Monsieur Salut writes: the series is here. I know I said at Salut! Sunderland, and at ESPN, that it would wait until after the final game. But that was because the two contributions I’d so far received were negative, one more than the other. It did not seem right, after so astonishing an escape won on merit, to precede what is now a relaxed end-of-season party with gloomy recriminations about what went on before. Salut! Sunderland‘s erudite deputy editor, Malcolm Dawson, has changed my mind. His piece is realistic but upbeat, difficult as any Sunderland fan could be the latter about events from August to mid-April apart from the cup runs and derby wins.
There’s plenty of room for criticism and the next instalment will prove it. But for now, the last game still awaited, let us hear how Malcolm approached the season’s denouement …
“I was blue, just blue as can be
Every day was a cloudy day for me.
Then good luck came a knocking at my door,
Now those grey skies aren’t grey anymore.
Blue skies smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see.”
– Irving Berlin
Emotions are funny things.
You turn up at the match and take your seat in the stand. The game kicks off – a throw in – a couple of slick passes and suddenly you’re one nil up. From then on your team dominates, the opposition hardly gets a touch but through good fortune, an inspired ‘keeper and profligacy in front of goal you can’t extend the lead. Then with the ref’s whistle poised a speculative shot from 35 yards deflects off your centre back’s backside, wrong footing the man between the sticks and suddenly it’s one all. You go home sick as the proverbial.
But suppose you support the other team. You see them outplayed for 94+ minutes and scramble a draw via a fortuitous deflection. You go home over the whatsit. Same result but in a strange way you take more pleasure in the latter than the former. At least I do though I don’t know why exactly. Snatching a point from the jaws of victory is in no way as uplifting as the reverse.
Generally in life I am a pragmatist (note I said pragmatist not pessimist.) If after seven games you’d asked me would I settle for 12th spot and a visit to Wembley for a Cup Final I’d have bitten your hand off. A win against Swansea could see that become a reality (this written before the match) and we’ll have done it in a way that leaves me more with a feeling of euphoria than had we ticked along in mid table for the whole season.
You see I never stopped believing this season. Until the Tottenham drubbing I believed that we had a better squad than many of the teams around us and that there was no way we would go down. I have often left Roker Park and the SOL depressed by the team’s performance but after the Everton loss I actually thought they had played quite well and despite still losing had shown enough to enable me to keep that belief. After the Spurs game I still believed a win over West Ham at the Stadium of Light would be the start of the resurgence. When we lost that one, as I sat in the car waiting for Pete Sixsmith to do his media bit for BBC North East I firmly believed (as did he) that we were doomed.
The way we almost beat Manchester City but didn’t, epitomised the season up to then. Individual errors had cost us games we might have won. That and some dire football against dire teams.
I was at a wedding reception on the day of the Chelsea game. Someone’s smart phone alerted us (predominantly Sunderland fans in East Durham) to the fact we had gone behind. As the speeches ended the whisper came that Wickham had equalised and as I tucked into my piece of wedding cake the news of an unlikely win raised the spirits and suddenly we began to believe again. The defeat of Cardiff, probably more unexpected than the win at Stamford Bridge, a win at Old Trafford, refereeing decisions going for us rather than against, defensive clearances going for corners instead of own goals meant the mood last Wednesday around the ground was as positive as I have experienced for a long time. We left with smiles on our faces, not just because of the result, not just because of the knowledge we had another year in the top flight but because in the month of April the players had shown the grit, the determination and the fight we want to see from those in a Sunderland shirt as well as quality possession and creative football. What more can we ask for?
Well more of the same next year please. It won’t be easy. Loan players leaving. Out of contract players leaving. Loan players returning. Contracted players that have little to contribute. It’s going to be tough but then who said supporting Sunderland was ever straightforward? The horrors of the first 85 per cent of the season (Cup runs apart) are behind us. Next year won’t be easy but for now, like Gus, I’m enjoying the moment and as I sit here on Saturday morning, despite the drizzle and the 100 per cent cloud cover, the sky is blue.
* Monsieur Salut, writing at ESPN, also found reasons to adopt an optimistic tone: http://www.espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/3244?cc=5739
Some of the criticism, even of Poyet, is fair. There was indeed something odd about starting a home game against West Ham with a massed defence. Perhaps he has been wrong to persevere with the consistently underachieving Jozy Altidore. But Poyet more than compensated for errors with inspired, game-changing substitutions, success in drawing one rock-solid performance after another from his old troupers in central defence, John O’Shea and Wes Brown, and encouragement of the often gaffe-prone Lee Cattermole. Cattermole’s form has been outstanding in recent weeks.
And any manager who can take a team from bottom-place misery to the prospect of mid-table respectability, all the while fitting in a cup run all the way to Wembley, must be doing something right. The cup exploits and the last lap of the Premier League have provided some of the most thrilling moments many have experienced as Sunderland supporters… I stick by a strong belief that finding significant fault with Poyet after such a magnificent escape from relegation is as both mean-spirited and naive as it is wrong.
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