Before: I don’t think I’ve looked forward to any match this season more than I’m anticipating Saturday’s clash with Wolves. It’s got everything. We’re on a fourteen match unbeaten run, it’s a holiday weekend and the weather’s starting to turn good at last so we’re going to have our biggest crowd of the season, the opposition have ex-Sunderland stalwarts Mick McCarthy, Gary Breen, Neil Collins and Jody Craddock in their ranks plus there’s the small matter of the anticipated two hundred Trinidadian and Tobagan fans and their steel drums. What more could anyone want? I’m sitting on the train in Kings Cross about to head north feeling full of beans.
Everything suggests that we’ll come away with three points. Apart from the second half at Sheffield Wednesday our defence has been tight as shite since Evans and Simpson came onboard and Nosworthy moved to centre-back and I don’t see them starting to develop bad habits. Wolves 6-0 home defeat by Southampton last Saturday was an amazing result but according to Five Live they didn’t play badly and their fans applauded them off the pitch. I can only hope that they play as well this Saturday and then we’ll all be happy. I don’t suppose Mick McCarthy applauded them into the dressing-room afterwards and I’d be surprised if there aren’t a few changes as a result. Football being the perverse game that it is a surprise result remains a distinct possibility as their team are going to be playing their hearts out both to keep in the race for the top two slots as well as to try to restore some pride. Anyway, the way we’ve been playing I’m not too worried about any of the opposition teams as I think we can beat any of them if we play as we have been. I heard this morning that Elliott and more importantly Edwards should be back in contention for Saturday and they’d make our chances of victory even stronger. I bet Mick wasn’t too chuffed by the same news. How will the Sunderland crowd react to Mick’s first return? I think he’ll get a warm round of applause actually.
Match prediction: Sunderland 2 Wolves 1.
After: Walking through the town towards Fitzgeralds the sun was blazing down from a clear blue sky and crowds of happy football fans were gathered outside Chaplin’s. There was no way we could lose this game and spoil such a perfect day. A couple of Woodpeckers later and I was walking slowly over the bridge held up by the volume of the crowd in front, reflecting sadly on the demise of the toilets at the end of the bridge and trying to locate long-vanished pubs like The Bridge End Vaults.
East Stand, Row 41. The vibes were great but no sign anywhere of massed Trinidadians or a steel band. As the teams were announced Jody Craddock got a good ripple from the home fans while Gary Breen got a mixture of applause and boos. Neil Collins got neither. Mick McCarthy remained unannounced, as is usual for managers, and there was no spontaneous outburst of anything with regard to him. We dominated the first half and although Wolves looked like a decent side they hardly had a shot on target. The last home game I attended was Luton back in December and at around the same point in the match Murphy repeated what he’d done then and powered in a goal from the left angle of the box. I hadn’t seen Edwards play for us before but he and Wallace particularly impressed me with their creativity and tormenting runs. Our best player throughout was unquestionably the Mighty Noz. I’d thought he was great in a full back role when I’d seen him against Q.P.R. but he was the stuff that heroes are made of in this match. On several occasions he found himself isolated in the middle of his own half with three Wolves players bearing down on him but not only did he clear the ball but he dribbled past all of them and passed it to an attacking team-mate. He was the proverbial tower of strength and he must’ve given Mick McCarthy some food for thought.
At half time there was still no steel band - maybe I’d imagined them? - but Poison U.K., six very sexy young women of Trinidadian extraction (I presume) clad in skimpy carnival gear, pranced around the perimeter of the pitch and helped to compensate for the lack of drummers. I was pleased to see mascots Samson and Delilah shaking a bit of ass as the dancing procession passed them.
Wolves came out fighting in the second half and contributed much more than they’d managed earlier but though we were a bit slack at times we still looked more dangerous on the break. In the sixty-fourth minute we went two up with Wallace deservedly nodding in what looked like the clincher. Wolves pulled one back almost straightaway with a good header from Keogh and I entered the familiar territory of checking my watch with increasing frequency as that final whistle approached. For what seemed like ten minutes there seemed to be very little continuous play with injuries, substitutions and a bit of argy-bargy resulting in numerous gaps and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were only four minutes of added time. We continued to attack and went close on several occasions as a great buzz went around the stadium, something I hadn’t experienced on my previous visits to the SoL.
After the final whistle I waited in the aisle at the end of my row for about ten minutes before I was able to move but this was by no means unpleasant as those results filtered in from significant Championship matches. All of them went our way and as the warm sun descended over the west stand we all knew that we were back in second slot and everything was right with the world, for an hour or two anyway.
Bring on the Saints.