2018’s been a bit of a crazy year to be a supporter of Sunderland AFC. You couldn’t write a script like it! It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. A real year of two halves. We’ve been sick as a parrot and over the moon. At the end of the day, the best place to begin reviewing this calendar year is going to be early doors…
Chris Coleman’s side had ended 2017 with a rare victory over Forest, and we began the year if not full of optimism, but certainly with a degree of belief that we could get out of the relegation zone and drag ourselves up the table. First up were Barnsley at the Stadium of Light. A perfect platform for SAFC to trample all over those hopes and carry on being the shower of shite they’d been for years. New Year, New Start? By the end of the month we were out of The FA Cup and bottom of The Championship. Canny.
Two 3-3 draws were the highlights of another shit month. Both showcasing how abysmal we were as a defensive unit, but despite the fact they could barely kick a ball, there may have still have been a fighting spirit within the playing squad.
You know that fighting spirit I just mentioned? I was talking out of my arse. With an hour on the clock against Preston at the Stadium of Light, the Lads were seeking an equaliser. Jake Clarke-Salter (remember him?) received a second yellow card, and three minutes later we conceded again. 0-2. Game over. 10 games without a win. Relegation all but confirmed. That’s it. Done. Then they go and spoil it all, by doing something stupid like stuffing Derby. Off the bottom of the League. We’ve experienced ‘Great Escapes’ from relegation in the past, could we do it again? Course we could! Come on, let’s kick on from here lads!
This month reminds me of the time that Burton Albion relegated us to League One. It also reminds me of reading statements from the club that Coleman had departed, and Ellis Short was selling up to Stewart Donald.
My Mam used to say that if she seen the Insurance Man turning up with someone else in tow, she’d dread it as they were trying to sell something. At the Wolves game, the Insurance Man and his colleague were only interested in buying. And that meant on the last day of the season, the feeling was one of genuine positivity again. The takeover was confirmed at the end of the month and the new owners went on an immediate charm offensive. By the time Jack Ross was appointed manager on 25 May, we were eating from the palm of Stewart Donald’s hand.
Rodwell’s gone! England embarked on a World Cup campaign that brought the country together again and, who cares? Rodwell’s gone!
The pink seats are going! Low-key, free transfers arrived on Wearside. Overpaid prima donnas departed. Pre-Season performances and results were mixed, but who cares? The pink seats are going!
Over 30,000 in attendance. Live on TV. The stage set. 10 mins into the opening game against Charlton Athletic, it had all went tits up again. Same old Sunderland, concede an early goal, the heads drop on the pitch, the moans and groans emanate from the stands and we lose the game. But this wasn’t old Sunderland. The roars of encouragement from supporters after going behind, the applauding off the pitch at half-time, the desire being shown by the players, this was different. Lynden Gooch’s winner six minutes into added time may have masked more than a few deficiencies on the pitch, but what a moment. What a day. Enjoy League One, they said? A League Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday was met with a collective shrug of shoulders and we kicked on in the League, ending the month in the automatic promotion places.
Oxford was a strange game. Max Power was sent off, two points were dropped at home but our new Centre-Forward made a goal scoring debut to end the match on a positive note. When ‘Joey Barton’s Fleetwood’ left with a point, and ‘that reminds me of the time Burton’ inflicted our first League defeat of the Season, a few doubts crept back in.
As the fans installed new seats, away allocations were selling out, piss-taking party-goers were seeing contracts terminated and results were back on track, life felt great again. If another daft sending off provided questions about indiscipline, a five-game winning run was evidence that we had enough to cope. Goals were flying in, but perhaps more importantly, we were becoming used to seeing clean sheets too. Even the Mags were coming to every game, such was the quality of football on offer.
Another unbeaten month in three competitions, the SoL looking splendid once more, the Lads were in the top two, where was the catch? Although there wasn’t one as such, consecutive League draws against Wycombe and Walsall (our new best mates) and bad defensive habits creeping back in, meant we went into the Barnsley game at the end of the month needing both a win and a good performance to kick on with our promotion push. The first half an hour saw some wonderful football, with the Lads going 3-0 up and taking the piss. Then someone in the crowd thought it would be good to shout ‘Ole…Ole…’ (you know who you are). At 3-2, many feared the worst. But this isn’t the old Sunderland anymore, remember?
December has been a bit of a mixed-bag. Out of the FA Cup, a Checkatrade Trophy victory against one lot of meaningless Magpies, pitting us up against another, an edgy and hard-fought victory against lowly Bristol Rovers in arctic conditions and a postponed game down at Accrington in monsoon conditions, followed by a defeat at Pompey, a win against Bradford and a bore draw against Shrewsbury.
So onto 2019. Will it bring success or failure? What will the transfer windows provide? Can this air of optimism continue? Can those in red and white go onto be top, top players or will this be ‘their level’? As long as they give everything they have for this club, the fans will be right behind them throughout. (I was going to say 110%, but no one likes tired old football clichés). Ha’way the Lads