As the minutes ticked away, the question was: would we do it?
Five-nil down, humiliated by the elegance and power of Chelsea, so many streets ahead of us in every department, including passion and desire, that two of Martin Atkinson’s key decisions – to wear a blue shirt throughout the first half and order one of his linesmen to do likewise – seemed entirely unnecessary.
But would we do it?
Cissé came on and gave us hope that we might. But I am not talking about a double hat-trick, nice though that would have been. I am not even talking about a goal.
Would we, I wondered, get a shot? And lo and behold, just before the 79 turned to 80 on my TV screen in Arabia, it came. Cissé naturellement, high and wide naturellement aussi. But a shot nonetheless. It was as if he’d been sent on with express instructions to muster an attempt on goal.
Sadly, my other ambition – a corner – proved beyond us, though I think we may have had a throw-in inside their half. Or is that an illusion?
OK, Chelsea were good, superb in fact. True, the second goal was so outrageously offside that Atkinson should not have needed his myopic linesman to tell him. And Joe Cole did seem to bundle Chimbonda over in the build-up to the third goal. But Atkinson’s irritatingly one-sided application of the laws of the game were not the reason we lost, and lost so heavily. We were wretched.
It pained me to read Roy Keane’s after-match comment that there was no shame in the defeat. I hate to think what the Londoncentric sports writers are making of it this morning; they never need an excuse to slag off Sunderland, but were given tons of excuses yesterday, from team selection to approach to total absence of quality or threat.
As the fifth went in, I sent a text to Pete Sixsmith, relieved to be at Whitehaven vs North Shields instead of paying disgusting Brand Chelsea prices, and speculated that it could end up 10-0.
Just at that point, Chelsea declared and put us in to bat. Thanks, then for small mercies. And for our close-of-play tally: Shots on target 0 Shots off target 1.
That was the sort of limp, guileless, clueless performance we expected, and got, during the three most recent relegations. The sort we hoped our newly acquired Premier standard players might ensure would not be repeated.
One consolation for me: Showtime, having failed to let me watch the Stoke City debacle live, could offer Chelsea vs Sunderland only in Arabic. Somehow, it would have seemed even more embarrassing with English commentary.
Let’s hope Cissé’s no-hope long-range punt way off target is not the only One Off of the season. A thrashing like this must also be a One Off. But I suspect our fans will need to see a decent win over Portsmouth before they’ll even begin to believe there won’t be more.
* taken during another match – though Showtime Comedy Extra Live might have been the right channel for us yesterday