Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.43 – Sunderland away

Article by Paul Beasley Friday, April 2nd, 2021  

SEASON 2020/21 No.43 SUNDERLAND AWAY

Pre-match

Contrary to the advice I gave myself a few FVs back I’m currently doing anything but taking the one game at a time approach. In fact I’ve actually gone way beyond that and looked at all the remaining fixtures of half the teams in L1. To what end I’m not totally sure but probably to get a better feel for the likelihood of a team going up automatically, being all but assured of a play-off place or battling to get into the lower reaches of the top six at best.

Some runs-ins look much more challenging than others. Pompey appear to have it very easy, as do Ipswich and ours could be considerably harder than it is. Lincoln have to face Charlton, Blackpool, Hull and Peterborough. Blackpool come up against Gillingham, Sunderland twice and Doncaster. Two thirds of Charlton’s games are tough ones.

It’s fascinating and much too close to call. Form comes and goes. Good runs start and stop who knows when? The same goes for bad runs. And then there’s the fighting tooth and nail against relegation aspect to take account of plus the ability to relax and play stress free football that sometimes comes when mid-table security has been achieved. In these Covid times players’ minds should not be wandering to foreign beaches.

On paper our hardest remaining game by far appears to be Good Friday’s although no team should be under-estimated, particularly Gillingham who went above us after beating Wigan on Wednesday.

As we go into the Easter period if I were pressed to pick the champions of our League I’d go for the Black Cats but it will be close having looked at their fixtures.

If we play in the North East as we did against Blackpool and with the mind set we took into the Northampton game we’ll get well beaten and deservedly so. If however it’s more of the Donny and Lincoln performances allied to the professionalism we showed in the past two seasons at the Stadium of Light when we gained creditable 1-1 draws, then who knows?

This tranche of L1 fixtures is missing a couple of clubs. A reminder that we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet. Lincoln will not be hosting Milton Keynes nor the Addicks four days later. Between 22-28 March they had three positive Covid-19 tests in the camp. Their training ground is now closed and their players and staff are self-isolating.  When we beat them a week ago we knew they’d had these test results and were a man or two down.

Lincoln CEO, Liam Scully, gave the following response to “Lincolnshire Live” asking: “Have a significant number of players and staff been affected”?

“In the interests of medical privacy, I don’t want to name them. It’s significant enough for this to be of concern to Public Health Lincolnshire, which is why such action has been taken. We’re very respectful of the support we’ve received from Public Health Lincolnshire and the EFL. It was a difficult decision but we’ve been wholly supported throughout. We respect the competition immensely. We’ve played through previous outbreaks of Covid, when the situation was under a lot more control than it is at the moment. Without going into the finer details, this is very different to previous cases.”

Mention of the situation being under a lot more control previously is a bit of a head scratcher for me as is the mention of difference to previous cases.

I obviously hope it is contained and there’s no lasting damage.

Fixture pile ups are not helpful but with Lincoln’s injury list and poor recent form a break for them may not be as damaging as it could have been.

Sunderland 3 Oxford United 1

I’m never aware of who is to referee our matches until kick-off. “Trevor effing Kettle” was all I could say when realisation hit. It’s not just Oxford fans that despair when we see his name.  An accountant who adds two and two to get five wouldn’t last long. A brain surgeon with the shakes would be out in no time. A 10 stone weakling cannot be a heavy weight boxer. Acute colour blindness prevents a person becoming a pilot. See where am I’m going with this? Yes, how the f**k is Kettle still being employed as a referee?

The reason the date says  19th October 2023 Trevor is because it’s a self -winding watch. 

I’m not going the whole hog and saying he cost us all three points or possibly even just the one but he’s a wild card (yellow and red) that disrupts the outcome of games of football.

This was a decent performance against probably the best side in L1 but individually there were decisions made and things done which did not help our cause. It’s that complete understanding of what the task at hand is and the brain power to put into play what’s needed to achieve the objective we’d set ourselves, be that a win or a draw.  Unfortunately I thought we were a bit lacking in that regard which definitely puts us where we are, which is struggling to get into the top six as opposed to being right up there at the peak with Sunderland. Okay, that’s a bit simplistic but I think I’ve made the point.

I thought our lead, when we took it, was merited but I’d say the same about it being all square at the break. The equaliser had been coming. Sunderland had been getting more and more possession and were showing quality that hadn’t been there initially. They looked good on the ball, definitely had belief and were moving it around quickly.

Officials don’t have to explain where they get the added time from. Kettle stuck three minutes on the first 45. Not much had happened to merit that. We’d scored but no player had required treatment. The first goal for the home side was clocked at 45+2 thus in the 47th minute not the 48th so only a minor argument against Kettle here perhaps.

Trickery from Jordan Jones got him past our left back before he played a low ball in from the bye-line which was converted from close range by Lynden Gooch. That left-back was Jamie Hanson and I thought the criticism he was getting from some of the texts that came in at half time from our supporters was very unfair. Firstly he’d done pretty well up until then, secondly who’s to say our regular LB would have done better and thirdly how about some recognition that the attacker might have been difficult to dispossess? I hope those harsh critics were praising our makeshift defender when he came up with a sensational tackle on the hour mark.

We started the game well which is something we can’t always say. Good shape, fairly solid and showing that we considered ourselves Sunderland’s equals.

Our goal on 21 minutes was the best of the game. Brandon Barker took the ball on with pace through the centre of the pitch with one of those runs where you think he should be passing it, but maybe not just yet as he’s that good when he gets going. When he did move the ball on with the outside of his right foot it was the perfect lay off for the back on form James Henry, who drilled it low and hard from just outside the corner of the penalty area beyond Lee Burge.

Kettle’s woeful officiating was not going unnoticed even with us in the lead. Free-kicks sometimes given, sometimes not, for what looked like the very same offence. Consistency? Not from this guy other than consistently shite. Fouls on Olamide Shodipo, never. Measuring the distance a defender should be from a free-kick, sometimes eight yards, sometimes at least a dozen, sometimes couldn’t be arsed.

At the break having just been pegged back I asked myself, could we go again?

The immediate re-commencement said we could but soon Sunderland were playing as they had done in the latter period of the first half and then when Mark Sykes was dismissed for a second yellow with an hour gone, the chances of going again were much reduced. The more apt question was could we hang on?

When cards had been shown fairly early on I feared where it would lead. I wasn’t even sure Sykes’ first was even a free-kick let alone a booking. Kettle’s pointing indicated it was for persistent fouling and MS had given away a lot of free-kicks. Quite questionable though that this was card worthy based on a lot of things we see in football. I can see why the second one was given. He came sliding in and caught the man. If he’d not gone for it perhaps as fans we would have complained, but did he have to go in quite like that knowing that he had already had one card waved in his direction?

That was one of the decisions made and things done which did not help our cause. I like Sykes’ energy and enthusiasm but come on that probably cost us.

Out on the pitch it was a proper battle but nothing bang out of order which may have ended up in a maiming and the recorded 13 fouls committed by them and 20 by us says more about Kettle than the two teams. That said there were many times when we stupidly put hands on opponents when there was no need knowing full well that when he’s in the mood Kettle doesn’t need any encouragement to blow his whistle.

Although they looked the more likely team to go on and win it we didn’t fold and had a chance or two ourselves although not of the clear cut variety.

Jones hit our bar with an absolute belter but although it was only moving very slowly the clock was getting towards 90 minutes in its own pace. With ten minutes of normal time left was it a mistake to think maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a point? We weren’t though keeping the ball and had no hold up play of note in the opposition half to relieve the inevitable pressure.

Forget the third goal deep into added time when we were pressing for an equaliser; it was Sunderland’s second that was the key moment regarding the result. Yes Cameron Brannagan gave away a foul but then Kettle has so much to answer for.  Well he doesn’t actually though does he? Referees never do and that’s one of the biggest things that is wrong with the game today, and always has been, in my opinion. I, and I suspect many other fans too, would have a lot more respect for officials if they explained their decisions or from time to time admitted they had made a mistake. I find it impossible on this showing to have any respect for Kettle.

Many things in football annoy me. One of them is players feigning injury to waste time or stop an opponent’s momentum. I’ve no idea what the situation was with Brannagan after the free-kick was conceded, but given what had happened earlier in the game, Kettle should have waited until he’d got back to his feet and checked that he was okay. That the kick was taken quickly raised two issues and it may be that here Kettle is getting the full force of my spleen venting when some of it is really directed at referees, assistant referees and those responsible for them in general. There was no whistle blown before the kick was taken. Some insist on it others don’t. I am all for the advantage being with the side who has been given the free-kick but consistency is 100% needed. Then there was the fact that the kick was not taken anywhere near where the foul took place. That is totally down to Kettle. He should have stopped play immediately. Except he’s an incompetent knob so he didn’t.

Putting all that to one side for a moment our defending wasn’t great.

As supporters from afar we can have little to go on as to what actually happened in the tunnel at half time and when the game was over. Football is a man’s game. (Sorry ladies, it’s your game too but I think you get my drift). Dish it out, then take what comes your way but there are lines that should not be crossed. I may be biased but I don’t think we’re a dirty side or a team that is right up there when it comes to shit-housery and the dark art stakes, especially now Jamie Mackie is not amongst our number.

Max Power’s provocative sliding in front of our technical area when he’d put the third away mightily pissed me off but I, like those in that area, have to accept it. And on another day when Power again faces Oxford with fans present (I have a dream) and gets vicious abuse, he has by the same token to accept it. That’s what makes football what it is. The rivalry. The almost animalistic instinct. Something very special. Something that gets the blood pumping.

Then there was the alleged head-butting of Jack Stevens. If that did happen then a line has been crossed. I’ve only got the commentators word to go on but if Kettle and his minions did hang about on the pitch for a few minutes until a tunnel fracas reached its natural conclusion that is unforgiveable and adds to the utter uselessness of the man. Time will tell if anything comes of this but it didn’t appear to affect our keeper’s performance.

I’m OUFC through and through. 100%. No make that 110%, that’s the way it goes. But that doesn’t mean I’ve not got time for other football clubs. Sunderland have been one of those. They’re a proper footballing City with a large loyal fan base, who based on the last two seasons have made us welcome drinking in their pubs pre-match. It’s not their fault what happened today but there’s now history between Oxford United and AFC Sunderland that wasn’t there before. Perhaps it will soon be consigned to history and written off as one of those things. Or perhaps from now on whenever we play them it will be part of the narrative.

Right, so where does this leave us? Down to 11th. Not looking good. However, there’s much that can be taken from this defeat. Probably that we weren’t (quite) good enough to beat Sunderland but as they’re who they are, probably good enough to beat most others.

We should come away with a feeling of injustice and use that to motivate us to go on another run to match that of mid-December and January. We should be able to beat Accrington, Crewe, Shrewsbury (x2), Wimbledon, Plymouth and Burton. That leaves Gillingham. Not so sure about them. Say a draw. That would give us 78 points. Enough? Why not?

 

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