We’ll look at tomorrow’s match at Chelsea – plus the relegation dogfight – but first, an update on the HAWAY awards …
The prizes are sorted for Salut! Sunderland‘s annual Haways – awards for Highly Articulate Who are You? interviews – so step forward our Guess the Score sponsors, Personalised football Gifts, and old friends from Campo Retro and When Saturday Comes.
The first-placed candidate will be offered a straight choice between the prizes our sponsors have kindly promised, with second place choosing between what remains – and so on.
* Personalised Football Gifts
A framed matchday programme featuring the winner’s team (or something else if not available)
* Campo Retro
A gift of the winner’s choice with £50 to spend on or towards it
A year’s subscription to the top footie magazine
And now for a look at Sunday’s Premier League finale. Pity poor Steve Bruce. His Hull side must win and even then count on Newcastle not winning. Pity Newcastle – those who would wish to – needing to turn a desperately bad run into a dream finish (or to hope Man Utd really can be bothered at Hull). How Stevie must hark back to that day in November 2010 when, after a calamitous visit to Stamford Bridge earlier in the year, he led Sunderland’s to one of the finest away performances seen in recent years (9-1 at Newcastle was better still but also more than a century ago). His petulant outbursts since dismissal have left a sour taste in our mouths and many would be happy to see him, though not his club, relegated …
This is how, roughly, I previewed it all at ESPN:
The memory will probably never go away.
Chelsea had just swept into a four-goal lead at home to Sunderland and keeper Marton Fulop had to pick the ball out of his net three more times before the match ended, mercifully, at 7-2.
“Appreciate,” was the only word uttered by a blue-clad teenager as she walked close to the suffering Sunderland contingent back to her seat from the concourse.
At Stamford Bridge, in Sunday’s finale for this season’s Premier League, the away section will be full, as it was back then in 2010.
Its inhabitants could be forgiven for caring little at a similar scoreline. They may even be prepared to appreciate Jose Mourinho’s entirely worthy champions.
But this will be an afternoon of celebration for them as much as for the Chelsea fans. Survival is no longer at stake. A season that threatened to go very sour until Dick Advocaat replaced Gus Poyet as manager, with escaping relegation as the solitary job specification, has been saved.
Safety did not, in the end, depend on the failings of others but was won in emotional style on Arsenal on Wednesday night with a defensive display that had even Arsene Wenger reaching for compliments.
Concerns remain about the direction Sunderland will take in their ninth successive season in the top flight. Will Advocaat be encouraged to stay? At 67, with any lingering need for work surely ended by a hefty survival bonus, would he just bow in any case to the wishes of his wife and settle for retirement, one last big job done?
The decision may not be his to make.
Club owner Ellis Short, who has every right to feel infuriated at how his generous investment has been misapplied in recent seasons, could well decide the best course of action after improbable salvation is to thank the saviour and bid him farewell.
Paolo di Canio, Gus Poyet and, with a crucial run much earlier in the season, Martin O’Neill all proved incapable of building on their commendable achievements. Short must have asked himself whether Advocaat would truly buck that trend. He may also be attracted to the idea of a much younger, longer-term option.
The answer should be known within days. In far too many decades of Sunderland support, I have followed the club under 32 managers, caretakers included. Another change would seem entirely normal, if hardly conducive to stability.
Yet Advocaat clearly has thirst for the game and does his job well and without the theatrics of his immediate full-time successors. In other words, an extension of his contract would seem an appropriate medium-term step in the broader strategy of ending Sunderland’s annual flirtation with danger.
None of which should depend on how Advocaat’s inherited team fare at Stamford Bridge. There is a strong case for leaving Lee Cattermole, again a powerhouse in midfield in the Arsenal game, to watch the game from the stands.
No one, not even Cattermole, really wants to collect a 15th yellow card and make Premier history as the league’s most-booked player in a single season. I’d also be inclined, if I were Advocaat, to give a run-out to a couple of the brighter lights from the Under 21s.
His argument against using Duncan Watmore, prolific at that level, was sound; better to rely on men of experience, even if they find scoring elusive.
But nothing except pride now depends on the outcome at Chelsea. The time has come to look at what Watmore may have to offer. Whoever is the manager, when next season commences, will need to have addressed Sunderland’s woefully weak attacking options.
But, then, I am not Advocaat. He saved Sunderland for another season and his judgement commands respect.
If there is one proposition on which we would probably agree, it is that any competitive Sunderland game is one the team should aim to win.
If the euphoria of the Emirate wears off in time, he can remind whatever start 11 he chooses team to remember that 10 months after that 7-2 drubbing, Sunderland returned to Stamford Bridge and skipped to a stunning 3-0 victory.