A great day was not dampened by a dreadful match (less of which later). Good company at a very welcoming pub in Heighinton helped no end. Laughter, some highbrow conversation and some suitably daft was just the ticket for a coach load of thirsty reds who had until then, been the model of temperance. Sunderland itself provided its usual vision of desolation. The West Stand, which was to our right of Sunderland’s pretentiously named stadium in Sheepfolds backs onto the bank of the River Wear. Directly behind us was the barren wasteland that was the Wearmouth Colliery. One saving grace about the place is that with the A690, Sunderland has a decent arterial road which is very handy for getting out of that hole quickly. The journey home was just as joyous as the Red Issue/UWS Monkey Bus had a coffee fueled sing song which was by a country mile the most entertaining aspect of the day.
The land behind the North Stand of the Stadium of Light immediately after yesterdays match. This is no place to be stuck without a ticket.
Last Saturday, West Bromwich Albion beat United in a league game for the first time since March 1984. At half time yesterday, Sunderland looked like exorcising another long standing hoodoo when they were winning 1-0 and looking good for their first league win against United since March 1997. Three minutes after Sunderland went into the lead in the fourth minute, Craig Gardner robbed possesion off Phil Jones in the midfield. If Gardner had been more decisive in possesion, United would have been 2-0 down before they’d even realised the game had kicked off. Emanuele Giaccherini forced a brilliant save from David De Gea in the 34th minute. Ten minutes later, Giaccherini shot high from six yards when it was probably easier to shoot on target. Apart from a volley from Nani on 21 minutes, which he fired across goal, United never looked threatening. The second half began nearly as badly as the first, on 48 minutes, Adnan Januzaj was booked for a dive in the Sunderland eighteen yard box. Having seen it again on Match of the Day, it was that poor a dive as to make Ashley Young’s recent efforts look convincing. Seven minutes later, Januzaj redeemed himself by calmly sidefooting Patrice Evra’s low cross from twelve yards, past a stranded Kieron Westwood. On 62 minutes, Januzaj scored the winner with a brilliant volley, low into Westwood’s bottom right hand corner from eighteen yards. After Uniteds erratic start to the season, todays result gives me great confidence that United will be playing Premier League football next season.
United players walking over to the fans after the final whistle (photograph courtesy of Stuart Gwilliam)
United fans were in loud and boisterous voice at a virtually full Stadium of Light. When Wayne Rooney scored a header from a Phil Jones cross on 20 minutes after some shocking marking by Sunderland, it was no more than United deserved. Ten minutes later, Rooney hit the bar from 18 yards and then four minutes later, missed one of the easiest chances he’ll ever have from an Antonio Valencia cross. Apart from a period early in the second half, United were full control of this game but there’s always a feeling of vulnerability when only a goal in front. Today was actually United’s best performance in a few weeks; there was a professionalism to the defending and midfield play that if it had been observed in recent matches would have probably given United the title.
There was a similar potential ending in season 2009/2010 when Wigan Athletic went to Chelsea on the last day of the season and we were hoping Chelsea would drop points while United played Stoke City at Old Trafford. As expected, United beat Stoke comfortably (4-0) but what I clearly remember is Chelsea having the decency to wrap the game up against Wigan good and early, eventually winning 8-0 to extinguish any vain hope that might have been travelling around Old Trafford. This didn’t happen today. Going into injury time with United winning 1-0 and City losing 2-1, I wasn’t getting carried away with any premature celebrations. I’ve seen United recover too many impossible positions over the years to take anything for granted in football. We dared to dream but when word got back that Edin Dzeko had equalised for City, I had a feeling that with City throwing the kitchen sink against a beleaguered QPR, who’d been reduced to ten men, they would score. One thing that does make me proud is that SKY TV desperately searched around the United section in the Stadium of Light looking for somebody squawking – well done to all the lads and lasses who went their today and kept their bottle and dignity.
So now it comes to pass, the moment I felt in my guts coming after the Everton match at Old Trafford. This is the day I never thought I’d see, City are champions. It’s almost a relief. As John Cleese said in the 1986 film Clockwise, It’s not the despair, I cantake the despair. It’s the hopeIcan‘tstand. The Sergio Aguero goal was a sickener but to me, the real kick in the balls came with Steven Pienaar’s late equaliser at Old Trafford three weeks ago. Despite United blowing an eight point lead, only the most red eyed United fan would deny that City aren’t worthy champions. The most annoying thing to me was that in the early part of this calendar year, United had done the hard bit and come early March, compared to City, had a very favourable run in. Having said that, any team that puts six past United at Old Trafford would deserve the title. Any title chasing team that blows a two goal lead in a home match, so close to the season’s end deserves what they ended up getting. It’s been pointed out repeatedly recently by people in the pub and on the internet that if it wasn’t for refereeing mistakes, United would’ve been four points clear of City going into this weekend. That may be true but to be clinging to straws like that is embarrassing and to my mind, the kind of behaviour that we’ve been taking the piss out of City fans for years. This is not like Blackburn Rovers in 1995 or Chelsea in 2010 when United were robbed of the title by a side who had no right winning it, this season United have only themselves to blame. All those City fans we saw jumping around outside Eastlands four years ago with tea towels wrapped around their heads have finally seen what they were dreaming of. No longer can City have the peculiar affection that the English are so good at giving to the eternal losers and that their fans have inadvertantly thrived on for years, in compensation for being shit. Welcome to our world Berties, try not to embarrass our proud city too much, from what I’ve seen over the years, I fear you will. Just remember one thing, you’ll no longer be the darling of the neutrals.