Barely seems football has been gone five minutes yet here we are, back writing up Sunderland match reports here at Roker Report Towers. Well, a quaint little B&B on Bootham Crescent, York, anyway, and one we are assured does a cracking full English breakfeast. Like the full English which, as I am writing this on Wednesday evening, remains tantilizingly out of reach and leaving me tingling with sadistic anticipation, the vast majority of our summer recruits are yet to be seen.
I must be honest at this point, and admit that my vantage point in the small terraced stand behind a goal was not condusive to accurate collating of facts from what was, in truth, an unremarkable game of football. But I will tell you what I know, who made what impression, and a fair bit about the joviality of the away support.Firstly, the formalities. Sunderland lined up in a relatively narrow 4-4-2 system. With Kieren Westwood still nursing a shoulder injury, Trevor Carson and Simon Mignolet took a half each with the Belgian starting the game. Phil Bardsley resumed his seemingly endless guardianship of the left back position, Anton Ferdinand started at right back, and Titus Bramble and Michael Turner were reunited in the centre of defence. The midfield had a tenacious look to it, with Craig Gardner coming into the side for the first time to partner Lee Cattermole in the middle of the pitch, and Jack Colback and Steed Malbranque manning the flanks. Kieran Richardson and Oumare Tounkara filled in up front.
If truth be told, it was York who started the better and produced what little quick, precise, and incisely football was on show. However, Sunderland surprised their hosts with some thunderous challenges to overwhelm midfield and swing the game dramatically in their favour. Leading the charge was Lee Cattermole, who was ferocious in the tackle and looked to be getting back to his combative self.
What little quality was on show from Sunderland on the ball came, all be it sporadically, from Kieran Richardson. And it was Richardson who received the ball, turned, and fed a marauding Phil Bardsley for the opening goal. The York defence seemed to be the only people in the ground shocked to see the Scotland international cut inside on his favoured right foot (yes Bruce - we can tell his best foot even if you reckon you can't, but fair play to you for having a sense of humour!) and sticking it inside the near post of Michael Ingham's goal.
York continued to press and show willing, and seemed to fancy their chances of getting in behind our defence, and managed it on a couple of occasions following errors from Bramble and Turner and finding Anton Ferdinand in typically lethargic mood. They were unlucky not to get a penalty when a forward looked to be felled in the area by a sprawling Simon Mignolet, or Dolph Lundgren, as he had been dubbed by one Sunderland fan. The referee gestured for a corner kick, the Sunderland fan proclaimed in a strong Russian accent "if he dives, he dies". We chuckled.
But it was Sunderland who got the game's next goal. Oumare Tounkara, who had provided the evening's comic enjoyment up until that point - partly due to his first touch being heavier than an Anton Ferdinand hoof and partly because every time he touched the ball it gave us a reason to shout the word "Tounks" - shocked and delighted just about everyone in attendance by showing some aptitude for kicking a football. Receiving the ball on the edge of the area, he cooly dispatched it inside the far post.
The second half proved a lackluster affair and was remarkable for the away support delighting in reminding Michael Ingham that he was, in fact, rubbish. The York goalkeeper, who made a couple of appearances for Sunderland under Mick McCathy and genuinely scared us all senseless, was in fine reciprical form and he jested and bantered with the Sunderland support. A goal kick was taken amidst anticipatory jests from the away support, only for Ingham to cheekily play a short pass to his full back before turning round with clenched fists and shooting his audience a similarly cheeky smile.
In terms of football, the second half was decidedly unremarkable. Richardson fired just wide, and Craig Gardner rifled a shot just wide. Gardner was not one to decline an opportunity to shoot all evening, firing four long range shots at goal and keeping Ingham busy.
But York made a game of it when Jamie Reed was fouled in the box by a Titus Bramble challenge that was almost as late as a News of the World apology. Reed picked himself up off the floor to hit the penalty straight down the middle past Carson. Despite it being a clear penalty, Michael Ingham getsured to the away fans it was a dive, before trying to reassure them their team's two goal lead was not in danger by telling us "he's sh*te". He wasn't, and York were back in it.
As the game descended into farce as substitutions seemed to take precedent over football, Sunderland's back four were rarely troubled. Of the kids to come on and play, Craig Lynch made a real impression. He was unlucky not to score after a neat turn and low angled shot which Ingham saved low down to his right, and displayed some real touches of quality as the game fizzled out.
All that remained was for a chant of "if Bramble scores, we're on the pitch" at a corner, more hi-jinks with Michael Ingham followed by some mutual displays of appreciation, and the final whistle. A routine affair but football is back and, for one night, terrace joviality was back. It is, unquestionably, how football was meant to be watched.
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