It’s generally accepted that good things don’t happen to us Sunderland supporters. Not these days. Days of winning trophies and having great teams were for other generations. ‘Great times’ we get told, but it we can only imagine what it was like as we’ve never come close of late.
So, when we’re 1-1 going into injury time in a game we really need to win against the league leaders, we resign ourselves to accept our fate. ‘Tried but didn’t have the quality’ would be the manager’s words. ‘We we’re lucky to hang on for a draw’ would say the opposition. ‘Have to settle for the play-offs’ we’d say. ‘Unlucky’ they’d say.
Not this time. Not any more.
Pre-game the main worry was around whether Simpson would be fit. Not only has he done well since he’s come in but if he missed out it would have meant Nosworthy moving to right back in his place and that would be a shame, given he’s fast becoming one of our most influential players.
However Simpson was fit and Miller and Hysen came back in along with the returning Ward. Stokes was left out of the sixteen.
It was a fairly sloppy start, perhaps reflecting the nerves in one or two on both sides and with neither team having much of an upper hand it was plain to see these were 2 quite well matched teams. Massive credit to Keane and the players to have got to that level so quickly.
Slowly though we began to take more control. Edwards again was the main threat as he stretches play so much taking the ball right to the touch line. Several crosses came in, from both sides but they just never found their man. However, just before the half hour the first bizarre event of a surreal day occurred. A cross from the right came in and was cleared straight out for a throw. As the ball went into the crowd in the west stand, everyone started cheering. ‘There up for it’ I thought. Then it slowly dawned on the rest of the ground that a penalty had been awarded. I still don’t know why and I don’t really care. After a bit of a whinge from the Derby players, Connolly stepped up to put us 1-0 up and end the ridiculously long penalty drought. Maybe we’ll get a full seasons worth in the next few weeks?
Straight away Derby came back and we had to batten the hatches down. Nosworthy and Evans again were superb and fully in control. Derbys game pretty much consisted of high balls to Howard and the others fed from the flick-ons but the defence snuffed this out fairly easily in the first half. A couple more chances came our way later in the half as Derbys resurgence ebbed away but a goal up at half time was most welcome.
Second half and it was obvious they’d had words in their dressing room. Giles Barnes came on to play up front and from the off they came at Sunderland with wave after wave of attack. It was a completely different side and we couldn’t get out of our half. Balls were coming back as quickly as they were going up to our front men and it seemed only a matter of time we’d concede. And so we did. A great individual goal by Barnes as he pirouetted and sidestepped through the Sunderland defence to stick the ball past Ward. All square and all to play for, except they had the momentum.
However they game changed as quick again. Murphy came on for John and Derby went straight back to their original setup with Barnes going back to midfield. They seemed to be content they’d scored and happy to leave with a point. It was a strange decision as if they kept going we were probably there for the taking. From then however Murphy started to win balls up front and keep it and we got men further forward as a result.
Now it was Sunderland after the goal and 10 minutes left Murphy got an opening on the edge of the box only to see his shot came straight back off the post. Maybe that was our chance. In the past it would have been.
However as injury time entered its 3rd and final minute Derby had a corner. They couldn’t have taken longer to take it if they tried. ‘Score from this and I’ll smash my seat’ I’d vowed to myself, such would have been the injustice. The corner was cleared and the ball came up field. Leadbitter, who by then had come on the left wing, got the ball, cut inside and swung a speculative cross over. From nowhere Liam Miller rose and glanced a header that nestled in the corner of the net. In the goal, not past it, not over it. In the goal. We’d scored a last minute winner, against the league leaders, our rivals. Unbelievable. Cue delirium. The referee started the game then blew up 10 seconds later, cue delirium again. A massive 3 points were ours.
So, maybe the days of good stuff not happening anymore are gone. Maybe this is a new Sunderland, a Roy Keane Sunderland where better things are expected and being ‘unlucky’ and ‘trying hard’ just aren’t enough. Maybe we’ll win the league, we probably won’t but it’s okay to believe that we can now as it might just happen. And we might be on the start of something really good. We might not and this might be me being over-romantic after a great win but I don’t think so, not this time.
Man of the match – Dwight Yorke
Report by marcopaul