SOBS V OXFORD (A)



Tell me ma, me ma

I’m locked down at home for tea

The Lads are on my TV

Tell me ma, me ma

Sunderland kicked off the away part of our season looking to make amends for two dropped points last weekend (imagine if there’d been a crowd to roar them on for the 18 minutes after Maguire’s goal) and did so with two second half goals after a fairly dull first 45, running out comfortable winners in the end. A great day’s work thanks to goals from O’Nien on 46 and sub Gooch on 82, within a couple of minutes of replacing O’Brien.


Despite Boro being guaranteed a bumper by dint of the fact that there will be a definite 1,000 at the Riverside, , and Northern League games apparently attracting crowds - although the latest government rules say you can’t attend semi-professional or amateur team sports – we’re still watching at home. In attempt to replicate the awayday experience, I spent quarter of an hour last night putting my bait up, and at various points this morning I ate a ham and pease pudding sandwich, drank coffee from a flask (drip onto shirt, of course), then took a swig from a bottle of garlic coke. Then, in a display of maturity seldom seen on these pages, I decided against writing in the manner of Long John Silver to mark it being International Talk Like A Pirate Day. You’ll thank me later – unless the game’s a real stinker like that one at Oxford way back that I chose to watch on pay-per-view TV rather than attend. 0-0, zero entertainment that day. There was also the departure of Paul Bryson from the academy set-up, but, to be brutally honest, most of us had given up keeping up with backroom departures weeks once Cookie had left. To be fair to Bryson, he’s put in fifteen years, and thus his departure deserves better consideration than I’m currently prepared to give it.

Selection, which I discussed at length with myself rather than the dozen or so folks usually within earshot on the Durham bus, was partly dictated by our George’s transgression last weekend, leaving us with the Leadbitter/Scowen debate in midfield, and the Grigg/Wyke/Graham either/and/or conundrum up front. Having been asked while down the shops this morning “what are you doing here when Sunderland are away?” I decided to polish the telly in preparation as I counted down to 3pm, before nipping outside to sing “We All Live In A Gary Rowell World” while bouncing around and chucking expensive lager in the air.

I didn’t really.

Burge

Flanagan Willis Wright

O’Nien Leadbitter Power Hume

Maguire O’Brien

Graham

Personally, I’d have gone for Scowen to replace our George, but Leadbitter’s presence meant that Power could still maintain his more forward role – and Grant’s not bad with corners either. The line-up also means no start for Gooch, but the option for him to use his boundless energy as an impact sub. Wyke and Grigg were also among the subs to give potential changes up front, and, of course, there was Scowen.

After pacing up and down the living room for five minutes (I know, bloody ridiculous), it was time for the live stream to start, so I had a quick scan around the “empty” Kassam, but failed to locate anyone in burgundy chinos, so I went back to the action as the Lads eventually took to the field in our new dark blue shirts and red shorts, setting up at the “end with no end.” With sound initially limited to the announcer announcing to nobody at all, I was worried that Barnesy and Benno had forgotten their press passes. We kicked off away from the end with no end and immediately tried to attack down the right down where we were caught offside. Attempts to get Radio Newcastle up failed, so it was silent watching.

Power set Hume away and his low cross almost found the lurking Graham but was cleared before he could do his version of pouncing. Having broken up an Oxford attack, we won a free in the very position we’d been caught offside, and when it was slung to the back post, it was headed back in by Wright, but came down off the woodwork with five minutes played. With our preferred route being down the left through Hume, young Denver fired in a string of crosses in the opening ten minutes, but we couldn’t turn any into a clear chance, and nearly paid the price when an Oxford cross from the right was headed loopingly back over Burge and bounced, thankfully, a few inches wide of the post before being hooked back into the keeper’s grateful arms.

Graham and O’Brien fashioned a right wing break, but Maguire’s scooped cross was collected by the keeper. Oxford’s cross from the right looked dangerous until Wright was barged out of the way at the back post, and we were away down the left again from the free-kick. Burge was called into action a minute later, comfortably taking a cross at his back post after Oxford came down their left. Eighteen minutes passed, and neither keeper had done anything other than take crosses, goal kicks, and free kicks. Apart from that one hooked back in to Burge, but as it was travelling away from the goal, it hardly counts as a save.

Having eventually dug the ball out on the right, we switched it to Hume, who laid it back to Flanagan who was fouled 25 yards out. Disappointingly, both the short and the follow-up hit the wall before it was cleared – all of this taking place without any commentary. Maguire won a throw on the right after swapping passes with Hume when a free looked the correct option, and we switched it to the right where O’Nien looked to have been fouled as he took the ball to the bye-line, but the decision when the other way….and then came the now-compulsory tea-break. Stop it, please, ref, and also stop looking to pull Power up every time he gets near an opponent. One thing that’s stayed the same from last season is the standard of refereeing, in that they nearly all look like they’ve just stepped up from schools football and consequently officiate like geography teachers with a spare lesson.

On the half hour an Oxford leg, right under the ref’s nose, took Hume’s legs away in clumsy fashion, and her immediately called both phyios on, giving the cameras the chance to focus on the transit from Gateshead in the car park. We could tell it was from Gateshead because that’s what the flags it was displaying said, and the Lads stood on the roof of it, some on ladders, looked familiar. Hume was back up first, presumably because Oxford’s physio is a lady and I’m allowed a sexist thought about their player preferring her company. At least I hope I am. Play restarted with a drop-ball near the Oxford side of the centre circle, with Grant passing it back uncontested as Parky could be heard shouting “our free kick, ref”. Why not just give us a free kick in the first place, ref?

Hume was clearly blocked running onto Maguire’s ball over the top, but no foul was given – the opposite of what happened when Flan outmuscled (honest) his man on the line. Thankfully, the leader from the subsequent free landed somewhere near the Gateshead van. O’Nien and Maguire worked some clever stuff from a throw on the right, and the latter bounded away but saw his low cross blocked for a corner. It arrived at the near post, where a shot under pressure went over the top.

An Oxford move down the left ended with a low shot from a central position which Burge dropped onto comfortably, as we entered the last couple of minutes of what had been a fairly disjointed half. Neither side had managed to establish any definite pattern of play, although we’d come closest by getting Hume away as often as possible. Entering five minutes of added time, we were put under a bit of pressure which Leadbitter almost made worse with a rotten attempt to pass it out of danger, but we got it upfield. A high ball into the box saw Graham climbed all over – but the ref gave a free outside the box! Incredible, and Maguire clipped it over the wall – and the bar. A weak-looking effort, Chris.

The ref deigned to give Power a free in the centre circle, which was put onto Graham’s head, but the knock back into the middle was cleared as O’Nien shaped to shoot, and that was about that for the half. A pretty even if uneventful affair, made worse by the only sound being crowd noise – and there’s no crowd., so all you could hear was the managers and players shouting…and perhaps some choice stuff from the roof of the van in the car park.

Having created nothing more than half-chances, we needed to be quicker to get shots away – first timers, not control and shoot. That’s where natural goalscorers come in, and we don’t really have any. Danny Graham was always available, but he lurks in and around the box, with his current tonsorial choice giving him the appearance of the sort of bloke who’d terrorise Victorian Whitechapel rather than opposing defences. Still, he won his fair share of headers and held the ball up reasonably, and we should have taken better advantage of that.

No changes for the second half as Oxford set things away and quickly broke down the right, with Hume’s clearance hitting an opponent and going for a goal kick. He was then away down this wing, with his low cross finding O’Brien, who laid it back for Maguire’s scuffed shot to be blocked but drop nicely for O’Nien on the right to fire back across and in. Perhaps a touch of the Sunday mornings about it, but who cares? Get in my son!

Being a goal ahead saw us to up the tempo rather that sit on the lead, which livened things up quite a bit. A few minutes later, we nearly repeated the trick when Hume’s dragged shot found O’Brien, but he knocked it wide from a great position. Should have been the second. A free from our right somehow flew high right across to the left, and when it came back in we managed a low shot which was saved. Almost a third Sunday morning goal, but they all count. Oxford had a chance to create something, but managed a cross that went so far over the top and into the seats that it took five minutes to find the ball. O’Nien then burst into the box but his partner was way off side and chose not to touch the ball – which rolled past the far post. Perhaps he should have tucked it away and hoped that the ref was looking the other way. Power and O’Nien combined for the latter to get in a cross, but it was weak and to the near post, where the keeper collected it without any attention from a blue shirt.

It seemed that, with O’Nien getting forward more, we were giving the home side more problems, and there was a period leading up to the hour when we had a series of efforts charged down or crosses cut out at the last minute. Much better stuff, but we needed to turn that better stuff into a second goal. As if to counter this, the home side made a double substitution on the hour.

A knock on Power meant another tea-break – STOP IT, PLEASE! -and we brought on Scowen on for Max with 62 minutes on the clock. It needed a good tackle and hoof away by Wright when Oxford burst through the middle, and we calmed things down by winning a throw on the right. That moved ended with one of Flan’s trademark passes to the invisible winger, but was presumably somewhere near the corner flag.

An Oxford shot was deflected for a corner on our right, and we didn’t have to work hard to clear it, but soon conceded another on our left. That one flew too deep to be a real problem and was hoofed upfield. With a goal on our scoresheet, we had that little buffer that allowed us to relax a bit, confident that our defence could deal with the home side’s attack. With twenty to go, Wyke replaced Graham in a like-for-like swap. Maguire headed O’Nien’s cross back into the path of O’Brien, whose shot was into the turf and up into the keeper’s hands.

Another Oxford head injury with fifteen to go didn’t result in cups of tea all round, presumably because the tea-person had gone home, so we brought on Gooch instead, with O’Brien going off. Away you go, Goochy, fifteen minutes of pelting about…but the next piece of action was Oxford firing across and wide of Burge’s right-hand post. A foul on Maguire on the corner of box gave us an opportunity to create something, and Chris rolled it to Leadbitter, whose shot was blocked. That wasn’t the end of things, though, and when Willis got it to Gooch in a fairly central position forty yards out, our favourite American cleverly jinked past one marker, sped past another, then dropped a shoulder to leave a third in his backside, before clipping it left-footed across the keeper for it to roll delicately in at the far post. Mayhem on top of the van.

A delightful goal, really delightful, fully deserved because of our domination of the second half, and one made all the sweeter by an opponent being left sitting down.

As we took full control of proceedings, there was a hold-up as a home defender hoofed the ball down an exit and into the concourse, but we got it back to win a free from the throw in, with the move ending in an ambitious overhead kick that would never trouble the keeper as he collected the dropping ball at the near post.

O’Nien did well to hold off an attacker as the ball dropped into our box, allowing it to run for a goal kick right on 90, and six minutes added time were announced. Well, I say announced, they popped up at the top of the screen as the commentary stubbornly refused to come to life. Time for another goal, Lads. Either that or let Lukey use up the time out on the right. Which he did, helping to win a corner, which we took an age over before converting it into a throw-in. This was right in front of where our fans would been sitting, and you could just imagine O’Nien winking at us with a big grin on his face as he wound the game down.

There was a spot of defending to do, which we did well before getting the ball up the harmless end of the field to the delight of the Gateshead van as we won a corner on the left. Again, it took an age, we played it a yard to Wyke, and the ref blew for time.

An excellent result, with the Lads acknowledging the travelling support by waving over the fence at the van, fully deserved because of our second-half performance – which goes to show that we’re a much better side after we’ve scored. Last season, we defended our lead at the Kassam for 90 minutes and did it well. This season, we left off scoring for 45 minutes longer, but settled down much more once we had. Gooch’s second was a beaut and will give Parky something to think about when picking his next starting eleven. Apart from our goals, Scowen and O’Brien had chances to make it even more comfortable, but 2-0 away from home is never a scoreline to be disappointed in.


Man of the Match? Maguire, as he pulled the strings across the field behind Graham, then Wyke, but Willis wasn’t far behind as he marshalled his defence superbly and set away Gooch for the clincher.

Happy days, but please sort the sound out, Sunderland.


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