My seven-worder, “Fought like tigers. Undone by woeful start”, was intended to convey both a spot of praise for the way we played in the last half hour at Stamford Bridge and exasperation at how badly we’d begun the game.
But the choice of words struck a discordant note with some. Even Big Sam seems to have been emphasising the negatives of the match more than I did.
People have had enough.
No one thanks me for the occasional reminder that in our current nine-year stretch in the Premier, only one manager has got close to delivering results commensurate with such great support – and that manager was Steve Bruce. I shall go to my grave admiring him for that finish in 10th place, though I also share most Salut! Sunderland readers’ disgust at the way he has conducted himself since his dismissal when thing went wrong, as they most decidedly did.
From the rest, we’ve had relentless dross, wretched football and rotten results, Premier survival assured by the failings of others or extraordinary escapes accomplished by late heroics.
As things stand just before Christmas, we’d be fools to expect a similar outcome – survival by the skin of our teeth – this season. Five points adrift of a place out of the bottom three, we face two games few expect us to win or even draw (Man City away, Liverpool at home) and a third, Villa at home, that has danger written all over it.
As put by David Jobling, a recent Guess the Score winner (and no, he didn’t get his prize for predicting a Sunderland win), “all I see this season is gloom”
David says: “I think we have dodged one bullet too many. I can’t see even Sam saving us unless there are again major personnel changes in Jan. I think we will get beaten by City but put up a decent fight. Liverpool is a hard one to predict. Villa is definitely a key game. I think we might be about dead by end of Jan.”
Salut! Sunderland is read mostly, on my reckoning, by mature supporters ranging from home-and-away stalwarts to exiles. When they start talking as David does, you know we’re in deep trouble.
It could all suddenly go well. A cracking performance at the Etihad could be followed by points next Wednesday and again versus Villa, with more to come as January progresses. We don’t expect it, but it might just happen.
The reality, unfortunately, is that unless Allardyce works wonders in the transfer window, it is difficult to see us clawing a way out of the relegation zone. Can we honestly say there are three sides worse than us?
All the same, as 2016 approaches, it is right to salute that one, constant source of SAFC heroics: the support. Forget the mass walkouts when the likes of Villa and Palace pile on the humiliation.
Instead, consider the fantastic home attendances (for a team that has won all of twice at the SoL, league cup apart, so far this season) and the routinely sold-out away allocations. Feel the passion, especially away. I wish I could say the same about support for this site: today’s readership figure has struggled to get above 200 and this week’s Guess the Score has barely attracted 80.
In the bleak midwinter for Sunderland supporters, it feels a thankless task. But maybe I get too obsessed with how many people come here. And as I told David Jobling in my reply, my own level of support will never change whatever division we play in and however many or few visit Salut! Sunderland.
So to answer the question posed in my headline, “no, a hundred times no”. We’re keeping the faith.
And in conclusion, appropriate with City our next opponents, here’s a little something I prepared earlier. It first appeared here a few years ago and went something like this …
On the evening of Dec 9 2002, Sunderland lost 3-0 at home to Manchester City.
Earlier that day, I had joined a queue at London’s Canary Wharf, where I then worked, to buy a couple of copies of Niall Quinn’s autobiography and have them signed by the great man, who was out of the team because of injury.
For my copy, I asked for some message about the night he’d scored the winner and later, after Tommy Sorensen was carried off, kept goal at Bradford City in March 1999. This he did with the words: “To Colin. From a pretend Goalie! (v. Bradford) – Love, Niall Quinn).
Then I asked him to sign a copy for Pete Sixsmith. Despite the awful state Sunderland were in – 18th – I suggested something upbeat, offering hope of survival. After a short pause for thought, he wrote simply: “Keep the faith.” By the end of the night we were 19th; Howard Wilkinson was no kind of saviour and Sunderland were relegated with the first of our two record-creating lows, 19 points.