By God these are getting harder to do.Luckily however, our guest for Fan Focus this week is a real Gent - Neil Bell, our West Bromwich Albion fan.
We went over several topics with Neil, and he was grateful enough to indulge us with answers.
Neil answered questions about his teams future, our teams future, what he'd do to stop our rot and also, he was at the game and very complimentary about our fans.
So go on, have a read...
Obviously you’ll be delighted with the win. For us Sunderland fans however, can you tell us what it feels like to win? I’ve genuinely forgotten.
Neil: The last 7 games have certainly put a spring in my step that’s for sure, the same as I’m sure your last 8 have deflated you. All I can say is I know exactly how you feel, we had our run in January and February. It’s not good. For what its worth you’ll be fine, I’m sure of that, though I’m sure most Sunderland fans wanted more than to just be safe from relegation this season.
You warned us about Peter Odemwingie, and we didn’t listen as he gave us the run around. How instrumental will he be for the rest of the season?
Neil: He’s a very important part of the team that’s for sure. Whilst his goals dried up around Christmas time his constant menace to opposition defences was always a big threat for us. Considering he’s played nearly 18 months of solid football, with the world cup then the Russian season starting so early, and by his own admission is nursing through games with niggles he’s been a magnificent buy for the club. Here’s hoping he’s still with us next season.
Aside from Odemwingie (who certainly impressed us) who would you heap praise on, who might not be getting it from the media for their performance on Saturday?
Neil: Whilst Odemwingie, Brunt, Scharner and Mulumbu seemed to have got most of the praise I certainly wouldn’t look any further than Abdoulaye Meite. I thought he was excellent again. This is a guy who had become a figure of ridicule from every Albion fan, a guy who couldn’t even get in our starting 11 at Fulham under Di Matteo when we played 4 full backs across the back! Hodgson’s obviously seen something in him at training and put him back in the team and he’s been superb. Were not totally convinced it’s not his twin to be honest.
Were you filled with confidence by the SAFC starting line-up which was sans Sessegnon, Muntari & Henderson?
Neil: I was certainly surprised there was no Henderson that’s for sure, and as I said last week, I was also looking forward to seeing Sessegnon perform. Despite this I did say to a friend before kick off that I was impressed with the strength of your starting line up.
When Bardsley’s belting freekick went in moments after you equalised, did you ever imagine you’d come back and win?
Neil: In a short answer no. We struggled for most of the first half to match Sunderland’s work rate, and just didn’t seem to be able to get into our usual passing game. Sunderland played at a very high tempo for that opening half hour and really knocked us off our game. I was surprised to see us get back in it at 1-1 if I’m honest, so to then concede a wonder goal like that I certainly thought we would struggle.
If you were in charge at SAFC, what would you do to stop our rot?
Neil: It’s a difficult one really, the players are good enough, you have more than enough ability but the confidence just appears to be completely shot. Personally I think this is where a manager begins to earn his money. It’s a similar situation to us, the confidence had gone under Di Matteo, Hodgson comes in , starts playing players in their correct positions and things just seem to be following on from that. I do wonder whether a change in formation instead of the rigid 4-4-2 may benefit. Players like Malbranque, Richardson and Sessegnon certainly have enough ability to unlock defences, play Cattermole and Henderson in front of the back four and Gyan up top on his own.
West Brom – You’re staying up for sure now aren’t you?
Neil: Hopefully! I don’t think we could have wished for a better set of results than Saturday, even down to the Blackburn / Birmingham game ending in a draw. We have 2 tough games next (Chelsea and Tottenham) but at least we have that cushion, and I personally cannot see us not winning another game between now and the end of the season, when you add in the fact the bottom 3 need to win 3 more games than us now out of 6 left it is looking good I must admit.
Just as an aside as well just wanted to say what a great bunch your fans are (this is not a ‘suck up’!!). Great fun in the pub beforehand, friendly whilst walking to the ground and ever more gracious in defeat. I look forward to next years trip. Boing Boing.