The fabulous Sunderland support – how they’ve managed consistently to back the team with such fervour and loyalty this season is a new Wonder of the World – was given just reward with the victory over West Brom and the Premier safety it ensured. Pete Sixsmith was up in the East Stand as usual to marvel at the Great Escape, savour a man-of-the-match showing from Lee Cattermole and celebrate two goals of exquisite class. For days or nights like these, we support Sunderland AFC …
So, that’s it. We have played ourselves out of a situation that looked terminal after the home defeat to Everton on the 12th April. Now, a mere 25 days later, we sit 14th in the table with a winnable home game to come and the prospect of rising to the giddy heights of 12th. Who would have thought it?
Last night’s win, against a West Brom team who gave a new meaning to the word mediocre, was the kind of (relatively) comfortable victory that we have craved all season. No dramatic last minute winners, no backs to the wall as opponents battered us, just a straightforward win against one of the teams in our part of the league, with players doing simple things well.
If the win at Chelsea was a high-flying, nerve-wracking piece of drama this was the complete opposite. Stamford Bridge with its twists and turns and plot turned upside down could have been scripted by Shakespeare. Last night was more Terrence Rattigan – polite and civilised on the surface, with a hint of potential drama to come beneath the surface.
As the second half ticked away and Albion at least looked like a team in the top league on merit, there was tension. If they scored, would we get the wobbles a la Liverpool at Selhurst Park? Could we contrive to throw away a two-goal lead? I remember being 2-0 up against Spurs in 2001 and managing to lose 2-3. Would the suppressed anxiety amongst the support transmit itself to the players?
Not a chance. This team was playing with the confidence and self-belief that an unbeaten run can create. Albion never looked like scoring, while we missed two chances to put them away as effectively as Cardiff City had been disposed of in the previous home fixture. It would have been a real bonus to get Altidore and the ever-improving Vergini on the score sheet.
The game was won by half time with two exquisite goals. Marcos Alonso, who destroyed Steven Reid down our left, put in a terrific low cross and Jack Colback was there to put it into the net. These players may not be with us next season. The hope is that they will.
Both have shown a real commitment to the cause. Alonso sometimes gets caught out (Deulofeu for Everton gave him a torrid time), but he gets forward well and never gives up, while Colback has enjoyed playing a slightly more forward role recently. He is a good player, perhaps lacking that little bit of pace that turns a good one into a very good one, but it would be a shame to lose him to any of those teams (Stoke, West Ham, Newcastle) who, like us, aspire to mid table security and safety.
That calmed any serious nerves as it was clear that West Brom were looking unlikely to trouble us. Sess showed exactly why the club was right to take the money offered with a typically low-key performance. Their midfield was woeful. But you can only beat what is in front of you, and we did that with a sublime second goal.
Seb Larsson has had a fine end to the season. Apparently, we have won 32 of our 38 points when he started in the team. His contract is up, but the quality of the chipped pass that he delivered to Fabio Borini in the 30th minute may well be instrumental in getting him another one.
Borini took it and lifted it over the onrushing Ben Foster to almost lift the roofs off the stadium stands. Not as dramatic as the Carlos Edwards strike against Burnley, but a goal of real quality from a player who has not scored one pointless goal this season in either league or cup. He will probably go back to Liverpool next season – though we can but dream.
And that wrapped it up. Mulumba came on at half time and beefed up the Baggies midfield. Mannone had a couple of routine saves to make but it was a stately progression to the finishing line.
Bridcutt arrived for Johnson to tighten things up for us, Altidore replaced a tired-looking Wickham and contrived to miss an excellent chance to have his name sung by the crowd and Cattermole left before the final whistle to a standing ovation after a man of the match performance. His first half showing was by far the best I have seen from him with accurate passes, crisp tackles and brilliant interceptions. Long may it continue.
As Lee Mason blew the final whistle, a huge roar erupted from the crowd. Smiles everywhere and genuine warmth towards the players and the head coach, who have combined so well to dig us out of the mess we found ourselves in after the Everton defeat.
Sometimes the most rewarding wins are the ones that are straightforward. This was one of them, the only one this season. The other nine have been tense (Stoke at home), incredible (Newcastle away) or just absolutely mind-blowing (Chelsea away). More simple, straightforward ones in the future will help keep the blood pressure down.
As for Albion, they looked a poor side and the impressive and noisy travelling support cannot be happy with the situation at The Hawthorns. Pleased they are virtually safe as they are a fine old club who are a good fit in the Premier League.
Ha’way the Lads. Now let’s go for that 12th place.
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