So we reach what Jake, our illustrator, rightly calls The Biggie. Win and we’re safe unless Hull win both their games, starting at Spurs on Saturday, and we lose both the remaining ones next Wednesday and on May 24. Lose and we must rely on others – or our own ability to produce a magical result from the Emirates or Stamford Bridge. Anything can happen. James Bennett*, another of Monsieur Salut’s former Abu Dhabi colleagues, is a diehard Leicester fan, somewhat uncomplimentary about the way Sunderland play as opposed to how we support them (so are we from time to time) and yearning for a chance for his club to build on their achievements this season. Since answering our questions, James – who at least admits Leicester were poor in the first game – has accused us of being lucky in both the Southampton and Everton games …
Salut! Sunderland: [NB All questions posed before the recent games – Ed] So, with that barnstorming defeat of Man Utd and the late surge for survival, has it been an exhilarating season in the Premier or all too nervy?
James Bennett: The last six games have been an incredible turn around but, in between that incredible Man Utd game and those I just mentioned, it’s been nervy and altogether gloomy with many of us thinking we were dead certs for the drop. The fans overall, however have been immense and at the atmosphere has been arguably the best in the league with the stadium often physically rocking and the noise the loudest I’ve ever heard it.
There’s clearly fight in the side. Does that mean all is forgiven for Nigel Pearson or is he a misunderstood soul who never deserved to be criticised in the first place?
I think if most fans were honest they would say the same as me; I’ve never particularly liked his manner and approach and there have been times this season when I was baffled with his starting selection, however under this management the team smashed the Championship last seasons, and he is our third longest serving manager.
Consistency is key and the owners – well one of them at least – have stuck by him thick and thin, as have the majority of fans albeit at times this season his has let himself, us and the club’s reputation down. Fortunately for him we’ve played well all season and been unlucky and played particularly well and managed to get some deserved luck in the last five out of six games, while his Ostrich comments and apology 24 hours later have allowed people to see the funny side of under pressure Premier League managers.
What did you make of that extraordinary “has he, hasn’t he?” sacking saga, crass management or confused media?
Enter the SAFC vs Leicester City prize Guess the Score at https://safc.blog/2015/05/sunderland-vs-leicester-guess-the-score-when-claudio-eased-jingle-jangling-nerves/. Leicester fans welcome.
It was poor communication on behalf of the club, but to be fair to Nigel Pearson, he’s done incredible well to manage that and other incidents since and largely deflecting team pressure onto him which has worked to great effect. If we stay up there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be given manager of the year. Looking back at those dark days of swearing at a diehard fan, strangling a rival player and calling a reporter an Ostrich, it would be an amazing turn around,
And is Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha on balance a good thing for Leicester City? How far can the club realistically rise under his ownership?
Apart from landing his chopper on the centre circle to take him home after several home games, he largely goes unnoticed. From a financial point of view, however he’s far more visible. He’s balanced the books, we’re debt free, he’s only wavered once on the manager’s future (and who’s to say it was him and not his son) and backed him on several signing while at the same time not overspending. For those reasons he’s greatly respected.
Looking at your current squad, the only obvious links (Kevin Phillips’s coaching role apart) are Danny Simpson, once on loan at SAFC, and David Nugent, who once turned Roy Keane down because he didn’t want to move to the far north. How do rate the three of them and their contributions to Leicester?
Nugent has been a good servant to the club although his finishing this year when given clear changes to score hasn’t been at his best. He tends to score the harder chances and miss the tap-ins which has been frustrating. He’s well liked and it would be great for him to have a second consecutive season in the Premier League, especially considering most people view him as Championship striker.
Phillips scored one very important goal at the tail end of last season and he’s been an inspired hire, great in the dressing room and a real inspiration to all the players and perhaps even the manager although I’m sure he’d never admit it.
Simpson had a decent run in the team but he’s not even been on the bench for the last two months, funnily enough ever since we started winning. I though he looked solid if a little limited and didn’t really gel with the rest of the team’s play, with the majority of them having played together last season and in pre-season whereas he joined us at a later stage.
We had a dreary draw at your place early in the season and have proceeded to struggle pretty much throughout. Are we, as ‘arry Redknapp asserted, the worst side in the Premier?
On paper no but from a personal point of view, and clearly I’ve never said this before, I agree with ‘arry. I’m sorry to say yes, you and Hull have to be the two least exciting sides I’ve seen this season. Then again we were poor in both those games, far too cautious and we should have created far more chances. I hope we can at the Stadium of Light.
Who do you now reckon – honestly – will be going down and, should Leicester be among them, would it be the end of the world or a temporary setback?
I don’t want to tempt fate at all except to say that Burnley and QPR are definitely down [this was written before they actually were – Ed]. It would be a huge setback because if we stay this year we could well be in the Premier League for at least five to 10 years particularly with the current backing from the owners and the huge appeal they are generating in Asia.
And what is your view of Sunderland generally: the club, the fans, the city, the region, Advocaat?
I’ve always admired Sunderland’s fans and their passion but their style of play has always been on a level with the Stokes of this world and not something I would pay to watch… even if they were my team.
Is there a single player of ours who would improve your own team?
Fletcher would fit into the Ulloa role but I’d rather have Ulloa (of course)
What have been you personal highs and lows as a Leicester supporter?
Lows were going down to League One, the third tier for the first time in more than 125 years; highs winning promotion last year in the style we did it but equally my own personal high was Steve Claridge’s play off winner.
Who are the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d seen – in Leicester colours? Too young for Shilton’s era, I imagine, but not Lineker …
I never saw Lineker play in person unfortunately so I’d have to say the best I’ve seen in person was Steve Walsh for his never say die attitude. He’s Leicester through and through.
And who do wish had never been allowed to wear your colours?
Is diving, along with other forms of cheating, so commonplace we should stop banging on about it and just stick it in the coaching manuals?
Diving should be banned by handing out harsher punishment.
And what single step should the football authorities take to improve the matchday experience of ordinary fans?
Lowering ticket prices
Best ref, worst ref in the Premier?
None are terrible but none of them are terribly good. With no technology available they have an almost impossible job. Consistency is certainly impossible.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
I won’t, not after the home game 😉 but I think it will be a score draw of some description, arguably the most dramatic game of the closing season. One of us will go down in my view [again – remember James wrote this before our wins and theirs – Ed]. I just hope it’s not us.
* James Bennett on himself: I’m a former business journalist and now work as the head of communications for a listed software business. I’ve supported the club all my life but only bought a season ticket in recent years in order to take my son, George, who is now a Foxes fan.
Interview: Colin Randall