Another away game, another non-awayday, as the Lads made relatively easy meat of Swindon with a goal in each half of a game that might have lacked pace but had plenty of passing from both sides Without getting carried away, a quick summary night read “they all did their jobs very well and kept the tempo high throughout.”
Injury and suspension might have buggered up Parky’s team selection, and more injury buggered it up even more, but those that filled in were an absolute credit to the club as they held off whatever our midfield left Swindon throw at us – although not much of that was very dangerous, to be honest. A good all-round display, and another three points in the bag, although I’ve still not said “alreet, marra” at an away game this season.
Our last two visits had been consecutive away league games –firstly in May 1998 when it seemed like 14,000 of the 14,868 crowd were Sunderland fans, Danny Dichio baffled the ref by stopping the ball going out for a throw after he’d been substituted because the crowd were on the verge of spilling onto the pitch and he couldn’t move away from the touchline, and SKP scored both goals. That match marked the end of a season in which we’d woken from our early autumn torpor after the Nightmare at Elm Park and swashbuckled our way to third place, doing the double over Man City in the process – as they were relegated to where we are now and we fell to Charlton in the Play Off final. How things change, how things stay the same. Secondly, we saw the town deserted compared to the previous visit, even though there were only 4,000 less at the match – which we drew 1-1 despite the presence of Gareth Hall in the Swindon defence. In 2020, nobody was there apart from Samson the Bishop cat who’d snuck in through the County Ground catflap.
Only at Sunderland could a player do a season’s worth of damage to his knee in a training session while on international duty before making his league debut, but at least I won’t have to try and spell Xhemajli – the only player in our history whose name starts with X – so here’s wishing a speedy and full recovery to the Lad. This has led to Parky making a loan offer for Harry Maguire but opting for young Sanderson from Wolves – who comes with decent references from fans of Cardiff, where he spent part of last season. Perhaps Parky will also look in-house. A few of our youngsters showed impressively in the EFL Trophy this season, and the U-23s followed up their 4-0 victory on Tyneside with a 3-1 friendly defeat of Sheff U – meaning they’ve won more games in the last two weeks than the previous two yonks. Good habits and that….
Willis Wright O’Nien
McLaughlin Power ©Leadbitter Scowen Gooch
A few enforced changes, with Hume hurt and Flan suspended, and a fairly strong bench which included Diamond – a tad unlucky not to be starting after his impressive showing last week against Carlisle. I assumed that Gooch – our only real pace in the today’s team - would be a straight swap for Hume, and McLaughlin, who’s not started for us for ages, for Flanagan. In the middle, I expected Power and Scowen to take advantage of Grant’s presence and get higher up the pitch.
After the heavy beat of the intro music on the live stream, it was back to Danny Collins and Frankie Francis in the club box, where Danny agreed with my thoughts – and the fact that, man for man, we should be the better side. In our blue tops and red shorts, we kicked off and attacked the goal to the left of the screen – where the away fans would have been relative to, this I’ve no idea.
Initial play backed up the thoughts on most positions, but McLaughlin was on the right “wing” and O’Nien on the left of defence, as against Carlisle. Our first corner came on two minutes, but was easily dealt with. Soon after, a second arrived on the other side when Power set Gooch to the by-line, but Leadbitter’s shot when it was half cleared went into the turf and was hoofed away. It was a good opening five, with Swindon hardly crossing halfway, and when they did get down the right we defended the throw they won – which preceded a spot of pressure by the home side, but without finding a man in our box. To their credit, Swindon kept it on the ground and tried to play it forward rather than hoof it over the top, which meant that our defenders had to watch for the clever pass rather than something dropping from the sky. Let’s just say that they didn’t see many.
Leadbitter’s ball into the box was a yard too far for Wyke’s head, and their keeper collected comfortably as the tenth minute approached, then Maguire looked to be fouled as he collected Wyke’s header on, but the ref gave nothing, which was surprising. Willis took a knock as he intercepted and gave it to Maguire thirty yards out, who was definitely fouled this time, allowing Willis a touch of the magic sponge. Make it properly magic, please, as the last thing we want is another broken defender. Thankfully, he eventually got to his feet after a fair amount of vinegar and brown paper had been applied and the rest of the Lads had enjoyed a cuppa. Burge’s free sailed straight to their keeper, but Maguire intercepted the clearance on the right and crossed to Gooch, who tried to get it to Wyke but couldn’t quite manage. Leadbitter found Wyke, who passed it across the centre to Maguire and in came another foul, this time drawing a yellow card. Leadbitter was on the dead ball, seeing the keeper off his line, and he had to tip it up in the air and was more than happy to see it bounce out for a corner. Somehow, Maguire’s cross from the left went right through to the back post, from where it was hacked clear. Should have been a goal, Lads, and soon after that Willis had to leave the field, obviously not having recovered from his earlier knock. On came Diamond, with McLaughlin moving to the centre and young Jack to wing-back. There’s a novel three-at-the-back line-up for you.
We resumed play with a series of throws up on the left, ending when Leadbitter had another penk and saw it deflect for a corner on the right, but it went too deep and was cleared with 21 minutes gone. Diamond played it up the line to Maguire, who lost out at the expense of a throw, but we won the ball back when Power was fouled on halfway. Again, it was aimed at Wyke as we built a bit of pressure and won another free thirty yards out and central, but Swindon defended that one well. A Swindon free thirty yards out went to the back post, where we eventually dug it out and got it away. Both sides were happy to play it about at the back to get their shape, making for a patient-looking game in the most part, but we looked a bit better at that sort of thing.
A nice spell of passing, from right to left and back again, ended with an over-hit ball to Maguire and a goal kick to Swindon, meaning that Leadbitter’s free had been the only effort on target in the first 32 minutes. Gooch, after a decent spot of short passing down the left, put in a cross, but it was with his right foot and so curled to the hands of the keeper rather than the head of Wyke. A burst of speed took him to the line soon after, and this time the cross was with his good foot, but was still cleared, albeit at the second attempt after a wild Swindon swing completely missed it the first time. Third time lucky, Lynden swung in another at mid-height and there was Charlie, in enough space to build a couple of spacious bungalows, to swoop like a hungry gull onto an unwary tourist’s chip supper, side-footing home from four or five yards. To be fair, a great bit of movement by Charlie, finding what the experts (ie former SAFC players who should have played for Brazil) call the “corridor of uncertainty” between the keeper and his defence and doing the business. Thirty six minutes gone and, on the balance of play, a deserved lead with the first real chance of the afternoon.
There could have been a swift reply, but their cross from deep in the right side of our box was way too high and we got it away. Luke’s free on the left went to the edge of the box, from where it was headed by McLaughlin to Wyke, who tried a spot of keepy-uppy as he attempted to turn and shoot, but a Swindon leg shot out and won the ball. Diamond won a corner on the right soon after, which was headed back towards the near post and the grateful keeper. Our tails were well and truly up at this stage, with Wyke chasing the keeper down and his marras looking that bit sharper than their opponents, resulting in more throws to us, on both sides of the pitch.
In the last minute of the half, Leadbitter thumped into a challenge to set Gooch away, and when he took the return he put it over to the right, from where Wyke received it and put an effort just beyond the far post. A wild ball from Swindon high into the seats behind Burge allowed me to see that this is most likely the end where we were last time. In added time, we passed it beautifully down the left, with Scowen being fouled near the goal-line, and Maguire went for goal from the free – hitting the side-netting with the last kick of the half. 1-0 at the break, a lot of good play going forward without creating that many real chances – but at least one more than Swindon did, and we put it away. Burge had taken a few crosses, but had not had a shot on target to deal with, which says a lot for our defence, especially when you consider that it was a re-jigged line-up at kick-off that had to be further re-jigged early on.
The same eleven Sunderland players came out for the second half well ahead of the home side, who brought on their third Smith and a Stephens as they sought to get back into the game. A change in formation, or just personnel? The first action came when Maguire’s cross from the right following a free in our own half looked useful, but didn’t find Wyke and Swindon cleared. Maguire chased Wyke’s header- on from our own half, and won a corner on our left. It went to the back post, where Charlie won it but headed it back beyond the front post. Swindon got the ball into our box, where O’Nien stood his ground as their man (probably a Smith, it’s a three in ten chance) flung himself over his leg and appealed for a penalty. Never in a million years, sunshine, even though replays showed that VAR would probably have given it. Thankfully (?) this is League One, and we got is up-field to allow Maguire to cause some problems.
A loose cross-field ball from Power allowed a Swindon break, but their final ball was even looser and Burge tidied up comfortably. A few Swindon crosses failed to create a chance, and Diamond was on hand to get it out of the box and watch the home side fire wide. There was a hairy moment when Burge’s clearance hit Smith and bounced towards the goal line but wide of the post as we got a bit too comfy, with our keeper chasing back to hoof it up the pitch. Power played a lovely ball to Maguire on the right on 56, and as he cut inside onto his left in the box, his legs were taken away. Penalty – like Gatesy said “I’ll put myself where they might kick me. If they do, that’s their look out.” Chris took it himself, firing it low under the keeper, who went to his right but couldn’t get down quick enough. 2-0, thank you very much. Swindon responded by making their final change, taking a Smith off, but it was Maguire who was in the action next, putting a low ball across the box from the right but a yard in front of the advancing Power at the back post.
Right on the hour, a header from a deep free kick was headed just past Burge’s right-hand post, giving us the chance to take a breath and remember that we were winning. There was another free to defend on 64, but it was hit straight into our wall from 30 yards, and the rebound eventually belted high enough into the Town End for me to see the words “Town End” on the front of the roof. A good move saw the ball sit nicely for Scowen, who hit it well enough to force a decent save on 68 as Leadbitter continued to control the game, holding the ball well and rarely wasting a pass as his marras did all the running about. Gooch scurried along the edge of the box, resisting the temptation of a right foot shot, to find Diamond, but Jack’s cross was too high even for Wyke. Swindon were getting increasingly aware that they were running out of time to get anything as we went into the final twenty, and our defence had to show awareness and patience to thwart them. We maintained our shape when Swindon got the ball, making it difficult for them to make progress and causing a bit of frustration. Leadbitter’s free, after a late on one Scowen, found Wyke in the box, and his header caused a few problems for the keeper as he failed to hold it and chased it around the box. Gooch’s cross was intercepted at the expense of a corner with 15 to go, and up stepped Maguire. It ended up on our right, from where it was played back to Power, whose deep cross was dropped again by the keeper – but nobody was near enough to take advantage.
Burge did well to take a second-time cross right under the bar, but his clearance saw Wyke back in and give away a free-kick as we pressed to keep the ball as close to their keeper as possible. As we went in to the final ten minutes, the natural Mackem pessimism set in and I was half-expecting the opposition to get something and spoil our day – the result of years of it happening, I suppose – but, to be honest, that was neither likely nor deserved. Thankfully, the players had other ideas and continued to frustrate Swindon, bringing a second yellow for whingeing. They also defended resolutely, with O’Nien winning headers someone of his height has no right to win, and Burge taking a couple of crosses with confidence. O’Nien was forced to concede a corner, but Wyke was back to head far enough away for Maguire to hoof up the pitch, before Wright did very well at the near post to get the ball away.
On 88, Maguire’s afternoon ended after a very good shift when he was replaced by O’Brien, which seemed the most sensible change if a change was to be made, and three added minutes were announced. There was a good chance for Swindon, as they bore down on Burge, but we got in a vital tackle as the shot came in, and our keeper made the save. We won a corner as the ref whetted his whistle and it was all over before he had chance to blow it. A well-deserved win against a side that had been good at playing it out from the back in League Two, but found it harder to do in League One.
Man of the Match? A good display by McLaughlin after so long away from league action, solid defending by Wright and Willis (pre-injury) plenty of energy from Power and Scowen, Maguire strutting about with all the arrogance of a man who confidently eat spag bol while wearing a white shirt, Wyke leading the line well, probably thanks to the quality of the balls to him from Diamond and Gooch, and O’Nien – well, he’d play in goal if you asked him to and performed today as if central defence was in his DNA– but I’ll give it to Leadbitter, who played the perfect anchor-man role. Nice one Grant, nice one Lads.