I remember the last league win at Old Trafford really clearly – I was very young and had recently been to my first Sunderland home game, by cycling to Roker Park. The climax of the 1967-8 season was upon us and Sunderland were clear of relegation, having won 4 times and drawn 4 on their travels, and got the points in 8 home games – the team were on 45 points in the modern, 3-points for a win parlance. The magic of that day on my young consciousness was also that Man. City were at Newcastle. Sunderland were expected just to roll over and let Man. Utd. just win the league, since Best, Charlton and Law were in that great team, with Man. City expected to be runners-up. Well, Sunderland stunned the Reds in a 2-1 win, with goals from Colin Suggett and George Mulhall – Hurley, Todd, Stuckey and Porterfield also starred that day. I was of course hooked as a fan, seeing the game in black and white later on Match of the Day – see the YouTube footage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmBEECo85yY
Of course, Man City capped it all by winning 4-3 at St. James’ – what a terrific climax to the season – with echoes of this season perhaps. In the same way as last year’s Sunderland team, with Onuoha, Welback and Gyan showed what they were capable of by winning 3-0 at Chelsea in November, we need The Lads to go somewhere and give a top team a good tonking…and what better day to do it than on Sir Alex’s 25th Anniversary? We all like to dream, but if we finally manage to get a penalty this season, and Man. Utd. are still not over their defeat to their Ethihad rivals, and if pigs were to one day fly…
Aside from that great 1968 win, I also recall an excellent 2-2 FA Cup draw at Old Trafford, under Peter Reid, when we were in the Championship, but kept our shape, scored 2 great goals and forced a replay. Then there was that 2-2 draw a couple of years ago, when we were leading with goals from Bent and Jones, until the last minute, when Man. Utd. somehow scored with a deflected shot. So I hope the team goes out there in front of 76,000 without fear and at least competes.
I must admit I read the excellent unauthorised biography – “The Boss”, by Michael Crick, and I did not like the seemingly accurate portrait of Alex Ferguson as a bombastic, insecure and controlling individual. He came over as someone who needed to influence every part of the club and was certainly too money-focused early on when the top players were earning more than him – that is why he threatened to “retire” first time round. He made Martin Edwards very wealthy, won a lot of trophies, but always needed to get his own way.
I heard his Radio 5 Live interview yesterday about all the gifted players he has had the honour of working with over the years, but it was in a way self-aggrandisement because he selected all those players. OK he has been very successful, but like many successful people, he appears ruthless, and would you want to see what is under the surface? How many corpses has he left along the roadside to “success”? And Steve Bruce's description of the "hairdryer" in Friday's "Times" did not make pleasant reading.
So in tomorrow’s game, Bardsley, Richardson, Brown and O’Shea at least should feel at home, if the Irishman is available, as should Steve Bruce. I saw the beginnings of a great partnership of Wickham and Bendtner in the last couple of games – if they can click, we will have a chance.
PS – if you are looking for a laugh, and love implausible own goals, check this one out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G13zqBMQZQI&feature=related
©Lars J.S. Knutsen