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Sunderland lost the first “derby” of the season to a lively Boro side who took the chances that came their way while we didn’t. Two down at the break, a rally around PVA’s goal gave us enough impetus to go on and win the game, but we ran out of puff and didn’t. Simple as that.

Another mad week in the life of a Sunderland fan.

Sort out the Kone situation, run City close, then lose the other half of our rock-solid central defensive partnership for “personal reasons.” Thanks for last season, Kaboul – but it makes you wonder how much of an inkling Moyes had of choppy waters ahead when he signed Djilobodji, and (presumably) had Rodwell remind us that he is a centre half by trade. The details of Kaboul’s personal reasons might never be fully known, but if they’re genuinely down to family problems, then family comes first. He did seem to genuinely buy into what we’re about, and after taking a while to rid himself of the injuries the Spurs fans had warned us of, he was an absolute beast at the back – with a penchant for the sort of run upfield that had us on our feet. The tears at the end of the season seemed genuine enough, so it just typifies our luck that we get a bloke playing well, and appreciating what it means to be part of the Sunderland family, only for something non-football to come along and sink its teeth into our backsides.

Obviously, when I say “sort out the Kone situation” that doesn’t include him turning down a contract offer, and picking up an injury which adds him to Kirchoff, Cattermole, Jones, and Larsson on the sidelines. Add to that the doubts over Borini’s toe, and you’re welcome to conjure up a conspiracy theory – everyone else will in advance of the derby-lite. It does add more fuel to the debate that Kone’s claim of innocence regarding the online transfer request is another bit of subterfuge by Team Kone. Football makes cynics of us all, and the KK stuff in the last couple of weeks has given us every reason to be cynical. Too much of a coincidence, or are we really cursed as a club?

In the absence of them up the road, we’ll take Boro as our derby-lite and aim to be North East Top Dogs above them. They regard it as a derby, the media do likewise, so we might as well join in the fun.

Moyes had decided to take on another he knows and presumably trusts in Steven Pienaar, who, on the one hand, brings 247 games worth of Prem experience and a further 150 from Holland and Germany, but on the other 34 year-old legs. A one-year deal means he’ll be a seen as a filler-in, but with the way our injuries and other assorted departures are going, he might end up playing 37 games at centre half. Wikipedia, that well-known source of absolute truth in all things, reckons he’s getting paid £3.12 million a year, which equates to £60k a week or £1,500 an hour assuming a 40 hour week, according to a photo of Winston Churchill and Ghandi holding the Northern League trophy aloft, alongside a pithy quote along the lines of “We love owt like this, us, like”.

It being a derby, the telly people snapped it up and promoted it as the Great North Eastern Premier League shoot-out. The cocky newcomers against their nearest, almost established just outside the bottom three rivals. Of course there’s a bit more edge than to other games, it can’t be helped, but it also meant that we’re talking about a Sunday dinnertime kick-off. That, of course, means a funny old time for the Auckland and district jolly boys’ charabanc to leave Bish. Luckily, I’d done a reconnaissance job in Sunderland on Friday and knew which refreshment sources were open before noon.

Moyes had his first home game in charge, and even he must be wondering what on earth is going on with our squad. I certainly am, as eight of those who were regulars in the team that looked better than half decent in last season’s run-in were absent, and only one of those absences can be attributed to the manager. Yedlin hasn’t come back, M’Vila is still exiled in Siberia counting his roubles, Kaboul has gone, Borini, Catts, Kirchoff, Kone is playing silly buggers, and Khazri was on the bench. Even by our standards, that’s a lot of changes.

Love O’Shea Papy PVA
McNair Rodwell
Januzaj Gooch Watmore

To be honest, that looks more like the team we’d put out against Shrewsbury on Wednesday, but you can only play the hand you’re dealt.

We headed south on a warm but blustery afternoon, and it soon became evident that Boro didn’t dwell on the ball, moving it about quickly although not into any danger areas. O’Shea seemed to have the defence well enough organised, with Papy quick to show that he could read the game and get in the way of things. We pressed forward without troubling their keeper, which was a shame because he showed more than once that he wasn’t that hot on keeping hold of shots. Januzaj ran well down the right but saws his cross claimed by the keeper, then Defoe worked enough space for a shot, only for a Boro shin to knock it away for a corner. Unlike in our recent history, when our corners (pre-Khazri) usually failed to clear the first defender, this one, from Januzaj, sailed way past the back post – setting the trend for the afternoon. With Watmore cutting in from the left, we weren’t being unreasonable in expecting something positive to happen, but it was at the other end that the goal came.

On the quarter hour, and without having had the ball in our penalty area, Stuani took a pass thirty yards out, took a couple of strides as PVA backed off, and unleashed a screamer that dipped over Vito and into the far corner. Nowt the keeper could really have done about that. They trundled another effort harmlessly wide shortly afterwards as we huffed and puffed around the edge of their box but couldn’t create a clear sight of goal. When you’re struggling, bad things seem to happen, and around the half hour O’Shea began to hobble, and inevitably limped off with half time still eight minutes away. With no central defenders on the bench, Pienaar made his debut in place of Rodwell, who moved to the back. He’s been telling us he’s a centre half, so it was time to make good on that claim.

As the half wore on, Pienaar showed some nice touches as he came deep to collect the ball, but no matter how hard he looked, there was rarely the option to play a killer pass – from within thirty yards of his own goal would have been difficult anyway. Right on half time, which I’m reliably informed is the best time to score, Boro played it down their left, Negredo turned Rodwell and played the ball into the path of Stuani, who simply passed it into the net. Then there was the whistle, and the half time chat was of how we’d climb the mountain that face us if we were to get anything from the game.

McNair, who’d done more defending than midfielding, made way for Lens, who made his presence felt from the off, providing a more attacking and creative dimension to our midfield. When he made enough space down the left to roll the ball to the feet of Januzaj right in front of goal, we were halfway out of our seats in celebration – but he made a complete mess of the shot from the edge of the goal area, and the chance was gone. PVA was starting to make more of his trademark runs down the left, and when he cut inside and fired in a shot, Guzan tipped the effort away for a corner. Even the height of Papy was insufficient to get anywhere near the cross, and (not for the last time) it cleared everybody.

We’d had plenty of the ball without producing a shot or a killer pass, and the screams for Watmore to unleash something were at last heeded on 71 minutes when he lashed one along the turf. Guzan stopped it, but PVA was in like lightning to clip the loose ball into the net. Ha’way, twenty minutes to go, we can do this, and for a while it looked like we just might. We were on the front foot, and piled forward, with a bit shout for handball coming when the ball ricocheted off a Boro defender in the box, but the ref was having none of it. Our period of dominance gradually ran out of steam and Boro drew their second wind and forced us back towards our own half again. Asoro, impressive in pre-season, was given ten minutes in place of Watmore, who seemed to have run out of ideas, but, one unlucky bounce off him that went for a goal-kick apart, hardly touched the ball.

Three added minutes were announced, we howled our desire for the team to get something from the game, but Boro held out quite comfortably in the end.

Did we deserve to lose? Yes, as Boro took the two chances that came their way, while we took only one of the several that we had. Mind, had it ended up a draw I suspect Karanka would have accepted it while publicly claiming they deserved all three points.

A long, hard season? It’s hard to argue against that. We’ve lost two, and while the City game gave us hope that we’d cope with square pegs in round holes thanks to our organisation and team spirit, the Boro game showed that, unless you have a squad of world-class players, there’s only so far you can get with that. O’Shea’s injury means that we’re down to one specialist centre-back, and he has just 93 minutes of Premier League experience. Mind, Papy was probably the pick of our defenders in the second half. Upfield of him, Pienaar showed some clever touches without setting the world alight, McNair was solid if unimaginative, and Rodwell ran about a lot before turning into a defender by necessity. Defoe fed of scraps, of which there were few, while Januzaj faded and ran into dead ends too often late in the game – but always looked like he might just produce something. A shame that he didn’t. Watmore needs to either shoot more, or give it sooner to someone else who might, while Gooch once again showed that he doesn’t give the ball away.

The rest of the defence? Love still looks like what he is – inexperienced - and improved in the second half, while PVA looked like our most potent attacking force despite perhaps allowing Stuani too much time and space for the first goal.

Man of the Match? Probably Lens, for a second half that will surely earn him a start at Southampton.

Keep the Faith. Sorry, I had to say it.

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