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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 25/08/03, 3.00pm
Norris on the spot
By Simon Devon

You must remember Record Breakers. I remember once they had a show where they broke the world record for a bloke balancing milk crates on his head. It was stirring stuff. There was also a bit called "Norris on the Spot" where the kids would get to fire questions at Norris McWhirter and try to catch the old duffer out. A typical exchange would be:

CASTLE:"Have you got a question for Norris?"
KID:"What's the biggest fish?"
NOZZA:"Well, there are two opinions..."

He would then offer the right answer (or so we believed!) and we'd all go off happy and wait for Roy to get his trumpet out.

Sunderland, of course, are threatening to provide a whole show's worth of material for "Norris on the Spot". Lowest points total in the Premiership? Thanks for taking that record from us, chaps. If they lose at Preston on Saturday, they will have equalled the record for most consecutive league defeats. If they follow this with a loss to us... As one messageboard contributor put it, "We fookin' deserve it, we are that bad."

There have been a lot of changes (a record number?) at the Stadium of Light since we won there in the FA Cup last season, not least in the management team with 'sour' Howard being replaced by Mick McCarthy.

In goal is likely to be the fish-faced Mart Poom, Thomas Sorrenson being one of the close season departures. His understudy is Eire U21 International Michael Ingham with former Everton stopper Thomas Myhre being handed a free transfer. This seems to be the only position McCarthy is settled on!

The right back slot has been occupied by Stephen Wright ("the gormless FA Cup look-alike who minces about with little clue about what to do") who I remember being particularly exposed during the cup win. The other full back is George McCartney with captain Michael Gray hardly featuring during pre-season and only being let out to play against Mansfield. Centre backs seem to be a problem with three different pairings used in three games this season. Gary Breen, Ben Clarke, Joachim Bjorklund and "Granddad Babbosaurus" have all been deployed in the middle. Babb played in the cup win against Mansfield and proved to be "slower than your average pensioner", though he is now injured.

An unsettled midfield is also providing much comment for the Sunderland fans. With the likable Jason McAteer injured, they lined up against Millwall with Matty Piper, Sean Thornton, Paul Thirlwell and Kevin Kilbane. Piper has impressed so far this season and seems to be their main danger man, but comments about the rest of the midfield include "patchy", "very little input" and "good, but not as good as he can be". I expect McCarthy will shake things up again with Jeff Whitley and Darren Williams also being used this season.

The strikers also appear to be, er, unsettled and under much discussion (I see a pattern emerging here...). The sale of Super Kev this week is likely to make little difference (except to our bank balance) as he had been frozen out by McCarthy and hadn't featured at all this season. Kevin Kyle and Michael Proctor have been the preferred strike force though Flo and Stewart started against Mansfield.

It's an understatement to say Sunderland are finding things a little tricky at the moment. With a crowd that are likely to get on their backs, this is a game Watford can easily get something out of. Records are made to be broken.