We begin our build-up to Sunderland’s final home game of a season that started well, promised much, floundered a lot and finally regathered momentum to guarantee our highest Premier League finish since 2001. Salut! Sunderland offers its own welcome to Manchester United …
Chelsea may have all but killed the title race dead by the time Sir Alex Ferguson’s team takes the field to do battle with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. A win at Anfield earlier the same afternoon will leave the Blues needing only to beat Wigan at home the following Sunday, assuming United beat us, to ensure top place. A team that has rammed seven goals past three other Premier sides should surely regard that as a simple task against the only one to concede nine in a game.
Everyone, of course, expects United to beat us. It’s a given. For everyone, that is, except two groups of supporters, one determined (Sunderland) and the other merely hopeful (Chelsea).
Our form against the top four or five clubs suggests we can give Man Utd a tough old fight. They were lucky to snatch a last-gasp draw against us at Old Trafford. We should be able to play relaxed football. We will have a better finisher available on the day than them (unless Rooney really does make another lightning recovery), we are not incapable of winning.
United’s season has been a failure by their own lofty standards. If they end up with only the Carling Cup, as seems entirely likely, that will be seen by some as verging on humiliation. For a club whose supporters expect every match to result in victory, it leaves them looking a little like the lame ducks of the Big Two-Five/Six, not as lame as Liverpool but lamer than Arsenal, Villa and City, whose expectations were perhaps lower. That adds to the belief that they are beatable come Sunday.
At 6pm, I want to be celebrating a win that makes our own top 10 finish look lot more feasible. And I do not care that such a result may well confirm Chelsea as champions. Over the season, they’ve earned it and – despite their own failings in Europe – no one could seriously challenge their entitlement.
I also want, at 6pm, to know that nothing unpleasant has resulted from the technically correct but, in practice, unwise decision to deny United more than 1,700 tickets, because their fans – in common, often enough, with ours and most others – like to stand.
Salut! Sunderland has had its say, twice.
Far better to put up with 3,000 of them standing in their own end than to have to worry about the parts of the ground in which the other 1,300 have found, on the black market, places to sit. Yes, I know more than 3,000 United supporters would attempt to attend the game anyway, but the normal allocation of 3,000 in the away end would at least have meant 1,300 fewer potential problems elsewhere.
It’s a shame that the season should end on a sour note for fans, whether they’re ours or United’s. Cutting allocations in this fashion strikes us as a quack remedy for a smallish problem, and hypocritical in the extreme given how many of our own supporters prefer to remain on their feet for long periods of away games.
Our pages remain open to those with an opposing view.
* Manchester United: a standing joke
* Manchester United: a questionable stand
* Flickr image with permission of, and acknowledgement to, “terry6082 Books”
* NB: a recent deluge of spam means comments from people who have not been this way and posted before will have to await moderation. Sorry.