This week’s Guess the Score is a rollover and Man Utd fans are welcome to join in. Curiously enough. given how often Sunderland games have ended 0-0 this season, no one opted for that as the outcome against WBA, though a few sensed the probability of defeat. Two mugs – design reflecting the winner’s allegiance – are up for grabs, then, as SAFC trot over the hills to take on Manchester United, a tough challenge as Louis Van Gaal’s misfiring stars will be eager to bounce back from the setback at Swansea. Since Sunderland are almost always looking for a chance to bounce back from disappointment, it could be interesting one way or the other …
Cast your minds back to May 3 last year. After loitering in or around bottom place for most of the season, Sunderland travelled to Old Trafford in uncommonly buoyant spirits.
The visit to what the geographically astute would insist on calling the North West Midlands was the second in two-and-a-half weeks.
The first of those trips across the Pennines to Manchester had given lift-off to the revival, a 2-2 draw at champions-to-be Manchester City that felt like a defeat after Connor Wickham had equalised an early goal and then put us ahead.
This impressive performance brought only the second Premier League point in seven games and left the Lads in bottom place, six points short of safety. But what followed was the stuff of dreams, as Sunderland put Jose Mourinho’s nose decidedly out of joint by winning 2-1 at Stamford Bridge before walloping Cardiff City 4-0 at home to climb, at last, out of the bottom three.
And so, 10 months ago, the Great Escape act on tour arrived back in Manchester. Another superb lesson in how to play the elite on their own territory yielded three more priceless points, Seb Larsson sweeping home Wickham’s cross after 30 minutes for the winner that ended the brief honeymoon period of Ryan Giggs following the sacking of David Moyes.
There was still time to beat WBA at home; even with a flat end to the season, Swansea taking all three points from the Stadium to Light, the finish in 14th place was truly astonishing.
Now, back are against the wall again as SAFC, hovering precariously above the bottom three, prepare for another stiff Old Trafford test.
So much rests on the older, wiser, cannier players who did most to impress in the otherwise disappointing draw at home to WBA on Saturday. John O’Shea was a towering figure in defence and popped up all over the pitch; his former Man Utd teammate Wes Brown is still the best bet alongside him, never more so than when the opponents are United, and the midfield battle is one Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson must win.
Whether all that Gus Poyet can muster will be enough is open to doubt. Sunderland simply cannot score goals. Jermain Defoe and Danny Graham worked hard but achieved nothing on Saturday. Wickham and Steven Fletcher fared no better against Tony Pulis’s muscle-bound defence when thrown on for the last 27 minutes including stoppage time.
Our excellent United “Who are You?” interviewee, Keith Hoggins, has a great response when asked if Sunderland’s poor form suggested a home romp: “No. We don’t seem to do romps these days. United have stopped playing without fear … 0-0. We can’t win and you can’t score goals.” He’s already changed his mind and now says 2-1 to United. Come back to Salut! Sunderland to see the full interview tomorrow or Thursday.