it into the path of Grigg in the inside left channel, but he was crowded out as he ran into the left side of the box.
Once we’d settled down after conceding, we’d looked the better side with better control of the game, although the home side still had their moments without causing us too much bother. However, like Saturday, it had been the opposition’s “one chance, one goal” that meant we were only level rather than ahead as the break approached. An additional one minute was announced as Diamond crossed from the right again and Oldham headed clear and they broke, with a good tackle required on the edge of our own area to halt the attack.
Level at the break, and, as already mentioned, we’d conceded against the run of play before settling down and deservedly levelling. We’d had enough balls into the box to earn the equaliser, as they had been of a bit better quality than at the weekend – but at least we’d done the right thing with the one that led to Maguire getting his goal. Our switch from Parky’s “revolutionary” 3-5-2 formation to the more traditional two centre halves allowed us more opportunity for central midfield to get forward, but unfortunately makes it quite obvious that Bailey Wright would struggle to beat Glenn Loovens in a straight sprint. We’ll have to watch that and take the necessary precautions.
As the teams ran out to the clanking strains of Lieutenant Pigeon’s Mouldy Old Dough (ask yer granda) we could see no changes for us. Some good work down our left ended when Maguire’s cross was too deep for anybody, as Oldham gave up on their first half tactic of trying to play it out from the back and just lowsed it up the field. God might love a trier, but football rarely does. An Oldham mix-up at the back gave us our sixth corner when a goal would have been nicer, on the left, but that only got us a throw. A naughty foul gave Maguire a chance with a central free-kick about 25 yards out, but his effort hit the wall, causing a loose tooth rather than that elusive second goal.
We won another corner on right after a run into the box, but that was cleared, then there was a yellow for Oldham’s lad for pulling back our Lad on the left (sorry, the stream froze, so I couldn’t make out who either player was, although I reckon ours was McFad) and on came Wyke and McGeady for Grigg and Maguire, which was no surprise. Saving legs for Saturday and all that. Leadbitter whipped the free to the middle of the box, where Scowen, probably the smallest player on the pitch, headed it inside the near post. Lovely goal, textbook stuff, and with 25 minutes to go, just what we needed. That proved to be Grant’s last meaningful contribution, as five minutes later, our George replaced him (legs for Saturday and that), and as we were accommodating him into the line-up Oldham worked a bit of space but shot over from distance, showing that we still needed to keep our wits about us. Wyke, who’d yet to benefit from any of the crosses like those we’d been putting in during the first 45, ran into the box from the right and fired in low and hard, but the keeper palmed it away from the near post with me thinking it was going to squirm up and in. Ever the blind optimist, I suppose. On 81, and with a win looking like it might have needed emphasising with another goal, we let Oldham get into our box and there was a great save from Patterson, sticking up a Pickford-esque hand when going under a deflected shot to tip it up and away. Superb save, young man.
From there, we basically held onto the ball and saw the game out. Special marks to the fan who allegedly travelled to Oldham specifically to join the gym at Boundary Park – that has a window overlooking the pitch. Fitness bike for 90 minutes? Better you than me, pal – but well done anyway. There’s also a rumour that Oldham’s James Keillor-Dunn’s dad is none other than the only Sunderland player that I’ve beaten at pool – Barry Dunn. Can anybody verify this? (the bairn’s parentage, not my skill at pool).
Man of the Match? From my comments on the first half hour, you’ll probably guess that it’s young Jack Diamond – there were decent performances elsewhere, and other folks scored the goals, but he showed exactly what we’ve been missing this season. And a good display from the keeper, apart from the goal.
Tell me ma, me ma, I want Papa John for tea,
You can get it Wemberlee,
Or words to that effect. Apologies.