The walk from Manchester city centre out to Eastlands is very similar to the walk from Middlesbrough town centre out to the Riverside. You get plenty of time to think “why on earth did anyone think this was a good place to build a football ground?”. I lived in Manchester for 3 years (admittedly just short of thirty years ago) and know the centre very well. But a couple of hundred yards east of Piccadilly and I thought “I don’t think I ever once came over here”.
As we got to the ground a police van pulled up with its friendly slogan “Fighting crime; Protecting People”. Unfortunately it pulled up alongside traffic sign and so the Police declared themselves to be “Fighting people”. Hmm, a lack of marketing foresight or remarkable honesty?
We turned right by the Big Spikey Thing. The Big Spikey Thing is big and spikey. I think it might be Art. The route took us a couple of hundred yards down to the “Bradford”. Like Middlesbrough’s Riverside, Eastlands is short on pubs so it is remarkable that this fairly decent pub that is happy to accept away supporters and is listed in the various guides seems to get so few customers (home or away). It had been the same last time we were there.
My nephew arrived, along with a copy of the programme. This was of interest because, in order to get a bit of publicity for this site, I had agreed to answer some questions for said programme and have my photo put in. I have to admit I am gorgeous – I am sure there are girls’ bedrooms all over the North-East that have that photo up on their wall now. Anyway, much to my horror, and my companions’ amusement, the editor had taken poetic licence with my answers and had me saying things I’d never dream of saying. It made me sound like an opinionated ponce. As it happens I am an opinionated ponce – just not the one in the programme.
And so on to the ground and our seats at the back of the lower tier. Jolly good as it meant we were in the “stand up all game” section rather than “the stand up, sit down” section. Not so good for one of our lot who isn’t able to stand all game but who fortunately managed to swap seats with some others at the front. Do you want me to do my rant over giving seats to people who want to or have to sit down in places where their view won’t be obstructed? No? OK – but I will do it again, mark my words.
Another 4 at the back and 1 up front affair. I am not going to make any claims as to what was going on in the middle. Partly this is because I tend to get into trouble if I say it is 4-5-1. Some claim it is 4-1-4-1; others 4-1-3-1-1. Someone claimed it was 1-1-8-1-1-8 but I suspect he was a little too susceptible to TV advertising. However, the other reason I make no claim as to the middle formation is that I have no idea what Anthony Stokes was doing. In this I am part of a large group which includes most of the support in the ground, the rest of the Sunderland players and Anthony Stokes.
Poor Grant got pushed out wide – waste of talent having him there (oh Carlos please rescue us). Murphy occupied the other wing slot – in much the same way as one occupies a toilet when having a poo. By a remarkable coincidence the end product was identical.
The main area of uncertainty was who would play at right back. The answer was Nuggsy with Collins going into the centre. Nuggsy celebrated by going back to his maximum loony style of playing. Collins had a shockingly good game and actually looked like a Premiership quality centre half.
Apparently Sven is a good club manager. If he is, one can see why he was such a crap England manager. His tactics seem to be to sit deep, even at home, even against one of the league’s poorer sides and you never know what might come along. City might get somewhere this season (I actually hope they do) but comparing them as a football team to the current top 4 of English football is like comparing Oasis to the Beatles. Yes, in theory they are doing the same thing. And if you’d never seen the latter you might be moderately impressed by the former. But any comparison of the two is unfair to both. The former are always going to come out looking poor while it is insulting to the latter even to attempt to try to compare them with the former.
And so as Sven’s men sat deep we took control of the game – at least that is until we got too near the goal when we didn’t seem to have too much idea. As the half wore on we got bored of not being able to do anything near their goal and so thought “ok, we’ll sit deep as well”. This resulted in ten men from each side sitting in their own halves with one man the other side of the half way line. This was not quite as exciting as it sounds.
Second half was not too dissimilar. We were the better team but didn’t look very likely to score. Having said in the pub beforehand I wouldn’t accept a draw, I wanted a win, my mind started arguing with itself as to whether 0-0 would be OK. I had to break it up as various substitutions were made. Stokes went off, but missed and ended up in the crowd. Murphy was expunged and Chopra (I am old enough to remember when he was a hero) and Wallace came on. As happens when we make substitutions (but never seemingly because we make substitutions) we conceded. They went down the wing, crossed and shot. When you actually see a goal it always makes you wonder why they don’t happen more often. Well, they don’t generally and this game was some way below general.
Unfortunately for us City didn’t drop deeper as this would have meant them all standing behind their own goal line – which might have given us a chance. To be fair to us we did actually press a bit and had a couple of what if you squinted your eyes you could probably claim were chances.
There were quite a few despondent faces around back on the concourse but I felt fairly upbeat. I have decided we are going to eschew (what a great word) draws and go for victories. Draws lull you into a false sense that things are going OK whereas actually what is going to keep us up is getting some victories. And the way we are showing we can play I think we will get some. We are putting in some canny performances. This is remarkable when you think about the handicap we are playing under. We have what can a t best be described as a makeshift defence. In midfield Etuhu is amazing. He genuinely can not dribble or pass a ball to a team-mate. It is not that he is poor at it. He literally can not do it. Murphy was moderate in the championship and now looks like a moderate championship player. Stokes is a huge disappointment and we can not afford to keep giving him time on the pitch to show whether he is a footballer or not. Three players offering either nothing or in Etuhu’s case positively a negative. Get rid of them and I suddenly think we might get those results. I am not going to big them up because they haven’t played for us for a while but Kavanagh must look at Etuhu and Connolly must look at the non-existent efforts to support Jones up front and both must think, with some justification “I couldn’t do any worse”.
The good news is that with just one or two players finding some form and one or two coming back from injury we can turn decent performances into victories. And while we have been going through this run of awful results, all of our relegation rivals have been failing as well so we have not lost touch with safety (bizarrely we are not even in a relegation spot for reasons I can’t comprehend).
On Saturday their will be men and women coming to the SoL with their children who when they get asked “daddy/mummy, have we beaten the scum at home in your lifetime?” will have to answer “no”. What better time to test my theory of a victory being worth three points? FTM and sing your hearts out for the lads
John aka Herts