Not for the first time, but we hope for the last this season, we approach a game of momentous importance.
As every schoolboy ought to know, a win on Saturday for Sunderland and a defeat or draw for Hull City would ensure our survival. After a season in which we have truly earned very little, we at last deserve the result we need on the strength of recent performances.
Dick Advocaat said he was resigned to the need to win ugly if necessary. There has not been much pretty about any of the three victories he has managed – Jermain Defoe’s sensational strike against Newcastle apart – but 10 points out of 15 is survival form and the manager can be proud of that.
But as we all agreed last weekend, after the heartwarmingly dogged display at Everton, the job is not quite done. Hull or even Newcastle could do it for us but how much better if we could dig ourselves out of the hole.
Swansea’s win at Arsenal on Monday night makes our task at the Emirates next Wednesday a whole lot harder. The Gunners will be desperate for points in their own fight at the other end of the Premier and are unlikely to be as wasteful in a second successive home game against opposition they’d normally expect and be expected to beat comfortably.
We can hope they are shattered after Sunday’s match at Old Trafford but that is a seriously slender straw to clutch at. And then there’s Chelsea, in party mood after romping to the title – nothing at stake for them which, given the man-for-man quality gap, feels dangerous to say the least.
Sunderland can hope to repeat the heroics of a year ago – which included that superb win at Stamford Bridge – but it is, in all honesty, an extraordinary and entirely improbably scenario.
So Guess the Score for the final home game of the season. On April Fools’ Day 2002, also desperate for a win, we overcame Leicester 2-1 with goals from Claudio Reyna either side of a Paul Dickov equaliser.
This extract from Michael Walker’s report for The Guardian‘s vividly captures the bum-clenching nature of the occasion:
Jingle, jangle – that traditionally is the sound nerves make when exercised. Here yesterday, despite Sunderland being in the lead for a combined total of 78 minutes, they were clanging like Big Ben at midnight.
As the final minute approached the nerves got even louder. Leicester were attacking in ever greater numbers and with ever greater belief. Then came two minutes of added time and the latest of City’s lengthy series of long throws.
This one came in from the substitute Jon Ashton. There was a clatter of red and white shirts jumping for it. But, when the ball dropped, it was to a man in blue. Lee Marshall caught it first time and it was goalbound until it struck another Leicester player.
The ball was diverted wide of Thomas Sorensen’s goal and 10 seconds later the final whistle went. It was accompanied by a cheer they will have heard on ships in the North Sea.
Let Pete Sixsmith’s smile on Saturday evening be as broad as it will have been that day, and as it was at Goodison. We went on that season to lose three of our remaining matches and draw the other two, but stayed up with four points to spare. That safety margin would work again for most of us …
Usual rules apply: be first with the correct score, post it before kickoff and you win a mug, like the one shown with the name of your choice as No 12, from our Guess the Score sponsors Personalised Football Gifts, who will come up with a suitable alternative if a Foxes supporter post the winning entry.
And Ha’way the Lads.
Come back for the SAFC vs Leciester City “Who are You?”, an interview with a Foxes fan who agrees with ‘arry Redknapp – remember him – that Sunderland are the worst side in the Premier. He doesn’t expect to make himself especially popular around here.