A patched-up Sunderland side – in defence, anyway – welcomed Swindon to Wearside and, with memories of a comfortable win at the County Ground still relatively fresh (well, a bit like that pizza at the back of my fridge, five months fresh) and took all three points without ever turning our possession advantage into lots of chances and goals. We were well worth the win as Swindon simply looked to soak up whatever pressure we applied and tried to pass their way forward. Again lacking more than one central defender, we made the best back-line we could, and they did their job as we nagged away up front.
As there’s not been enough time for much to happen since the weekend’s comeback, apart from the departure of our financial director, the main thing in our minds has once again been the generosity of our fans, who, being unable to really go to Wembley, have bought virtual tickets to the value of £75,867 and counting. That and the passing of Ian St John, probably as familiar to many as half of Saint and Greavsie (a customary part of our pre-match experience in the Saltgrass) as he is a player – who can forget his imaginary Italian player “Fuctifano”?
Anyway, back to the action in SR5…
Power © Sanderson O’Nien McFadzean
Gooch Scowen Winchester
McGeady Wyke Jones
I’m guessing at that being the formation and that those people would be in those positions, but I’d have to wait until kick-off to actually see who was stationed where. I just can’t see a three-at –the-back line-up with those players in the side, but this is Sunderland and stranger things have happened. I’d have not been surprised to see Gooch at right back, as it’s hard to play three at the back with one centre half and a left-back. Again, there was a strong (well, Maguire, Diamond and the new, improved O’Brien) bench and the possibility of the gaffer to make wholesale changes if and when necessary:
Matthews, Maguire, O’Brien, Younger, Vokins, Diamond, and Neil.
With the opposition suffering from injuries as much as we are, not being in the best of form, and rapidly running out of goalkeepers, perhaps we could cope with making do and mending. It’s a game in which the presence of a big crowd could have made up for the makeshift nature of the team, but, as usual, was had to make do with the front room, a nice big fire, and some Maxim. And the lucky socks, of course, and dulcet tones of Benno and Barnsey. We can moan all we want about the failings of various players – but all teams in this division have players with similar failings, which is why they (teams and players) are in this division. If they were better teams or players, they’d be in a different division. Swindon started with an emergency keeper (Connal Trueman) on loan from Brum, and who’d played for Milton Keynes against us, and allegedly with a three-man defence.
Gooch and Jones started wide, with McGeady roaming about behind Wyke – the mythical “number ten” role that is apparently compulsory these days. We set ourselves up with what looked like three at the back, defending the North Stand, but once we go going we fell into a four-man formation, which was a relief. As we swapped numbers at the back, we won a couple of throws up on the right but gave away a free 25 yards out in a central position when Winchester knocked their man over, despite us having plenty of men back. Burge went down to save but couldn’t hold it and took a bang to the head when dropping on the ball when it came back in from their left. Thankfully, he was OK, and he set McFadz away to feed McGeady to win us a throw way up on the left. Jones was mostly on the right, with Geads on the left, but when he drifted across towards the left, Geads got in a cross which the keeper stretched high to take at the front post. Scowen did well when McFadz played a rotten ball to him near our own box, being fouled as he worked his way out of trouble.
Gooch ducked infield from the right corner of the box after taking a pass from Geads, but his shot was sliced and became a cross that was cleared and we spent a while with Gooch and Geads out wide and Jones playing across behind Wyke. Loads of passes on the right between Gooch, Power, and Jones ended with the ball played into Winchester and a shot that flew well wide from distance on 14 minutes. Immediately after that, Wyke won it up on the right and found Jones in the box, and his shot was tipped over for our first corner. In it came from Jones on the right, with Swindon clearing a bouncing ball and one of their defenders getting a knock on the head in the process. Power took a pass from Sanderson, who’d been forced back, and hit one over the top to Wyke, who in turn found Gooch. Power received it and hit it straight back to Gooch, who sprinted to the line and cut it back for Wyke to knock inches wide on 17 minutes. Our best move of the game so far, and deserving of a better ending, especially with Jones and Gooch starting to show bursts of pace to get behind the visiting defence.
Wyke easily won the header from a deep free kick, but it flew well over the bar as we passed the 20 minute mark and we started to exert a bit more pressure, despite having to break up some Swindon excursions into our half – a result of possession being 74-26% in our favour. McFadz’s clever backheel set Geads away, but his cross went to the back post when we’d all come to the front one, then our left back stopped a Swindon attack by getting in front of his man and falling over. Clever one, Cal, who nodded the next ball into our box safely back to Burge.
Wyke’s cross, after he’d done well to get to the ball first up the right, took a deflection and thence bouncing to the keeper. The possession stayed in our favour, but not enough of it had ended with a real chance, and their keeper hadn’t yet had anything difficult to deal with as the half hour approached. Bang on the half hour, Wyke was fouled thirty-odd yards out, and Jones got it to Geads but, again, his cross was cleared and McFadz could only head straight at the keeper. A run by Jones ended in a crowd of Swindon legs on the left corner of the box, but we kept up the pressure by switching it across the field and back, with Geads popping up on the right. Some careless play in trying to pass it out nonchalantly our defence ended with another foul as Swindon nicked it back, and it was another set piece for the visitors. A shot from that distance was no problem, with the ball looping up and down into Burge’s arms.
Never mind, thought Scowen, we’ll give them another go, and fouled their player way out on our left. In it came, was partially cleared, then came back into the centre for Wyke got in the way of a shot and the ball eventually ran for a goal kick. Power and Thompson clacked heads on 38, but both got up after a short while and rubbed their respective heads with no real damage done. Big Chas was fouled twice, with the ref eventually deciding the second one was a foul, thirty yards out in the inside left position. Jones took it, hitting the wall and winning our second corner, with Geads curling it in from the left to the back of the area, and it touched off Winchester to fly out for a throw on our right. Scowen spotted Jones in the box, but his driven pass was too close to the keeper and he collected it comfortably. A single added minute was announced as we won a free for a foul on Gooch, who was now the free man roaming about. Geads took it, but again, the keeper took it without much trouble.
0-0 and that was as fair as you can get – lots of possession, even with us effectively playing two at the back most of the time as Swindon basically invited us onto them and us responding without that decisive cutting edge. We might have managed eight shots to their three - two of which had got through to Burge, which was a tad worrying- but it had been totally lacking in sparkle for virtually the whole 46 minutes. The “number ten” role had been swapped between Gooch, Geads, and Jones, but none of the three had produced that little spark to create the vital opportunity, despite us trying nine dribbles to their one, and actually getting to the bye-line several times – which summed up the differing attitudes and style of the two sides. I expect Johnson’s half-time chat will have been more tactical than Saturday’s, but the threat/promise of multiple substitutions is a recent and welcome gee-up to those who took place in the first half.
No changes for the second half, as we attacked the North Stand and the dreaded blue circle had a good old spin on my screen and Gooch looked to have moved to a more central role with Jones out on the right and Geads on the left. It looked like a more positive attitude in the first few minutes, which is what we needed, but our first decent-looking attack saw Wyke caught offside. Another McFadz foul, in pretty clumsy style, allowed Swindon to plonk one into the box, but we got it away no bother and Gooch tried to carry it up the middle only to ne on the receiving end of a hefty challenge and the break was halted. On 55, O’Nien burst forward, Benno style, and linked with McFadz on the corner of the box, and he rolled it to Geads, who teased his mad and dinked it to the back post – but nobody was lurking and we had to make do with a corner on the right. Jones’s kick came to nothing, and we had to start again from our own half.
Sanderson carried it out of defence and played in Gooch down the right, with Lynden ran into the box to cut it back only for it to be nicked off Jones’s toe end. Should have done better then, Lads, and it left Gooch sitting down in their box. Eventually he got treatment, and with O’Brien and Maguire readying themselves for participation, he must have thought his number was up – and it was, with Jones joining him on the hour. O’Brien was nearly through the middle, with only a last-ditch header making his run pointless as we threatened several times to clip one over for either him or Wyke.
Big Chas was in the thick of it when his ankle was clipped in the inside right channel with Maguire taking the free 25 yards out in the 68th minute, and with only one man in the wall he could see his targets well enough. It in went, and there was Wyke to end his short goal drought - more a slight thirst, really - with a neat header from near the front corner of the goal area. A lovely delivery and a lovely finish for goal number 24 of the season. That, naturally enough, relaxed us, and we carefully pushed forward and got it to Wyke in the area from a Power throw, but he had two on his back and thus had no space to lay it off successfully. Geads tracked back and showed great persistence to won a throw near our own flag on our left by knocking it off their attacker, but Swindon were having a bit of a go and needed a desperate clearance when a cross came in from our right. Wyke was away, taking his time to look up and find Maguire, but too many defenders got in his was and the three onto one instantly became a forest of blue socks and there was no way through.
Power went forward to win us a throw right by the corner flag on our right, and he took it himself to eventually take a return and try a cross which was blocked. Swindon made their third change with ten to go (sorry, I’d not been keeping up with their previous swaps) and immediately Scowen and Missolou caught each other in front of the bench, with the foul being by their man. McFadz pinged it forward to Maguire, from whom Wyke collected the knock-down but after finding Geads, Aiden 1 fouled Hunt in trying to hold onto the ball.
Maguire did well to dig the ball back from an opponent and knocked it back to Sanderson, whose long one down the right won us a throw with five minutes and 35 yards to go. We worked hard to keep possession, with Geads carrying it about nicely and Maguire picking his passes. It was time for keeping calm, and when Power crossed to the penalty spot, O’Brien tried to hook it in as he fell, but there was no real pace to the effort and the keeper collected at his left hand post. A Swindon throw on our right had me nervous, Burge was calmness personified as he stood his ground, caught the cross, and was subject to an old-fashioned shoulder charge that won us a free with a minute to go. On came Diamond for Geads, and we attacked Burge’s free kick and four added minutes were announced. Maguire had a great chance, with Wyke alongside him, to double our lead but the ball held up and his shot wasn’t the blast he intended, allowing the keeper to save low. Damn!
Swindon seemed to take a bit of heart from that and tried an attack, but thankfully the shot from the East side of our box flashed across the area with Burge having it covered. On came Dan Neil for Scowen, as much to slow things down as to add fresh legs for the final minute or so. Rather than allow either to happen, we conceded a free a few yards away from the corner of the area to add to my feeling of nervousness – and they hit the bar when it came into the box with Burge well beaten, but we defended the resultant corner and the whistle went.
A bit of a shaky final minute there, but the three points is the main thing. Once again, loads of possession didn’t result in a proportionate number of either chances or goals, but we did deserve to win and we were up to fourth - which is what we want to see: progress up the table, but rueing those dozen draws. Basically, if we’d won half and lost half of them, we’d be top – but if ifs and ands were pots and pans….my kitchen would be a reet mess.
Man of the Match? Not easy tonight, as nobody really stood out above the others, but I think I’ll give it to Sanderson, as we kept a clean sheet and he gave us some nice breaks forward. Our back two/three/four had seemed pretty fluid - by necessity – and coped with whatever Swindon threw at them until the very last minute, when they came closest to scoring by hitting the bar. Onwards and upwards.