With apologies for the laboured pun – and M Salut promises not to add, ”Or Well, what did you expect?” – we present the third of Luke Harvey’s series of defining moments in the season just ended. We’ve had Signing of the Season and Opponents of the Season. Here is Luke’s Game of the Season …
Having gushed praise on Everton for their performance in the FA Cup 5th Round replay at the Stadium of Light – and they fully deserved the plaudits – it would make sense to get back on the straight and narrow and gravitate towards some more Sunderlandcentric awards.
The best match of the season is an interesting category because of its subjective nature. One man’s total football is another man’s tippy-tappy, fun-free keep-ball routine; one man’s 0-0 bore draw is another man’s absorbing tactical battle in a war of attrition.
Taking these differing outlooks into consideration, there were quite a few choices vying for honours in this category:
* the 3-0 win over Norwich where every goal exuded class
* the 2-0 victory against Swansea where we refused to allow our opponents to implement their game plan
* the 1-0 win over the eventual champions Manchester City was an obvious possibility with determination and belief trumping megabucks opponents thanks to the unlikeliest of heroes
However, for my best match of the season we have to leave the cosy confines of home and take to the road, where winning has always been a relatively difficult process.
Yet on this cold, wet Tuesday night at the DW Stadium in Wigan we came good, and in some fashion too.
We were approaching a month of Martin O’Neill at the helm and 10 points from five matches obviously meant we had been good boys. Form may have dropped off in recent times but the initial success MON brought to the club after his appointment simply cannot be overlooked.
Wigan Athletic v Sunderland was never going to be a classic in the conventional sense. Football fans around the world were unlikely to be salivating at the prospect. The rain was pouring and the wind was swirling in ominous fashion from early in the day; it had all the makings of a game that would produce exactly what you would expect – not a lot.
Having arrived for the 7.45pm kick off at the marginally early time of 9.30 in the morning, we set about doing what all sensible young men would do and enjoyeded full English breakfast and many drinks as we set up camp in a familiar chain pub. By the time kick off arrived the rain hadn’t relented at all – if anything it was worse – and the wind was still blowing in every direction imaginable. So after some early to-ing and fro-ing in the match it looked like the first half would end in a rather dull stalemate, and we’d all catch a cold in the process.
That was until Craig Gardner’s free kick flew into the top corner on the stroke of the half with the ball moving through the air reminiscent of one of those plastic blow away balls you used to have when you were younger that didn’t move in a straight line. The ball rose, dipped, went left and then probably right but eventually wormed its way into the top corner.
Having spent half time with my hands under the warm water tap trying to restore sensation – as I had wrongly judged that a jumper would be satisfactory – it was soon time to return to our seats for what would be an exceptional 45 minutes. First James McClean, my signing of the season as mentioned previously, showed some good awareness to time his run after Nicklas Bendtner had initially won the ball back. McClean’s initial header may have been saved but he was first to react and he made no mistake from the second headed attempt.
Rodallega pulled a goal back for Wigan but Stéphane Sessegnon soon restored the two goal advantage with a close range finish from yet more good work from Bendtner, who displayed good strength to get away with from Figueroa before playing a nicely weighted pass that found Sessegnon. David Vaughan rounded off the match by once again trying to burst the net with his shot.
The 4-1 win was well deserved with everyone playing an important role in the game, and the maligned Nicklas Bendtner arguably having his best game in a Sunderland shirt.
The night was spent sampling a couple of other pubs in Wigan where we found the locals to be warm and welcoming. With Wigan now safe for one more year, a return to the DW Stadium is highly likely next season, and hopefully four goals will be on the cards too.