With new Manager/Head Coach/Gaffer Lee Johnson in the dugout/bench. McGeady in the squad for the first time in a year, and new Sporting Director/Whatever Speakman presumably working away furiously somewhere in the ground, Sunderland welcomed bottom-placed Wigan to the SoL. With a performance that summed up our season, we were defeated by a team from the bottom of the league who defended as if their life depended on it and took the only chance that came their way, while we passed it to death looking for an opening that we couldn’t create. Big job on, Mr Johnson, after another deeply disappointing ninety minutes - the sort that persuaded that powers that be to end Parky's time with us.
In one of the busier weeks in our recent history, we’ve managed to upset the fans by sneakily getting shot of Kitman Cookie, please most of them by getting shot of the manager, announce the appointment a sporting director with a piece of corporate-speak that would baffle even David Brent, and bring in a new gaffer within hours of kick-off. That’s some going, even by our standards – although we could have done with getting the alleged takeover done and dusted. I suppose there’s a limit to what can be achieved by a football club in a week, although I did get a message from a Northampton-supporting mate who commented “surely you aren’t gonna appoint Gary Johnson’s son, are you? God help you if he’s anything like his dad.” Exactly how much input the two new chaps will have had on team selection is a bit of a mystery, with Andrew Talyor still nominally in charge of that - until the announcement of Johnson’s arrival. McGeady’s reappearance on the teamsheet will no doubt divide opinion, but his ability has never been an issue – it’s more to do with age and attitude.
McLaughlin Wright Flanagan Hume
Power© Leadbitter Scowen
Maguire Gregg McGeady
An instant recall for Burge and McGeady – the first hardly a surprise after Matthews and the Tale of the Rebounding Ball, the second a bit of a surprise – and a return to 4-3-3, unless somebody unexpected is about to turn into a right back. We set up defending the North Stand, and Wigan, in their all dark strip, kicked off. We managed a decent break in the first half minute, but their keeper collected without any real pressure on him. McLaughlin turned it back to Power, who few Scowen in the box, and his cross to the back resulted in a corner on our left – which we took short and McGeady did what he does and dinked in a cross which the keeper was onto first at the near post. Another corner, on our right, came as yet another ball into the box was hoofed away, but Scowen dropped it a bit short. Even Wright got to the by-line to hook in a cross as we kept up our lively start.
It took Wigan five minutes to get in to our half, but we forced them back to halfway before they resorted to foul play to halt our progress away from our own box. Hume galloped away and found McGeady, with another cross, low this time, being booted away from the near post. The pair repeated the move soon after, and this cross – a high one – was headed for a corner on our left, which ended with Power heading wide of the far post. As the tenth minute approached, there was a break as a Wigan player needed treatment – probably for wondering how his side were going to get into the game – and we restarted things with a throw in the right. Perhaps most encouragingly, we didn’t concede a free kick in the first fourteen minutes. Perhaps we should have, as a minute later Wigan got into our box for the first time, Wright allowed his man, Joseph, to turn with the ball and fire low to Burge’s right for 0-1. Poor stuff, Bailey. Only at Sunderland.
Right on 20 minutes, McGeady burst into the box on the left and fired just over the near post – a decent chance, and not far off the mark after a couple of nice passes. Maguire dwelt on the ball, allowing himself to be robbed and Wigan to break, with Power chasing back to concede a corner on our left which was cleared off a combination of Burge’s fists and Wright’s head, with McLaughlin chasing wide to complete the job, hoofing it up the pitch.
Hume made a good run down the left, but was tackled before he decided to cross, the corner being taken comfortably by their keeper. A spell of patient play around their box saw Maguire’s shot blocked and Wigan eventually clearing his cross after McLaughlin gave it back to him. Hume pulled up on the edge of the Wigan area as he laid the ball off – another hamstring? – and the game stopped again. That gave the new gaffer the chance to have a word, with half an hour gone, with his players and McFadzean to get himself on to join the fun. The ball had been on our possession for the majority of the thirty minutes so far played, and most of that possession had been in the Wigan half – but we’d not really troubled their keeper, who’d taken a string of crosses but had no shots to stop.
A like for like swap, with McFadzean going to left-back and helping start the move that saw McGeady feed Scowen, whose low shot from distance was tipped away from the foot of the keeper’s left hand post for a corner. When that was cleared, we won a few out on the right, which Maguire put in, causing a bit of a scramble before it went down the other end and into the arms of Burge. A Wright foul on halfway gave Wigan the chance to show why they were bottom, as they punted it straight out for a goal kick, which Burge got well up the field. Maguire weaved his way into the box and worked it back onto his right foot – but shot high from a good position. A loose Wigan pass gave possession to Maguire, but his pass to Gregg hit Will’s heel on the edge of the box, and although he did get the ball back, Wigan cleared his cross from the right side of the area with three minutes to go to the break. As we entered the final minute of the half, Wigan had a bg shout for a penalty as Flanagan got on the wrong side of his man, who went down. Replays showed the Wigan player making a real effort to go down, so the ref got it spot on by ignoring it. Four added minutes were announced as we got it back up the other end in an effort to end the half on a high.
A free on the right, awarded when Scowen’s legs were taken from him as he turned to cross, was taken by Maguire as we packed the box, but it was a bit deep and another chance went uncreated.
And so the half ended with the same old same old – loads of possession (70%), precious few chances created despite 76 passes in the attacking third, and (this time) only one shot on target (the same number as Wigan). A lively start should have brought something, but our lack of creativity in the danger area was glaringly obvious, although Grigg at least looked like he might be sharp enough to take a chance if he got one, and McGeady looked like he might create something. Unfortunately, “looked like” doesn’t win games.
As the stadium reverberated to the slightly ironic half-time sounds of Orange Juice and Rip It Up And Start Again, we wondered just how much Johnson was going to rip up before the restart. Perhaps Diamond for Maguire, who’d seen a fair amount of the ball but not been able to create or score? Scowen and Power to take the chance of a shot from distance more often? One thing was certain – Wigan wouldn’t be that bothered if things carried on the same in the second half, as they looked reasonably happy to catch or get their heads to crosses, or block the crosses in the first place.
Leadbitter set the second half away, and Wigan won an early throw, then a corner as McFadzean tried to get it back to Burge, which they fired to the near post, missing the target with the touch. Once we’d got the ball up-field, it was more of the same in terms of the ball being mostly with us and mostly in the Wigan half, but there were still loose passes to concede possession. Naismith needed treatment after a challenge a few yards outside our box – as their sole striker, that could be a big problem, but he was soon back in the action. More passes, more switching play, more not quite getting through. A foul by Scowen gave Wigan the chance to sling one in from 35 yards ten minutes in, but it was headed away only for Maguire’s pass into the centre circle was straight to a Wigan player. This preceded the visitors’ best passage of play, ending when a cross went too deep and was cleared by Flanagan.
Scowen had a couple of corners on our right, getting the second straight back and having a third opportunity but that was cleared as well as Wigan defended effectively. A period of play on the right ended with a good cross from Power that Grigg headed down towards goal, drawing a good save and another corner. McGeady was fouled as it was cleared, with Grigg unable to turn in the box. Crankshaw (honest) replaced Naismith on 63, which probably wouldn’t make much difference to us. The sub was nearly onto a through ball, but Burge was out of his area sharpish to clear and we heaved a sigh of relief.
The visiting side were having much more of the ball than in the first half, but it was McGeady who shifted it onto his left and brought another fine save. While the corner was being set up, Graham and Power made way for Graham and Embleton. A bit unlucky, in Gregg’s case, I think. Wright was there at the back post to clatter the defender who headed the corner for…another corner on the right, again from Maguire. A bit of pinball ended with McLaughlin firing wide as we approached the last twenty minutes and Sunderland struggled to create a clear opportunity. We needed a clever intervention by McLaughlin to nick it of Joseph as he jinked along the line into the box as Wigan threated to make a mockery of all our earlier possession and increase their advantage. McGeady, who must have run out of puff, made way for Diamond with quarter of an hour to go – at last, some pace in top half of the team. McFadzean was on the end of yet another series of passes, his cross going for a corner, but that was taken by the keeper as we pushed players forward to form what was virtually a four man front line. Scowen scurried past a handful of defenders and into the area, but his shot went up off a foot and into the keeper’s arms. Another corner, this time from Diamond’s cross from the right, was dealt with by the Latics’ defence before Leadbitter scuffed his shot, which bounced high and wide.
Another change for Wigan brought some fresh legs to their midfield for the last five minutes as we looked less and less likely to get anything from the game despite maintaining over 70% possession. Five added minutes were awarded, we carried on slinging in crosses that just weren’t good enough and Maguire was booked for a foul as Wigan cleared. The free went towards McFadzean, who handled near the flag, allowing Wigan to walk it about and win a corner. They didn’t really look bothered about scoring from it, but were happy to keep the ball away from their goal. Joseph was booked for whining about not being awarded a free kick, then they made another substitution – I was losing count by then, to be honest.
Listening to a Wigan commentary (don’t ask), they commented that every one of their players had been magnificent, and while that might be a slight exaggeration, how many times would even a most optimistic Benno or Barnsey have had the opportunity to say the same about our players? The final whistle was greeted with a reaction akin to that which followed Norway’s defeat of England.
As for us, Mr Johnson must be seeing the enormity of his task – if we fans can see what we’re lacking, a professional coach must surely see it and react sharpish. The lack of creation of clear-cut chances is glaringly obvious, as is the lack of pace through the middle and up front. With no Gooch and O’Nien, only Hume has any speed, and he only lasted half hour.
Man of the Match? Difficult to pick, for the polar opposite reason than Wigan will be when asking the same question. Nobody really stood out, and while Grigg, for the second game in recent days, actually looked like a footballer, we persisted in slinging in crosses for the absent Wyke rather than playing balls along what the experts call “the channels”, which Will would be far more likely to profit from. Scowen carried the ball around, as did Maguire, but the former doesn’t like to shoot and the latter couldn’t find a forward pass anywhere near the box. McGeady danced about like we remember, but, again, nothing came of it. Leadbitter was OK, but then OK in his position relies on others to do the effective bits further up the field and win games. Which they didn’t.
In the absence of anyone standing out, I’ll give it to the cat on the far right of the right hand pair in the East Stand.