The series is winding down. Pete Sixsmith, whose match reports have brightened these pages from the earliest times of Salut! Sunderland, will deliver his end-of-season verdict and that will be that. As Monsieur Salut returns from his little break in Sorrento – ‘Borini, Mannone, Giaccherini you said?,’ a young waiter trilled, admiring my command of Italian, ‘you’re a Sunderland supporter!’ – there may be just one more to fit in after this before Sixer has his say. Here’s Peter Lynn, aka Wrinkly Pete, with his own mixture of highs and lows, superbly pinpointing the magnificent efforts of the supporters all season long …
Thrilled as I was with our great escape, I couldn’t help thinking about the many disappointing performances I had seen among the 32 games I have been at, home and away, across three competitions, this season.
Of these, in my honest appraisal, only the Capital One cup games against Southampton, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs and the League games against Everton (h), Fulham (a), Manchester City (a), Cardiff (h) and West Brom (h) did I feel that we were the equal or better of our opponents and that our players had played as a team.
This may seem harsh and I have to quickly add that I was unable to attend the Newcastle, Chelsea and Man Utd away fixtures but I will attempt to justify.
* I have seen us fall apart away at West Brom, Swansea, Arsenal, Hull (FA cup) and Norwich
* I have seen inept home performances against Villa, Norwich, Crystal Palace and West Ham
* I have seen us commit professional suicide with red cards at Hull (a) (2!!), Norwich (h) and Norwich (a).
* I have seen “so say” world class strikers unable to convert the simplest of chances.
* I have seen cameo performances from virtually all our players who were unable to maintain the requisite level either through an entire game or into subsequent games.
That we have survived is indeed a miracle. Many people have already explained how the right players finally got to play as a team and found the spirit and professionalism to win four and draw one out of five games when all looked lost, so I will not repeat what others have eloquently written.
Instead, I would like to pay homage to our fans and the part they have played in the great escape and also our clubs superb recent interaction with them.
Dignity West Brom away. How dignified our fans were in defeat, even when Di Canio riled them with his bizarre gesticulations.
Heart Hull City away. Down to nine men for the entire second half, our fans started singing during half time and did not stop until beyond full time, giving inspiration which almost avoided defeat.
Tolerance Aston Villa home. The “Singing Section” showed wonderful tolerance to Lee Cattermole after his blunder gifted Villa the goal with which they won the game. How big a part did that play in his brilliant end of season form?
Compassion Our crowd applauding the Kidderminster supporters at the end of the FA cup game.
Belief Man Utd away, Capital One cup. Even when there was only one minute of extra time left in which we had to score and even then when they equalised our fans kept roaring the team on, 9,000 drowning out 62,000.
Having fun. Capital One Cup Final. The night before in Covent Garden, on Wembley Way before the game, during the game and after, even cheering our players while undertaking that painful climb to collect “only” runners-up medals. Our fans were determined to enjoy the occasion and celebrate being a real match for the best team in the country.
Forgiveness Man City away. The singing of “O Vito Mannone” immediately after his howler which, at the time, might have cost us our Premier league place.
Composure Cardiff City and West Brom home. Despite the tension which you could almost cut with a knife, the huge crowds were magnificent, probably recognising that they could be that proverbial extra man – and they were – and safety was assured.
Passion The roar that went up when the final whistle blew at the end of the West Brom home game. Yes, I know there was a release of tension too but what a noise – what a moment!
I am proud to have been there, through the bad times and the good.
I am also grateful to the club for its many initiatives helping our supporters this season, some of which I have personally benefited from and which I believe are worth setting down as a reminder:
£10 off ticket prices on a number of away games.
An Extra 2 x £10 tickets for season card holders for certain home games.
£5 (concessions) ticket prices for FA cup and Capital One cup home games.
Free return coach travel to Manchester for Capital One cup semi final.
Challenging the unreasonable police control over local derbies.
These actions – and others – have helped bring the club much closer to its core support and gives me the encouragement to now approach it with a view to ending the ridiculous stranglehold that the TV companies have over the scheduling of our fixtures.
Enjoy the summer break until the next Sunderland drama unfolds.