Saturday, September 16, 2006

Boxed in at The Stadium of Light

Sunderland Stadium of Light, in a box
7 from 9 ain't too bad.

It was about time that I stood back from the political shenanigans of the world and took time to understand the "Keano" effect. It was Sunderland's first home game under the new manager and expectations were higher than normal after two away wins during the past week.

It was obvious from the time that I jumped into the car that there was an extra buzz in the air today, and that a few thousand extra fans were making their way to the ground, the traffic certainly got much heavier as I approached Cleadon Village. I had arranged to meet my old friend and colleague Fred and his son, and we commented upon the number of supporters standing drinking outside of the Companions Club and the Conservative Club in Bridge Street, Sunderland. We hadn't experienced such numbers for a long time, and a large throng of red and white clad beings slowly made their way over the Wearside Bridge and clogged the area around Sheepfolds and the Wheatsheaf.

As we made our way into the ground it was all too plain that a few more than the usual 24,000 had turned out. The "Keano" effect was evident, the faces were animated and excited, the badge sellers, the programme sellers, the burger vans, even the police, had smiles from ear to ear. We had come hoping to see a thorough routing of Leicester City, that's how high the expectations were. The Casino in Bridge Street had a banner hung on the wall that expressed why Roy Keane deserved to be leading our team (see picture below.)

However the game itself failed to live up it's billing, 34,104 spectators did their level best to roar the ball into the back of the net, after Leicester took a lead just after the first half break. Liam Miller and Neil Collins looked jaded and tired, Robbie Elliott's distribution was less than ideal, Kavanagh was not making as many tackles as he had previously. Murphy and Brown saw very little of the ball. Yes, they all looked a bit weary, a combination of three games in eight days and a tough training regime set out by Keane. So it was no surprise that Collins and Miller were substituted in the second half, Murphy had already been replaced by the popular Dwight Yorke in the first half, after pulling a hamstring as he entered the box. Young Tobias Huysen had only been on the pitch for about five minutes when he swept into Leicester's penalty area, drifting across the box before slotting a left foot shot past Henderson, who was in no position to save it. The Stadium went wild with noise and the team perked up for ten minutes until the game fizzled out through lack of energy.

The only real comment that I can make about the second half is that defensively we looked comfortable, Varga and Cunnningham have formed a decent partnership in the back four. Leicester never looked dangerous, but you have to admire the team spirit and courage in coming from behind to get the point. It's a shame, you should really win your home games and look for at least a draw away, but 7 points from the last 9 is a fair harvest when compared to what we had two weeks ago!

Click picture to enlarge.

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