Meanwhile Back In Sunderland again – watching the Black Cats qualify for the play-offs from afar

Michael Lough took in Sunderland's Preston North End victory from the comfort of a city centre pub and tells of how the game was received back home

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of nostalgia on Wearside, as we have all relived the last time we won a major trophy.

The ‘Meanwhile Back in Sunderland’ documentary perfectly encapsulated the mood in 1973 and just what it meant to everybody, from children to tear-filled nanas and grandads who had seen us triumph back in 1937.

After years of being in the doldrums, everyone finally had a football club to be proud of and although our current situation is nowhere near that level of excitement and achievement, there is a sense that we are a club on the up again.

The highs of the cup-winning side would not be reached even if we did achieve promotion for the second time in two years, but the 1973 team had never plunged the depths of despair that we have suffered in recent years.

Back in 1973, we were in just their eighth season outside of the top flight, that number is now up to 30 and if back then people bemoaned the time since our last major trophy, the four years we were in League One is surely the equivalent of 37 regular years between the 1937 and 1973 cup successes.

Monday felt like a significant milestone in our rise from the worst slump in our football club’s history.

As you would expect for a big game, all of the pubs in Sunderland city centre were packed to the rafters and fortunately my decision to get to my watering hole of choice over an hour and a half before kick-off proved to be a smart one,

Much of the pre-match chatter, while full of nerves, was sprinkled with excitement and the general consensus was that even if we were to miss out, Tony Mowbray and the lads had done us proud.

It is easy to see why, as we went into the game with no fit natural centre-halves on the pitch, one striker and a list of injuries that ensured our treatment room was almost as well-stocked as our dressing room.

Most pubs are usually not as they are portrayed in terrible hooligan films, normally there’s a fair mix of people intently watching the match, casual observers and others who are just out for a few weekend pints with no interest in the football, but Monday was different.

Every tackle was greeted like a roar in the stadium, every time Preston ventured forward people held their breath, and the vast majority of the pub joined in with the chanting of the travelling Sunderland faithful.

There were loud expletives every time we missed a chance or yet another goal went against us in the battle to reach the play-offs.

Then, the tide began to turn, Blackburn pulled a goal back at Millwall and Sunderland took the lead, all we needed was either Boro or Blackburn to score a further goal without reply and the lads had done.

Just six minutes later, the entire day flipped on its head, most of the screens in the bar had the Sunderland match on, but a few broadcast coverage from The New Den, which was a perfect recipe for the pandemonium that was to follow.

First, Ben Brereton-Diaz curled home the equaliser for Blackburn which was greeted by people shouting themselves hoarse and jumping up and down, before Alex Pritchard fired in Sunderland’s second goal of the game.

At this the noise levels went up even further, everyone in the bar was running around hugging each other, regardless of whether they knew them or not – suddenly we all believed.

Four minutes later, Jack Clarke applied a classy finish to put our game to bed, which created the bizarre spectacle of nobody actually watching the remainder of our game as attentions turned firmly to the action in South London.

Chants of ‘I’m Blackburn ‘til full time’ rang around the pub and the bar staff responded by putting their game on the majority of the screens.

The match at The Den became very end to end as the tension was cranked up to almost unbearable levels, before our worst fears were put to bed with just over three minutes remaining when Diaz popped up at the back post to tap in the winner.

The celebrations were even more jubilant than when Sunderland scored their goals as realisation dawned on us all that we were actually going to do it and defy all the odds.

At full time there was a tremendous outpouring of emotion as SAFC-related songs were blasted and people were undoubtedly starting to wonder if a hangover at work the next day would be worth it.

There was excited chatter about play-off semi final tickets and potential arrangements for Wembley.

As I said at the top of the piece, I am in no way comparing the events of Monday to our win in 1973, but after back to back relegations, followed by four years of playing the likes Accrington Stanley, Burton Albion and Crewe, watching us play in The Papa Johns Trophy in our living rooms, two Wembley defeats, losing 6-0 at Bolton, 5-1 at Rotherham and watching Callum MacFadzean and Josh Scowen, we have a team that I am proud to say represents the City of Sunderland.

This season, we have had to endure an almost constant injury crisis’, played long stretches of the season strikerless, lost our manager in the first month of the season and regularly had a starting XI full of players under the age of 23.

For the first time in years there is a buzz around the team, the fanbase and the city, and just 12 months after the sheer relief of escaping the League One rat race, we are potentially three games away from returning to where we belong.

This is vital for everyone, kids who have spent their teenage years watching us toil in the third tier are now getting a taste of what supporting Sunderland should be about, old-timers who had lost the faith are now smiling again.

We’ve been to hell and back in recent years and whatever happens in the next few weeks, we all have reasons to be proud of our present and be optimistic for the future.