Too slow, and too weak – that basically sums up our performance today. OK, we had more possession than the Boro, should have gone ahead very early on, and were probably the better side in the first half, but not where it counted and after the final whistle deserved exactly what we deserved. Despite packing the central midfield, we were eventually overrun in that department and despite Ndong having the beating of Friend down our right early on, lost out to Boro’s extra pace. Like last season’s encounter on Teesside, we were the worst of two not very good teams. They say, apparently, that success arrives when preparation and opportunity meet. Today was an opportunity, and we’d had four days to prepare. Obviously not long enough.
Same old same old for the last few days, eh? The same questions, the same arguments, the same names plus a few new ones, then Mr Short did the decent thing and did an interview, in which he spoke a lot of sense and explained a few things which, if explained a while ago might have saved him a lot of grief. As usual, though, I reckon he’d been the subject of yet another piece of dodgy advice - in this instance, to leave the talking to someone else. He may well have been prompted to open up by the club being awarded for Fan Engagement – either a Sunderland fan got engaged, which happens all the time, or (more likely) it was a misprint which should have read Fan Enragement (thanks Rob the Mag for that one). We’ve also had Robbie Stockdale speaking on behalf of our first caretaker double act, when he said the right things by saying nothing really insightful at all.
Anyway, on to the day’s main event. A Boro fan of my acquaintance reckoned that we’d win when we discussed the game yesterday, which I suppose was his way of avoiding disappointment if it did actually happen. As you’d expect, yesterday’s results left us bottom of the league, just to add a bit of extra nonsense to the proceedings. Speaking of yesterday’s results, we can take a very small crumb of a giggle from Defoe helping Bournemouth to a win at Sid James – even if we are really in no place to giggle at anything away from our own back yard. We had the now customary get-together for non-Sunderland town buses in the car park at Wynyard, and not much else beforehand as the 12:15 kick-off precluded any pre-match lubrication other than the Wetherspoon (or secret early openings) variety.
As the Riverside challenged Boundary Park (Oldham, in case you were wondering) for the title of coldest ground in the land, the team was announced. We were expecting changes, but the midfield was a bit of a surprise.
Jones O’Shea Wilson Oviedo
Ndong Catts Gibson McNair
The depth of our squad was highlighted by there being no forwards in the squad apart from Grabban, which was more than a bit worrying and made us wonder what the likes of Asoro and Maja have been doing wrong. We started the game defending the goal to the left (south) of our section, which seems to move further anticlockwise with every visit. We had the better of the early exchanges, to the extent that we in the seats were conned into thinking we could win it. Ndong had left Friend in his wake a couple of times down our right before he turned up in the middle, looked up, and forced a good save out of Randolph. The loose ball fell perfectly for Grabban, and I’d already grabbed a mate on either side in celebration when the home keeper somehow got something on the shot to deflect it over the top. That moment summed up Randolph’s game, as he veered from Monty to Kelvin Davis with nothing in between. Only a few minutes after that save, Boro broke down their right, and Downing (we taught him all he knows) cut the ball back for Braithwaite to cross, and we left Tavernier enough space at the front post to fire past Ruiter. Bollocks, bugger, and blast. Catts drew a good save with a well-struck shot, we shouted for a penalty when the ball hit a Boro body, then Leadbitter looped a shot way over the top before McGeady got a wee bit closer. He’d struggled to have an impact on the game, but that effort showed that he was still probably our most dangerous player – if only we could get the ball to him in the right places. Billy Jones got in a header that drew another Monty moment, and we were still behind.
On about 25 minutes, Jones went down and whatever you think of his defensive capabilities, you know that if he looks hurt, he is hurt. So it was a straight swap with Adam Matthews. We actually looked the better side, apart from the vital last twenty yards, and the fans were understandably frustrated the lack of opportunities that our general play produced. Ruiter’s save from Asombalonga was a good one, and the home side were probably relieved at the end of the two added minutes.
There were no changes for the second half, but that only lasted ten minutes as Ndong emerged from a challenge on the line right in front of us clutching his right thigh. He eventually limped across the field for treatment, but didn’t look too disappointed to leave the field – but mebbe that’s me just being a tad too cynical. On came Honeyman, which was just as well, as McNair was already tiring (understandable) and Gibson was getting slower, so we really needed an injection of pace. That lack of pace allowed Boro to get on top, and Ruiter pulled off a great save from Braithwaite, managing to catch the subsequent loose ball before a Boro player could get on to it. He was there again with a more straightforward but nonetheless vital take of a free kick as we got a bit ragged, but we still had chances to make something happen – we in the crowd know that Grabban won’t jump, and that he wants passes that he can run on to, so why do his team-mates insist on firing balls at his chest, and even more inexplicably, his head?
With about fifteen left, a knackered McNair was replaced by Williams, who did exactly what we expected him to, running about a lot and almost getting onto the end of a couple of passes near the Boro box. Perhaps with his energy from the off we’d have had a better chance of getting something from the game – and where was Gooch? Boro made a couple of late changes to run the game down, McGeady put a shot just wide, and the officials gave four added minutes. As usual, they were no use to us. If only their keeper hadn’t got in the way of that early Grabban effort – how different would things have been?
Man of the Match? Well, the central defenders weren’t actually that bad, as they kept Asombalonga at bay, but, while O’Shea has never been blessed with pace, he looked like Usain Bolt alongside Wilson. The packed central midfield lacked any zip until Honeyman, then Williams, came on, and McGeady only showed his threat in patches. I’ll give it to Ruiter for the couple of very good saves he pulled off.
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