Salut! Sunderland is en fecirc;te – and the celebrations started with a feast of goals, excitement and nerves, culminating in this……
That was followed – at long last, as has been mentioned here and elsewhere – by some good coming out of Selhurst Park.
Many of us remember with gritted teeth that awful day a year after the first promotion under Peter Reid when a gutsy but desperately limited performance – against Wimbledon, then sharing the ground – saw us relegated once more.
It was a dreadful disappointment, at the end of a dreadful season when utter lack of ambition had it logical consequences. Fast forward to 2004 and the slightly unlucky 3-2 defeat in the playoffs – to be followed by elimination at the Stadium of Light in the second leg, thanks to an appalling refereeing decision that took the tie to penalties.
Yesterday, luck was on our side when Palace scored what seems to have been a comfortable 2-0 win over Derby, removing the need for us to win at Luton next Sunday.
The hard work had already been done on Friday night, of course, with that pulsating win over Burnley, and a winner that had the Lancashire radio commentator (Radio Newc**tle couldn’t handle the excitement and kept going off air) exclaiming: “Carlos Edwards take a bow.”
But with Derby out of the way, Luton becomes our promotion party. It will even be our championship party, if we win – as we surely should – and Birmingham lose or draw at Preston.
Roy Keane will be praising his squad in the run-up to that game, and so he should. The way they have turned around a season that was going nowhere is little short of breathtaking.
But then Keano will be urging them to one last burst of effort and application, to ensure that we have done all we can to grab that title.
And then the planning starts in earnest for next season.
Survival must not be the limit of our hopes for the return to the Premiership, but it will necessarily guide the earlier preparations.
However grateful we are to the players who have achieved promotion, the team has to be strengthened. But Keane doesn’t need advice from Salut! Sunderland on that – he has a good idea already who among the present players can make the step up, and who cannot.
The reassuring factor is that the Irish moneymen who have bankrolled the birth of the revival will be as anxious as any south-west corner season ticket holder to see its onward development.
The recruitment of Steve Bould was arguably Peter Reid’s finest stroke in plotting his second return to the Premiership with Sunderland in 1999, because of the terrific experience and solidity it gave us at the back. Stefan Schwarz brought a touch of midfield class and, of course, we had the Quinn/Phillips goalscoring machine.
And once Keano has added defensive and midfield quality, the absolute essential – despite the promise of Stokes and Murphy’s flashes of brilliance – is the acquisition of at least one first rate striker.
But the will is there to make sure we not only stay up but make yet another attempt to re-establish our great club as a real force again. The resources – from the promise of money to invest in players to Keane and his glorious start to management – should find the way.