Attendance - Size Isn't Everything; Atmosphere Is

Mike Hewitt

We might not be in with a chance of winning a trophy on Sunday, but let's recreate that Cup Final atmosphere when Cardiff roll into town.

We've won just three home games all season, none of them against sides currently in the bottom half of the Premier League. With survival now a real possibility, we have an opportunity to buck the trend of this campaign by doubling our home win tally and in doing so almost certainly keeping ourselves in the Premier League.

To use an old cliché, we have three "cup finals" ahead; four if you include Manchester United away. Whilst they won't be anything like the occasion of our one real cup final this season, the importance of these games cannot be underestimated. We'll never forget that day at Wembley; the noise, the colours, the flags. Now is a chance to recreate it. We're averaging just over 40k home attendances this season but say we didn't reach that figure this weekend, it doesn't really matter. Not in terms of the atmosphere. And that's what really counts.

In fact, perhaps we'd be better off without the casual pub goer deciding to make a rare excursion to the Stadium of Light on Sunday. Many a time we've seen Sunderland fail to turn up in front of a bigger crowd in the recent past and this is a side that has buckled under pressure one too many times. Make it a cauldron of noise, however, and they might just respond. It might just intimidate Cardiff too.

Obviously I'd love to see a full Stadium of Light every week, but I'm not here to sell tickets on behalf of Sunderland AFC. That's not my job. What I do want to see is Sunderland competing at the top level next season, if at all possible. Just before we played Everton, we looked a relegated side and I talked about making the Premier League remember us if we go. Well, now is the time to do what we did at Wembley and make people recognise who we are. The size of the attendances - which have been remarkably good this season, all things considered - is something to worry about another day.

Will it help on the pitch? You'd like to think so. I saw Manchester City fans refer to our fantastic away support as our "twelfth man" after Wednesday's incredible draw at the Etihad. Recreating that at home and against inferior opposition surely can't hurt. The players must take responsibility too of course, but a fully committed, passionate crowd would help. If it doesn't, then they'll have no excuses. Not that they should have anyway.

This isn't an attack on our support, by the way. It's incredible so many have continued to turn up. Indeed, given the dross that's been served up on a weekly basis the fans have stuck with the side as best they can. Occasionally anxiety, frustration and anger have taken over and having watched surrender after surrender, we have every right to vent.

Now is the time to unite with these players, no matter how many times they've let us down, in the hope they'll keep the club afloat. Most of them won't be here next season anyway, but we will. Those red and white stripes will still be present at the Stadium of Light, regardless of the division and like before the Everton game - even if survival is now a real possibility - let's remember what we go to the games for; our club, our Sunderland.

That's not to say I'd be against a few extra bodies taking up tickets after Saturday's remarkable win at Chelsea and Michael Graham makes an excellent, impassioned plea for fans to do just that. However, when it comes to attendances, size isn't everything. No matter how many are there, let's either go down or stay up with a bang. A very real one in terms of noise. Let's take the roof off this Sunday.

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