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The curse of August and September continued, but October started with a whimper rather than a bang. West Brom were predictably playing for a draw from about half one, and that’s what they got thanks to their first half strike and PVA bouncy equaliser with ten to go. At least we didn’t lose.

About six years ago, I had a dream about Sunderland – and it wasn’t the usual one about beating the mags by a record score, because that one died at Sid James when Brucie oversaw the Brambleshambles. This one was that we’d change managers at least annually, escape relegation in dramatic fashion year after year, and go through more players every season than the entire Northern League. There’d be off-field shenanigans best left uncovered, lunatics, beating the mags six times in a row, newspaper revelations about former employees, and skeletons falling out of cupboards all over the place. When I awoke, I scribbled down a basic plot for a situation comedy – I could barely type for laughing – and set out to make that dream a reality. Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC3, Dave – even Sky Atlantic turned it down, saying that if they wanted fantasy they’d use some nonsense about dragons and vampires.

I’ve just been approached by the History Channel, who’ve asked if they can use it as a documentary.

Samgate. You’ll have heard it all over the papers this last week, and his England tenure is to be made into a film called Gone in 67 Days. We’ve known for years that dodgy dealings have been going on throughout football, that people with no knowledge of or interest in the Beautiful Game have been making a fortune from it (see Jilly Cooper’s Persone a Cavallo -Sunderland, the Di Fanti years), but to see the England (and former Sunderland) manager, only a few days into his job, as we did, was for many the end of their interest in our national side. It’s tough enough following Sunderland, but we can’t help that, but England? They can nick off.

With millions in the bank, and another £3 million guaranteed every year, why on earth would he risk losing the job he’d chased for 25 years for the sake of another £400,000? Idiot, that’s all I can think. Looking on the negative side (‘cos there isn’t a positive one) what did Sam do regarding transfers while at SAFC that might come back and bit us on the arse? That really does worry me, as there might well be more than a financial punishment.

Anyway, after last week’s Palace nonsense, a few of us spent the evening entertaining two lads from New York, one of whom had followed us via TV for several years, and the other who hadn’t had a particular interest in us, or (I suspect) English football. It was their first match in this country, and Charlie said that after years of thinking that he “got” Sunderland, now really believes that he has. Being there, seeing us go ahead and chucking it away, being part of the goal celebrations and the feeling of déjà vu disappointment and frustration, had made it all too real. Rob, his colleague, seemed both baffled and taken aback by the whole experience – which is entirely understandable, what with our parochialism, our apparent inability to do anything other than love the team despite what we’d just seen, and the girls in the bar. And they both genuinely enjoyed the occasion, which makes them perfect Sunderland fans.
Manquillo Kone O’Shea Denayer
McNair Khazri Ndong
Watmore Defoe

We kicked off South, and we’d only been going three minutes when McNIar and Ndong combined well to get the ball over to Defoe, onside in the middle of the box – but he scuffed it wide of the keeper’s right hand post. Damn, that would have been nice, and would have no doubt changed the style of the game. As it was, we had to settle for WBA fouling, with one on Watmore seeing Khazri cross and the keeper claim - but clatter his own player, just out of habit.

With no left-footed players on the field, we had to work hard to get into position defensively. Denyaer ( a right footed central defender at left back) produced a good tackle at the expense of a corner, which we cleared, but they kept getting at us down our left. Pickford made a decent save when they waited for us to lose the ball (an obvious and oft-repeated ploy) then knocked it forward, then set up Defoe. He played it to Kirchoff, who must have a bet on himself not scoring this season as he steadfastly refused to shoot, instead stabbing a poor pass to his right - which was cleared.

Khazri was showing a willingness to work hard, and he set Watmore away and he won a corner, which went behind for another – there looked to be a fair amount (unfair amount?) of holding going on, but the ref, nit for the last time, frustrated the home fans with his decision making.

McClean was subjected to a fair amount (very fair amount) of booing, but he was one of the main threats down our left, where Watmore was forced to do a lot of chasing back. We cleared their corner and forced one of own, and as we approached the half hour we wondered if we’d threaten their goal again. Defoe was held as he received Pickford’s clearance (sorry, pass) on halfway, but there was no yellow card. The free kick eventually produced a corner, and their keeper saved well low down.

At last, their number 5 was booked (the feller who’d done all the kicking for them in the last few encounters) for a naughty follow-through on Khazri, then when Defoe did really well to keep the ball in play despite being on his backside, a throw was awarded. A few minutes later, Kone couldn’t decide what to do with an inside left runner, so he did nothing and the lad shot across Pickford and in off the far post. 34 gone, a goal down, and heads dropped all over the field. It was only their second effort, the first being a hopeful effort from about 35 yards. We had no outlet down the left, and the 2 added gave us nothing to shout about.

No changes for the second half, and we kept winning corners, with McNair being unlucky that his shot didn’t do better, but we’ve got no big goalscorers so corners aren’t that much use to us. Out lack of energy in lots of areas meant that WBA could carry on waiting for us to concede possession, but we looked like we’d got through when Defoe turned well – but he ran into too many defenders in the box. Kirchoff landed badly and eventually left on a stretcher, with PVA coming on as a left midfielder and McNair dropping a bit deeper to fill the gap.

Pickford had to make a really good save when they made space in the box, and McClean was booked (at last) then PVA fired a tremendous ball across the field to Wabi to get us out of our seats. Defoe had a shot blocked, McNair made way for Rodwell, and McClean was booed off and Gardner applauded on. See? It pays to be nice. Thongs got a bit frantic, which upped the atmosphere a bit, but we couldn’t find a way through.

When Watmore burst into the box on the left, he had a few defenders to beat but got the ball across and when it sat up in front of PVA he thumped it into the turf and it bounced high over the keeper. Get in! Eight minutes to go, and we pressed for the winner. Gooch replaced the knackered Khazri on 90, 5 minutes were added, and we thought we’d got it when PVA tapped a free short to Defoe – but the shot was a foot wide of the mark.

Well, it’s a point. Man of the Match? O’Shea marshalled a decidedly iffy defence the best he could and deserves credit for that, but I’ll give it to Khazri for looking like he wants his place back.

Keep the Faith

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