Jake’s happy, too

Malcolm Dawson writes….this season sees a new chapter in my Sunderland supporting life. This time last year I was in despair at the way the club was being run. I felt marginalised and no longer part of a club whose teams I had followed since I was six and who I first saw play at Roker Park in 1964.

I had been uplifted and optimistic following the Sam Allardyce-led great escape and expected us to kick on from there. I saw a group of players and a manager who it seemed took pride in being part of the Sunderland AFC family and who were as one with its supporters. But we didn’t kick on. We regressed. While Allardyce had seemed to turn around a club which previous managers suggested had a fundamental flaw, without going into detail, I could sense that he wasn’t getting the backing he had wanted even before the England job was offered.

Under Moyes, we regressed not just as a team but as a club. The football was dire, the entertainment minimal and the enjoyment non-existent. Add that to what was for me becoming an increasingly painful walk from car to ground and I took the decision not to renew my season ticket for 2017-18. To be honest I no longer felt as if I belonged.

But healthy living has taken the pressure off my knees. A change of ownership, a new manager, a virtual 100 per cent change in playing personnel and an ethos that values supporters has restored my confidence and optimism. And so it was I took my new seat – in the West Stand this season – hopeful but also apprehensive. Apprehensive because the danger of too much optimism and expectation is that should success not be immediate there is the possibility of a return to the criticism, complaints and negativity that has infected the stadium over the past two years. 

This being Sunderland after a couple of early opportunities to go ahead were squandered, it was almost inevitable that we would go behind. I braced myself for a host of “here we go again – same old Sunderland” boos and jeers but it didn’t happen. Thankfully, as befits the best Sunderland crowds, the roar which followed the briefest of silences after we conceded was loud and encouraging and the support never waned. The team settled, a couple of substitutions and we all know what happened next. But even so we still want to read Pete Sixsmith‘s take on the game and here it is, as knowledgeable and entertaining as always……

The First Win is the Sweetest

The last time we won our first home game was when Bali Mumba was a diminutive five-year-old and Michael Chopra slotted home a last gasp winner against a bemused Tottenham Hotspur side in 2007.

Two years later, we won at Bolton on the opening day and since then, nothing. We have lost to Fulham and Leicester and had a host of draws against the might of Birmingham City, Derby County and West Bromwich Albion, but not a win. Until Saturday.

Opening day joy for Chopra.

Granted, it was in a division that is not one that we would wish to be in. Hopefully we will not be in it this time next year and we will be preparing for a Championship game, But it was a win and it sent us home happy, with a spring in our step and with a smile as wide as the Wear at Roker Pier.

It was down to two things that have been rare at the Stadium of Light in recent years: superior fitness and tactical nous. The last few managers have had one without the other on the odd occasion and on more frequent ones, neither. Here, all the hard work from manager, coaching and fitness staff and players came together after a shaky opening half hour, where Charlton ruled the roost and we were distinctly second best.

But even in that period there were things to admire. There was a willingness to get the ball wide and utilise the skills and trickery of Gooch and Maguire. There was a collective spirit that suggested that we were not going to be the pushovers that we have been for the last few years. When we went a goal down to a correctly awarded penalty by Lyle Taylor, we did not buckle. Last season and the one before and probably the one before that, we would have done. This time we dug in and kept on playing.

Was this the back four in the first quarter?

At times we looked as shaky as a Hartley’s Jelly in an earthquake as Loovens and Ozturk struggled with the pace of Taylor and Grant. Loovens makes up in nous what he doesn’t have in pace while Ozturk eventually settled and looked much more secure in the second half. But the first half of the first half was a bit of a worry…..

Love and Matthews were both mildly tormented by the Charlton wide men with Marshall being particularly active. When Love went off injured, the arrival of World Cup star Bryan Oviedo made a difference- particularly in the 96th minute. Midfield was controlled by Darren Pratley for much of the first half, although The Boy Mumba, Honeyman and O’Nien never stopped toiling and trying to set up a platform for Gooch, Maguire and Maja.

But when Mr Brooks, a reasonably competent referee, blew for half time, we were in familiar territory – one down to a side who seemed more streetwise, more savvy and with more fire power than we had.

The main difference was that the crowd (a magnificent 31,097 which is a record for this league), did not turn. Instead of booing and apathy there was a feeling that we weren’t that far away from getting back into the game. And we did.

Off went O’Nien, who had maybe tried too hard and on came Sinclair, a big physical centre forward, the like of which we have rarely seen these last few years. He scattered the Charlton central defenders and forced them on to the back foot. He had shots – some not very good, but he made them aware that he was there and that he was dangerous. He also took the weight of sole responsibility off the relatively slender shoulders of Josh Maja and the young Londoner responded with a splendid equaliser in the 65th minute.

In the past, we would not have kicked on.

We would have allowed the opposition back into the game (Norwich, Burton, anyone else you care to name) but this time we kept at them and had chances to go ahead. Mumba’s diving header from a sublime Maguire cross would have brought the house down if only he were a few inches taller.

It looked like a draw. Sinclair had limped off, some were leaving for a post-match pint or an appointment with Sports Report when Oviedo produced a cross that could not have been bettered by Nicky Summerbee in his pomp and there was the tireless Lyndon Gooch to wrap up the points for us.

Nicky Summerbee

The crowd reaction was rapturous. It was akin to the second coming of the Lord or the roar that used to bounce around the Stadium in the halcyon days of Quinn and Phillips. The place simply erupted in joy and pleasure and in the realisation that we may just have got a particularly uncomfortable monkey off our backs.

All credit to Jack Ross for the changes that he made at half time. Three at the back, two wide midfielders and two up front. Very few, if any, of our recent managers would have done that. All credit to the players for sticking at it.

Will Maguire become a legend in the red and white?

On this form, Chris Maguire could take this league by storm. He can use both feet, has a clever turn and almost scored with a free kick. What’s not to like (his tackling in the box, says a small voice at the back of my head).

Mumba looked precociously calm and, although knocked about by Pratley and co, was never bullied. He finished the game well and deserved his win bonus of a bottle of Pepsi, a jar of hair gel and a new case for his phone.

The walk back to the car was a heads up stroll rather than the head down trudge that we have become so familiar with. There was a feeling that this may be the start of a revival and that the support has bought into what the owners, the managers and the players have started. There will be tough tests for this squad. We are light on experience. But on a day when we finished with five Academy graduates on the pitch, two of whom had scored, there was a feeling of pride in a job well done.

And it’s a long time since we could last say that.

Is it too early to say bye bye to the monkey?

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

17 Responses to “Sixer’s Charlton Soapbox: breaking the mould of the first day hoodoo” Subscribe

  1. Drummer August 5, 2018 at 7:18 am #

    Great report, great day !

  2. Joan August 5, 2018 at 8:15 am #

    There was a moment in the first half when I wondered if the same old story was going to contiue but around 10 mins before half time I saw the game shift and the team started getting on top. Jack Ross explained this was the players getting to grips with Charlton’s unexpected game plan. As Pete said, what a change this was. This was my first game in a long time … for many reasons, but I wanted to show my support for the new owners and the manager. I thoroughly enjoyed being there yesterday. Even watched the goals on Quest!

  3. Ken G August 5, 2018 at 8:37 am #

    To be fair to McGuire, he ran the length of the field to cover for the statuesque centre halves, but his ‘tackle’ was an act of desperation. Overall I thought he had an excellent game.

  4. Jeff August 5, 2018 at 9:07 am #

    Great report. Salut at its absolute best.
    We’re not always the greatest fans but this season above all others we are needed !!!When the tough times come, as they surely will we have to be up for the fight as much as this young team. We must stick together and if we do…. we will win together.

  5. Geoff Mangan August 5, 2018 at 9:21 am #

    There is a jolly tune that was played whenever we won at home. For the life of me I can’t remember it’s name or how it went. Sadly, I had the slightly less exciting but still gratifying pleasure of Sky Q recording to watch. I listened for that jolly tune to know avail but imagined the frenetic scramble & ‘Where’s that f*****g song high up in the Stadium attic.
    The other thing I listened out for was the halftime booing – almost an instinctive response.
    Thankfully, it didn’t happen and this is in everway down to Donald, Metvhen, Ross and Sartori et al.
    Real hope and perhaps the hope I can stand.

    • Joan August 5, 2018 at 9:35 am #

      I think they used to play the intro to We’re on our Way from Paint your Waggon. I may be misremembering Other supporters have adopted the song….not least Charlton yesterday…but I don’t think they get all the words

  6. Geoff Mangan August 5, 2018 at 9:43 am #

    “I’m on my way”? Trouble is that is so long since I heard it. Did they play it yesterday?

    • malcolm August 5, 2018 at 9:51 am #

      Don’t think they did. Thought the revamped music medley after Dance of the Knights worked well too.

  7. malcolm August 5, 2018 at 9:48 am #

    This was in some ways the perfect start for the new regime.

    It is always far more uplifting to win with a goal in the dying seconds, after having been behind, than it is to win by the same scoreline after scoring twice early doors then conceding towards the end.

    But there is lots to work on both on and off the pitch. Getting shot of the two truants will be a start freeing up funds for another centre forward, cover on the wings and at full back if Oviedo leaves. He was my MOM yesterday.

    Getting Cattermole off the wage bill wouldn’t be a bad move either for the same reason though if he stays he’ll have a role to play.

    Mumba did OK and for a 16 year old looked assured and wasn’t out of place though I don’t think he has yet earned all the accolades that some fans seem to be throwing his way. I hope they are proved right and that he will continue to develop and grow as the season goes on but he wasn’t a stand out for me.

    Ozturk looked shaky to begin with and he needs to learn that turning sideways and sticking out a leg doesn’t constitute a tackle, but with the change of system second half he started to press higher up the field and disrupt Charlton nearer the half way line and looked better.

    We’ve yet to see Flanagan and Baldwin but based on yesterday’s performance and what I’ve seen watching the U23s I think Beadling might be considered in the traditional centre half slot.

    The unity, the positivity and the buzz both on and off the pitch is something that has been missing in recent times. I was glad the whingers and moaners in the crowd didn’t start after we went behind. I just hope that they don’t start up again if we find ourselves losing 1-0 to Fleetwood or we have a mass walk out if we are 3-0 down at home to Shrewsbury.

    We need to build on yesterday and the support will have a big part to play. I don’t think Loovens could quite believe it at the end yesterday as he walked off taking it all in and applauding the crowd.

    • Joan August 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm #

      It was good to see the players …and Jack Ross… come over and genuinely applaud the supporters…unity goes a long way.

    • JohnM August 5, 2018 at 10:10 pm #

      Totally agree about Oviedo’s influence, we just didn’t look comfortable or threatening with Love and Matthews. What I liked most about yesterday was that heads didn’t drop. Not one. A lot of positives, but it’s a long season and if we are in the top 8 at Christmas and can make some astute signings ( like Pascoe when we were last at this level ) then we should go up

  8. Dave August 5, 2018 at 1:51 pm #

    Yesterday was great. Nothing like a last minute winner in front of a nearly full ground and the noise was wonderful. Almost everyone stayed and, oddly enough, the players actually believed they could score.It won’t happen every time but if we stay behind them to the end of the game we will undoubtedly get more points than if not.
    I would give MOTM to Gooch (and would have done before he scored), as Maguire had a poor first before a great second but Oviedo would have been close. He has shown his utter professionalism and class and, while for his sake I hope a worthy club come in for him, if not he will be a fantastic asset for us.
    One negative/positive. There WERE boos at half-time from some complete morons in the South-West stand but they got such abuse from those around them I hope they never come back.

    • malcolm August 5, 2018 at 2:23 pm #

      Didn’t hear the boos myself but I bet a lot of people watching on telly mistake the cries of GOOOOOOOOOOOCH for boos.

      Can’t remember which “expert” it was who couldn’t understand why the crowd was booing Chris “SHOOOOOOOOOOT” Makin whenever he got the ball.

      Agree though about hoping they stay away if they can’t get behind the team. Not every day will be like yesterday.

  9. Dave August 5, 2018 at 3:41 pm #

    Just a few but worrying enough. Also, the bloke on the end of our row hasn’t bought into the optimism either – ‘I’ve had enough – watching the same old shite’ at half time. At least he stayed and had a smile at the end.
    In all the optimism my greatest fear is that all the people who are customers not supporters (‘I’ve paid my money I can boo if I want’) will keep coming and, as soon as we have a bad day, will poison the atmosphere
    Incidentally, The crowd sang that song at massive volume just after the second goal. As we sing it, it is ‘We’re on our way’. I would be very surprised if anyone watching on the telly or listening on the radio missed it!

    • malcolm August 5, 2018 at 4:28 pm #

      Oh well was it Lincoln who said you can please some of the people some of the time etc? The crowd sang “We’re on our Way” several times but it wasn’t played on the PA after the match which has been the norm when we won at home for the past few seasons. Thing is it hardly ever got played so it was difficult to spot the connection!

  10. Alan J August 6, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

    Just wanted to echo Dave’s comment about Oviedo. Class and professionalism which shows up the attitude and actions of certain others even more starkly. I don’t know how his salary affects the wage bill but if it’s manageable, I really hope he stays.

  11. Mike Sixsmith August 6, 2018 at 8:35 pm #

    A great finish- all I saw in a pub in Pickering, just as I said we’d get a last minute winner.

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