Tuesday’s match still seems ages away, so stand by for a long buildup.
At the end of the season before last, we faced Chelsea at home on the last day, threatened with relegation if we lost and both Newcastle United and Hull won. Luckily, and it was luck since we predictably lost our game (3-2), they both lost and it was a case of Toon Doon. Ahead of next week’s game at the Stadium of Light, which finds SAFC in hugely different spirits, we reproduce from May 2009 this article looking back at Lads v Chelsea encounters of the Peter Reid era …
Salut! Sunderland: May 2009
So we saved the biggest, scariest matchday of the season for last. The performance at Portsmouth (defeated 3-1) reinforced doubts about our ability to claw our own way out of trouble. We approached the Chelsea game with justified trepidation. Yet it hadn’t been so long since we’d seemed to be beating them for fun.
The Salut! Sunderland headline back then was: Lads v Chelsea: what’s the likeliest outcome – 0-4, 4-1, 1-0, 4-2?
It harked back to the Peter Reid era. This is what I wrote:
…Reid’s reign had become a joke by the time he left us.
I remember meeting Vic Halom before a thrashing at Old Trafford, talking about the woeful state of the club and being handed his business card; if my memory can be trusted, his company was called something like Disaster Management. But until things started to go badly astray, Reidy – like Vic, in a different role, before him – had treated us to some exciting times:
* keeping us up by the skin of our teeth when he arrived late to save us from another descent into the old Third Division
* leading a limited squad to promotion as champions the next season
* not being to blame for having no resources to keep us up (even if some of his selections, from what was availabe to him, raised our eyebrows at times
* playoff finals and a game fans of all other clubs remember as one of the most thrilling ever seen at Wembley
* runaway champions with exhilarating displays, and goals galore, to make life seem wonderful
* two top seven finishes, with Premier defences unable to cope with the Quinn-Phillips threat
Well yes, we know what happened next. And no, I don’t want Reidy back. But in those two seasons of top flight success, the likes of which only the oldest of fans have any reason to recall, we beat Chelsea three times.
Hammered at Stamford Bridge on our first day back in the Premier – the 4-0 scoreline relayed to me by chortling colleagues in a call to the grotty bar in Sierra Leone where I happened to be – we were reckoned by Fleet Street’s finest to be early bets for relegation.
Not quite how it turned out. And many of us look back on the first half of the return game, with two goals apiece from Quinn and SuperKev, as the best 45 minutes we’ve experienced as Sunderland fans. And then the double in the next season.
Both clubs have moved a long way since then. Dodgy or otherwise, money has flowed into the Chelsea coffers and fabricated a team that inspires little affection but wins a lot of games. Us? With a bit less money, and most of what there has been squandered, we have moved in different directions and are in dire straits again ahead of 4pm on Sunday May 24.
Who among our generously rewarded underachievers is capable of scoring two on Sunday? Who will make the sort of penetrating run that Eric Roy produced to set up Niall’s opener on Dec 4 1999?
I doubt if more than about five per cent of SAFC supporters seriously think we will win on Sunday. Maybe 10-15 per cent more – probably a generous estimate on my part – think we might snatch a draw and even that would be insufficient if both Hull and Newcastle won.
Pete Sixsmith was deeply pessimistic after Pompey and it is difficult to fault him. My head still tells me only one of our relegation rivals is seriously going to grab three points; it also tells me we will need to rely entirely on Villa or Man United doing it for us. I see not a hope in hell of three of the four scorelines quoted above, and every possibility that the result will be the one that remains.
And the only consolation in that? That 0-4 would keep us just ahead of Hull if they only drew.
As so often this season, and indeed throughout my life, I long to be proved wrong. I want to see the Lads ram my doubting words back down my throat with a riproaring display to end a grisly season on a happy note. They, of all people, will perhaps understand if I don’t feel the biggest threat to my physical comfort on Sunday has anything to do with words going down the wrong way.
It wasn’t such a bad performances in the context of a dreadful season. But we were always going to lose, and lose we did, leaving us to gloat about the results elsewhere that saved our skins.
This time, things are – or should be – different. A year after being hammered there 7-2 (a scoreline that flattered us, not Chelsea), we ran amok at Stamford Bridge with a display Blues fans class among the best away team performances they can recall.
They then went on a bad run but, inconveniently for us, that seems to be over. But the Sunderland of 2010-11 is not that of 2009-10. We have shown ourselves capable of competing with all of the top Premier League teams.
We need to be at our best. But it is a tribute to Steve Bruce, Niall Quinn and Ellis Short that it is within our current squad’s powers to rise to the occasion and complete a memorable double.
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