It’s not exactly that Luke Harvey‘s heart is torn by two footballing passions – Sunderland, of course (otherwise he probably wouldn’t be here), and Carlisle, his home town. He is red-and-white daft, but feels a sense of local duty and will tomorrow be trying his best to urge on both his teams – one in person, the other in spirit – to famous victories …
If the four unbeaten home games in a row, where we – Sunderland – finally snapped our no-win streak, wasn’t the turning corner, then surely a point at Villa Park was. The question is whether we can now move on from that encouraging display to show sufficient strength and quality to get something out of the visit to Anfield tomorrow.
We usually give a good account of ourselves against Aston Villa, in contrast to the bitter disappointment we have come to expect whenever we play Everton. But we hadn’t managed to get a point out of the Midlanders in the last three attempts.
You have to go back two years (almost to the day) when we last triumphed over Villa, and it was also at Villa Park that Michael Chopra burst through late in the game to claim three points for Sunderland. Chopra’s career stuttered along during his time at the club and he never really established himself as a fixture – even less a crowd favourite – despite serving as hero on more than one occasion.
It was a similar sort of player who put us ahead on Wednesday evening. Fraizer Campbell continued his good form over the past month with a cool, calm and collected finish that exemplified the confidence he seems to have developed.
The lead may have been short lived but this was no cause for dismay. I expected Villa to get something out of the match. Under Martin O’Neill, they generally are a hard-working, organised and good footballing side; my realistic expectations were vindicated when Carew equalised just eight minutes later.
It should not be forgotten that Villa they are one of only two teams to claim victory this season at the Stadium of Light, a ground where we have amassed more points than both Stoke and Birmingham – both lauded by the media for their stadiums’ “fortress” qualities.
And that creditable point for Sunderland leaves the side brimming with confidence ahead of the trip to Anfield tomorrow.
My Sunday is going to be slightly different, as I will wake up and in the very early afternoon join 25,000 others on the march towards the Wembley arch to do all we can to roar on our local side, Carlisle United, to another Football League trophy.
When the match – the final of the Johnstone’s Paint trophy – is over, and we are making the long trip home up the M6, and it will seem much longer if Carlisle have lost, I will close my eyes and try to imagine another red Liverpool beachball cannoning into the air having deflected a Darren Bent shot into the net for a Sunderland winner. And hope that the vision reflects reality.
It’s unlikely, of course, that I’ll see anything. Or that a beachball will aid us once again. What is less unlikely is the possibility of Darren Bent notching another goal in some form.
Our prolific striker has scored a remarkable 21 times this season, and five of those have come in six matches against the so-called “big four”, although the “four” may have to be renamed to “three” given our weekend opponents’ miserable season. Only in the 2-0 defeat to Arsenal, just before we ended our winless drought, did Bent fail in finding the net . It gives us every reason to believe that we can go to Anfield and score, and possibly win. Though I will stop short of predicting a victory.
Bent’s prolific finishing against the biggest teams in the league is seen as one of the many reasons why people are demanding he takes the trip to South Africa for the World Cup Finals in June and July. It seems that with each goal he scores for us, his chance of being on the plane seems to diminish some more in some maddening reversal of logic.
He’ll probably just play Call of Duty instead anyway.
As Liverpool prepare to entertain us on Sunday, during a torrid and horrible season by their own accounts, I’m still hard pressed to predict we’ll win – but believe a draw is entirely possible. It’s not rare I predict success on the road, even less so when we’re up against a team still playing in Europe but come the weekend I’m hoping it will be a successful day, for both my clubs.