Coming into the business end of the season, the Branch football team were in big need of a win. Despite some solid performances, we’ve mostly had to settle for a string of draws that would make Jack Ross shed tears of pride. Our next opponents were the curiously named Milk Boys, a team who have generally been quite accommodating opposition for us, but who are also capable of frustrating the big guns in the league, reflected in their midtable position and goal difference of exactly zero. Truly the epitome of boring, solid mediocrity.
To add some spice to proceedings, the Milk Boys’ line-up included a ringer who had once been a useful contributor to the Sunderland Branch team before his acrimonious departure, when he took exception to being substituted at half time. He’ll remain anonymous in this piece, but it’s safe to say none of us are on his Christmas card list, and we were desperate to prevent him from doing a Sam Greenwood/Chris Maguire/basically any former Sunderland player by scoring against us.
The game got off to the worst possible start, as an individual error was immediately punished to give the Milk Boys an early lead. Despite fielding a team full of quality, Sunderland struggled to get any rhythm in the early stages, rocked by conceding the early goal. We were handed an unexpected boost when our aforementioned former teammate launched into a two-footed challenge on Jonny Winship, the most innocuous and chilled out lad you could hope to meet. The ringer was quickly shown his marching orders by the referee, and he left the field with a four-letter tirade against our goalkeeper, informing us that we're not very good at football. That boy really needs to get a new hobby.
Although the ref allowed Milk Boys to bring on a sub to replace the man sent off, Sunderland soon took control of the game, and after a string of fine saves from their goalkeeper we deservedly levelled through Jonny Winship. A nicely worked move was then finished off by Alistair Wilson to give us the lead before half time, and we went in at the break confident of adding to our lead in the second half.
This being Sunderland, however, we never do things the easy way. The referee in this league is quite bipolar when it comes to us, and imposed a very harsh sin bin (or should that be Blue Card?) to our midfielder for a relatively harmless challenge. We defended gamely with a man down, but they levelled shortly after with a low rasping strike. When we finally got a fully complement of players on the pitch we pushed on for a winner, but it felt like it wasn’t meant to be our day as a string of chances were missed. However, there was a last-minute twist as Jonny Winship unleashed a fiercely struck low effort to finally beat their keeper. The final whistle blew shortly afterwards and we were able to celebrate a crucial win (though given that the late kick-off slot didn't finish until 10pm we took a rain check on the traditional post-match pints.)
With five games to go, the three points went a long way to easing our relegation fears and giving us hope of bettering last season’s achievements with a top-half finish.
Anyone interested in joining the Branch football team should register their interest online at www.weardownsouth.com, or contact Ben Littledyke at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via WhatsApp on 07501076770.