Bob Chapman brings down the curtain on what we hope has been another season of fine, incisive reporting from each Sunderland game, the best of it combining analysis, observation and humour (the latter quality is remarkable, given the feelings of dejection that all too often haunt the Sunderland supporter’s life). Pete Sixsmith has explained his absence from the final two games, leaving Arsenal to his younger brother Michael and Chelsea to his pal Bob, a frequent understudy. Salut! Sunderland thanks all contributors for one more season of triumph over failure, hope over despair …
Whichever division we are in, I always look forward to the end of a season.
There is inevitably something riding on those last few matches. Living with that level of stress cannot be good for you, so it is a source of some relief when that final whistle is blown and you can get on with your life, whether you are celebrating or feeling sorry for yourself.
Midway through a nine-game sequence without a Premier win, last season’s visit to Norwich was a dreadful experience.
A group of us came away certain that we would be relegated and that Norwich would survive. We travelled back reviewing the away days we would have in the Championship. Winning matches, cheaper prices, bigger allocations and better days out seemed a fair price to pay for relegation. The fact that we survived and then found ourselves in exactly the same predicament this season is a huge disappointment.
This season, however, I always felt that somehow we might survive, although I had no inkling that it would be by gaining unexpected points at both Everton and Arsenal.
After failing to gain maximum points against Leicester I had prepared myself for the final match to be a decider. So, waking up on Sunday morning felt rather surreal; I could just enjoy the day out, whatever the outcome.
When the pressure is on I stop reading newspapers, looking at league tables and simply “bury my head in the sand” [Nigel Pearson would be impressed that you can – Ed]. But after suffering the Arsenal bombardment and coming out the other side, I could read the papers once again! I read The Independent end-of-term report on the train down to London. Grade E was a fair reflection for both Hull and us [I mustered a D- at ESPN – Ed], with only worse grades for Newcastle and QPR. The report summed up the season perfectly, commenting on why we only turn up at exam time and cannot apply ourselves through the whole year.
I arrived at Stamford Bridge to discover that Chelsea were to be awarded the Premier League trophy after the match. Being a Sunderland supporter, I have never experienced such an event. The closest I have come was three years ago and the presentation that Man Utd thought would happen at our place until Aguero thought differently. To be honest, I don’t like all the razzmatazz that goes with it these days, but I decided that I would stay.
The team news was interesting. I thought one or two of the youngsters might get a run out. However, a strong team and bench was selected, which was fair enough considering how well they have played recently and so deserving a chance to challenge the champions.
The game started with Sunderland showing no ill effects from the other night at Arsenal. With both sides content to keep their shape at the expense of taking risks, I felt we had a chance. That came to fruition after half an hour when Fletcher headed in a Johnson corner, which had been allowed to bounce in the box.
Within minutes of that Drogba was replaced by Costa. It had an immediate impact as he dispatched an equalising penalty. Cuadrado running at pace found an outstretched leg from John O’Shea. It was a penalty but I still think it is cheating.
We continued to play well and the only real difference between the two sides seemed to be that extra bit of quality that Willian and Hazard were able to offer. Although Chelsea were creating chances we were matching them.
With 60 minutes gone Defoe had a volley cleared off the line and then soon after Fletcher had a decent chance at the back post. Disappointment with those missed chances was compounded when Remy wrong footed Mannone for them to take the lead. Soon afterwards Fletcher had a free header eight yards out from a van Aanholt cross and he should at least have hit the target. For such a good header of the ball, he will have been disappointed with that effort.
Further disappointments came two minutes from the end when Remy scored his second and I heard that the Mags had done the same.
When I had woken up that morning, I was determined I would enjoy the day whatever the outcome. Sadly, I failed. We had played well and I was disappointed. And in the end I didn’t bother to wait to see the trophy presented.
As I left, the young lady sat next to me said: “Well at least that’s another six points in the bag next season, with the Mags staying up.”
I’m glad it’s all over now. I can put my feet up and have a rest. More importantly I can save serious amounts of money. Has it been worth it? Probably not! Will I be back next season? Of course I will. When are the fixtures out?