So, when does a bit of a slump become a crisis? Must be getting close. I know you can make a fair few excuses, with various disruptions but even so, we need to start picking up a few more points from somewhere soon. Five league defeats in a row and a loss in a cup tie as well makes for fairly grim reading. Last Wednesday night up at Whickham was disappointing mainly because we started so well, and pretty much controlled the first half. But, as is our downfall at the moment, we only had a one goal lead to show for it, and as soon as we turned round for the second half it was clear, if we needed reminding, that Whickham know how to play their pitch. Everything went down their left and eventually they made hay from a series of opportunities to level things up and then win the game in the last ten minutes. We had a couple of chances and a Dylan Elliott effort rules out for offside but by the end Whickham were well worth their win, their first at home since August. Worrying, very worrying.
View from the cemetery
Well, a win or two to celebrate is good, yes? A very nice feeling. And good wins at that, against good opposition. All credit to the lads and the management team, a bit of a tweak to the system and a consistent selection, and hey presto! Things can and have got radically better.
There is no doubt however that the win over at North Shields last week was the one to make people sit up and take notice. Result or no result, North Shields are a big strong, committed and capable team, on a real good run of form and they will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season, no question. But it didn’t help them much as we controlled their attacks in the first half when they had all the benefit of the conditions, and when the weather situation was reversed after half time we came on very, very strong.
So, a win against Northallerton, well deserved but a bit narrower than we would have wanted. Still, its a win, and with a fairly depleted squad. Further injury news though, with Steve Callen limping off with what looked like quite a bad ankle injury. Fingers crossed its not as bad as it looked and we get him back soon, he will be a big miss. Despite missing a few games already he has been in fine form this season and is leading goalscorer by some way. But others will step up to the plate in his absence I’m sure, Nathan and Sparky are due a few goals.
Our wait for a league win goes on, will Northallerton do the decent thing and let us get this monkey off our backs? Probably not, I guess we are going to have to win this or another game by our own efforts.
Lots of disruptions due to weather of course in recent weeks, and some decent enough performances in cup ties, but even so, three months without a league win does not look good. Maybe not a fair reflection, we have played fairly well in recent games, but its always true that its results that count in the end. Long way to go and a lot of games still to play, not even half way through the league season, so need to panic…
Panic does seem to be the new default setting over at the SoL however, with the latest upset concerning McGeady, banished and told he can move on come January. He, and a couple of others so I have heard, have been a bit unkind to some of the younger players. Banter they will claim no doubt, bullying is the word I have heard, but whatever, the upshot doesn’t look good.
A couple of wins since the last time we spoke, which is good. Evidently the game against Washington through at Durham, if you follow me, was a bit of a stroll against a game but struggling Washy team. Steve Callen filled his boots to the tune of four; he looks a bit of a shoo-in for leading goalscorer this season if current form continues, although Sparky and Nathan may have other views on this, and young Dylan, ensconsed as penalty taker at the moment may be the dark horse. Dunston on the other hand was a tough match against a very good side who started particuarly well. We worked our way into it though, helped by a bit of a worldy from new boy Josh Gray, who seems to be finding his feet, and now the shooting boots to fit them. Pagey worked hard for Dunston but couldn’t find them a way back, so it's RCA who have the pleasure of a trip to the Brewery Field to see how wide the gap is, or not, between the National League North and the Northern League First. No doubt Spenny may well give a few squad players a game, it's unlikely that the DFA Challenge Cup is high on their priorities this season, but it may be their best chance of a trophy. If they can get past us of course, a task which they should not underestimate. I think Spenny could well be reaching the limits of their current realistic ambition. A fair number of the National League North teams are full time I understand, and that is a whole new kettle of fish, in financial, fitness and professionalism terms. Don’t get me wrong, Jay Ainsley and Brad Groves, and the rest of the team behind the team at Spennymoor have worked wonders, and I take my hat off to them without reservation, but standing still now be their greatest achievement. Good luck to them anyway.
A cracking game and very good performance against Billingham Town in the League Cup on Wednesday night. Opinions are divided as to the value of the new group stage for the League Cup, but a goodish crowd turned out and were well entertained by this match. I thought, from my restricted view, that what looked like a young Billingham side started very well, passing and moving with purpose, but came up against something like a full strength RCA defence which meant that very little of their attacks reached Robbie Dean in any way likely to cause him any great discomfort.
At the same time the feeling that RCA would create a decent chance every few minutes or so, which was a feature of the first few weeks of the season but had disappeared lately, came back. The midfield trio of Dylan, Dom and Nathan got hold of and produced a lot of good ball for Sparky and young Ryan. RCA lined up with something between a back three and a back five, depending on where the nominal full backs found themselves at any given time, and how much they had on their plates. It did seem to offer quite a bit of flexibility going forward, and plenty of cover at the back. There is many a stalwart that frowns on these fancy variations, preferring the flat back four at all times, not to mention being nostalgic for the old W formation of Stanley Matthews day, when a half back was a half back and nothing like an inside forward. Still as such types are in their nineties now maybe we can move on...
I normally start this column with my thoughts on our own fortunes, and to be sure there is plenty to say there, but I think I should start this week where I left off last, with Jack Ross and his team, or rather, his team as was.
So, he has gone. There has been plenty of discontent, is there ever not, but even so it comes as a bit of a shock or at least it does to me. Not easy to see where SAFC are trying to go. Is the American deal still on? Do they want a new, more high profile boss? Or is it all off and do Donald and Co. think Ross is not now up to the job? Given my target for last season for Sunderland would have been to avoid relegation, then I think he did OK. Bit boring and defemsive but even so solid and safe. Not enough for the daft lads who hilariously think Sunderland are a big club and that lesser teams should understand this and roll over, but you can’t worry about them.
Another very decent week for RCA, despite mounting injury and unavailability problems. A good win down at Thornaby I am told, with the Teessiders belying their lowly league position with a very spirited performance which stretched us to the limit before we managed to squeeze out the win. Followed by a big day out in Gateshead for the FA Cup match at our old rivals Dunston. Not a classic by all accounts but on paper a very good draw, and a chance to finish the job on Wednesday night. Swaz came up with a demon plan to stop Pagey playing which worked fairly well, unless he just felt guilty about deserting his old mates for the bright lights of the big city. I never knew he was such a fan of long bus rides.
Anyway on we go, ten games into the season and you really can’t complain. Elsewhere Stockton are going like trains, Hebburn are doing as well as expected, despite the odd blip, and Consett are not quite living up to the pre season hype. Billy Town are doing very well and both Northallerton and Thornaby look capable of making a fist of it over the season. So, a good season building up, no easy games and lots and lots of them. I’m not sure the idea of the four group games in the Mitre Brooks Mileson League Cup will end up looking like such a good idea as the winter draws on though. RCA are already looking at a minimum of forty nine games this season, probably and hopefully more, and that sounds more than plenty to me.