Dear Roker Report,
I’ve just heard the very sad news of the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton. He was the best English footballer I’ve ever seen. He transcended club bias and every England fan loved him.
A few years ago, I spoke to Cec Irwin about Bobby. They were from the same town, and I’d just read the first part of Bobby’s autobiography.
He was very complimentary about the Sunderland team that took Manchester United to two FA Cup replays in the 1963/1964 season. Cec, who played at right back in those games, told me that Bobby had almost signed for us as a boy and that unlike his brother, he’d grown up as a Sunderland fan.
Rest in peace, Bobby. A true legend.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Jim. Thank you for your letter and for sharing your memories of the great man.
Although I never saw Sir Bobby play, there are certain players who are part of the very fabric of English football, and he was certainly one of them. His Manchester United and England career was legendary, and after surviving the Munich air disaster, the fact that he went on to achieve such success at domestic and international level was remarkable.
With only 1966 hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst still alive, we’ve lost another link to English football’s finest day, and the sheer volume of tributes from across the footballing world have shown just how respected Sir Bobby was.
Dear Roker Report,
Yet again, we’ve been f****d over by inept refereeing.
The calibre of referees is absolutely shocking, so why can’t we have VAR in the Championship?
It was a so-called Premier League who refereed us against Stoke and he was absolutely shit.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Rob. Thanks for getting in touch.
Personally, I didn’t think the referee’s performance on Saturday was as bad as Jarred Gillett’s display against Middlesbrough, but he wasn’t exactly brilliant, either.
Blaming the officials for our loss against Stoke would overlook our own shortcomings, in my opinion, and I don’t think VAR is the answer, either.
Premier League officials struggle with that system, so God knows how their Championship counterparts would manage, and it would just be another thing to get wound up about in the aftermath of games.
Dear Roker Report,
A visit to Stoke isn’t the most enviable prospect at the best of times, but trudging back to the car and mulling over our latest defeat on Saturday, my only comfort was the fact that my journey home would take just thirty minutes.
For the seventh time this season, we conceded the opening goal of the game.
Handball notwithstanding, Stoke forward Ryan Mmaee was afforded far too much space in the middle of our defence to take the ball down and slot past Anthony Patterson.
Having responded in positive fashion to make it 1-1 inside ten minutes, we wasted a glorious chance to go ahead moments before the break, with Abdoullah Ba firing wide having been presented with a gilt-edged opportunity in front of goal.
That cost us, as two minutes into the second half, more poor defending from a corner allowed Luke McNally to head home what proved to be the winner.
After that, and for all our substitutions and pushing more men upfield, we weren’t able to fashion clear-cut chances or force the ball home. Indeed, Stoke had more than one opportunity on the break to score a third.
We were too easy to score against and all too often not clinical enough in the attacking third.
The current lack of a midfield shield is stark, and we could certainly do with one of our strikers finding some goalscoring form soon.
For all the technically sound footballers named in the starting eleven, it was noticeable that Dan Ballard, storming forward from defence in the second half, looked more incisive and more urgent than any of them.
Not for the first time this season, a game got away from us.
It’s fine to think that ‘if you can’t win, make sure you don’t lose’, but with five defeats from the first twelve games, we risk being seen as a soft touch.
At times, we seem to resemble a performance art troupe rather than a football team aspiring to promotion and focusing on the ruthless accumulation of points. To put it more pithily, it’s ‘style over substance’.
Anyway, as I write, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. We keep the faith.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Oliver. Thanks for your letter.
Saturday was an immensely frustrating game, and in my opinion, the biggest disappointment was the lack of belief we showed against a physically robust and well-organised Stoke side.
When you combine that with Tony Mowbray trying to be too clever by half, as he opted for a team rammed with attacking midfielders and no starting striker, it made for a perfect storm as the hope we could simply outplay the Potters vanished amid a multitude of poor individual displays and a disjointed team effort.
We know that, on our day, we’re a match for anyone (as Southampton would attest to) but if things aren’t clicking, we are prone to these kinds of listless displays.
We simply have to find a middle ground and develop the ability to win games with minimal fuss if a top six challenge is to be mounted this season. It’s great to be adept at intricate football, but you have to graft as well, and I didn’t see enough of that on Saturday.
Dear Roker Report,
Before I start the main thrust of my post, can someone please tell Tony Mowbray to stop chewing toffees when he’s giving interviews?
I might be being picky here, but he comes across as someone who doesn’t really give a hoot about the session. It’s probably just me, but that’s how I see it.
Back to the football, and Saturday was the second time he’s been outfoxed by Alex Neil. They hammered us at home last season and they did us again at the weekend.
There were two bad teams on the day, but Stoke dug in and got the result. They were willing to grind it out and we came up short again, but we go through these same scenarios regularly as we get within striking distance and then implode at home, followed by a few more duff results.
We’ll probably win at Leicester tonight and go on another two or three-game run, only to see it go ‘pop’ again.
The key word is consistency, and Mowbray needs to stop using the phrase ‘put it in the bin and start again’, because we can only put it in the bin if something is learned from the game played.
He has to take the blame for the inconsistency. He has a big pool of players available and he certainly dropped a clanger on Saturday with his strange team selection.
Stoke are renowned for being physical, but we allowed them the run of the field and they cut through us at will.
If we’ve got genuine aspirations of going up this season, we can’t continually drop points either because of poor team selection or because other teams are prepared to roll up their sleeves more than we are.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Peter. Thanks for getting in touch.
I do agree that, with hindsight, Tony Mowbray got his team selection wrong on Saturday, and in many ways, he fell into the same trap as he did before the 1-5 hammering against Stoke last season.
The idea that we could simply pass them to death and use our skilful players to open them up without some physicality to back it up was a huge error, and it played a significant role in the loss.
Exciting and attractive football is always good to watch, but games like Saturday call for more grit and graft, neither of which we showed a great deal of. Whether Mowbray was overly confident, we’ll probably never know, but he certainly didn’t make things easier for himself, and he can’t afford to keep making that mistake.
Dear Roker Report,
I’ve read all of the letters and comments, and I agree with a lot of them.
Tony Mowbray is ignoring fans’ opinions as we’re crying out for a striker upfront, and it’s a poor excuse that the team had no training.
We were definitely not at our best against a Stoke side who used bullying tactics on Saturday, just as they did last season.
Why not give Nazariy Rusyn a start? After all, we brought him from Ukraine for that purpose. Both Hemir and Mason Burstow aren’t Championship players, so bin them both.
We’ve underperformed in the last two games and we have to pick ourselves up against Leicester, or it’ll be a huge thrashing.
If this goes on, we’ll finish about fifteenth to twentieth, which isn’t good enough.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Bill. Thanks for your letter.
Tony Mowbray’s decision not to field a striker from the start on Saturday was definitely a huge error, and although he might’ve wanted to keep his young forwards out of the spotlight for that game, it didn’t work and we paid the price.
Personally, I’d like to see Rusyn given a start, possibly through the middle.
He’s got pace to burn and I'm keen to see how good a finisher he is as well. Elsewhere, it’s obvious that Hemir has been brought as a long-term investment, and I don’t see Mowbray giving up on Burstow, either.
Eliezer Mayenda, who’ll hopefully make his debut before long, is another player who could make a difference. He seems to be big, strong and physically dominant, so hopefully he can bring something different to our forward line once he’s ready to go.