Way up high/There’s a land that I heard of/Once in a lullaby……..well perhaps the something Judy Garland had in mind wasn’t 13th top for a day. The humiliation of Spurs by the Mags may have knocked us back a place, but that cannot dampen the spirits of Pete Sixsmith, who also has rare praise for a referee and the away end
As we drove away from the Stadium of Light on Saturday evening, a huge rainbow materialised, stretching over both sides of Newcastle Road.
One end of it seemed to be planted in what used to be Roker Park while the other was most definitely attached to the exact spot where Andy Reid had hit that stunning volley in the fifth minute of time added on for West Ham whingeing and generally being southern softies.
The scenes inside the Stadium were tremendous. We all knew how important that goal was and when the announcer told us that Arsenal had hit a late winner at Bolton, our joy was unconfined. The talk on the way down the stairs was that we may not be the most stylish team in the division and we may have some flaws, but there is no side, squad or club with a bigger heart.
Reid is the most unlikely looking of players but boy, can he play. I remember him having two blinding games for Forest in Mick’s Championship season (the one we celebrated). He stood out at the SoL in a wretched side and at the City Ground at Christmas, he beat Thomas Myrhe with a glorious chip before Marcus Stewart won the game for us in the last minute. I am pretty sure that McCarthy had a good look at him but the bright lights of the serial chokers at White Hart Lane (1-4, can you believe it?) proved a more attractive proposition than The Bridges and Debenhams.
I wrote last week about the crowd’s ability to roar us on to victory. It was there again on Saturday as an almost full Stadium backed the players with as wholehearted a roaring performance as you will ever hear. Some groans and some shaking of heads, but basically every Sunderland fan wanted to push the players on and I am sure that the revival of the Roker Roar will play a considerable role in seeing us through.
Sunderland fans are honest and discerning. They know when players are out of their depth and that there is little point in getting on their backs.
Two years ago it was patently obvious that we were nowhere near good enough, but the crowd did not turn. Why berate a manager who was allowed only a limited budget to recruit? Why jeer players who work hard and who cannot help not being good enough?
This year, they can see the beginnings of something, and faith in Keane has never really wavered. In my more depressive moments, I have felt that relegation was a clear possibility. And things could still go wrong, but the tenacity and dedication of manager and players ought to ensure that Fulham and Bolton are confined to the Great Grimpen Mire.
Players like Nyron and Danny Collins have seen their careers move on to a higher level since Roy came. Both were hapless in their last tilt at the Premier League, yet both now look as if they have been playing at this level for years. Fans appreciate the honesty of this type of player, and it is their dogged and determined qualities, allied with the flair of the Richardsons and Reids of this world, that will enable us to push on next season.
Two other points about the crowd. What on earth possesses people to leave so early? What is more important than seeing your team win? I was shocked when I watched Match of the Day to see the empty seats in the East Stand as Carlos put the centre in for Ferdinand to flick it onto Reid. Why do people not stay to the end, particularly as we have such a record of scoring in the closing minutes? This, along with why do people like Joe Pasquale and how on earth can Londoners even think about voting for Boris Johnson, is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Universe.
Secondly, I thought the support from West Ham was superb. They have nothing to play for but they still sold out their section. It was a better turn out than Chelsea two weeks ago and was even more impressive when you saw the empty seats in the Arsenal end at the Reebok.
Like us, the Hammers are a club rooted in their community and they know that support is permanent and not something that ebbs and flows depending on ownership by Russian oligarchs or bright, shiny new stadiums.
Finally, on a day when the sun is shining in County Durham, a word of praise for Andre Marriner. He had a superb game. He let the game flow, spoke to players sensibly (Bennett or Riley would have despatched Carlton Cole after he threw the ball away) and, along with Mr Devine his assistant, called it absolutely right when Kenwyne equalised.
Contrast that with Rob Styles who gave Birmingham a penalty so soft that even the Andrex puppy would have thought that it was taking softness a little too far.