Two Days before the Match

I’m sitting on a Grand Central train at York Station on my way up to the homelands for Saturday’s match. It was good to hear that Kenwyne came through last night’s reserve match against Wigan successfully and I suspect that despite Keano’s statements to the contrary, we may well see him appear as a sub on Saturday. Seeing Kenwyne somersaulting after scoring for us is truly a thing of joy and wonderment. The pantomime season will shortly be with us and if Kenwyne is to be our Prince Charming (okay, I know he’s a bloke, but stick with me) the role of the evil wizard Askanaza on Saturday could not be better filled than by Mr Joey Barton with Joe Kinnear and Mike Ashley as the Ugly Sisters and Dennis Wise as the rear end of a horse. Michael Owen will star as the novelty - act the Incredible Disappearing Man. Well, just two days to go…

It’s Friday teatime and the panel in the Echo are all confident about a Sunderland victory. I wouldn’t argue with that and I’m sure we’ll play 4-4-2 with Cisse and Chopra upfront. I fancy Chops to score but I think we’ll probably concede a goal so I’m going for a 2-1 scoreline at this point.

Saturday morning 10 a.m. My mam’s mate from Derby is staying with us and she was most pleased to see me emerge this morning in my Sunderland shirt. She’d never seen one before and said, “It suits you, Ian” which was an unusual way of looking at it. I’m just about to get some pie, peas and chips down my neck and then it’s off for a pre-match beverage. I was at Roker Park in 1980 the last time we beat them and 2-1 is still feeling right at this stage.

After a leisurely cider in Fitzgerald’s and a link-up with two friends we headed across the bridge in the thick of a very lively throng. Chants were breaking out all along the route and there was a great buzz in the air. As we passed St Peter’s Station a trainload of Mags arrived and there was a barrage of abusive shouts and gestures from both sides. A heavy police presence kept both sides well apart. My seat was in Row 37, which I took as a good omen, and I was high up right on the goal-line we attacked in the first half. Like everyone I was surprised at Fulop’s inclusion but I knew he was good enough to cope. I was pleased that Yorke was playing after his excellent display against Arsenal. Bardsley had got the nod over McCartney but I had no problems with that. I couldn’t hear who was playing for Newcastle as every name was drowned out by booing.

We started brightly and had the better of the opening stages with our best chance coming from Cisse after eighteen minutes when we burst through the middle and he shot just wide. Duff had already been booked and every tackle was being fiercely contested, as you would expect in such a game. After twenty minutes we went one-up after Malbranque forced his way into the box to cross and Cisse stretched to stab it home. I was immediately embraced by the very pissed guy on my left, who’d staggered in after five minutes, and my glasses were nearly crushed but what the hell. On the half-hour it was 1-1 after we conceded a free-kick in a very dangerous position just left of our box and Ameobi nodded it in. It was end to end stuff for a while and Fulop flapped alarmingly at a corner but we survived. I never understand why our players try to hit balls for Diouf to head as I’ve never seen him win one heading-duel, though he’s great on the ground. In stoppage-time Cisse made a great run down our right and crossed well but nobody was there to follow up.

At the break Marco Gabbiadini and Paul Bracewell did the draw and a load of kids performed some break-dancing, some better than others shall we say. There were no changes for us as the second half began and it was fairly even for a long while. Cisse was booked ten minutes after the re-start for appealing after he seemed to have been nudged off the ball but then two minutes later a tremendous roar greeted the return of Kenwyne, who replaced Yorke. His presence seemed to give his team-mates as well as the fans a great boost and with fifteen minutes on the clock we gained a free-kick just on the edge of their box. There was a very long palaver over the positioning of the wall and we had three players lined up to possibly take it before finally Richardson smashed it home. The whole place (almost) went completely ape-shit. The match remained very competitive for the rest of the game, as my eyes repeatedly strayed to the clock, and we had some great chances with Cisse hitting the post and Kenwyne heading just wide. Barton’s introduction was greeted as you would expect and he was booed loudly every time he got the ball. They brought on their subs and Guittierez looked dangerous but though they continued to attack we were looking fairly solid with Ferdinand playing a blinder. After the whistle went a few of our fans got on the pitch and celebrated but then some Mags also got on there and things were looking ugly for a while. I went downstairs to meet up with my mates and it was very surreal as there were about three people down there.

I was out of the stadium like shit off a shovel and was soon in the Royalty slurping a cider. I’m in The Chesters now waiting for my brother to arrive and any minute now my laptop is going to run out of juice so I’ll wish you all a very enjoyable evening.