It’s a lovely afternoon in early autumn and Sunderland are 1-0 up against Ipswich away – okay it was an own-goal, but don’t look a gift goal in the foot.
The various delights of Saturday night are spread out like a smorgas-board before you, followed by a lie-in tomorrow, then a wallow in the sports sections of the Sunday papers with more leisure activities lined up deliciously after that. Half the Sunderland side seem to have picked up yellow cards in the first quarter of the game but you afford yourself a knowing smirk that Roy’s managed to put some lead in their pencils and they’re bound to calm down anyway after a good talking to at half-time. Then Ipswich equalize but you tell yourself that it’s a mere hiccup on the path to our ultimate triumph and that nothing can alter the script of the movie you’ve created in your head about the rest of the season. At the back of your mind, though, you begin to acclimatize yourself to the fact that a draw away from home isn’t such a bad result after all and a win at home to Sheffield Wednesday next week will be a more than decent haul, won’t it?
After half-time and a couple of good substitutions, albeit designed more to avoid red cards than anything else, you feel more confident but as you emerge from a laze on the settee the minute by minute report clicks agonizingly round on your computer screen and your heart sinks as 2-1 to Ipswich stares you in the face. You hope that it’s some kind of mistake as it’s not actually mentioned in the match notes and you cling to this pathetic belief for all of twenty seconds as the reality gradually sinks in. Hope springing eternal, a quick calculation tells you that there’s twenty-eight minutes left, more than enough to get an equalizer and even a winner, yeah? You lie back on the settee again and attempt to try on a philosophical approach for size – “what will be, must be” – it doesn’t work. Try as you might, your eyes keep getting lured towards the screen and the next thing a mini bolt of lightning flashes down through your guts as a horrible 3 is grinning at you from the place where that 2 had recently so rudely interrupted your afternoon. You think momentarily that it’s not too late to abandon all allegiance to the club you’ve supported for over forty years and to admit that you never really thought that since Roy Keane’s arrival every-thing was going to be fine after all. “Come on, man, do you think that I’m going to let a football game upset me? There’s more important things in the world for God’s sake! Don’t you remember the news headlines this morning?!”
That doesn’t work either. You fail to stop yourself imagining a two-goal fightback in the last five minutes. You remember Millwall doing just that to us in the last three minutes in a game at Roker Park back in the late Sixties. Just get big Stan up for a couple of corners as the home fans bay for the final whistle and nervous eyes check watches every ten seconds. You find yourself shouting encouragement at the screen but your voice doesn’t sound convincing. You wonder why the match notes haven’t changed for bloody ages and then when you click off the page and get it back again, everything’s jumped from the eighty-fifth minute to the second minute of added time. You stare at the screen for a few more minutes and then realize that there are two words at the top in bold type that you hadn’t noticed before – full time.
You click off immediately and try to consider the ramifications of it all but all the blood seems to have drained from your head. You read a book to distract yourself but half an hour later you can’t resist a look at the league table on AOL Sport. You notice that we’ve only dropped three positions and that a win at home next week could still put us within striking distance of the top six, no problems. Then you try to stop thinking about football. That doesn’t work.
See you next week.