Lars Knutsen knows how to choose them. Back from his USA exile (correcting the earlier reference, he still travels there a lot but family needs prompted him to relocate), he made it to the Bristol City game. Pete Sixsmith has already woven his familiar magic; here is an outstanding account from Lars of his own extraordinary afternoon …
When you attend a football match you want to see your team win, and preferably in an “exciting” way.
Surrounded by Sunderland fans in Bristol on Saturday afternoon and going through those 90+ minutes, this was not just excitement, but to quote a friend – “the highs were very high and the lows were very low”. This game, then, verged on the bipolar.
Three-three after being 3-0 down – I should have expected it really.
My last visit to Ashton Gate was in August 1970, aged just 15, for one of my first away games – the opener for that season in the then Division Two.
These events tend to stick in the mind…after a holiday with friends in Torquay, en route to my grandmother’s in Swansea, I thought what an easy stop it would be in Bristol for little light entertainment.
Sunderland, with a side very reminiscent of that which so famously won the FA Cup in 1973 – missing just Dave Watson, Ron Guthrie, Ritchie Pitt and Vic Halom, were 3-1 down after 64 minutes, with the game slipping away from them. Those supporters with good memories will recall that three of the four reinforcing players who eventually lifted the trophy named above were defenders…
Bear with me for a moment – imagine if we look at the Sunderland team in over three years’ time – will there be just a few changes? Definitely not.
In his excellent piece on the game, Pete Sixsmith makes this point about Sam Allardyce’s signings just two years ago, and writes about Sunderland’s leadership: “It’s a hole entirely of our own making. Poor appointments in the boardroom and the manager’s office have led to players being signed on ridiculous contracts and subsequently having no resale value”.
More to the point we have generally not realised the value of our playing assets – Alonso, for example, now starring at Chelsea.
The constant revolving door of players and managers means we have just Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea who have any real inkling of what Sunderland AFC means to the fans, and communicating that to new players.
Back though to the game almost 38 years ago – also remembered by Sixer in his The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground series – Joe Baker stepped up with two goals, and at 74 minutes we were level. But that defence of Irwin, Harvey Todd and Heslop just could not hang on, even with Monty in goal, and the fans went away disappointed after a late winner from City.
Times may have have changed, but excitement levels have not. Saturday’s match – named Bristanbul on social media after Liverpool’s Champion’s League victory, was worse in terms of being an emotional rollercoaster.
The total disgust and disbelief felt at half-time was mixed with fear of being hammered and this being another energy-sapping defeat; Bristol City had after all beaten Manchester United this season. That fear comes in part from the thought of the team playing at Fleetwood Town and AFC Wimbledon next season.
I appreciated Chris Coleman’s point made after the game that this team needs more game time, given the fact that four of the newly transferred players, Camp, Clarke-Salter, Ejaria and Fletcher were playing and all teams need time to gel.
Anyone seeing the highlights of the game could see that in the first half the Sunderland defence played like strangers. What is this with a back five anyway? The three first half goals conceded taught me at least that we function much better with a back four, a goalkeeper who talks to his defence with Cattermole and/or Gibson protecting the defence.
Catts gave a true box-to-box performance in the second half. Those who read my scribblings know that I am an admirer of the man, but he was a force to be reckoned with in the latter 45. That header after 70 minutes, and Geady’s neat finish from a well-rehearsed Cattermole cross brought us right back into the match 11 minutes later.
Rarely have I experienced a set of fans and a team so united in will and purpose. The closing minutes of the game were just raw emotion.
Asoro, who had been excellent throughout on the right wing, crossed from the corner of the box and the away fans just willed the ball into the net. Scenes of amazing celebration and euphoria carried on after the game with the players generously acknowledging the contribution of travelling supporters. I am just staring to calm down now.
In the cold, objective light of a Monday morning we still sit in the clagging mire of a relegation dogfight in a very tough league. But this priceless point and the manner of the comeback will provide Sunderland with something invaluable, a bump up in team morale and the knowledge that the new line-up can gel into a solid unit that can actually pull away from the bottom of the Championship.