Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, December 14, 2019

I can't feel my feet - Sunderland vs the Mighty.

I've never been to the Stadium of Light before and what a ground. How Sunderland are mired in League One and Bournemouth seem a fixture in the Premier League beggars belief. This is a proper big club ground, with proper big club things knocking about, like burger vans, chippies with signs in club colours, and fancy car parks with colour coded match pass schemes.

Snow on the hills on the way across, sleet falling and the brightest rainbow I've ever seen. It feels good to be travelling with expectation.

Prior to today, I've driven through Sunderland once. It seemed like a giant version of Leigh or Blackburn by the sea. Nothing on this visit is really dispelling that impression. Apparently it has a beach. I want to go to Sunderland beach. More than anything. Maybe not today though. I walk up to the Wear and it's cold. The wind whips down the river valley and I hurry back, past the metro. I decide Sunderland is exotic, it's continental almost, with it's beach and fancy public transport. Perhaps, post Brexit, it could become a spot for city breaks and yachting.

Like Monte Carlo, only British
The pit wheel from Monkwearmouth colliery stands outside the ground. They used to tunnel under the sea for miles round here. Brett Ormerod is walking past, he used to run every channel, hassle for everything. I think afterwards I should have asked for a picture. Brett Ormerod. There's no player in the world I'd pick ahead of Brett.

The lad wants to go in the ground. We're absurdly early and the climb to the top of the stairs is absurdly long. The view from the seats is spectacular, the stand and roof frame the pitch like a TV set. We bicker about exactly where to sit.

Not the Crown Ground
The steward is chatty. He's like a TV north east stereotype, friendly and warm. He's the sort of person who should give courses on how to be a football steward. He's bothered that the lad won't be able to see but the lad wants to sit at the back (and in the second half, the steward is telling him to stand on the seats, so he can see - no stupid insistence on people sitting down or patrolling up and down telling people to move their ankles out of the aisles, I've no idea if the rest of them are jobsworths, but this lad is a diamond)

2:55 and the ground is filling up and the Blackpool boys begin making all that noise and it's every where we go as the players come out. There's something good about how we basically know who the team will be and it's started to feel like our team, finally.

The first goal is a stunner, Matty Virtue from outside the box, to the right of the D, is running onto it and viewed from the height we're at, there's something strangely slow motion about the way he curls one into the top left hand corner. It's a an absolute beauty, cushioned perfectly, by the back of the net, and we go insane. For a moment, it feels like the weight of the world has gone and we're floating away. I always like it when Virtue scores - he's just an honest player, no airs or graces. He used to captain Liverpools U23s but you wouldn't know it. He feels like a player from another era - something distinctly undemonstrative, non-celebrity about him.

We're ok first half and we should score again when the ball breaks for James Husband (who I always call Steven) and his low shot is goal bound but big Armand can't get out the way, or perhaps even gets in the way trying to get a touch and we're denied another one.

I can't recall whether they scored before or after that, before I think, and I can't remember much about their goal other than no one was massively at fault and it was the first time I heard the Sunderland fans. I feel sorry for them in a way. They're like an extreme version of so many teams these days - big clubs who've got no chance of winning the Premier League, squandering absurd amounts of money to not really get anywhere in particular. There's something wrong with football that these sides don't get close, that Everton, Sunderland, Leeds, Villa and all the rest of them don't even get to dream of finishing third. That those teams havn't done anything for about 20 years. Have won nothing. But Sunderland were always a bit like that, never really quite doing what it felt like they could. I've always quite liked them. Today they don't threaten that much, a couple of their forwards look good, but there's no inspiration or magic about their team and they huff and puff but just look like there's no real energy to them at all. It looks, for all the world, like they need an Aiden McGeady type player. Where could they find one of those?

Half time and it's baltic, icy wind howling round the upper tier of the stand and the second half can't come soon enough. It's one of those halves that just happen. The minutes slip by without anything quite going right for either team. We're the better side marginally, but they have the better chances, hitting the bar and Alnwick making a rare hash they can't take advantage of.

There's a bit of needle in the game and a few spicy tackles. The ref does little to endear himself to either set of fans and I suspect little to endear himself to the players with his schoolmasterly insistence on pointing to the ground in front of him, so he can book players in a needlessly formal manner. We have one great chance robbed from us as Scannell (on for Sullay, who has either got a knock or Larry is just annoyed with his anonymity) hares clear of the defence but the ref pulls the play back for a clash that happens 10 seconds earlier and was our free kick anyway. There's a shout for a penalty, Gnandulliet trys a piledriver that comes off their defender for a corner and later fresh air kicks at a lovely ball across the box.

They have player sent off and there's a surge of optimism. Joe Nuttall comes on and looks like he's interested, linking player beautifully a couple of times and miraculously not instantly giving away 3 fouls in his first 3 attempts to win the ball but then he completely messes up his one chance to run through on goal with a heavy touch.

The whistle goes and it's a rousing reception for the players. They did well enough, but it does feel like with a bit more cutting edge, we could have had two or three. Larry says as much after the match. They've all been solid, Tilt has played well after his comic capers and surly strops, he's shown some real class at times in this match - Spearing has been superb - watching the match from above gives an insight into how well he gets onto the bits and pieces and how he moves, anticipating who is going to go forward and filling in behind them.

Murmansk can't be much colder
It's a measure of how well we are doing at the moment that driving back, a draw feels only OK. We still aren't playing super sexy football but we are decent. More and more it feels like the players know their jobs and it makes you wonder what we can do with a couple more thought through signings. It makes you wonder and then, knowing what you know after watching the Mighty for so long, you wonder if that's a dangerous thought.



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