We’re not sure Robert Graves had in mind an end-of-season encounter in an undreamed-of football league when he wrote his wildly premature autobiography in 1929 (he lived on for 56 years). Pete Sixsmith was there, not on May 4 1929 when Sunderland were on the wrong end of a 4-0 thumping by Sheffield United yet finished fourth, but to see our reduced ranks of tryers and trying narrowly fail to defy a Spurs side that narrowly failed in its own fourth-top ambitions. If Pete’s reference to ‘Good-Bye to All That’ – don’t blame him for Graves’s preferred spelling of goodbye – means he’ll be at Shildon games more often that Sunderland ones next season, we’ll know who to blame …
As last games of the season go, it wasn’t a bad one. As last games of intensely disappointing seasons go, there were even some positives to be taken from it. But thank goodness we didn’t go into it needing a point to stay up; to be relegated in the last minute would most definitely have been the final straw for me.
Had we needed that point, we might not have performed in such a way, as bitter experience tells us that a Sunderland side fighting for last day survival or reward, invariably loses.
The Football Echo had a piece on the day 50 years ago, when we failed to beat a wretchedly defensive Chelsea side, a game that Monsieur Salut and I saw and heralded half a century of disappointment interspersed with the occasional burst of joy.
This time round, we did turn in a committed performance which made up for some of the stinkers we have had to witness on our travels this season. To be beaten by a wonderful strike so late was cruel, although Spurs certainly deserved to win, of that there is no doubt.
Gareth Bale is the kind of player we can only dream about. I don’t think that he had one of his better games, but he has a great engine on him and to step up and fire home a goal like that, when he knew that Spurs’ dreams of Champions League were lying in tatters at SJP, says a lot about his character and it should stand him in good stead when he departs for pastures anew either this summer or next.
He probably should have had a penalty in the first half when he got ahead of Seb Larsson, but the Welshman does have a reputation for going down easily and Andre Marriner gave us the benefit of the doubt. Somehow, I don’t see Spurs fans concurring with that.
However, the refusal of the man in red to award penalties takes nothing away from the sterling work that our back four and keeper put in. O’Shea and Cuellar stood firm in the middle and the two stand-in full backs did very well indeed, with Bale being forced inside and Lennon anonymous for much of the game.
Behind them, Mignolet had a good game and looked every inch a top class keeper and our one saleable asset. The bow that he took at the end in front of the travelling support could be seen as an indication that, like Bale, he will be seeking a broader base for next season.
Other than that, there is little to say. Vaughan was neat and tidy until he committed a second unnecessary foul and became the third player to be sent off in four games. N’Diaye was often a fifth defender, sitting in front of the defensive line, a job that he did competently enough though he was caught in possession far too many times for my liking.
The two wingers were as poor as they have been all season. McClean offered nothing, Johnson a little more, but as players who are supposed to be our main attacking force, they are both major disappointments. We spent £10m on Johnson and have had little in return. McClean needs a real think about where he goes from here; clearly the 1:1 coaching he had from Steve Guppy has had little impact and he may have been better advised to spend his time lying on the floor of a casino covered in £50 notes [(c) P Bardsley].
Our front two (1 SAFC goal between them all season) barely troubled the Spurs back line. Graham worked hard and at least forced Lloris into a decent save while Wickham looked short of pace, energy and general nous. I have yet to see anything from him at either development squad or first team level to justify his inclusion in an England U-21 squad.
The youngsters who came on to try and shore us up at the end did nothing wrong and all three will have enjoyed the experience. It was clear from their inclusion that the men who made way for them, Bardsley and Kilgallon, will be deep in talks with their agents today and scouring the list of potential Championship employers.
So, not a bad day. The sun shone, it was warm and Haringey Irish Centre was as welcoming as ever. A long coach trip like this allows time to read the papers and listen to the admirable Cerys Matthews on 6Music on the way down, and to get one’s nose into a decent book on the way back. For my final trip of the season, I took Danny Baker’s first volume of memoirs and very good it was too.
I also manage to listen to Educating Archie, a radio show featuring a ventriloquist and his dummy. I had to switch it off, having spent nearly all the season watching dummies, some of who were even less mobile than the star of the show, Archie Andrews.
I’m just glad to see the back of the season. The batteries will take a lot of recharging this summer.
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/