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Sunderland AFC v middlesbrough (A)...
sobs' blog

A dismal defeat courtesy of de Roon's early strike, edged us nearer the Championship, and whole sorry evening was summed up when substitute Januzaj's free kick didn't even reach the box, or perhaps when Catts sliced a shot so badly than it spun to a standstill next to the corner flag. Only mathematics is keeping us up, and only a fanciful combination of HMRC, Biggles, the Guardians of the Galaxy (the chocolate bar), and industrial quantities of narcotics can save us now.

The almost deafening sound of corks being thrust back into champagne bottles on Tyneside, and the beeping of the open top bus as Rafa reverses it back into the garage was the hopeful soundscape of the afternoon as we revelled in anything that would give us a bit of a giggle. Some even resorted to Terry and June on an obscure TV channel, others to drink.

It was only as departure time drew near that I realised how nervous I was about the game - probably for the first time this season, I had the fluttery innards normally associated with important matches. Nice to know I'm still human(ish). Being a local game, and apparently a derby, the convoy of buses/coaches descended on Wynyard Business Village, had a quick waz, and were on our way. Mind, a couple had detoured from East Durham to Spennymoor to amuse the locals and give JD Wetherspoon a quick profit boos, much to the amusement of the locals.

Ours was one of the first wave of buses to arrive at the still closed Riverside, have a quick chat with Ron's son who was on PC duty, and watch a couple of hapless young 'uns get sniffed to death by the drug dogs. Meanwhile, the various TV and radio teams ambushed various fans to ask their opinion on our predicament. Let's just say a lot of editing will have been required.

As we didn't get beat last time out, it was no surprise that Moyes named an unchanged side, which we discussed at length in the 90 minutes we had in the concourse before kick-off. The dafter amongst us hoyed their beer in the air, as is their misguided wont of an evening, and the SAFC stewards betrayed their loyalty by joining in with the singing. I really do look forward to Cattermole coming for pre-match beers in Hull.

Pickford (Jason Pickford according to their announcer, who may or may not have been the "legend" of local radio Goffy)
Jones O'Shea Denayer Manquillo
Catts Gibson Ndong
Khazri Defoe Anichebe

Look, if I write it as a 4-3-3 it looks more positive - I'm trying here, OK?

We kicked away from the visiting support in our new location in the South East (as opposed the South West) and.... well, it was a decent start. Bright and lively, with Ndong and Khazri showing the enthusiasm and bursts of speed that we've missed for most of the campaign, but after winning three early corners and playing a teriffic crossfield ball to Defoe who hit it with a volley that went straight into Guzan's midriff (the only time it is acceptable to use the word "midriff"), it all went a bit shambolic.

A hopeful, though accurate, punt over the top caught our central defence playing Angry Birds or some other game, and de Roon jogged through to tickle it past Pickford. Only nine minutes gone, so plenty of time to get back into things and remember how inept the Boro had been at the weekend - that's how things should have gone. Not with us, though but. Heads down, shoulders hunched, crap with a capital C. The bright start soon became a distant memory as we went all shambolic and began to fall over (can't all be down to silly new studs) and pass to imaginary players.

OK, we had moments that the optimists amongst us could latch on to as possibilities, but it truth we wouldn't have score if the Boro had gone home and we'd played shooty-in for a month of Sundays. Our main tactic was for Pickford to hit Anichebe on the left, which he invariably did, and Big Vic invariably won the header. Hey Dave, don't dither, put Vic up front nearer Defoe so that we get the ball in a place that will scare the opposition.

We can moan that their number 3 was lucky to stay on the field after going through the back of Defoe, and about his team-mate who did the same as we tried to break, but it's clutching at straws, which we're good at. There was a tiny bit of hope when Khazri played a great ball to Defoe, but the little feller was perhaps a bit too greedy on that occasion and held on to shoot when (if there'd been someone there) a layoff might have been more productive.

We did manage a good effort from Ndong which was palmed away, and when Anichebe put the loose ball back in Jones could only head over the bar. O'Shea took one for the team (dafty) and watched as Downing skied the free kick, then there was a nice tribute to Ugo Ehiogu on 44, to match the one before the game, in which we showed our appreciation of a proper footballer.

They found two added minutes, in which Gibson was booked for losing his pip after losing the ball, and the boos at the whistle were testament to out dissatisfaction with the performance, the club's position, and the outlook for the foreseeable future.

No changes for the second half, and once again started with a bit of life about us. Vic was fouled and Khazri drew a fine save from Guzan with the free-kick, but it was all a bit Sunday morning. Look, I've played enough Sunday morning to see what's going on, and there was plenty of the usual pretending to be working hard while desperately looking for a darkened spot to lie down in. Catts did produce one thunderous tackle to set up a move that saw Vic drive into the box and set up Defoe for a shot that was blocked, and Vic couldn't control the ball as it dropped at the near post, but this is all me just trying to flower things up.

It was basically two one-legged men at an arse-kicking contest, and one got lucky. Nearly but not quite is me being over-generous and optimistic. Catts, Khazri, and Gibson - who'd been as negative as a man can be and survive half-time - were replaced by Januzaj, Borini, and Rodwell, and it made precisely no difference at all. We still fell over, we got caught offside, we knocked the ball onto our own hand, and Januzaj produced that free-kick I mentioned at the top of the page.

Every time Moyes stood up he was booed. There were chants for Keano. There were probably chants for McCarthy, and there were four minutes added - can we not just declare and get it over with? Beep, all done, and there we are. Down in all but name. At least our remaining game mean that we have an influence on who else comes with us, which is about as interesting as the rest of our season gets.

Things got a bit daft as pop bottles were exchanged and the polis dragged a few home fans off for an evening of contemplation. Mebbe if the drugs and pyrotechnic dogs had been deployed at the home turnstiles they might have had more luck in catching people out.

Man of the Match? Probably Ndong (but feel free to disagree) as Khazri didn't quite manage to deliver despite his best efforts. Catts, one tackle apart, was about as scary as a pint of Fosters, and Gibson - well, as our Ian said, he was everything that Ndong and Khazri weren't. The rest - I can't be arsed to go into detail. A few had their moments, overall, we were nearly as bad as the opposition. One thing you can bet on is the fixture being repeated next season, and it won't be with the Premier League flag fluttering in the breeze.

Happy Days? Is it not over yet? Keep the... oh give over.

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