We get a penalty and I barely react. The penalty is scored and I’m still pretty unmoved. I’m sat in a bar in Berlin, watching Sunderland somehow manage to get back into the game through a Jermain Defoe penalty. I don’t really celebrate because it’s still clear what way the game is going. “Let’s just see if we can hold onto this for ten minutes and then I’ll get excited” is what I’m thinking and I was right not to get my hopes up.
One week later though and I’m amongst the red & white crowd that have made the arduous journey to Bournemouth. Defoe is stepping up to take another penalty, this time to give the lads the lead. It goes in and, along with the rest of the away end, I go spare. We’re playing well, away from home, down to ten men and we now have a good chance of winning. If you’d have told me I’d be thinking this positively, when I was sitting in that pub in the German capital, I wouldn’t have actually been too surprised. This is Sunderland, after all, they go from ridiculous to sublime and back to ridiculous, quicker than anyone.
Why is it I felt so much more belief when we went ahead at The Vitality Stadium though? Being at the game and therefore more immersed in the atmosphere certainly helps. Truthfully though, it was because the team were actually battling for once. Against Arsenal, it was like we were sorry for equalising but against Bournemouth, the players looked angry at ever being behind in the first place.
Watching Victor Anichebe repel Bournemouth defenders was a joy. Papy Djilobodji looked calm and solid at the back. In the middle, Didier Ndong worked tirelessly and never stopped putting pressure on the opposition. The last ten minutes may have been nerve ridden and Jordan Pickford certainly did more than enough to claw the points back to Wearside. It was genuinely exciting! I can barely remember the closing stages of the game, as they’re a blur of nerves but give me that over simply tuning out of it, like I did against Arsenal. It’s hard to keep concentrating when your teams players are doing their best traffic cone impression. Not this time though, they grafted and grinded out a scrappy win.
A scrappy win may not be glamorous but they’re often the ones you remember. Matches where players are winning tackles, getting in opponents faces and covering every blade of grass. One of my highlights of the season already is Lynden Gooch coming straight off the bench, clattering Jack Wilshere and picking up a yellow card. I don’t think Gooch broke stride between running onto the field and into Wilshere, it was great. It typified the commitment shown on the day and that kind of spirit needs to continue.
We have a week to keep smiling about this, due to the international break. Worry about Hull later. After all, us Sunderland fans have to dwell on defeats all the time so let’s milk this win for all it’s worth. How many times has your week had a cloud hanging over it because Sunderland let you down? This week, let it give you a lift.
The season still has a long way to go and there’s still a good chance it’ll end in disappointment. For now though, I feel enthusiastic again. That’s something I couldn’t even consider after watching us surrender so easily to Arsenal. What’s even more surprising is that Victor Anichebe is the man who’s making me feel that way. That display won’t be norm either, but still, at least we know we have a different option to base our attacks around, rather than “let’s hope Defoe scores.”
There’s a glimmer of light and this has to be where the season begins, not just some light relief. I may have been right not to get my hopes up when Defoe put his penalty away two weeks ago, but his one a week later has renewed that hope.