Pete Sixsmith, who shared some wretched news with me today about a good mutual friend, in his case a very close one, offers a clinical analysis of the match but ends with precisely the right sense of perspective. Our deepest sympathies go to Pete Horan, Emma and Clare on the loss of Pete H’s much-loved wife and the girls’ treasured mother, Sue, always to be remembered as a picture of vitality and warmth; my abiding memory is from outside the Dun Cow in Durham after a promotion or championship clincher, all four of them decked out in red and white and making the family car rock to Cheer Up Peter Reid …
At 8.30, the Sixer’s Seven was written and sent: “Absolute certs for relegation after this shambles.” At half time, I offered an alternative:”Third relegation place is ours to claim.”
By this time we were a goal down to a Stoke side who were allowed to pass the ball freely and were down to 10 men, thanks to Craig Gardner deciding that he wanted use of the showers first. Our grip on the Premier League place we so value was loosening and Stoke, in true Dick Dastardly mode, were stamping on our fingers and pushing us into the abyss known as the Championship.
Whatever the manager and his staff said to the players at half time worked, because they came out in a much more positive frame of mind, scored a deserved equaliser and could have won the game late on. It became a point gained in the face of adversity rather than two points lost to carelessness.
The atmosphere around the Stadium was a mix of nostalgia, nerves and optimism. The nostalgia was provided when the 10 surviving members of the 1973 Cup Winning team came on to the pitch to receive a huge ovation from the crowd. Never mind that the majority of those in attendance had little or no memory of it save that gleaned from video or dvd, those greybeards who were there or who watched it on black and white TV applauded and thought that 40 Years On and here we were in yet another relegation battle.
The current crop of players who represent Sunderland AFC must have been caught up in the whole nostalgia fest as they performed as if they were imitating Hamsteels CW from the Durham and District League c.1973.
Passes went astray, tackles were missed and headers were misdirected. A mere eight minutes into the latest must win game of our season, Stoke were presented with a goal, which Jonathan Walters rammed in at the second attempt. For the next 22 minutes we huffed and we puffed but were as far away from blowing the brick house down as the Big Bad Wolf.
As the crowd applauded the mythical 32nd minute, our part-time full back Craig Gardener decided that the best way to remember Ian Porterfield’s strike was to launch himself at Charlie Adam. Whether it was mistimed, or whether it was an intentional act to nobble Adam is open to debate. Whatever it was, the red card was as inevitable as night follows day and Gardener went.
See all Salut! Sunderland’s articles recalling May 5 1973 and the run that took SAFC to FA Cup glory: https://safc.blog/category/fa-cup/may-5-1973/
It did not look good. The Championship and its trips to just about every place in Lancashire beginning with a B looked a probability rather than a possibility. The mood at half time in the upper reaches of the East Stand was akin to that felt in Conservative Central Office every time Mr Farrage appeared on the television.
Forty five minutes later, the mood had lightened a little. O’Shea had equalised and Danny Rose had almost rattled in a winner which would have sent the crowd (and maybe even me) into paroxysms of delight.
It was a brave performance, with Adam Johnson and Danny Rose in particular, catching the eye. My friend Jake Beal, a Southport fan, texted me at the end: “I must say the two left footers in Rose and Johnson were brilliant in the second half.” Wise words from afar.
So there were positives, but once again they papered over some alarming cracks. The defence collectively failed to deal with the first corner they had to face. It looks man for man marking now as opposed to zonal, but nobody picked up Walters and he took advantage of a slice of good fortune to score.
After that, we defended reasonably well, but going forward was slow and painful to watch. Johnson was outstanding in the second half and ran himself into the ground as he looked to pick up every stray ball. Colback supported him valiantly and we caused a lot of problems down that side.
Alas, on the opposite flank, James McClean did little to contradict the view that he is making up the numbers. He works hard but there is absolutely no end product and it seems that everything he does turns out wrong.
The game on Sunday is yet another must win one. Southampton are by no means clear of relegation and could slip into the bottom three should they fail to pick up any points from their final two games. They are missing their key creative layer in Gaston Ramirez, but the likes of Adam Lalana and Ricky Lambert will trouble us if we are as slack as we were in last night’s first half.
Yet another nerve wracking end to the season, although we do have to remember that it is only football and there are far worse things that happen than relegation.
* See also: Monsieur Salut at ESPN: http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/1528?cc=5739#
You will hear no complaints from me about the sending off. Lee Mason had a respectable game as referee. He may have been exceedingly charitable towards Stoke’s former Sunderland midfielder Dean Whitehead — three yellow-card offences, one booking — but that sort of leniency happens routinely; none is owed to a player guilty of the sort of reckless challenge that saw Gardner sent off before half-time.
I applaud Gardner’s enthusiasm, his willingness to put in a proper shift wherever on the pitch it is required and his ability to take a dependable penalty and crack in the odd goal from midfield. His rapport with supporters is refreshing. But I’d fine him three months’ wages for the tackle on Adam.