As we say in Bishop....Girrruuup!
The Lads welcomed Luton to Wearside for what had seemed an impossible dream at the start of the season - a playoff game. First leg, of course, and Luton understandably played to their strengths - high and less than handsome - exactly as we would have done. We gathered ourselves after conceding and went level with what's become a typical Amad worldie before the break and Hume won it by heading in a clever, face-high, cross. Great stuff, Lads.
It wouldn't be Sunderland 2023 if there wasn't at least one injury from the previous game, with Gooch and Cirkin limping away from our magnificent win at Deepdale. This had been discussed at length with the Preston chaps in the Guild post-match, when they rather surprisingly claimed that we'd nicked their song - Wise Men Say. I did see those words on the front of their stand, but assumed they'd nicked it off us. Who sang it first? Dunno. Does it matter? Not a hot. It's ours now, but they're welcome to give it a go if they like.
The latter half of the week was (obviously) spent obtaining, then worrying about, tickets for both legs. I guess somewhere in the club's various statements and emails are the magic words "your season card will be activated for Saturday's game" but I'm buggered if I could find it, although I'm sure I did see it. Anyway, over our pre-match cocktails we prayed for a repeat of last night's sixth v third League One first leg. Four nowt, in case you weren't looking, and our cause was bolstered by messages of support from fans of other clubs across the country -and the globe. Very nice of them. We also voted Pritch's "eyes" goal celebration on Monday the season's best. Mind, there were nearly ructions in Fitzy's when a bloke cheered the mags on the telly. "I'm a Mackem through and through but I hate Leeds" was his excuse. He was telt - and left at his wife's suggestion, to a volley of abuse.
Another full house, another bouncing (nervously) town, another sea of red and white, banners, flags, scarves, shirts, hats, even the pyrotechnics, and another hair-raising rendition of Wise Men Say (beat that, Preston). I know I've been around long enough to be immune to this sort of thing, but I'm not.
Gooch © Hume O’Nien
Roberts Amad Pritchard Clarke
...And a bench of Bass, Ba, Anderson, Lihadji, Michut, Taylor, and Huggins
Facing south in the sunshine, we let Luton kick off and it was apparent from the off what their tactics were – they started with three players sporting headbands (Steve Foster style – ask yer dad) and the lot of them towered above our Lads, so the crosses and high ball into the box came thick and fast. Exactly as we’d expected. To be honest, we’d struggled to get a grip of things as they basically bypassed the midfield, with their keeper punting the ball 70 yards into our box. They won their first corner on nine minutes, and try as we might we just couldn’t get it away. After a brief bit of head tennis, it fell nicely in the area and was blasted in by Adebayo. This didn’t faze our crowd for more than a few seconds, and the voices were raised in defiant support once more, roaring the Lads forward. Ekwah and Neil began to assert themselves, although the ref couldn’t book Neil quickly enough despite being happy to dish out warning after warning to the visiting players. He also gave a scandalous decision against us as we attacked on the half hour, and the Hatters took a full 90 seconds to take the free. Oh dear, here we go with the “game management” we thought.
On 38, Roberts set away down the right but only got as far as the corner of the box before he was hoofed up in the air – a straight red in many people’s eyes, but a yellow was all that happened. Well, not quite all, obviously, Pritch rolled it to Amad, and he curled one as only he can curl one – way over to the far side of the goal in in past the despairing keeper. What an absolute beauty, the crowd lifted, and so did the players for the rest of the half. We pressed Luton back with some slick passing down both sides, won three corners in quick succession, and Ekwah had a shot from distance saved. The two added minutes were all Sunderland as we sought to gain the advantage before the break, but it didn’t quite come off.
No matter, we’ll always score another.
No changes for the second half, and only a couple of minutes in Joff was inches off putting us ahead from a Pritch cross. We’d obviously done our homework (or just applied common sense) and weren’t slinging in high balls, but putting them at chest or face height and running across the centre halves in the box. One of their players had a long lie down either side of the fifty minute mark, then on the hour Roberts won a corner when his shot was deflected wide – just before some nutter decided to give the stewards a work-out by running around the pitch. What goes through their heads? Fresh air, probably. The foul count began to mount as Luton’s frustrations grew – they simply couldn’t get the ball off us by fair means, so resorted to stuff that the ref was never going to miss and could quite easily have been a couple of men down.
The eleven they did have could do nothing on 63 when Clarke turned provider, hitting a flat cross into the box from the left. What on earth Hume was doing up there I don’t know, but he darted in front of his marker and headed in to the keeper’s right. Madness and mayhem. Marvellous, just marvellous.
We prayed for a third in the last half hour or so, and goodness knows we tried. There was no decision for an obvious foul on Amad on the centre spot, then Roberts was chopped down on the right corner of the box, bringing another Luton yellow. Anyway, with ten to go, Mogga decided that we’d shore things up at the back by replacing Roberts with forgotten man Huggins, meaning we had two fullbacks on the field – even if one was playing centre half. Amad burst into the box on our left, but lost his balance and fell over, but was booked for a dive! Nonsense, ref. In the last minute of normal time, Ba replaced Pritch who left the field to a massive ovation. Six added minutes were announced, we controlled them, and celebrated like mad things when the whistle finally sounded.
We now have the upper hand for the second leg, although (as they always say) it’s only half time, and they’ve got an away goal.
Man of the Match? The papers will probably say Amad for the goal, and you can’t argue with that, and Pritch got an assist (technically, anyway), but I’m giving to Ekwah again. Quite what West Ham were thinking when they let him go is beyond me – he just gets better with every game.