Having been promoted last season following a fantastic campaign which included a title win on the final day of the league season and a run to a cup final, the University’s men’s football first team had a brilliant season last time out.
However, following their promotion the team have struggled to adapt to playing at a higher level and have won just two out of eight games in all competitions so far this season before the Christmas break.
Part and parcel of university football is the comings and goings of players. Graduates leave the university and some students decide to focus on their studies rather than playing every Wednesday, which is understandable when looking at the greater picture.
But these factors do have an impact on university sports teams. With a host of first teamers leaving this season due to graduation, there has been an influx of freshman students drafted into the first team.
Newcomers Jake Sanders, an American, and Croatian Veki Cvetojevic have chipped in with goals and have generally been very good additions, however results haven’t been as the team would have liked.
The season started with a 10-0 defeat to Durham 2nds; If ever there was a wake up call to how much of a difficult season this was to be, Gary Bennett’s men had it from the get go.
A much improved performance followed in their second fixture, when they played Newcastle 2nds in their first derby meeting of the season. Sunderland led for large spells but Newcastle scored twice in the last ten minutes following defensive mistakes, something which they can not afford to do at this level.
The team’s third fixture was at home to York St John, a squad of 16 made entirely of overseas scholarship students, where Sunderland went down 5-1. A disappointing result following such an improved performance versus Newcastle.
However Sunderland were given a chance to get their own back, when the cup draw landed them against the York St John side the following week.
Looking to avenge their thrashing in the league, Sunderland did just that. Winning 5-3, courtesy of a Zak Atkinson hat-trick, something we would see again before Christmas. A disciplined performance against a talented side, this was what Sunderland were hoping would turn their season around.
They booked a cup tie away to Leeds Beckett 2nds in the next round, a team four divisions above them.
Following the York St John victory, the Orange Army travelled to York 2nds for their next league game. The team carried their momentum into the fixture, winning 4-2 to get their first points on the board and the 4th time of asking.
Next up was the cup game against Leeds Beckett, a team four divisions above. Though the Orange Army took the lead, Leeds came back in style, cruising home to a 7-1 victory. It was always going to be a big ask, and it did prove to be too much for the players.
The last two games before the Christmas break were at home to Sheffield 2nds and Durham 2nds. Following their capitulation at Leeds, Sunderland again were thrashed at home by Sheffield 7-1, meaning they could not build on their previous league win at York.
The final game against Durham was a chance to show a better account of themselves than they had managed in their first meeting. And Sunderland did put up a much better version of themselves. Losing 5-3, Sunderland at least went some way to nursing the wounds garnered by their 10-0 loss on the opening day of the season, Zak Atkinson netting a hattrick.
It is clear to see that when Sunderland defended well and kept their shape disciplined, there were games where they won or at least gave themselves a chance of winning.
However, conceding the amount of goals they have done so far – an average of 5.1 a game – they don’t give themselves any hope. This is something Bennett’s men will have to address when they come back from the winter break.
Aspirations of finishing high in the league appear to have gone already, but there are still four league games to play. Given it is only a 6 team league, a couple of wins and Sunderland could still yet finish in a respectable position.
University of Sunderland men’s 1sts in all competitions:
P8 W2 D0 L6 GF 17 GA 41