The date was 30th August 1997. The occasion was a Nationwide League Division One league game (Note: “The Championship” hadn’t even been invented) between Sunderland and Norwich, and it was City’s first ever visit to the Stadium of Light. City won that day courtesy of a rarity that was a Daryl Sutch goal.
Nothing particularly unusual or earth shattering about that – the goal from ‘Sniffer’ Sutch aside – until you consider City haven’t been even close to a win there since that day. Not only that, our Screaming Lord’s goal is the only one we’ve managed in Sunderland since Roker Park became a housing estate.
Not good is it. Sixteen years…
In that time, while the country has had just three Prime Ministers, City have had twelve managers (including the temps), five spotty oiks called One Direction have acquired world domination and nine thousand football supporters in Suffolk have gone missing.
For those whom the glass is half empty this obviously doesn’t bode well. If we’ve been unable to score a goal there in all of that time, why is it about to change when we head to Wearside off the back of one win in twelve, and with a scoring record that’s the second worst in the division?
Not since Russell Martin’s 90th minute consolation at Upton Park on New Year’s Day has an opposing Premier League keeper, on his own turf, been forced to pick the ball out of the back of his own net – yet more ammunition for the doom-mongers.
Yet, football being what it is, the magnificent Yellow Army will still head north firmly of the belief that just around the corner is that elusive away win; that their heroes are on the cusp of bucking the recent trend of blanks and the odd scrappy goal; that it’s only a matter of time before one of Bradley Johnson’s wayward long range efforts pings arrow-like into the top corner and that Grant Holt will yet again prove the doubters wrong.
And that’s why most of us love it. For a football supporter, hope really does spring eternal. Every day is a new day.
Equally, for those of us who are still desperately trying to keep the glass topped up over half-way, surely this appalling run of results – and dearth of goals – must come to an end. Does the the law of averages not suggest that City are due a result?
Aside from citing the odds of probability – or straw clutching as it’s better known – there does remain a glimmer of hope in the form of Sunderland’s current run of results. For those who decry the negativity that sweeps through the City message-boards and the #NCFC Twitter hashtag following City games that don’t produce three points, take a quick peek at the Sunderland equivalents. They’re neither happy nor hopeful and if there were ever a good time to good to go there it’s probably now.
Six games without a win, and in the midst of an ill-timed free-fall, the Wearsiders arguably need a win even more than City – a result which would lift them above City in the table thanks a significantly better goal difference – but still they’re pessimistic.
I was invited in the week, in my capacity as a City columnist, to contribute to a Sunderland podcast ahead of the game. While careful not to ‘big up’ City – never a good idea off the back of an indifferent run – I must have appeared positively drooling in comparison to the three Sunderland contributors, who appeared nearing the end of the tether.
We actually came to the conclusion that our Sunday date could be the first game in Premier League history in which both teams lose…
Whether City have what it takes to tap in to this nervousness and make the Stadium of Light a less than welcoming environment for the hosts remains to be seen, but an early City goal would certainly crank up the pressure on Martin O’Neill’s men. A big ask I know…
With Anthony Pilkington confirmed as an absentee, Chris Hughton will be forced into a re-shuffle; Wes Hoolahan, Elliott Bennett or even Robert Snodgrass options to provide the attacking thrust down the left side. While the recalling of Bennett would necessitate fewer positional changes, the switching of Snodgrass to his natural left side may be tempting. His voracious work-rate would certainly afford Javier Garrido some good protection in his duel with the dangerous Adam Johnson.
The other big question is whether City will continue with two up front. With ball retention a problem last Saturday – the result of the four v five match-up in midfield – we could well see Hughton reverting to the 4-4-1-1; Hoolahan providing the link to Grant Holt and an extra pair of legs in the central midfield area.
Either way, some big calls to be made by the City boss in a game he dare not lose. If the unthinkable happens I’ll be steering well clear of forums and social media for a good 24 hours after the event.
Now… where’s old Sutchy when you need him?
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