Two last looks at the vital game on Sunday start here. We can lose and stay up, of course. But, Colin Randall insists, it is not good enough to settle for second best against Chelsea and pray for comforting news from other grounds …
We all have memories. For Sunderland fans, there have been exhilarating moments to make all that passion and loyalty seem worthwhile.
There have been a good deal more gut-wrenching ones that will stick with you until long after the cows have come home.
Vital games are sometimes dotted around a season. This time, we’re concerned only with last games of seasons. And Sunderland v Chelsea matters a massive amount, as did the same encounter back in 1963 about which Pete Sixsmith is preparing a Soapbox piece as I write.
It is all very well saying Aston Villa or Manchester United may do it for us so we don’t need to worry too much about losing. Our defeat would be an outcome predicted by most people – indeed, by virtually everyone until Jerry Evans wrote his excellent two-parter from a Chelsea viewpoint – but so would either Man U or Villa, or both, winning.
So what if we do stay up by default? After the initial burst of relief, coupled with all sorts of other emotions if the Mags have failed to do better than Hull on the day, who among us will see an escape by the skin of our teeth, with a points tally that fully merits and would normally ensure relegation, as any cause for celebration?
It is asking a huge amount of players of the standard of those at SAFC – or, in some cases, the standard to which they have astonishingly descended – to do what most other teams cannot do and beat Chelsea, even at home.
Salut! Sunderland has revisited the heady days of 1999/2000 and 2000/2001, when we won three of the four games, two of those victories coming in great style. We do not seem capable of such performances now.
But these exceedingly well paid men who will on Sunday pull on our club’s shirts have a solemn duty to turn in the displays of their lives starting at 4pm. On all too many occasions this season, we have asked a lot less of them and they have simply failed to deliver.
Footballers can play woefully without meaning to, or without any lack of desire. But there have been many games this season – West Brown (a), Everton (h and a), Wigan (h), Bolton (h), Portsmouth (h), West Ham (a) and Stoke (a) readily spring to mind – when they have seemed devoid of even that desire to win, passion for making Sunderland succeed.
Defeat against Chelsea would not in itself be a disgrace. But if it were coupled with news from elsewhere that we just didn’t want to hear, Sunderland fans would have every justification for taking it as another manifestation of the decline and despair into which the club has been allowed to sink.
For any player looking in, bon courage: this – drawing on Rob Mason’s invaluable Sunderland: The Complete Record – is how it could, just could look on Sunday night, us having won 2-1 as Jerry Evans kindly suggests we might:
Sunderland v Chelsea
P W D L F A
52 29 9 14 101 60
And what were those other last games of the season that really, really mattered?
Pete would know better, but these leapt from either memory or the pages of Rob Mason’s book – or usually a combination of both:
Sunderland v Chelsea on May 18 1963. Pete and I were both there, but he will tell you all about it
Notts County 3 SAFC 1 on May 8 1993. An abject display that failed to bring our second relegation to the third tier only because Cambridge and Brentford were also beaten
Portsmouth 0 SAFC 2 on April 26 1958. Victory didn’t prevent our first descent from the top division. Newcastle – and Pompey – finished on the same number of points but with massively better goals for and against figures. Crucially, Leicester also won on the final day: defeat would have sent them down instead of us
Everton 2 SAFC 0 on May 19 1977. The Jimmy Hill night. Only our defeat and a draw between Coventry and Bristol City could relegate us. We obliged, of course, and our match at Goodison ended with a quarter of an hour still on the clock with 2-2 the score at Highfield Road. Jimmy’s announcement of our result, on the electronic scoreboard, did the rest. Some of us would bet they’d agreed to draw anyway
SAFC 2 C Palace 1 in the promotion playoff semis second leg on May 17 2004. That took it to penalties because we’d fumbled so badly at Selhurst Park. All you need to remember is Jeff Whitley’s spot “kick”
Playoff final May 25 1998: SAFC 4 Charlton 4. Charlton win 7-6 on pens. Never let anyone say it was a great game for neutrals. And always remind Danny Dichio and Lionel Perez of why it was we couldn’t win it even before the penalties.
Wimbledon 1 SAFC 0 on May 11 1997: they were there for the taking. We never looked liked scoring. Even without Jimmy’s cheating to assist, Coventry won at Spurs and we were down again
But hey, Ha’way the Lads all the same …