End of term report

Chained to the work station, I still nurtured hopes of keeping one eye on events at the Stadium of Light.

My younger daughter, out here in Abu Dhabi for a holiday, does not agree with my approach to the season’s climax. Despite, shamefully, supporting Liverpool instead of Sunderland and regarding the Lads as only her “second” club, whatever one of those is, she paid little attention to either Spurs v Liverpool or SAFC v Arsenal.

All 10 games were available live at the touch of a remote control button on Showtime channels, but she was glued to the championship and relegation games. “But dad, there was nothing at stake for either Sunderland or Liverpool,” she said later.

One of us is clearly missing the point completely.

Of course I am interested in who wins the title – I loathe Chelsea, so that settles that one – and who goes down (Brum’s fate doesn’t bother me, but I feel a little sad for Reading).

But I would sooner watch any game involving SAFC than any game not involving them. Simple as that. The whole thing is explained in my Club v Country chapter in the ALS book More 24 Hour SAFC People, so no need to repeat it all here (though the link gives you the chapter in full).

In the event, not even the best efforts of a web wizard at work could bring me the game. The link had cost me all of eight pounds and was meant to cover a multitude of games, none of which i have ever been able to see, which leads afore-mentioned wizard wondering whether I’ve actually bought anything at all or merely fallen for a scam .

I was able, however, to hook up to BBC Radio Newcastle coverage and listened intermittently to that.

Pete Sixsmith’s view from the East Stand will enable him to fill in the gaps as brilliantly as he has done all season in his Soapbox offerings, which I believe have been the equal of anything streaming from the press box.

From here, and by ear, it seemed that we played with great heart and came up against more poor refereeing decisions (Collins booked for what Gary Bennett called an excellent tackle, a ludicrous free kick six yards out for a Whitehead “passback” that was nothing of the sort and a fair shout for a penalty waved away for not being made by a “big” club). And it also seemed that while we possibly deserved a point, Arsenal inevitably had nearly all the quality and might have stepped up a gear at any time.

It is now too late, and pointless, to witter on about all the points we have been denied by seriously bad calls against us by match officials. Suffice to say that things did not even themselves out over the season, and never looked like doing so despite clear evidence of – and occasional apologies for – the sins committed against us by Steve Bennett, Rob Styles etc. And in fairness to Keith Stroud, yesterday’s controversies sounded more like close calls than undeniable blunders.

Let us concentrate on what needs to be done next. From the radio commentary of yesterday’s game, as from live viewing of most of the season’s fixtures, it was obvious that for all the guts and endeavour our players displayed, many are just not good enough at this level.

Danny Collins has exemplified the club spirit all season long, and may well be the most deserving player of the season candidate, even ahead of Kenwyne. And yet he may also be one of those we need to replace, because of his limitations in distribution. Gary Bennett got close to making a similar point when analysing Walcott’s goal, but cited the lack of pace that had on that occasion caught him out. Having said that, I’d certainly keep Danny as a squad member for cover.

Roy Keane will be aware of all this, and of the monumental task he now faces in the close season.
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Staying up was, in the end, a significant achievement, and one that Salut! Sunderland applauds. But the signings Keano makes between now and August will determine whether next season is to represent the next step forward in the Big Plan, or just another test of nerves in which we struggle not only to avoid relegation but to score a single goal at home against any of the top five teams.

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