Ah-ha, you weren’t expecting to hear from me for a while, were you? This is what is known as “role creep” – I get appointed to the highly coveted position of RTG away reporter and suddenly I’m popping up talking about the ressies – admittedly mind you at an away game. I do feel a little guilty as there are hundreds of employees who have toiled away for years at the palatial RTG offices overlooking the Wear without being given a chance to do a news page article but what the hell – I’ve got the password now so no-one can stop me.
Until about three thirty I didn’t even know about this match. I then spotted it on the internet. As our lass doesn’t work Mondays (and West Brom is the closest thing to a reserves home game if you live in Hertfordshire), I was able to rush home, get in the car at about 5 o’clock and still make it to the Hawthorns for the seven o’clock kick-off (just). Getting there we were told they’d “sold out” of the 10p teamsheets! Sold out? There were only a couple of hundred people there and few of them seemed to have teamsheets. Mick Mac was sitting just along from us – I hope he managed to get one; otherwise it would have been a bit of a wasted journey for him. Anyhow, there were a decent number of Sunderland supporters there – one of them kindly allowed me to copy his teamsheet.
We started off with Ingham in goal, Ben Clark at RB, Bjork and PFB at centre back, James (who had played at Stoke) at LB, Tommy Smith on the RW, Leadbitter (who was sub recently – Ipswich(h)?) and Dickman in CM, Black (who played a game last season – was it Villa(a)?) at LW and then Teggart and Proctor up front. Nee new Quinny? I can only think that it is something to do with the suspension that kept him out of the squad against Sheff U on satda. That was a pity, as I’d liked to have seen him play. I also would have liked to have seen Tommy Smith up front as I think it is more likely there that we’ll need him.
The planned formation didn’t last long. Bjork and Dichio (yes him) clashed heads very early on. Dichio came back on after getting done up but Bjork was out and so Scott came on to go RB with Clark moving into the centre with Babb. Babb managed to get himself booked fairly early on, which pretty much summed up the sort of night he was going to have. The early part of the game I thought we were doing well. Leadbitter was moving well in CM and has nice ball control, Smith did some canny dangerous runs into the box, we created some decent openings but both Proctor and Teggart were guilty of soft shots when either more power or putting it slightly further from the keeper would have seen us score. West Brom were mainly relying on breaks and Lee Hughes in particular was looking out of sorts. As happens though we lost the ball on our left and a cross was whipped in to find an unmarked Dichio (is there some sort of rule about this?) who had a fairly easy header. By the latter stages of the first half, West Brom had moved very definitely into control.
Second half came and we tried something radical – we moved to 4-3-3 – very unlike us. It seemed to have paid dividends almost immediately as Proctor this time fired in a very hard shot – although it was at the goalie he couldn’t get a firm hand on it and so it squirmed its way into the net. Unfortunately that was the exception that proved the rule – the 4-3-3 just didn’t work for us. At first we had Teggart as the middle man with Proctor to his right and Smith to his left. Later on Teggart and Smith changed places but that was not the issue. The three young lads just had no control over the midfield. As the West Brom midfield took charge Dichio and particularly Hughes grew in confidence and gave our defence a tough time. Despite being 4-3-3 we kept trying to play the passing game that the first team has adopted. Leadbitter in particular kept trying to pass it across a midfield that was just too stretched to cope and so possession was handed over – from one of those, Hughes was put through and, looking like the Hughes of old, he finished clinically. Babb was then guilty of one of the worst cross defence balls I think I’ve ever seen – under no pressure he sent the ball sideways but it would never have reached Scott at LB if we were still sitting there now. West Brom accepted the gift gratefully for Dichio to get his second. We gave the ball away again for the fourth to Hughes near the edge of the box to send an excellent shot into the far corner.
Except for the pretty important pairing of Dichio and Hughes I don’t know how many of their team had first team experience or were near the first team. So maybe one should not be too harsh on our team. However, none of these lads did themselves much of a favour in front of McCarthy. Several of them would like to be back in the first team or break through quite soon. Having got rid of 23 players it is not surprising I guess that the reserves don’t look as strong as they have in the past. I don’t think you can blame Ingham particularly for the goals but Poom has nothing to worry about in holding onto the first team jersey. Babb was just awful – he actually seems worse than last year. Clark was better and may actually have been OK playing alongside a decent partner. James didn’t inspire me as someone who might be playing first team football. Scott, Leadbitter, Black, Dickman and Teggart just looked young. Most worryingly neither Proctor nor Smith (after his early brightness) did themselves any real favours.
Shouldn’t get too worried about this – we all know our squad is thin and players like Smith clearly can play a notch above. Also, while the second half 4-3-3 was worth seeing out as an experiment, I don’t think we would have persisted with it in a real first team game – of course a Healy/Thirwell/Macateer middle three would also be an enormously different proposition to Black/Dickman/Leadbitter. My last words to our lass as we left the stand to head over to the pub to drown our sorrows were: “you can see why Whitley is the one playing in the first team at present.”