Today saw a wee departure for the norm with a day out south of the border. It was the second time I had seen the Black Cats in action this season and like the first it ended in a narrow defeat.
Not only did Sunderland lose the match but they also put in a truly dismal performance which infuriated the near 40,000 crowd which turned up to watch at the Stadium of Light.
In several ways the game as a whole was a disappointment, adding weight to my long held belief that the English Premier League is hugely over-rated.
Yes, there are some exceptionally good sides in it, as witnessed by the progress of English clubs through the Champions League this season, but beyond the first seven or eight teams (at most) the standard is decidely average.
Both Sunderland and Wigan were at best average in this match. The swirling wind wouldn’t have helped, but the number of times the players – Sunderland’s mostly – miscontrolled the ball was quite remarkable.
This was especially true of their back four and central midfield, with No 20 Andy Reid one player who stood out as being particularly useless.
Their passing was poor too, starving Kenwynne Jones and Djbril Cisse of service, which was a shame really as they were two players I had really looked forward to seeing play.
As it turned out, neither made much of an impression although maybe credit for that is due to the Wigan defence, which was pretty sturdy all afternoon.
As a whole I felt Wigan played a fairly defensive game, geared up to grind out a result.
That they did will no doubt be seen as a job well done in the eyes of the small band of travelling supporters they took to Wearside, but it didn’t make for great entertainment for the neutral.
In fairness they scored two very fine goals, the first of which came quite early on from outside the penalty area.
Their winner, scored on the stroke of half time was a thing of genuine beauty, too, albeit tinged with controversy.
The referee allowed play to go on when Kenwynne Jones went down with a head knock, and Charles N’Zogbia sprinted from his onwn half, leaving defenders in his wake, before sliding the ball past Sunderland’s Hungarian ‘keeper Marton Fulop.
Shortly beforehand, Grant Leadbitter had sliced through the Wigan defence to level the scores.
A 2-1 half time scoreline have rise to hope that there may be more goals after the interval, but the second half was goalless and largely uneventful.
Sunderland had the ball in the net twice, both efforts correctly ruled out for offside, but it was a dreadfully dull 45 minutes of football overall.
Somewhat appropriately, food wraps and plastic bags blew and swirled across the pitch in tumbleweed style!
As humdrum as the game turned out to be, the day had its positives.
The Stadium of Light itself is a terrific arena, and I am sure generates plenty of atmosphere when the ‘Red and White Army’ are given something to shout about.
I was seated three rows from the back of the North East corner, which at £22 and £10 for kids are the ‘cheap seats’ in the stadium.
Nevertheless, the view was excellent, if a little distant looking towards the far end where Wigan’s fans were situated.
Prior to the game, which I travelled to by train via Edinburgh and Newcastle, I gave myself an hour or two to look around Sunderland.
It’s a city I have travelled to for work on several occasions recently but this was the first time I was able to take what I would call a leisurely stroll.
I decided to get off the Metro at Seaburn, the stop before the Stadium of Light’s eponymous station, and popped down to the seaside for a lunch of fish and chips.
It’s not the first time I had visited Sandra Minchella’s excellent takeaway, and as before the food was excellent and relatively cheap. The haddock is highly recommended, although I’ve still not got to grips with the concept of ‘batter bits’ on top of the chips!
With a chilly breeze coming off the North Sea I quickly got moving and wandered down to Roker, deliberately going this way to visit the site of Sunderland’s late and lamented Roker Park.
Situated not far from the seafront in Roker Baths Road, it’s now a housing estate, although the area’s history has been acknowledged with some of the street names which include Goalmouth Close, Association Road, Clockstand Close, Midfield Drive and Turnstile Mews.
With the Stadium of Light only half a mile further along, it was well worth taking the time to walk through the club’s old neighbourhood, where you can still imagine the big crowds of yesteryear thronging the narrow terraced streets.
Another highlight of the day came, oddly enough, at Newcastle Central station on the way home, where I was able to pick up a copy of the Sunderland Echo’s pink sports edition, The ‘Football Echo’.
Like the visit to Roker, it was a wee nostalgia trip. As a youngster I sometimes covered minor games for Pink News in Edinburgh and nipping around to my local newsagent on a Saturday evening was a weekly ritual.
The growth of the internet, amongst other things, has meant that most Saturday night papers have stopped publication in recent years, one aspect of modern football that I find a great shame.
Scoring – 0-1 Watson (12), 1-1 Leadbitter (41), 1-2 N’Zogbia (45)
Attendance – 39266
Admission – £22
Programme – £3
Ground – 7/10. Not exactly distinctive, but a fine arena
Game – 4/10. Two poor sides on show
Overall experience – 6/10. Disappointing game, but a good day overall
Match Report Links
Sunderland official website
Wigan Athletic official website