LINES FROM LONDON: SUNDERLAND AFC V GILLINGHAM FC


After the disappointment of the last two matches it's essential that we win today if we want automatic promotion. Our rivals all have winnable games this afternoon but maybe Blackpool might upset Fleetwood in the west Lancs derby. Last night I was pondering the possibility of us playing Fleetwood in the play-offs and I had to stop and have sunny thoughts instead. Gillingham have been a bit of a bogey team this season and the away match in December was the worst I've seen us play for decades. Getting off to a bright start and stopping Gillingham doing the same is crucial. There should be no changes in our starting line-up, but I wouldn't mind seeing Lafferty starting for a change. I'll be at the game in the East Stand and my match prediction is a 2-1 win.


I didn't have my usual pre-match drink in Fitzie's as I was otherwise engaged, and I was in my seat not long after 2.30. I'd never seen the kids waving flags at the entrance to the tunnel before. There was one surprise in our starting eleven and it was that Lafferty was in for Wyke, who was nowhere to be seen, presumably injured.


We started off brightly with some accurate long-distance passes and a few nice runs by Hume butt pretty soon the game had gone flat and there was little for us to shout about. We were definitely having the most of the attacking play and by the midway point were 4-0 up on corners. Flanagan again missed a good scoring opportunity from that fourth corner when he headed well wide. In the twenty-seventh minute things livened up considerably when we had two goalbound efforts blocked but around the half-hour mark Gillingham enjoyed a purple patch when they got their first two corners and a couple of free-kicks near the right angle of our box. We were making too many passing errors and an air of gloom was descending inside me. Things perked up again for us with a great shimmy and shot from Maguire that Bonham turned out for our sixth corner. Three minutes before the break we won a couple of free-kicks ourselves and in the shenanigans surrounding these it looked like three Gillingham players got yellow carded. A chant I hadn't heard for years, “Gerrin t' them and fuck them up!” added to the excitement but we couldn't manage to get a decent effort on target. Flanagan had a good low shot that was deflected for another corner and that was the last frisson for the first-half.


Dave Watson got a deservedly great reception when he came on during half-time to make the draw. He was a fantastic player.


The second-half was a lively affair and when it looked like we were actually going to win 2-1, as I'd predicted, we had to settle for a 2-2 draw with the double sickener of it being almost at the end of six minutes of stoppage-time and it being scored by ex-Sunderland player Mikael Mandron. McLaughlin had already made three great saves from Roberts, Hanlan and Mandron to keep our hopes alive. One bright note was that Lafferty got his first goals for us; the first a header from a cross from the left and the second when he ran on to a great through ball and beat Bonham in goal with a low shot. Mandron had equalised Lafferty's first with a close-range effort but we only had ourselves to blame as we'd allowed the ball to drift back from their half to ours and put ourselves in danger. A lot of our passing had continued to be terrible. There was some booing at the final whistle while the happy Gillingham fans were singing that they'd see us next season. I have the horrible feeling that we will. I'm in the Ivy House writing this and feeling sick as a chip.


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