SAFC v Chelsea: from gloom to boom in under two years

Tuesday’s match still seems ages away, so stand by for a long buildup.

At the end of the season before last, we faced Chelsea at home on the last day, threatened with relegation if we lost and both Newcastle United and Hull won. Luckily, and it was luck since we predictably lost our game (3-2), they both lost and it was a case of Toon Doon. Ahead of next week’s game at the Stadium of Light, which finds SAFC in hugely different spirits, we reproduce from May 2009 this article looking back at Lads v Chelsea encounters of the Peter Reid era …

Salut! Sunderland: May 2009

So we saved the biggest, scariest matchday of the season for last. The performance at Portsmouth (defeated 3-1) reinforced doubts about our ability to claw our own way out of trouble. We approached the Chelsea game with justified trepidation. Yet it hadn’t been so long since we’d seemed to be beating them for fun.

The Salut! Sunderland headline back then was: Lads v Chelsea: what’s the likeliest outcome – 0-4, 4-1, 1-0, 4-2?

It harked back to the Peter Reid era. This is what I wrote:

…Reid’s reign had become a joke by the time he left us.

I remember meeting Vic Halom before a thrashing at Old Trafford, talking about the woeful state of the club and being handed his business card; if my memory can be trusted, his company was called something like Disaster Management. But until things started to go badly astray, Reidy – like Vic, in a different role, before him – had treated us to some exciting times:

* keeping us up by the skin of our teeth when he arrived late to save us from another descent into the old Third Division

* leading a limited squad to promotion as champions the next season

* not being to blame for having no resources to keep us up (even if some of his selections, from what was availabe to him, raised our eyebrows at times

* playoff finals and a game fans of all other clubs remember as one of the most thrilling ever seen at Wembley

* runaway champions with exhilarating displays, and goals galore, to make life seem wonderful

* two top seven finishes, with Premier defences unable to cope with the Quinn-Phillips threat

Well yes, we know what happened next. And no, I don’t want Reidy back. But in those two seasons of top flight success, the likes of which only the oldest of fans have any reason to recall, we beat Chelsea three times.

Hammered at Stamford Bridge on our first day back in the Premier – the 4-0 scoreline relayed to me by chortling colleagues in a call to the grotty bar in Sierra Leone where I happened to be – we were reckoned by Fleet Street’s finest to be early bets for relegation.

Not quite how it turned out. And many of us look back on the first half of the return game, with two goals apiece from Quinn and SuperKev, as the best 45 minutes we’ve experienced as Sunderland fans. And then the double in the next season.

Both clubs have moved a long way since then. Dodgy or otherwise, money has flowed into the Chelsea coffers and fabricated a team that inspires little affection but wins a lot of games. Us? With a bit less money, and most of what there has been squandered, we have moved in different directions and are in dire straits again ahead of 4pm on Sunday May 24.

Who among our generously rewarded underachievers is capable of scoring two on Sunday? Who will make the sort of penetrating run that Eric Roy produced to set up Niall’s opener on Dec 4 1999?

I doubt if more than about five per cent of SAFC supporters seriously think we will win on Sunday. Maybe 10-15 per cent more – probably a generous estimate on my part – think we might snatch a draw and even that would be insufficient if both Hull and Newcastle won.

Pete Sixsmith was deeply pessimistic after Pompey and it is difficult to fault him. My head still tells me only one of our relegation rivals is seriously going to grab three points; it also tells me we will need to rely entirely on Villa or Man United doing it for us. I see not a hope in hell of three of the four scorelines quoted above, and every possibility that the result will be the one that remains.

And the only consolation in that? That 0-4 would keep us just ahead of Hull if they only drew.

As so often this season, and indeed throughout my life, I long to be proved wrong. I want to see the Lads ram my doubting words back down my throat with a riproaring display to end a grisly season on a happy note. They, of all people, will perhaps understand if I don’t feel the biggest threat to my physical comfort on Sunday has anything to do with words going down the wrong way.

It wasn’t such a bad performances in the context of a dreadful season. But we were always going to lose, and lose we did, leaving us to gloat about the results elsewhere that saved our skins.

This time, things are – or should be – different. A year after being hammered there 7-2 (a scoreline that flattered us, not Chelsea), we ran amok at Stamford Bridge with a display Blues fans class among the best away team performances they can recall.

They then went on a bad run but, inconveniently for us, that seems to be over. But the Sunderland of 2010-11 is not that of 2009-10. We have shown ourselves capable of competing with all of the top Premier League teams.

We need to be at our best. But it is a tribute to Steve Bruce, Niall Quinn and Ellis Short that it is within our current squad’s powers to rise to the occasion and complete a memorable double.

Monsieur Salut

9 thoughts on “SAFC v Chelsea: from gloom to boom in under two years”

  1. It is certainly true that Sunderland fans of a certain age tend to temper any degree of optimism by anticipating that something bad is about to happen. Borne out of the long experience of false dawns which was encapsulated in the title of the now defunct fanzine “It’s the Hope I Can’t Stand”. My first and second thoughts when Sessignon finally signed 1) Great a quality midfielder 2) I suppose that means Henderson is off to Man Ure in the summer!


  2. I’m at the same point as you are Michael. I can’t quite get that excited about it even though I am hugely appreciative of it. I can’t get excited because precisely the same as you I expect that it will suddenly blow up in our faces.

    Most bizarrely I find myself feeling very nostalgic for the days when we were quite frankly, erh…………….. crap.

  3. I read a comment attached to an article in a publication where a Sunderland fan, like me, entering his fifth (mainy long suffering) decade of supporting the lads was still, like me to an extent, waiting for the wheels to come off (the first thing I did on Saturday after the Blackpool win was check how many points we were away from the relagation zone).
    The thing is we cannot feel anything but excited about the direction that Niall and Brucey are taking the club in; we currently sit relatively comfortably in 6th and are on the brink of strengthening the squad with top quality performers in an area that needed strengthening. As an exile it is making me extremely proud. What a fabulous feeling. Let’s make sure it lasts.

  4. I have to say Hicksy (great post by the way and thanks for the kind and respectful words), that I doubt very much whether a Sunderland side would take the field against Chelsea with a sense of over confidence!

    I’m not sure if we really know what to expect from your lads on Tuesday night other than that we are facing a side that he hell bent of avenging our victory at your place. I think we realise that your blip may now be history. Having said all that there is every reason for us to go into the game confident as we have a good home record (despite our own recent blips against Blackpool and Notts County).

    It’s going to be an interesting night on Tuesday. It’s great to see proper football fans from other clubs coming on Salut to comment. You are always welcome.

  5. As a Chelsea fan, Kevin Phillips wonder strike in SAFC’s 4:1 back in the 99/00 season is one goal that is embedded in my mind. As a team i have always respected Sunderland and unlike a lot of other teams in the league whereby i would expect Chelsea to comfortably get the 3 points, I always know that when we face SAFC we’re gonna have to work for it.
    Back in November SAFC arrived at the bridge facing a Chelsea side who despite some blips were demolishing opposition that were put in front of them. Despite this SAFC turned out what can only be described as the best away team performance in recent years at the bridge and ran out deserving 3:0 winners.
    Many talk abouit the loss of Darrent Bent however if i recall he did not play on what was a dark november Sunday for me and one player does not make a team. In Fuller i believe you have found an adequate replacement and with players like Gyan, Welbeck, Richardson and Henderson i don’t think goal scoring will be an issue.
    However come tuesday Sunderland must remember that they are facing a rejuvenated Chelsea side and with Drogba appearing to be shaking off the winter cobwebs, they are facing a top, top side. Overconfidence could lead to a SAFC self destruction.
    Whether or not this happens, we don’t know but i for one can’t wait and have a sneaky feeling its going to be another one of those games that makes this league the best in the world!

  6. I can think of a dozen reasons why we can beat Chelsea and a dozen why we can’t. Like many fans I am not sure that I beleive we are, as Keith Hutton says, good and not far from being great. I think we are better than we have been for since Reidy took us to two top seven finishes but I keep wondering when the wheel will come of. I know it sounds a bit negative but I ve been a fan for 45 years and have the mental scars to prove it. On the plus side the signings of Sessegnon and Muntari look to be a move in the right direction. So lets hope by cynicism is just down to nerves. A bit like when you realise a good looking woman fancies you and you are not sure why.

  7. Someone I know was talking to Peter Shreeve (ex Spuds boss) last week and Shreeve was telling him that he would be a great signing Sessegnon and described him as “an Essien.” Apparently he now does the evaluation for work permits for players whose international qualifications don’t qualify for a work permit. Not sure if SS falls into this category, but he was very impressed with him apparently.

  8. Sunderland have been solid at home all season, not any of the high fliers have beaten us Arsenal with a freak goal were lucky, Man City were beaten all be it by a late pen. Man Utd can consider themselves fortunate and we have beaten Chealsea at the bridge. Why shouldn’t we win. If we beat Chelsea we are competing for a Champions league spot, nobody anywhere truly believes this but it is a fact. The Blackpool game was a one off and if we had got the 3 points we deserved we would beat Chelsea to go above them and possibly 4th. Bruce has done a fantastic job, and if as is stated Sessegnon has signed we have some player, I watched his skill level on Youtube the boy is brilliant. WE ARE GOOD NOT FAR FROM GREAT BELIEVE IT!!!!!. Bent didn’t and I hope he is shown the mistake he made

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