The Swans headed to the north east in confident mood after a scintillating win over Arsenal last weekend, but faced a rejuvinated Sunderland team, whom were poles apart from the drab and dreary outfit we saw back in August at the Liberty. What a difference a manager can make (sometimes).
Given the media plaudits that surrounded the discovery of the Swansea triangles the previous weekend, there was perhaps (in some quarters) a sense of added pressure and expectancy to deliver the goods at the Stadium of Light. However anyone with a sense of perspective will readily accept that getting 3 points – especially away from home – isn’t quite as easy as that.
The irony of Brendan Rodger’s comments on “lazy journalism” from last Sunday can’t have escaped anyone, as those whom have watched the Swans – or indeed any other half decent footballing side(s) – over the last 3 to 4 seasons would have witnessed these “triangles” many times before. Isn’t this what most good, well organised football teams do?
Anyway, back to the today and our 718 mile round trip to the home of the Black Cats. Back in June when the fixtures were released, a debut trip (for myself and my 5 companions for the day) to Sunderland in January, seemed like a fab idea at the time. However getting out of bed and having breakfast at 04:30am for a 05:30 departure really put our ‘fab idea’ to the test!
With Polka Dot Jack at the helm, Sports Writer Jack, Porn Jack, Bald Jack, Wine Taster Jack and my good self eagerly awaited the 6 hour plus drive ahead – which would no doubt be filled with the usual banter that accompanies such outings (minus the alcohol and drugs in our case I hasten to add).
By the time we reached the world famous Stenchsham services (ha ha) on the M5 it was just about getting light and it was a sobering thought to see other weary eyed, half asleep Jacks there as well. A quick pee, purchase of some Match Attax cards & coffee and we were off again on our travels.
We spent some considerable time debating (arguing?) the appointment of Chris Coleman as the Wales manager and then subsequently the Wales/Team GB scenario. I shall say no more on the subject and thankfully by the time we reached Woodall services on the M1, we’d moved on and were discussing how a shitzu had managed to bite Bald Jack on the buttocks. Don’t ask.
There were plenty of other Jacks here to, not to mention some Charlton and Derby County fans. Which made me ponder as to which motorway service station was the busiest – in terms of the number of different football teams fans that passed through – on a Saturday. Anyone care to have a guess?
We reached our chosen lunch destination – Durham – by 11:15 and decided to give our legs a good stretch and have a wander around this historic city, which incidentally is home to one of the UK’s top 3 universities.
Durham is an ideal stop off point for anyone heading to Sunderland to watch a game, as it’s only 14 miles away. A quick recce of the food establishments so us choose Hide Bar/Grill/Restaurant as the location for our pre-match meal.
For the first time ever I tried a ‘Calzone’ – which isn’t a brand new food range from Joe Calzaghe – it’s a folded pizza which looks like a giant cornish pastie, but tastes a lot better. In fact it was so nice I forgot to take a picture of it!!
So with this small part of the travelling Jack Army now bearing full stomachs, it was time for us to march on to the Stadium of Light via the free park and ride service to the stadium.
Thankfully the P&R service for the stadium is well signposted and can be seen as soon as you get near Sunderland, so we quickly parked up and jumped on one of the old school style double decker buses that were being used. The locals were friendly and helpful – which is in keeping with the rest of the people I’ve met from these parts. Just a shame then that they don’t feel like that about one another I guess…. but hey ho, look at us and Cardiff. Enough said.
One thing that stands out as you approach the stadium is the industrial heritage of the area. You couldn’t help but notice the huge amount of waste ground that surrounded the stadium, which no doubt must have once been a home to a colliery or similar industry. It made for a very bleak, almost unwelcoming feel – especially on such a windy and cold day.
A quick walk around the ground made me realise why some people compare the Liberty stadium to the SoL – apart from the obvious capacity difference of an extra 28,500 seats! Its got the same bland exterior and even the overhanging roof supports look the same.
The Sunderland match day programme was an excellent read and was packed with interesting info and stats for both home and away fans. I particularly liked the way you could flick the pages of the programme (from front to back) and in the top right hand corner of the page you’d see a picture by picture animation of their winning goal against Manchester City – a very clever idea.
There was also a pull out sheet of stickers inside the programme – some of the players and some general club stickers – which obviously were intended for adding to the club sticker album. A very clever marketing ploy – parents buy a programme for the stickers as little Jack wants to put them in his club sticker book. Who needs Match Attax or Panini eh?
And so onto the main event and the small matter of 3 points. Prior to the game, I’d have been happy with a point – as I am always when the Swans play away from home in the league. However, news of ‘The Iceman’ (Gylfi Sigurdsson) starting filled me with greater confidence that we could take all the points on offer.
The Swans backed by a guestimated away following of 1,400 (in a crowd of 36,000 odd) were in fine voice as the game kicked off and we saw little evidence of the ‘Roker Roar’ at this stage. There wasn’t a great deal of evidence of it throughout the game – which was disappointing. Any noise they did generate was made by a section of about 3,000 or so Sunderland fans to our left in the south west corner stand but it didn’t last for very long even if it was loud in fairness.
Here is my take on the game (from what I remember!) in bullet points…
- The opening exchanges were fairly even with Sunderland looking the more threatening through the busy Bendtner and Sessegnon;
- From the outset Siggy was instrumental in most of the Swans attacking play and looks a class addition to the squad on the evidence of his performances thus far in a Swans shirt;
- Having carved up the Sunderland defence, Scotty skyed a chance from 6 yards out and 60 seconds later we were 1 nil down to a cracking – if somewhat fortunate finish – from Sessegnon. Ruthlessly punished for not taking our chances – grrrrr;
- After the goal, we seemed to play the next 25 minutes camped in Sunderland’s half, passing and probing but without finding any real cutting edge bar a Danny Graham header and a couple of long range efforts. This certainly silenced the home crowd if nothing else, despite them being 1 nil to the good. Bizarre if you ask me;
- Whilst taking refuge from the biting wind at half time, the talk amongst the fans was extremely positive and we felt as though we could still get something from the game – such was our dominance;
- The 2nd half started pretty much as the first, but this time the Swans were pushing hard for the equaliser with Nathan Dyer getting into the game more and more;
- Unfortunately on the other wing, Scotty was having a torrid afternoon and on some occasions had 3 men marking him. His performances aren’t what they were last year BUT we mustn’t forget that he is now a known quantity and is often marked out of games. He is also up against far more physical defenders – which for a lightweight winger is a big ask;
- A cracking free-kick by Siggy was the closest we came to an equaliser and shortly afterwards he was replaced by debutant Josh McEachran. Some fans questioned this decision, but you’ve got to remember that Siggy is still building up his match fitness after only limited game time for his parent club Hoffenheim;
- From the brief glimpse we saw of Josh, he seems as accomplished on the ball as you’d expect of any BR signing. My only concern is that he may be too lightweight against some of the more physical teams – such as Stoke!
- We dominated once again for long periods but without really threatening to score. It did however make the natives a wee bit restless and impatient. The patience of a premier league football fan is very limited obviously 🙂
- I suppose it was inevitable that pushing forward so much that we’d get caught on the break and so it was with a sublime finish from 25 yards by Craig Gardner to finish us off;
- It sounds daft saying this after a 2 nil defeat, but defensively we were strong again and we beaten by two special goals in fairness. However, Rangel is quickly developing into what seems to be the ‘norm’ for left/right backs in the Premier League nowadays – great going forward, but gets caught going of position when defending. A theme sadly which is prevalent for most of the away games I’ve seen;
- Referee Chris Foy gave a typical Foy performance – baffling decisions (yes it was a corner Chris – over 36,000 other people could see that!) and an annoying habit of getting in the way of the ball;
- I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that we might have to setup differently away from home. I’d have liked to see the marginally more physical Routledge start ahead of Scotty and maybe even Lita instead of Danny G. Only time will tell if Brendan read’s this blog or not;
- Finally whilst we get criticised for just looking pretty and not having a cutting edge, I do think that over time we’ll overcome this deficiency (away from home) and for that reason alone I have faith in Brendan’s perseverance with our style and formation;
We trudged away from the stadium somewhat bewildered as to how we could dominate a game so much and yet threaten the goal so little. But we were far from despondent as we joined the long queue for the short P&R bus back to the car.
The Mackems we spoke to were more than forthcoming with advice on how to avoid the traffic by taking x and y road, whilst others were more intent on suggesting that we take it easy and enjoy ourselves whilst in the north east – “why don’t yows spend the night in Newcastle like and smash the fooking place up good and proper like?”. It could have been worse I guess, they could have wanted to have rumble with six 37+ year old Jacks 🙂
Before you could say Adebayo Akinfenwa we were back in the car and looking forward to our 6 and a half hour journey home – surprisingly upbeat considering the defeat but buoyed somewhat by the performance. I’d hate to have thought how we’d have felt if we’d got mullered though!
After only one brief stop at Woolley Edge services and a detour via Abergavenny due to the M4 being closed and I was home by 23:15 – still full of beans and in time to watch the Swans on Match of the Day!!
The journey home simply flew by and I can’t believe we spent the best part of 3 hours playing the football players and then pop group names word association game! I’d recommend it to anyone on a long away trip (even if some people cheat – Wine Taster Jack/Porn Jack!).
All in all it was a good day – apart from the result – and I remain as optimistic as ever. After all we’re “Premier League and we’re having a laugh” 🙂
Hopefully one of these will run in front of me on the way to Bolton for the FA Cup tie on Saturday…
Come on you Swans!