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.
View from the cemetery
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.
Some of you may be under the impression that in my last column I expressed the view that the Ashes would be all over by last Saturday night, and that moreover the only good batsman between the two sides was one of them Aussies, and he wasn’t playing. This was clearly a printer’s error, nothing to do with me, and I can only apologise on his behalf; the man knows nothing.
The best two batsmen are of course English, the lad Stokes and the imperturbable Jack Leach. Jack carefully cleaning his glasses before facing some maniac Aussie with a deadly missile in his hand has to be one of the sports images of all time. And it was some knock by Ben Stokes to be fair, and according to the press, signals the revivial of Test cricket, and proof that bashing the ball to all corners willy nilly as in Twenty20 is not the only way to go. They may be right, but I am bound to point out that bashing it to all corners is just what young Ben was doing.
I had a quick count up this week of the number and variety of North East Counties League teams we have played in the last few years. Silsden, Liversedge, AFC Mansfield, Bridlington (many times), Handsworth, Garforth, Selby, Hall Road Rangers, Tadcaster and no doubt a couple I’ve forget, Keith will remind me, and of course Hemsworth MW. A good few memorable trips amongst them, including the quaint ground and clubhouse at Liversedge, where the barman struggled with the beer, and conversely the fine beer in the pubs adjacent to Silsden and their remarkably good ground and clubhouse, built up from scratch over many years. The very tight Vase win at Mansfield, last minute home wins against Bridlington, and the splendid victory on a great night here in Ryhope over a very highly rated Garforth team. Yes, some good old memories there alright.
I guess I’m like a lot of people looking at the draws for the FA Cup and later the Vase when they first come out, not sure what I want. A winnable game at home with no travelling and home for tea, or a good bus trip with an early start, blind cards on the journey, new sights and sounds and hopefully a raucous ride back with a few pints somewhere on the way. Of course I’ve only heard about those, what with being somewhat static, but even so travel broadens the mind, even if it is other people’s travel. Yes, I think on balance when you find you potentially have a couple of FA Cup games at home it’s a bit deflating. Don’t suppose a replay up the Colliery counts as travel really. By all accounts we played well for a long time up the road, should have had the game well won, and then were hanging on and maybe lucky to pinch it at the death. That’s FA Cup football though.
Well, that was a week and a half wasn’t it? Great, but sad day last Saturday, and a fantastic turn out by the people of Ryhope and the friends, the many friends, of Richie to support his family in their grief. Understandably the game took second place on the day, and it was probably only right that it ended in a draw, it wasn’t a day for winners and losers. The replay took a while to catch light, and was another very tight affair, with RCA probably the better side for the first seventy minutes and the CW coming on strong at the end, and the last few minutes not for the faint hearted. I’m pleased RCA won, but you had to feel for the CW, who continue their steady improvement of the past couple of seasons and will feel they should have won it with that penalty. And we only have to do it a minimum of another three times this season. Can we stand the pressure? Only a fortnight since the start and it feels like a lifetime already.
The season always starts with a rush in August, today is our third game, with two more to come next week, and in total eight by the end of the month. A very early make or break time, particularly with the FA Cup, which carries good rewards nowadays, as well as excitement, publicity and sometimes a decent away trip or two into the strange lands of Yorkshire or Lancashire. And a repeat of last season’s FA Cup derby game today. How unlikely is that? The first of at least four RCA v CW derby matches this season.
A very good start last Saturday against a strong North Shields side despite missing a few lads with holidays etc, but that gave the chance for a couple of good debuts by Max Allen and Henry Dorward, fine footballers names, and promising performances. The North Shields Ultras were out in their usual throng, noisy and giving the officials a hard time, as well as enjoying lively discussions with the locals about the current and new laws; but largely behaved themselves, and certainly did their bit for takings in the clubhouse. They were a good deal quieter as they left mind. Canny lads really.