The Euros helped to tide me over till the real stuff came round again and I’m ready to roar again this afternoon. I was sorry to see Sam go but Moyes is a fine replacement. Maybe we’ll see Defoe in Sam’s next squad and this would certainly provide me with some interest in the England team again. Man City away is always a daunting task but the first match of the season is probably the best time to catch them on the hop before their latest signings as well as Pep Guardiola have had too much time to gel and the fact that Kompany is out can only help. Like everyone else I’m disappointed with the Kone folderol and the signings so far, apart from Januzaj, who’s certainly looked a class act. I haven’t heard anything about the Fellaini move recently but I think he’d be a great asset for us. The news that Seb would be out for six months or so was a major blow and with both Catts and Kirchhoff being sidelined today our midfield is looking decidedly thin. There’s still eight hours or so to go to kick-off time so I’ve no idea what our line-up will be but all four new players will be in the squad so one or more will no doubt feature. The Old Red Lion at Angel has recently become the official pub for Sunderland fans in London so I’ll be there and I hope the atmosphere is as good as it was on my last visit back in May when we ensured safety against Everton. Match prediction: 1-1.
I got to the pub dead on 5.00 and was surprised at how quiet it was with none of the faithful as yet evident. I got a lager in and took a seat in a good spot. Pretty soon I got the team news and Kone was starting as were O’Shea, Love and Gooch with the three other new lads as well as potential wunderkind Asoro on the bench. Rodwell was starting while Khazri was a sub, which gave me food for thought. As had been suggested earlier, Joe Hart was only on the bench for them and I’d heard that his replacement Caballero was a bit wobbly so I hoped this form would continue. By kick-off time the pub had filled up considerably but I still couldn’t see anyone in our colours.
We were playing in red and white and not that awful pink kit and we attacked from the off winning a free-kick that forced Caballero into a save. Two minutes later, though, we were one down from an Aguero penalty after PVA was judged to have fouled Sterling. Man City piled on the pressure and PVA conceded a corner in a very ungainly manner but we cleared it. In the eleventh minute we managed a rare break but nobody was there to tap it home after a great cross from the left by, I think, Gooch. Gooch gave away a free-kick near our right corner-flag but Vito punched it away and then caught it but as we reached the half-way mark we looked no nearer to getting an equalizer while City looked likely to get another. The Norwich match was on the small screen in the same room as our game and a lot of those present seemed to be watching that but then the first chant of “Haway the lads!” went round the bar so that gave me some heart. On the half-hour a great long distance pass from Kone landed not far in front of the onrunning Defoe and Caballero had to race out of his box to boot it clear. I’d only seen a little of Gooch before but he’d looked handy and he was making some effective runs down the left. We were defending quite solidly while making more forays up the field so all in all things weren’t looking too bad as half-time approached but we needed to keep it down to 1-0 by then or better still of course, nick one back. In fact we started to have our best spell of the game and won a corner from a Rodwell effort that produced a stab from Defoe that Caballero did well to get away. Gooch got the first yellow card of the game three minutes from the break. We won two corners in quick succession but couldn’t capitalize on them. There was only a minute of stoppage-time and the score remained 1-0 as the whistle went. After a disastrous start we’d managed to make more of a fight of it as the game went on and with Khazri and Januzaj on the bench I felt we could steal a goal back.
Three minutes into the second period we conceded a corner but Kaboul’s header got it away. My mind drifted back to the opening game of last season and Kaboul’s performance then so he’s certainly come on a great deal. City continued to dominate possession with over 80% in the first ten minutes of the half. The atmosphere on the pitch and in the pub was more reminiscent of an end of season match than a season opener and we needed a bit of oomph from somewhere. City brought on Navas for Nolito and just afterwards Sterling managed to get to our byline and put a cross in that Aguero thankfully shot just wide. In the sixty-third left there was applause in the bar as we saw some subs stripping off and next thing Khazri and Januzaj came on for Gooch and Watmore. Meanwhile Delph had come on for Silva. Love was booked and conceded a free-kick in a dangerous spot near the right angle of our box but Vito scrambled De Bruyne’s shot away. Despite being dominated, there was still just one goal in it and there were over twenty minutes to go so hope remained for a late sickener. I’d just written that when a low Rodwell pass found Defoe running into the centre of their box and he doesn’t often miss those. The pub exploded into a mass of jigging shouting bodies. Big Sam’s bulldog jowls appeared on the screen shortly afterwards and he received a decent ripple form the pub patrons. With fifteen minutes to go a point looked a serious possibility but… Those sweaty seconds slid away mighty slowly. Iheanacho came on with ten minutes left. The bloke next to me pointed to the Norwich match and said, “We could be there but (pointing to our match) we’re there.” Defoe was subbed by McNair as we shored up for the closing stages and with Sterling looking a menace down their left we needed all the help we could get. With three minutes to go we went behind again when a cross from the right wasn’t saved by Vito and as it came across the box it hit McNair and went into the net. What a pisser for all of us but especially for him. It looked like 3-1 shortly afterwards but somehow Iheanacho contrived to scoop the ball over our bar from close range. There were four minutes of stoppage-time and we went for an equalizer right till the end, keeping up the spirits of those in the bar, but it ended 2-1. After the false dawn of our goal this was hard to stomach but in the ultimate scheme of things, a narrow defeat at the Etihad isn’t too bad.
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