It seems somehow fitting that the Radio Newcastle commentary team, Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett, whose excellent work costs fans money to hear if they’re away from the North East and listen via the SAFC website, had to keep track of events at the Etihad via the reaction of the two sets of supporters at the Stadium of Light. Have the BBC’s cuts bitten that deep? Pete Sixsmith’s masterly summary of the match itself, and what little part Sunderland actually played in it, ought to be read aloud by Messrs Short and O’Neill to the few players they may wish to keep after another fairly hopeless performances confirmed the lacklustre, relegation-form end to the season …
So, that’s another season over. By my calculations that’s the 48th as a regular Sunderland fan and I can’t think of a more eventful final scenario than the one that was played out in front of me.
I have seen us miss out on promotions and be relegated in the final game of the campaign, but I have never seen a Championship won and lost in the space of about 90 seconds as I did yesterday.
As the final whistle went, the United players milled around, waiting for confirmation of their 20th title. Their fans were equally unsure of what the outcome was as they waited for the result from Eastlands. The Sunderland crowd stood and waited to applaud their players at the completion of a strange season.
I had spent the last ten minutes watching Paul Scholes as the clock ran itself down. He looked a bag of nerves, scratching his head, shuffling around and looking as nervous as a man on a blind date, not knowing whether the person he was about to meet was a stunner or a slapper.
United had won the game easily as we played like a side that had no confidence and no idea, particularly in the first half. Scholes and Giggs (combined age not that far off that of mine and the cat) had dominated the midfield, shrugging off the “challenge” of Vaughan, Gardner and Colback with the disdain that only the consistently excellent can show.
The news from “the noisy neighbours” had filtered through in the course of the afternoon. The South West Corner chortled when The Blues went one up, but the Reds celebrated in the second half when Cisse and Mackie put Rangers ahead. Mike Phelan paced the technical area like a bad tempered bear stuck in a cage, while the Grand Old Man sat down, stood up and did not explode when Howard Webb (another shocker, Howie!!) called for 3 minutes added time.
The murmur went round that there was an equaliser at The Etihad, but United still had the title almost in the bag. Then came the news that the winner had gone in and the fans in the South West Corner did a Poznan to antagonise the travelling hordes from Batley, Lincoln and Hartlepool.
What the enormity of the result did was to deflect some attention away from the paucity of our performance, one that was as poor as any we have turned in this season. We were punchless up front, swamped in midfield and defended as if we had put the clubs annual budget on a United title win.
Martin O’Neill must now have a very good idea of the weaknesses that are running through this squad. No creativity in midfield makes it extremely difficult for the few forwards we have to actually do anything.
He attempted to replicate the grit and determination of the epic New Years Day win over the new Champions, but the players no longer have that level of intensity and we were a long way second best to an adequate but not exciting United team.
They scored after twenty minutes to win the game and it was a goal that showed up our weaknesses at the back. To say that Bramble and Turner defended it badly is something of an understatement. To say that it was atrocious and embarrassing is still an understatement.
Whatever the reason, the racehorse owner headed it in and that was the end of the game. There was absolutely no way we were going to score twice. No Bendtner (sulking? injured? on a flight to Copenhagen?) so no strength up front.
Sess played there on his own for a while, then Campbell joined him, then Connor Whickham turned up and Sess went into midfield, where he played down the right with Elmo, who had replaced O’ Shea with Bardsley moving across to left back until he was replaced by Bridge. Confusing, eh.
United could have scored a capful. Apart from the one he scored, Rooney hit the bar, the post and missed a sitter. Mignolet made one fine save from him and an absolute stunner from Giggs. On the other hand, De Gea was unemployed.
It was a disappointing end to the season which, after a wonderful middle has faded away worryingly. As we have been saying for weeks, MON has had a great opportunity to find out what his players are really like. He will not like what he has seen and he now has to sit down with his coaching staff and draw up a list of players that will strengthen and stabilise us next year.
Still, the day was a fascinating one and, in a perverse way, I enjoyed it. I am pleased that City won the title, although we may grow weary of them racking up titles in the future. But they will never, ever win one in such a dramatic way. In our own, small way, we were there to play a part in it.