soccernet blog
May 30, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/30/2010

Darren Bent has had an excellent season in front of goal for Sunderland with 25 goals, He scored in more league games than any other English striker, has stayed fit and built up a good understanding with Kenwyne Jones. He was a "fox in the box" à la Kevin Phillips this season with his trademark expert shots, bouncing in front of the keeper, and demonstrated the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

The only question is, does he have the killer instinct in front of goal in the really big games? He has the ability with proven positional sense and finishing power. Bent must have impressed the watching Capello in the away fixture at Old Trafford when he put the Black Cats ahead with an expert long-distance finish.

So come on, Darren, take your chance to turn it on today and give Sunderland the England hero they have lacked in recent years!

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/30/2010

The reporting on Sunderland AFC in the Newc***le-based newspapers The Journal and Evening Chronicle is always a bit negative, to say the least. It has to be, as most readers are fans of those deluded barcodes from across the Tyne. I went to school on foreign territory north of that particular river for 10 years, so I know what I am talking about. The Chronicle on did however report the new financial fair play rules quite well – see below.

I believe these new rules, if properly enforced, would bring some fiscal sanity back to football. The proposed changes mean that the current top six Premiership clubs would have to live within their means, and players’ salaries may end up being capped de facto. These major clubs would no longer be heavily subsidised by rich owners, leading hopefully to a more level playing field in the top league in the world. Well-run clubs like Arsenal clearly function by planning for the future, by bringing on Europe’s best youthful talent. Although this can frustrate the fans at times, the Gunners do well without the need for the mega-signings craved by other top clubs, but are still a major force. It will be teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle and the Manchester clubs that suffer.

In 2009-10 Sunderland lay 6th in average Premiership attendances, with an average of 40,355, just short of Chelsea’s total. The Black Cats already have their stadium designed for 64,000 fans with relatively inexpensive modifications at the SSOL. Although the turnstiles are less important as a fraction of total income in the modern game, in the end, teams with the best support and most loyal following in terms of buying club merchandise will prosper under this new financial paradigm. I would also look to Sky Sports to provide even more funding for top English clubs. So despite the pessimism in some quarters, I welcome these changes.

Well-run clubs like Sunderland, Everton, Stoke, Fulham and Arsenal have little to fear, and avoided the temptations to gamble away their futures in a way illustrated by basket cases like Portsmouth; we should remember that Steve Bruce sold Danny Collins and Dean Whitehead to help balance the books last summer. As reported by the Chronicle:

SUNDERLAND chief executive Steve Walton says football’s new financial fair play rules will be a big headache for ambitious Premier League sides – including the Black Cats.

Under new regulations agreed by European football’s governing body UEFA, by 2013 clubs must not spend more than they earn. Those that do could be banned from European competitions such as the Champions League and the Europa League. The amount of money that can be injected by ‘benefactor’ owners – such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour, Aston Villa’s Randy Lerner and Sunderland’s own Ellis Short – will also be capped at £38m over three years, which will have an impact on clubs who rely on outside income. Sunderland posted a £26m loss last year as they signed players such as Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole, Fraizer Campbell and Lorik Cana, with the Black Cats’ American owner making up the shortfall.

European is football is still some way off for the Wearsiders, but Short, chairman Niall Quinn and manager Steve Bruce all believe the club has the potential to one day compete at that level.
Walton said: “The financial fair play rules represent the biggest challenge facing the bigger clubs in this country, but also clubs like ourselves that are trying to make a step change.
“At the moment, unless there is a change in the finances of many clubs, they will not be in a position to compete in European competition as they would not be able to comply with the financial regulations. Some clubs have run at huge losses because they have been supported by the money their owners have contributed. It is what Chelsea have done for years, it is what Manchester City’s model is based on at the moment and, to be fair, what Sunderland’s model is based on. Ellis Short is supporting the business to take us from yo-yo club to where we were last season, which was 13th, to establishing ourselves and hopefully thinking of having a crack at the Europa League.”

Football’s finances came under scrutiny last season after Portsmouth imploded with debts of £120m, in the process becoming the first Premier League club to go into administration. It is that kind of crisis that UEFA’s new rules – passed on Thursday – are designed to avoid.
Walton says the key is getting to grips with clubs’ spending on transfer fees and, even more importantly, wages. But he believes UEFA’s proposals will prove a tougher challenge for Premier League clubs than for those elsewhere in Europe, because the new 50% tax rate on earnings over £150,000 per year in the UK means clubs have to pay higher salaries than those in other countries where tax rates are lower.

Walton said: “It is all about trying to get restraint on outgoings. I was talking to someone in Europe and they have beneficial tax rates for high earners. If I was trying to buy a French player, for example, I have to pay him twice as much as he would be paid at home so he can get the same take-home pay because of our tax rates.”

So I say, bring on these changes as a way of returning financial discipline to our top football clubs. As long as we can rely on Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Panathanikos and Porto having sounder and more transparent finances than their respective southern-European national governments, I predict a brave new world of British domination in European Competitions...and judging by attendances, sound management and the ability to bring on young, home-grown talent, Sunderland should eventually be part of that pack.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 23, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/23/2010

Sunderland have had some great centre-backs over the years. These are players who do not just perform their jobs as players outstandingly well by dominating their penalty boxes, but have also been great, resilient characters who could pass on their drive, determination and infectious will-to-win to the whole team. Centre-backs I have seen play for the Lads that stand out for me are: Charlie Hurley, Dave Watson, Jeff Clarke, Ian Atkins and Gordon Chisholm as well as Emerson Thome...and add the cult figures of Gary Bennett and Dickie Ord. To those lists I want to add Michael Turner, if he keeps on coming up with the goods.

To join this list of Sunderland legends, centre halves must not just have one or two great games, but have several great seasons. These players used to be called “pivots”, and although that term has fallen out of use, in a real sense the whole team would rotate and function around them, such is their importance. The players listed above all have the following traits, being:
• Great tacklers, who can anticipate the play
• Excellent in the air
• Possessors of a superb positional sense
• Leaders of the back line, who do not know the word “defeated”

Emerson Thome had a nickname of “the Wall” and I saw him in at his best, in action in a 2-0 win at West Ham in early 2001, and that was when the Hammers were good! The whole back four were a very solid unit that day, but Thome was particularly impressive alongside Jody Craddock, Mickey Gray, Chris Makin with Thomas Sørensen between the sticks. Nothing got past him. We were right down at pitchside at Upton Park and could actually hear the players shouting, driving each other on and actively communicating amongst each other, so important.

From the current team I believe that Turner will join that list of legends. He has most of those qualities now. Mensah could also do it if he stays match fit. I saw an article in the Sunderland Echo detailing Turner’s development under Steve Bruce, it is included below:

Turner still a learner, 22 May 2010

MICHAEL Turner says working under Manchester United defensive legend Steve Bruce at Sunderland has made him a better player.

Centre-back Turner was brought to Wearside last summer by Bruce, who was at the heart of defence which helped the Red Devils win a clutch of silverware – including three Premier League titles and three FA Cups – in the 1990s.

And Turner says Bruce's influence has been a massive help in making the transition from playing in a Hull City side which struggled for survival to a Sunderland side that has ambitions of breaking into the top half of the Premier League.

"It's been great for me to work under him," said Turner. "He is a very experienced manager in the Premier League and as a player he had a great career with Man United in the position that I play in. You can't fail to pick things up from someone with as much experience as he has. I'm sure that working with him every day in training has helped me out, and long may it continue."

Bruce was the best defender of his generation to missed out on playing for the England senior side – overlooked first by Bobby Robson and then by his successor Graham Taylor, despite skippering the country's most successful club. The closest he came was captaining the England B side in a friendly against Malta in 1987.

But Bruce rates Turner highly and has tipped him for future international honours – a prediction that appears well-founded, with the 26-year-old having already come to the attention of national boss Fabio Capello, who has put Turner (pictured) on standby for the senior squad in the past. Turner said: "It's a massive compliment to have someone like Steve Bruce rate you enough to want to sign you. He won every domestic trophy going and also captained Man U when they won European trophies, so he knows all about playing at the very top level. He obviously saw something he liked in me, and that's something I can be proud of."

In my view, Turner just needs to perform at that high level for another couple of seasons, and to show true leadership in away fixtures next season to kill off games. We do not need always to entertain away from home, as mentioned in earlier blogs. The great Championship-winning Leeds and Liverpool teams of the 1970s and 80s knew how to shut up shop, to "park the bus" when required, after going 1-0 or 2-0 up.

So Michael, we want to see you play for England in the next World Cup. Keep driving the Black Cats on, we will be watching and admiring your performances, especially in the games against those “delusional, unwashed barcodes” as Steve Hudson, friend and long-term SAFC fan memorably calls a team in a nearby city. A clue...they just won the fizzy pop league...

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 20, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/20/2010

OK, he may have one of the worst ever records for a Sunderland manager, sandwiched between Kevin Ball and Roy Keane with 1 win in 6 games, but Niall has been supreme as a player, rôle model, and ambassador for Wearside, as well as an exemplary chairman of Sunderland Football Club.

Niall John Wayne Quinn, MBE was born 6 October 1966 in Dublin. He was signed by Peter Reid from Manchester City in 1996 in preparation for a season in the Premiership after the Black Cats’ promotion from the Endsleigh League Division 1. We had prospered in the lower division on the basis of our defence, led ably by Dickie Ord (see the tribute song at but the Lads were desperately short of attacking options. Quinn made an immediate impact and led the line well, but was injured for much of that season, scoring 2 goals in 12 appearances. Could you imagine Craig Russell and Kevin Ball both ending up as top scorers on 4 goals? Well, it happened that season, and the Black Cats were duly relegated on 40 points. Quinny went under the knife and made a comeback in 1997-8, forming an immediate and almost telepathic partnership with Peter Reid’s new signing from Watford, Kevin Phillips. The rest is SAFC history!

So in 1997-8 the team ended the season with a 13-match unbeaten run, combining with a 14-goal contribution from Quinn to propel them into the play-offs. The season ended with that amazing 4-4 play-off final with Charlton Athletic.

The 1998-9 season saw the Lads surge to a record points score of 105 with 31 wins, 91 goals and only 3 defeats by a single goal margin in what was then a record for the Championship, and they were unbeaten from February onwards. Sadly this record was surpassed by one point by Reading in their first ever promotion to the Premiership, but in the context of Newcastle’s 102-point dominance of the Fizzy Pop league in 2009-10, this 105 point total was amazing. What really set that season apart was the Quinn/Phillips partnership, and Niall scored 18 goals in 39 appearances.

It wasn’t just Quinn’s skill and touch as a footballer, or even his goals, including unstoppable headers in consecutive 2-1 victories at St. James’ Park, that stood out, it was his obvious passion for Sunderland Football Club. In a time when many top players are just well-paid journeymen with no real commitment to their clubs, Sunderland got under his skin. Our successive 7th place finishes in 2000 and 2001 were years of consistent success while the Quinn/Phillips partnership was at its mesmerising best, with Superkev winning the European Golden Boot with 30 goals in 2000.

After his retirement, Niall Quinn suffered with the rest of the fans seeing the team gain only 19 points in 2003 and 15 points in 2006. He moved to take over the club with the Drumaville Consortium, brought in Roy Keane, and the club is now on a sound path to sustained success under his wise and passionate stewardship. As a chairman of a major football club, he is unparalleled in his relationship with the fans. As a human being, Quinn showed his compassion in donating his testimonial funds of over £1M to local hospitals. He backed Steve Bruce during the winless winter run this season, taking the pressure off him by saying his job would be safe even if, against the odds, the team was relegated. Quinn operates on a totally different plane to that sociopathic, overweight, beer-swilling shopkeeper from across the Tyne.

So Niall, we salute and thank you for being the person you are, the supporter you are and the Chairman you are. May your association with SAFC bring us the success the fans want and history dictates the club needs. A trophy or two is the goal!

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 14, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/14/2010

All Sunderland fans should see this, our boss back to his roots:

Bruce talks about his first discussions with Niall Quinn prior to joining SAFC, and his association with Newcastle; the city, that is, not the so-called football club. It turns out that ex-Sunderland midfielder Lee Clark, now experiencing such great success with Huddersfield Town, was also a Wallsend Boys Club product.

I am dedicating a future posting to Niall Quinn, now an honorary Mackem, and the excellent influence he has had at the club over the past 15 years.

We know that Steve Bruce was born in Corbridge, but I am curious. Steve, if you read these posts, could you tell us which side of the river Tyne it was? If it was the south bank, that will help; we are happy to accept Chris Waddle as a Sunderland fan and ex-player, even though he played for "the scum" (!). He was born in Felling, 2 weeks before Bruce in 1960, and first played at Pelaw Juniors, all safely south of the Tyne.

Fans should remember that Bob Stokoe was born in Northumberland, and began his footballing career at Newcastle United, playing 288 games, usually as centre-half. He even played for Newcastle in the 3–1 1955 FA Cup Final victory over Manchester City. Sunderland fans definitely accepted the legend that is Bob Stokoe.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 12, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/12/2010

Another quality international footballer has joined Sunderland. Cristian Riveros, a 27-year-old Paraguay international, has played for his country 45 times and will be part of the South American side at the World Cup in South Africa.

Steve Bruce, who so far has had an outstanding record on the transfer market, said "He is a very creative midfielder and a player that will enhance our attacking options". Although I have rattled on about the need for a thought-through defensive strategy in away games which includes having at least one defensive midfielder, supporters would not be unhappy with a midfielder à la Frank Lampard, who could help bear some of the scoring responsibility borne so brilliantly by Darren Bent last season.

Riveros may well free up players like Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana to protect the back four, especially away from home, and will give them another passing option when setting up counterattacks. There is no doubt we have sorely missed Andy Reid in the second half of this season, he is skilful, committed and can unlock defences. The way Steve Bruce is thinking is surely to have two quality players for each position, to deal with inevitable injury crises - it was real low point in January when the Black Cats had 9 players out through injury and suspensions. We have often been a bit thin in midfield in 2009-10; see my May 6 blog on the latest midfield injury crisis.

I was a fan of Peter Reid’s stated policy 12 years ago of buying quality international players, it worked then and it can work now. Players such as Riveros have proven that they have the mental strength and application to stand out as excellent players at club level, and then to transpose these qualities to the international stage. There are plenty of players with skill, it is their discipline and how they apply themselves mentally that sets apart the true greats from the average footballer.

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon is a case in point, he has just had the metal plate in his arm removed which followed the cringing Defoe incident at Spurs, when the Scot's arm was broken. Despite that setback, and the knowledge that was playing with a “Terminator” arm, he was still fearless and disciplined in the last 3rd of the season, when he produced his best form for Sunderland. Gordon's winning mentality should be infectious, to drive the back four to excellence and the rest of the squad on to greater achievements.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 9, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/09/2010

Today’s reverse at Wolves was a flop, symptomatic of our away form. Now we are without Turner and Colback for the first few games of next season. I have not seen the goals yet, but the SAFC TV commentary team made the point that we have been lacking discipline, especially away from home, where the team has not kept its shape under pressure, and the players have been wound up too easily and got caught up in silly dramas which could have been avoided.

We could have ended up in 11th spot if we had scored at 1-1, but as Steve Bruce said, “the team who've played well at home certainly weren't the ones who played in the second half today. To be honest, the second half was pathetic. We were sloppy, we gave the ball away and we showed no real desire or hunger. We made stupid mistakes, had two players sent off and it turned into a horror show. I'm not happy finishing 13th. There was a great opportunity there for us and we should have had the hunger and desire to try to take it".

In my view, the Premiership prize per place money was not the only thing at stake, it was all about a top half finish to erase the memory of that horrible winless winter run. And I am sure that former Black Cats manager McCarthy enjoyed putting one over on us, with his improving Wolves side.

So for the season as a whole, the POSITIVES:
• Our form at the SSOL
• Performances against the top 6 teams
• Bringing on young players like Henderson, Campbell, Cattermole and Meyler
• Successful signings like Bent, Turner, Cattermole and Campbell
• Stability at the club, thanks to Niall Quinn and owner Short
• Attendances both home and away
• Building for the future – the players will improve, if well-coached

The negatives:
• Away form in general, 13 defeats, almost 2 goals per game conceded
• Our disciplinary record, 9 red cards, many unnecessary yellows
• Hutton may go back to Spurs
• Lack of motivation for the “nothing” games – they mean a lot to the supporters!

I enjoyed reading Brian Clough’s autobiography, in fact I posted to Roy Keane, with thanks, after I had finished it for the second time 18 months ago. One feature of Cloughie's winning teams at Derby and Forest was that the players never argued with the referee or niggled, they just played football. Sunderland should take a leaf out of that book next term. Referees rarely change their minds after protests by players.

Aside from looking at tactics in away games, something I have discussed at length, we should do an Allardyce and get the "Ologists" in. We certainly could benefit from the insights of a Sports Psychologist in trying to dig deeper into why a team so dominant at home has travelled so badly this season. Not to look back, bit to improve form for next year.

The best team performances for me – the 2-2 draw away at Old Trafford, and the 3-1 home win over Spurs, when we missed two penalties and had a good goal disallowed. The great thing about being a football fan is that there is always next season – and Sunderland can look forward to 2010-11 with genuine optimism! Bruce has his mainstays on board now and they can gel much better next year.

So the summer of transfer moves, rumours and shenanigans is about to start. And we will hopefully have a solid England performance at the World Cup to look forward to…Darren Bent to star?

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 6, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/06/2010

Coincidentally, while I have been pontificating about Sunderland’s midfield tactics in away games, there has been an injury crisis brewing at the club, which if Sunderland had been a London club would have hit the headlines much more than it has. This has been a constant bugbear over the years, a Capital-centric England sees the Tyne and Wear metropolitan area as being on a different planet sometimes, no wonder the NE clubs so rarely have players called up into England squads. More on that topic later, but for now that midfield is our focus.

David Meyler’s horrific injury on Sunday has put him out for up to a year – the knee is such a complex set of joints…we will miss the young Irishman’s energy and drive; all genuine fans wish him a speedy recovery. Lee Cattermole is out again, we also have Andy Reid as a long-term injury, and with Henderson potentially unfit for the game this weekend, the squad is looking a bit thin again. Cana, Malbranque, Richardson and Campbell will probably start against Wolves. It may seem like a nothing game, but after Stoke’s win at Fulham last night, we can still qualify for that 10th place, for the status as well as the extra Premiership prize money it brings.

The Premiership is made up of 3 mini-leagues. The top eight have all been scrambling for that coveted 4th spot and is currently made up of the two teams each from Liverpool and Manchester; Aston Villa and the three top London teams. Our mini-league consists of teams we now see as peers, Blackburn, Stoke, Fulham and the season’s surprise package, Birmingham. Alex Mc. Leish was previously linked with the Sunderland job and now we can all see why. Next year the Mackems need to win that league, if we are going to push on for Europa League qualification in the future.

But back to this weekend - if Bruce decides to shuffle the pack a bit, will this mean a much deserved first league start for Zenden? I hope so, after his sensational goal against Spurs, he deserves it…that memorable, high energy 3-1 win a month ago has now been put into its rightful context by Spurs’ win at Man. City last night, and their Champions’ League qualification.

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 5, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/05/2010

So if you have read my posts these last couple of weeks you will realise I have a passion for Sunderland AFC. I was born in Sunderland of Norwegian parents in the fifties, when it was the biggest shipbuilding town in the world, so I do know what “Mackem” means. I conclude that Geordie is basically a Norwegian dialect. I am 6ft 6in, so I tend to stand out. When I met Peter Reid in 1999 he did not think I was from Sunderland, I learnt Norwegian as a first language so do not have a strong accent. One of my schoolfriends, Phil Clarkson, runs the ticketing operation at the SSOL.

My family were not big on football, but growing up in Boldon meant I could cycle to games and from age 13 I went to as many as I could. My first match was against West Brom. in May 1968, the week before Sunderland’s last win at Old Trafford. Going to school at RGS Newcastle meant my allegiance was tested. In my A-level year, Sunderland won the FA Cup, and I went to every round, but could not get a ticket to the final. The 3-1 win against Man. City at Roker Park, and the 2-1 semi at Hillsborough versus Arsenal were just amazing games – a really special time for any Sunderland fan.

When the time came to go off to University, I travelled to as many away games as I could. I studied Chemistry, and eventually took at job at Glaxo in Hertfordshire. From there it was relatively easy to see the Lads on their travels. What is great about any live game is that you can see history being made. One of those games was at Burnley in the late 1970s, and I arrived a few minutes late in the match traffic. I was counting the players and we were already down to 10 men; in the first half Sunderland had both of their full-backs, Joe Bolton and Mick Henderson sent off. Even coach Ken Knighton was booked!

So in the second we just kept the ball away from the defence, and Gary Rowell scored twice. There was a nervy ending when Burnley pulled one back, but it was the first time ever a team had won with 9 against 11, starting at 0-0. Breathless entertainment!

I am now working in the Biotech industry in the USA, even though England is still my home, with family still in Boldon. Modern media and the internet make it relatively easy to follow the team, what with SAFC TV, Fox Soccer Channel giving us live Sky games for $5 per month. I have been using the excellent Soccernet since it was run by a school kid.

So I will keep writing these pages, which will be unashamedly opinionated, and I thank Soccernet for giving me this opportunity.

By the way, we don’t have to remember all the dates of key past games, they are on - a sincere thanks to whoever maintains that site!

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/05/2010

So it was a solid if unspectacular performance against the reigning champions on Sunday. As Steve Bruce said, a little craft was missing, that final telling ball to unlock the United defence. We missed players like Andy Reid, who is now having surgery.

Given that we have one away game left this season, versus Wolves on Sunday, it gives a chance to reflect on the season away from the SSOL. The away form was generally unimpressive, but with a few highlights.

I went to an away game at Stoke in the then top league, Division 1, in 1983, where the Lads played really well. We won 1-0 with one stunning piece of attacking play that saw a great move finished by Gary Rowell. The feature of that team was an ability to kill games off, without just “parking the bus”. I use the phrase “parking the bus” to describe a totally defensive performance, like Sunderland at Old Trafford under Ricky Sbragia last season, when they very nearly pulled off a 0-0 draw, rarely crossing the halfway line.

The early-80s back four of Venison, Atkins, Chisholm and Nichol/Munro seemed to be able to just lap up pressure all day. I don’t want to romanticise the 1980s, especially the hairstyles (!) and I was there when we lost 8-0 at Watford in 1982...but with that back four we went 6 games without conceding a goal (see The team then had at least one specialised defensive midfielder in the Colin Todd mould.

I have met a few Sunderland managers in my time, Len Ashurst, Jimmy Adamson and Peter Reid, as well as a caretaker who eventually turned the job down in 1984, Dave Merrington. The Black Cats’ manager in 1983-4, Alan Durban was dismissed by the then chairman, Tom Cowie, and in my view unfairly, for playing too defensively, especially away from home. His “mistake” was to sign two defensive midfielders, Paul Bracewell and Mark Proctor. Having said that, when Alan Durban was Stoke manager, they played out a particularly tedious 0-0 draw at Arsenal, and the Welshman was quoted as saying “if you want entertainment, go to a circus”!

The current Sunderland team have a great goalie and back four when they are all fit. The question is now, as mentioned previously, do Sunderland have a true defensive midfielder? I guess the closest we have is Lorik Cana. Jordan Henderson has great energy, but his strength is as a box-to-box player. Cattermole could certainly do the job; when playing away from home we need someone who can just sit in front of the back four to help protect them, and after winning the ball, to then set up counterattacks. If I was Steve Bruce, I would make the signing of that sort of player a priority – he could even make a cheeky bid for Owen Hargreaves…

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

May 1, 2010
Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/01/2010

Man. Utd. are vulnerable this season, as the Lads showed in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, that excellent 2-2 draw, when we were robbed by a late deflected own goal. They do not like teams coming at them, and have a certain fragility to counter-attacks. Man. Utd. are beatable, having lost 5 away games this season.

The outcome of this match will come down to whether Steve Bruce can coax another adrenaline-filled, straight from the heart, pacy, top-notch performance out of the team. The capacity SSOL crowd will definitely be up for it! Will we turn up like we did against Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Man. City, or wimp out like against Portsmouth, Everton or Birmingham? OK, those latter games were during the winless winter, when the confidence of the team had been affected. I don’t care what managers say, teams can go out with a losing psychology, once they have gone a few games without a win. But Sunderland’s preparation for this game is excellent, with 2 wins on the trot and a clean sheet in the last game.

To me it depends a lot on the back four. We are without Hutton, and Mensah is doubtful. On the bright side Kilgallon was near faultless against Hull. So look out for the Bardsley, Turner, Kilgallon and Ferdinand combination.

With Cattermole having an injury-prone season, I would like to see Cana return, to help protect the back four. This has been one of the issues this season, do we really have a defensive midfielder? Jones has probably been most solid when coming back to help out. With Reid still out I would favour a midfield of Cana, Henderson, Malbranque and Campbell, and of course the strikers pick themselves.

Call me sad if you like, but I am old enough to remember the climax to the 1968 season. OK. I was a kid at the time; that was the first season when I went to games at Roker Park. Sunderland were on a good run and had pulled clear of the relegation zone (how familiar is that?) and did not have a great home record that year (won 8, drew 7, lost 6), but they had won 4 away games. SAFC were set to play at Old Trafford on the last day, with Man. Utd. looking easy for the title. Newcastle were hosting Man. City at St. James’ concurrently.

What a climax to the season! Sunderland won 2-1 at Old Trafford, with goals from Suggett and Mulhall. Then City pulled the rabbit out of the hat with a great attacking display at Newcastle in a 4-3 win, to bring home the title.

So obviously, I want to see a Sunderland win, we as fans live for days like this, but importantly I’d like to see Bent (24 league goals) score again to get closer to Rooney (26), and be in the running for top Prem. scorer. Then he cannot be ignored for that flight to South Africa...

©Lars J.S. Knutsen

Lars Knutsen Lars Knutsen was born in Sunderland of Norwegian parents across the Wear from the SSOL back when shipbuilding not car manufacture was the city’s main industry. His first game was in 1968 and he has followed the Black Cats since then, with great memories of the 1973 FA Cup. He hopes the “yo-yo” days are over and defines supporting a team by whether the result affects your mood (but maybe not in the way portrayed in the book “Fever Pitch”!) so has been cheerful recently. He endured school in Newc**tle, has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, a Professorship at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, and works in the Pharma industry as a consultant Medicinal Chemist.

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