Television pundits and not a few Arsenal supporters whinge about Sunderland “parking the bus”.
Arsene Wenger – admired by this writer at almost all times except whenever Arsenal have just played Sunderland – makes a Freudian slip, calling us Leicester. Or was it on purpose?
And the LondonCentric – OK also MancCentric – world of football wonders why the likes of SAFC don’t simply do their duty, roll over and accept resounding defeat in recognition of the elegant skills amassed against them.
Par for the course whenever a team outside the top six, or whatever number it now is, comes up against one of those within the blessed circle. At least nothing happened at the Emirates yesterday to warrant a hint of any accusation of clogging.
But is defending in search of at least a point, when confronted by self-evidently superior opponents, really anti-football?
The same Londoncentrics who’d cry Yes to that question also eulogised, unless fervently anti-Chelsea, the “heroic” resistance – ie very similar tactics – used during the last stages, versus Barcelona and Bayern, of a commendable Champions League victory. Where, essentially, is the difference?
I long to see Sunderland play aggressive, flowing football that leads to goals and excitement.
The pride I take in yesterday’s gutsy but also well-drilled performance is tempered by the desire to see us score a goal before Pussy Riot are freed.
Late in the second half, Nicky Barnes – excellent as ever with Gary Bennett in the BBC Radio Newcastle commentary (so much more civilised that relying solely on the flickering, stuttering, incomprehensible and delayed internet stream) – said we were advancing on the Arsenal goal for the first time since the 11th minute. I don’t want to see or hear that.
But this was Sunderland in mid-August 2012, with limited firepower, up against a club that currently cannot quite compete at Citeh/United/Chelsea/PSG levels but still managed to bring in three exceptional players – Lukas Podolski (£11m), Olivier Giroud (£13m) and Santi Cazorla (£20m) – while losing the superb RVP.
Maybe by the time the transfer deadline falls, SAFC will have added two or three quality signings. Maybe it will become more rational to compare us with Arsenal, Chelsea, the Manchesters etc.
The Premier League is rightly seen internationally as invigorating, passionate and massively watchable. But it takes a Sunderland, as well as a Swansea, to remind us that it is all of those things, because not despite of the fact there are teams unable to compete for the title that refuse all the same to accept a role of kowtowing to the elite.