Pete Sixsmith has never seen the point in paying good money to watch football and going before the final whistle. He may not be the East Stand supporter who uttered the words “How can they? It’s like leaving a Shakespearian tragedy!” five minutes before the end of a nailbiting victory over Arsenal but, in his own, way, he shares the thought. M Salut can recall only two precedents (the Paul Danson game at Highbury and the relegation decider at Wimbledon, both 1996-97, and the first was at halftime, in sheer disgust, so hardly counts). But stand by for a third …
Those who know me are aware that I very rarely, if ever, leave before the end. I usually sit it out, grumbling and complaining. I was there at 4.50 a week last Saturday as Fulham ran rings round us and I sat through nearly every minute of the 15 point season.
I didn’t last the 94 minutes of this important and battling win at the Reebok Stadium. As Klasnic headed in the equaliser, I ranted and raved at our defenders for neglecting to pick him up and giving no credence whatsoever to the quality of the cross. As the fourth official called for an extra four minutes and Bolton piled forward, I cracked and went back to the bus, to find John Smart sat there, as nervous as I was.
The radio told us of Blackburn’s draw at West Ham, Villa’s failure to beat Wigan (in front of a smaller crowd than the one at Sunderland for the same opponents two weeks ago, Everton’s excellent win against Manchester City and then on came Stuart Hall.
Years ago, I used to enjoy his reports with his analogies of rutting stags and Trojan warriors, but now I see him as a caricature of himself, reliving his glory days with Eddie Waring, Arthur Ellis and Guido and his Italian mate for the benefit of Radio 5 Live.
When he said “There’s been a last minute winner at The Reebok” I feared the worst. Then he mentioned the words “Muntari” and “trickled over the line” and it dawned on me that we had won. The arrival of smiling fellow travellers confirmed it and that fact that we were now mathematically safe.
So, dear readers, you have a fraud in your midst. I cannot write about a vital win because I did not see it. I lost my bottle and stepped outside a stadium for the first time in many years and missed probably our most important goal of the season.
Please allow an old man a little leeway and I will attempt to pass comment on the 91 minutes I did see before I lost the courage of my convictions.
As games go, it wasn’t a great advert for Premier League football. We had a scratch team out and Bolton looked like the last place they wanted to be was to be playing in front of 18,000 rather surly Boltonians – and some Lancashire halfwit with a drum.
You could argue that Bruce’s team selection was easy – “All those fit put your hands up, you’re playing”. But while the personnel might be easy to sort out, the positions still had to be right. Mensah and Ferdinand in the centre and Onuoha at full back, Zenden in centre midfield and Elmohamady pushed up on the right.
And it worked. Ferdinand was excellent, with very few slips, Mensah showed why, if he were fit, he would walk into the side and Zenden skippered the team, led by example and scored a lifesaving goal seconds before half time.
The midfield actually competed, with Colback having his best game in Sunderland’s colours. He sat behind Zenden and Henderson and in front of the back four and picked up a lot of loose ball. Most importantly, he rarely gave the ball away and this was a pleasing feature of our game throughout the afternoon. Ball retention has been a weakness all season; maybe we needed Zenden’s influence earlier in the year.
I thought Sessegnon was tremendous up front and anyone who doubts his commitment to Sunderland should have seen how he played today. He had a couple of scintillating runs in the second half, bamboozling Knight both times, and had we had another forward player to take advantage of his penetrating crosses, my dash to the coach would not have been necessary.
Throw in some impressive goalkeeping from Mignolet (none more significant than an early point blank block from Taylor) and we turned in they type of performance that was a complete antithesis of the one last week and one that gives some hope for the future.
Granted, Bolton were poor and looked as if they just wanted the season to end, but they are still feisty competitors and the tackles and elbows and shirt pulling that Messrs Allardyce and Megson encouraged, are still there under Coyle. Kevin Davies is an unpleasant player and could have been sent off by a twitchier referee than the sensible Kevin Friend, who I thought had a good game.
It wasn’t a bad day, despite the switching of our pre match stop from Lancaster to Chorley. It’s a down to earth Lancashire town, immortalised by Peter Kay and rejoicing in the success of the local team who will be playing in Evo-Stik Premier next year after 3,000 of the locals crammed into Victory Park on the Friday night to see them beat AFC Fylde 2-0. The Bank Top Brewery Flat Cap in The White Bull was a more than decent pint.
So we have two games left and as I am writing this before the Wolves v West Brom love in, I don’t know how desperate Mick’s situation will be (precarious, despite the 3-1 win – ed). Much as I like the man, there can be no sympathy for him as we attempt to break into the top half of the table and above the Mags. Then off to West Ham, who I imagine will be down by then.
And then the analysis can start …