Soapbox: what a relief


No one is getting carried away. We remain eminently relegatable. But those three points were magical, especially after Howard Webb had done his best to vindicate Roy Keane’s remarks about a refereeing conspiracy against us/him. Pete Sixsmith is certainly happier than he has been of late……

As we came away from Kenilworth Road on a chilly May afternoon with that 5-0 drubbing of Luton to send us home happy, who would have thought that it would have been a chilly March afternoon before we could once again celebrate three points on foreign soil?

The Emirates Experience came and went, Goodison was an embarrassment, Old Trafford and Roy’s Return a long and distant memory as we rolled into Birmingham for our 16th attempt at claiming all three points. And we did it. We took the game to a side who are (allegedly) challenging for Europe and we beat them. Not by a fluke, not in the last minute, not by an outrageous refereeing decision in our favour (fat chance!) but by being better organised, passing the ball accurately and having forwards (note use of plural) who can and will run at defenders.

I am a bit of an admirer of the Villa. Although their fans are typical lugubrious Midlanders who would be unhappy about winning the League because it was raining when they did it, they have a real sense of history. Aston Villa v Sunderland is one of the great fixtures, first played in 1890 and a regular occurrence ever since. They stopped us from winning the Double in 1913, beat us in a League Cup Semi-final during the Big Freeze of 1963 and kept us down in 1975 by winning the last match of the season 2-0.

The ground is a great advert for rebuilding a traditional stadium. High stands, decent sight lines and a location that screams of the foundation of the Football League when clubs were rooted in their communities rather than playing in flat pack stadiums situated in the middle of hideous Retail Parks.

They also seem to have an intelligent American as chairman. Unlike Gicks and Hillette at Anfield and the ludicrous Glazers at United, Randy Lerner has immersed himself in the club and has even gone so far as to re-open the long derelict Holte pub behind the end that it shares naming rights with.

Martin O’Neill was a good appointment and they appear to have been playing some decent football this season – and gaining a point they should not have had due to the idiotic Steve Bennett.

It would be interesting to hear what Randy Lerner (sounds like a country and western singer, doesn’t he) thought of Sunderland.

Here was a team who had not won an away game for 10 months and every ticket was sold: 3,000+ fans travelling from all corners of the land to shout and roar their (our) team on. That’s what we do – we shout and we roar. No synchronised songs like the t*****s at Manchester United, no rubbishy clapping or banging drums or ringing bells or waving your shirt in the air while schmoozing your fat and soon to be bankrupt chairman like smaller clubs. Just real support, which comes from the heart and from the communities which our club is still a part of.

Saturday was a day when you felt proud to be a Sunderland fan. The team played its part by taking the game to the opposition. I’ve been waiting all season to write those words after an away game so I’m going to write them again. Taking the game to the opposition – that means attacking them, not letting them come straight at you.

Now we have the players to do that. Reid and Richardson both look comfortable on the ball and can see gaps that others couldn’t. O’Donovan makes good runs and with more care could have notched in the first half.

When Chopra came on he was able to exert pressure on a dodgy Villa defence and take advantage of a great ball by his fellow doghouse member Richardson and slot the ball past Carson. He showed that given the opportunity up front he may well get us out of this mess.

Since Evans returned from his loan spell at Manchester United, he has played a major part in shoring up our defence. Nyron is much happier when Evans is there and he also knows that the fullbacks are not going to go walkabout. Hence, a solid back line that has given Craig Gordon the security that he needs. He is a good goalkeeper and will continue to improve.

I thought Villa were very poor but their performance was stellar compared with the first half antics of Howard Webb. He is a good referee and has made steady progress up the ladder but he was appalling in this game.

Carson should have been sent off, ReoCoker clearly handled the ball in the box and Bardsley and O’Donovan were booked for nothing. He improved after the break, partly because he could not have got any worse and partly because the assessor must have visited him and threatened him with Barnet v Mansfield next week if he didn’t give his head a shake. Once more, we are writing about the inadequacies of the officials and once more we will be accused of paranoia. Well let them say what they want but I believe there is a Mag Mole at the FA and that’s why they keep sending us these idiots.

One of the delights of an away game in Brum is that the coach I now travel on stops at Lichfield. On Saturday we got there at 10.57, leaving a three minute walk to the Queen’s Head. Lichfield is a cracking place (despite its lack of a football team).

It is the birthplace of Dr Johnson, compiler of the first English dictionary. You remember, the one that Baldrick used to light the fire with in Blackadder 3. Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles and founder of Sunderland’s micro brewery, also breathed his first there, as did David Garrick, the preening 18th century actor and a man almost as self regarding as Rob Styles.

It has a cathedral with three spires (one for each point in an away win at Villa) and if there is a better pint of Marston’s Pedigree in England than that at the Queens Head, I have yet to come across it.

Not a bad day. And a fitting end to the week of my 5*th birthday!!!

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