Rory Fallow, with his second piece of the week, reminisces about the not so distant past, when Sunderland were actually half decent in home games. We can only hope for some inspiration against West Ham tomorrow…
As a 22 year old Sunderland fan who got his first season ticket in the 2002/03 season, or as it’s more commonly know “The 19 Point Season”, the word “fun” isn’t what I would usually call a home game. I often think of home games as “disappointing”, “typical” or, at best, “tense.”
I just missed out on the Peter Reid era and only really started going to games regularly when the empire was crumbling so I didn’t experience us romping to a 4-0 home win over Chelsea or battling a 1-0 victory over Arsenal. I’ve been more familiar with 3-0 down at half time to Charlton via three own goals or 4-0 down at half time to Aston Villa via sheer ineptitude. But there was a period in between that, a time when we didn’t always capitulate at home to lowly opposition and actually won some of the so called “winnable” games. Yes, going to home games, even recently, did used to be fun.
After the 15 point season of 2005/06 and only one single home win (which we had to wait until our last home game for against Fulham) Sunderland, with Roy Keane in charge, gained promotion at the first attempt with an impressive 15 home wins, the highlights of which being Liam Miller’s last minute match winning header in a promotion 6 pointer v Derby County and, of course, the 3-2 win over Burnley which all but sealed promotion. Those 15 wins counted for just over half of SAFC’s overall points total of 88 that season, showing that supporters knew that their team would reward their large home support. Sunderland only lost four times at home that season and two of those defeats were during Niall Quinn’s disastrous firefighting mission.
But it’s really during the early years of Sunderland’s current Premier League tenure when home games became really enjoyable. There’s a number of factors for this such as being the new boys in the league and a backs to the wall, siege like mentality (especially under Keane). There’s also the added incentive of wanting to beat some of the world’s best players in what is the most watched league in the world. Whilst nine home wins doesn’t sound too impressive, it counted for 27 of points out of a total of 39 and helped Sunderland achieve Premier League survival for another year in season which many, mainly due the newly promoted status, tipped Sunderland for the drop. Compared with just two wins on the road, it stands out even more. It was also the manner of a lot of the home wins that season. Michael Chopra tucking away Ross Wallace’s cross in the dying seconds against Spurs on the opening day set the tone as there were more last minute triumphs as the campaign went on such as Andy Reid’s volley against West Ham, Daryl Murphy’s flicked header vs. Middlesbrough and of course Anthony Stokes bundling the ball home against a doomed Derby County side. It wasn’t all just last minute heroics that season either, the lads put in some impressive performances against the league’s decent mid-table sides. On Sunday afternoon, in front of the Sky TV cameras, Kenwyne Jones made Sol Campbell have some serious thoughts about retirement as he ran him ragged in a 2-0 win.
Even during the often bleak 2008-09 season, home games still weren’t too bad. The first home win of the season came in the Wear-Tees derby against Middlesbrough and a first home win in 28 years against Newcastle was claimed thanks to Djibril Cisse’s outstretched leg and to Kieran Richardson’s bullet paced free kick. There was also the comfortable 4-0 win over eventually relegated West Brom, a game mainly remarkable for Andy Reid scoring a header. Only 21 points were taken from home games this season but it was still more than the mere 15 away from home, showing that Sunderland were very much a home side.
During Steve Bruce’s two full seasons in charge Sunderland achieved mid table mediocrity. Whilst fairly inconsistent, teams had begun to feel for the first time in almost a decade that the Stadium of Light was one of the “difficult places to go.” In 2009/10 there was the first league victory over Arsenal since the Reid era and a first home win against Liverpool in over a generation, thanks to a beach ball. Hull City and Wolves were also beaten 4-1 and 5-2 respectively and with Darren Bent in free scoring form, Sunderland were entertaining as well! It was fun going to the match, that weird optimism you get after your second pint was actually realistic. This all got typified when Sunderland beat Spurs 3-1. Darren Bent scored twice and missed two penalties, Bolo Zenden scored a stunning volley and Anton Ferdinand did a Michael Jackson dance. I refuse to believe that game wasn’t worth the season ticket money alone. Sunderland claimed nine home wins that season and won only two away and finished comfortably mid-table.
The 2010-11 season brought more of the same and top half finish for SAFC. The squad looked exciting as well with players such as Bent, Asamoah Gyan, Jordan Henderson, Steed Malbranque and on loan Danny Welbeck. The home games started brightly as well, Darren Bent put away a last minute penalty against Manchester City and also grabbed a last minute equaliser at home to Arsenal. You have to go to 20th December to find the first home defeat of that season, a 2-0 defeat against Blackpool. The visitors were battered that afternoon but scored two breakaway goals which left supporters scratching their heads but still fairly content that the team sat in 7th place. The teams’ form collapsed dramatically after the new year though and only recorded one more home win all campaign. That squad was then dismantled and badly replaced. Steve Bruce was sacked in November.
This takes to where we find ourselves now, discussing how if we can keep things tight then we might just nick a win at home against Crystal Palace or how we’d settle for a point against Stoke. Since a brief flurry under Martin O’Neill, Sunderland haven’t been a reliable home side. Over the last three seasons there has been only 14 home wins in the league as the lads bounced from relegation battle to relegation battle and, at the time of writing, are still looking for the first win (home or away) of the new campaign. But don’t forget about Anton Ferdinand’s Michael Jackson dance. Don’t forget about Andy Reid’s volley. Don’t forget about Djibril Cisse doing a back flip. Don’t forget about that beach ball. Home games will be fun again.