Goodison Park. The place Sunderland’s dreams, until recently, used to go to die. Before Ki’s penalty, Mannone’s heroics and Danny Graham’s arse, Everton away was always the game you’d think of as a canny day out but one where you’d have to accept that the football would be an annoying 90 minute distraction. How fitting that we go there after the joy of six last Sunday.
We travel to Merseyside on Sunday in a similar situation to Ricky Sbragia’s side did during the festive period of 2008. A new manager, fearing relegation but still off the back of some decent results will we kick on from here? Nope we got beat 3-0. These haven’t been the only kicks in the knackers when visiting the toffees either.
Despite the aforementioned bollock floggings, I’ve always actually quite liked Everton as an away game. As someone who never got to experience Roker Park i’ve always felt like Goodison was the closest I would get. This is of course mainly due to the fact that both grounds were designed by the absolute behemoth of stadium design that is Archibald Leitch. Leitch incorporated similar features into both stadiums such as the iconic lattice work that makes/made it’s way around both grounds. You can really feel the history that can be “enough to make your heart go woooaaahhh” when you look around the stands.
The surroundings of the ground are magnificent as well with one side hidden in amongst the houses and the church next door with nana’s serving cakes and cups of tea reminds you how much of a community football clubs are. Now being of the age where the nana’s, as lovely as they and their cakes may be, aren’t really what i’m after at an away game anymore, there is probably my favourite away day pub: The Ship & Mitre, which serves every beer in the known universe.
But after the pints in The Ship & Mitre it’s a short taxi journey to the ground where, yes, the view isn’t the best but that has often been for the better. My first visit to Goodison Park was in January 2003, a week after my tenth birthday. Kevin Kilbane gave me the belated birthday present of putting us in front, something of a rarity during the 19 points season. My main memory of the goal was one of confusion as we were right at the back of the lower Bullens Road stand and I could barely see a thing. As we often did in that season though, the lead was surrendered and Everton won 2-1 with two second half goals from USA international Brian McBride. The tone was set for my future trips to the blue half of Merseyside for the next 10 years.
After the calamity of the 19 points season, hope was being renewed on Wearside. Under Mick McCarthy in the 2004/05 campaign we looked like promotion contenders throughout, following the play-off disappointment of the season before. We took all that renewed hope down to Goodison Park in January 2005 for an FA Cup fourth round tie, hoping to get one over on Tim Cahill who (when playing for Millwall) broke our hearts in the semi final of the competition the year before. But the Australian landed another of his corner flag punches on us, as he scored the third in a 3-0 win for the Toffees. Goodison Park wasn’t just about to turn into our bogey ground but Cahill was now one of those players who Sunderland fans would start to give the affectionate middle name of “bastard.”
I actually missed the game where the 15 pointers “heroically” got a 2-2 draw at Goodison and Jon Stead managed to finally discover what a striker was on the pitch for. Given that I wasn’t there and it was merely a blip in our dark period of visiting Everton I’m going to skip right past it and mention the 7-1 defeat. I missed this game as well but I take a perverse joy in being able to say I was at truly awful performances so I am a little bit upset that I wasn’t at a game so bad that Roy Keane refused to get out of bed the next day. Tim Cahill scored again, twice in fact, but we had Paul McShane so I’m not even sure if Cahill himself will count those goals as real ones.
The wins for Everton at this point just started to become ridiculously routine for the home side. As I mentioned at the start, they beat us 3-0 in 2008. The blues were 2-0 up after less than half hour after Mikel Arteta basically scored the same free kick twice. When Steve Bruce first took us there, nothing changed, with Everton winning 2-0 and Tim Cahill putting them ahead after only seven minutes. The following season saw another comfortable 2-0 win for Everton with Jermaine Beckford scoring twice.
The theme of going to Goodison under a new manager and hope in our hearts continued when Martin O’Neill took us there for the FA Cup quarter final match in 2012. Phil Bardsley put us ahead, causing what can only be described as “absolute scenes” in the away end. But who had to score against us again for Everton? Who had score against us again in the FA Cup? Tim “Bastard” Cahill. But still, we didn’t lose at Goodison, we’d earned ourselves a reply which we felt we could win. Of course, Sunderland failing to turn up for a big occasion was the order of the day and Everton danced to Wembley for the semi finals. We then had the joy of going back to Goodison Park just a couple of weeks later for them to rub our faces in it as they trounced us 4-0.
We genuinely looked like ending our hoodoo seven months later though. Adam Johnson gave us the lead on the stroke of half time and we spent the second half defending resolutely and playing quite well. Tim Cahill wasn’t playing either, everything was in place! Then on 76 minutes, Maroune Fellaini made it 1-1. Three minutes later, Nikica Jelavic put the Toffees in front. Getting walloped at the same ground every season becomes fairly easy to take, the routine of it numbs the pain, but to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory was just so ridiculous. Surely it had to change?
After experiencing every kind of defeat possible, there was no way that Gus Poyet’s strugglers could get three points. Travelling down on Boxing Day, semi hungover, it was definitely one of those “let’s just have a canny day out and a laugh” kind of away games. But when Leon Osman played a perfect through ball to Ki Sung-yueng the stars aligned. Ki rounded Howard and the American number 1 brought him down. Penalty and a red card. “Yeah but, this is Everton away, we’ll miss this.” Ki scores the penalty. “We’ll still throw this away, we just don’t win here.” Vito Mannone refused to be beaten in goal though as even with 10 men Everton battered us. The final whistle goes and confirms we have broken the Goodison Park curse. Take that Bill Kenwright! Take that Andy Burnham! Take that Leon from Gogglebox!
I can’t not mention last season either, with Danny Graham’s arse and Jermain Defoe’s groin putting the ball in the net to win the points that turned out to be enough to see us safe from the drop. If we win on Sunday it will be the first time in 100 years that Sunderland have won three games in a row at Everton. Just like many times in the past we go to Goodison with a new manager and new hope. So, Sam, fancy breaking another record? We don’t fancy coming back down to earth yet.