Sunderland probe call-off

The Barclays Premiership match between Sunderland AFC and Reading was called off by the referee because of the waterlogged pitch.
The Barclays Premiership match between Sunderland AFC and Reading was called off by the referee because of the waterlogged pitch.
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SUNDERLAND will hold a full investigation into the causes of Saturday’s game against Reading being called off.

The match was officially abandoned at 1.45pm because of a waterlogged pitch following a steady downpour.

But the vast majority of non-league fixtures in the region were able to continue despite the rain and nationally, barely a game was postponed because of the downpours.

Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill and Reading counterpart Brian McDermott, as well as match-day referee Neil Swarbrick, admitted they had never heard of a game being called off in August because of a bad weather.

“Another first!” smiled O’Neill with mock delight.

But the manager was certainly annoyed, and maybe a little embarrassed, that the game did not go ahead.

Annoyed because he was convinced Sunderland had a great chance of getting all three points, embarrassed because you don’t expect a game in a state-of-the-art ground like the Stadium of Light to be called off unless there’s a monsoon.

The Black Cats invested heavily over the summer to improve their playing surface, which came in for criticism from boss Martin O’Neill and some of his players last season.

So there must have been disappointment all round that heavy rain overnight on Friday and into Saturday afternoon was enough to overwhelm the pitch.

Galling, too, that by the time kick-off time came around, the rain which was supposed to be set in for the day had ceased and the surface looked eminently playable.

On a day when the non-league programme in the North East went ahead virtually unaffected despite the rain, chief executive Margaret Byrne revealed the club would be holding an inquest into what went wrong.

Byrne said: “Naturally everyone is hugely disappointed that our opening game of the season could not go ahead as planned.

“I would like to express my sincere apologies to those fans, both home and away, who have travelled such distances to support their respective teams and had to go home disappointed.

“I’d also like to thank the manager, players and officials from Reading for their understanding in this matter.

“The club has invested a significant sum into pitchworks over the summer months and we are confident that it is in first-class condition. We will however meet with our pitch consultants immediately to carry out a full analysis of Saturday’s events.”

Sunderland’s facilities manager, Peter Weymes, added: “We carefully monitor weather forecasts in the days leading up to home games and whilst rain was predicted, the exceptional and unseasonal nature of the downpours was not anticipated by the weather services.”

Questions were asked immediately after the game whether the summer concerts and the relaid pitch had any bearing on the events of the weekend – Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers having played at the ground.

The new pitch could not be installed until after the final concert, which took place on June 24, and that meant it had only been in place for two months before the first game of the season.

Sunderland had asked for an away fixture on the opening day of the season to give the pitch extra time to bed-in – and that request was granted, with the Black Cats beginning their campaign at Arsenal.

But whether Saturday’s game, combined with the downpour, proved too much too soon remains to be seen.

H No new date has been announced as yet for the game against Reading.

 Tickets for Saturday’s fixture will be valid for the rearranged match.

 Fans wanting a refund can get one by contacting the ticket office from Wednesday.