Edging closer

Sunderland, Saturday

Some day.Qpr

It began with The Independent falsely telling me we were back to second. Which bloody Derby game had I missed since Momentous Monday at st Mary’s, Southampton? Nonsense – no such thing had happened; the paper had just managed to print an old league table.

I am sure an explanation will be forthcoming from my friend Sam Wallace, the Indie’s excellent football writer who grew up on the same estate as Kevin Phillips, or maybe it was the next one, and should really support Sunderland as his family came from the area, but doesn’t.

That bogus league table bothered me all morning until I was reassured that we were still top.


My first home game in ages…..and the last time I saw the team was at QPR, when comical misses made the scoreline – 2-1 – seem a bit tight.

Today was similar. Whitehead’s opener, smartly made and taken, came in under seven minutes and made us believe we were in for a high-scoring stroll.

Then we made a glaring defensive error that led to an equaliser from a penalty and there were long periods of edgy, unconvincing play when I feared we might be stuck with a point.

Leadbitter came on and, just as at Southampton, hit the most impressive of winners.

Slipping into Roy Keane’s post-match press conference, I listened to the boss’s rationale for ringing the changes. Yes, players like Leadbitter were disappointed when they didn’t make the starting line-up even after, in his case, a match-winning display a few days earlier.

But no, there were no tantrums and no player ever needed to tel him he was upset at being left out because that was the way he’d expect and want them to feel. “Nobody has kicked my door in,” he said, though this may reflect his squad’s collective survival instinct more than its good manners.

We also ran into Niall Quinn, an absolute gent who made a sick child’s day by inviting her up to the boardroom before kickoff, and his old Arsenal chum Alan Smith, up in the North East to select some aspect of the game to analyse in his Daily Telegraph slot. I had last seen him when we sat next to each other as England lost 3-2 to Portugal at Euro 2000.

And finally, this being a day big on nostalgia and sad blokish rituals, I located my brick. Yep. Salut! Sunderland, or rather its creator, bought a brick when the Stadium was built, and it’s still there, on the pavement just outside entrance 25.Brick_2

Next weekend, with a pinch of luck and results going the right way not only for us but against others, we could even be celebrating promotion. Unthinkable half a dozen games into the season, that is the measure of our advances under Quinn and Keane.

And in the end, only the result – and Derby’s defeat – mattered today. Salut! Sunderland‘s visits are necessarily rare. It’s important that they seem as successful as this one, incidentally maintaining the team’s unbeaten run during the short lifetime of this site.

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