Supporting Sunderland, particularly over the last few seasons, is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. We all know that only too well. Today, I’d like to go back to April 2010 and re-visit a match against Spurs which typifies the journey we often follow as a Sunderland supporter.
Heading into the season, we had relative cause for optimism. After surviving on the last day of the previous season, Ricky Sbragia resigned and was replaced by Steve Bruce, who had led Wigan to their second highest Premier League finish. Bruce, on paper, had made some shrewd signings, including the transfer-record arrival of Darren Bent and the Marseille captain, Lorik Cana. Maybe a decent season was on the horizon.
And it started well enough. Our first thirteen games had brought six wins, two draws, and five defeats, including home victories over Liverpool and Arsenal. We were sat in a very healthy eighth place. Bent had scored nine goals already. Things were looking up.
But then it went pear shaped. A run of fourteen games without a win. We had gone from dreaming of a potential European spot to worrying about dropping down into The Championship.
Wins against Bolton and Birmingham, along with draws against Manchester City and Aston Villa however, got The Lads back on track and steadied a sinking ship.
And then Spurs came to town. Chasing a Champions League spot for the first time in their history, Harry Redknapp’s side sat in fourth and came into the match on the back of five straight league victories. We had also lost 2-0 at White Hart Lane in November. It was fair to say that we were the underdogs that day, despite losing only one of our last fifteen home games, and being four unbeaten at home against Spurs.
What followed was one of the Stadium of Light’s more crazy matches, and we’ve seen a few over the years.
An interesting subtext underpinning this encounter was Steed Malbranque, Fraizer Campbell and Darren Bent lining up to face their former club. Bent, in particular, had a point to prove. Left embarrassed by Redknapp’s infamous "my wife could have scored that" jibe following the striker’s miss against Portsmouth, a fired-up Bent was at the heart of one of The Lads’ best performances in recent memory.
Revenge proved sweet for Bent, who put us ahead in under a minute, beating Heurelho Gomes after Campbell’s close-range header was saved. He took great delight in celebrating in front of the traveling Spurs fans.
Perhaps motivated by Bent’s desire to show Spurs what they were missing, or the sobering reality that relegation would result in a forty percent wage reduction, The Lads were fired up, with Lee Cattermole in particular incessantly snapping at their heels. The visitors simply had nowhere to go.
After Jordan Henderson’s claims for a penalty were turned down by Lee Mason, a Kyle Walker handball gave Bent the chance to double his tally, which he did with aplomb. We were running rings around the Champions League contenders.
But, as always with Sunderland, things are never that easy, and this is where things began to get crazy.
Campbell, who was also enjoying a fine game against his former employers, earned another penalty, this time from Luka Modric. What better way for Bent to silence the Spurs critics than to net a first half hat-trick? Gomes, unfortunately, had not read the script, and denied Bent with a tremendous sprawling dive. Not to worry though, we still led by two goals and had outplayed Spurs for the entirety of the first half. We had this in the bag, right?
A Redknapp double change at half time seemed to inspire his side, and the visitors came flying out of the blocks, with both Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe coming close. But then Wilson Palacios brought down David Meyler and we were awarded a third penalty of the afternoon.
Bent couldn’t pass up another hat-trick opportunity, could he? Think again. Gomes again denied his former team-mate, turning his effort onto the post. It was Bent’s third penalty miss of the season against Spurs, after also missing in the 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane.
Anton Ferdinand then thought that he had sealed the victory, only for Mason to rule out his effort for a foul on Gomes, leading to one of the more surreal Stadium of Light moments as Anton moonwalked away in celebration, hilariously unaware that he had in fact not scored.
With twenty minutes to go, Spurs summoned Peter Crouch from the bench, who scored with his very first touch of the game. After the joy that the first seventy minutes had brought, a noticeable feeling of doubt now hang around the stadium. We couldn’t throw this away after dominating for so long, could we?
Those fears were put to rest by Bolo Zenden though, who connected with Henderson’s back post cross with a tremendous flying volley with five minutes to go, sending the Stadium of Light into a frenzy of raw emotion as we secured a tremendous three points.
This match remains one of my all-time favourites at the SoL and will live long in the memory. It had it all, and perfectly encapsulated what it means to follow Sunderland. The joy, the delight, the doubt, the despair and the pride at the end of it all. In truth, we could have scored six or seven that day. It cemented the idea that we could compete with the top teams and prove a match for anyone on any given day.
Days like that have largely evaded us in recent years, but with Big Sam at the helm, we can hope that they return to the Stadium of Light in the near future.