Breezing past Villa on a Harley


As my good friend Robert Liddington, a sort of expat version of Pete Sixsmith, said before I climbed on to his new Harley-Davidson Road King Classic for a ride home from where we’d watched Sunderland win three priceless points at Villa Park:

“You know, there’s probably much more chance of riding a Harley in Abu Dhabi than there is of seeing Sunderland win.”

Robert appreciated our dogged performance, thought Andy Reid in particular had a good game and seemed pleased enough that we hung on, in the end rather comfortably, after Michael Chopra’s clinical finish to a glorious Kieran Richardson ball had put us ahead.

But he is not a Sunderland fan. There was a time when he supported Plymouth Argyle, and another when he had a boyhood flirtation with Wolves.

Out here in the Emirates, his own pleasures in life derive more from an implausible mixture of theatrical exploits and boys’ toys; he is chairman of the Abu Dhabi Dramatic Society and also drives a Hummer H2 and has a great projector that covers the wall of a spare room with images from a decent collection of music DVDs.

Picture: Stephen Lock (click on the image to get the beast in all its glory)Hummer

Yet what an exhilarating feeling to be on his pillion, whizzing along the Corniche – past a good few villas, I am sure, just to justify my headline – back to his flat (my home until tomorrow, when I finally move into my own after five-and-a-half months of delays) and thinking of that rousing win, in which Danny Collins, Jonny Evans and Richardson – as well as Reid – excelled. In fact, it was a tremendous team performance, with Craig Gordon, despite a couple of shaky moments, and Nyron Nosworthy (ditto) both making massive contributions, too.

I have rarely been as pleased to have my script rewritten.

Anyone who passed by Salut! Sunderland before the final whistle may have seen my holding line for the latest Sixer’s Sevens entry. It now reads: “At last: now we can push on.” Earlier, it was something like “Day for balancing out those refereeing howlers”, in honour of all the Premier League refs who have demonstrably cost us vital points this season.

There was no balancing, no evening out of things. Had we lost or drawn today, Howard Webb would have sailed on to the list.

For a referee to miss, under his nose, a goalkeeper quite visibly handle the ball a yard outside his area is as bad a decision (or lack of one), short of wrongly awarding or disallowing a goal, as a match official can make. Think about it: them down to 10 men without Scott Carson, first choice goalie, for most of the game, us with a proper chance of going ahead from the free kick.

And Webb – described here not so long ago by Sixer as a good ref (and he is) – was observing a season-long tradition established with other dreadful decisions by the officials at Reading, Derby and Blackburn, plus maybe Portsmouth, and at home to Villa (Steve Bennett’s grotesque errors at either end of the match). Taken together, these have robbed Sunderland of points that would otherwise have seen us pretty much safe by now.

Bennett, Styles…….just typing their names is bad for the blood pressure. So maybe Webb’s negligence at Villa Park was no worse. He still warrants the stiffest criticism.

I do not subscribe to the belief that Roy Keane’s tempestuous relations with referees when a player can possibly have anything to do with the appalling treatment we have had this season. There is NO conspiracy against SAFC. There is also no doubt that referees and linesmen make many fewer glaring errors in a game than far better-paid players.

But on no occasion this season has a bad decision in our favour had a result-changing effect, and we are entitled to be angered by that undeniable inconsistency.

Show me the fan who argues that these things even out over a season, especially if he has all the necessary information about our season, and I will show you a liar or a fool.

Thank heavens Webb’s woeful incompetence today, at an absolutely critical moment, counted in the end for nothing against us. And yes, there are rather a lot of Harleys around these parts.

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