Sunderland 2 -2 West Ham
Not a great afternoon to be a Sunderland fan but a hugely significant one all the same. This game was like an onion - peel away each layer of intrigue to find another one yet more pungent beneath.
So much to talk about...
The fans - or a section of them - turned on David Moyes; Sunderland scored two goals after going seven previous games without one; the scorers were two individuals marginalised to a greater or lesser degree by Moyes this season; Wahbi Khazri made his first start in six months and put in a man-of-the-match performance; his goal came direct from a corner after 30 previous games passing by without the Black Cats finding the net from a set-piece; Billy Jones banged his head, received oxygen and went to hospital; Fabio Borini slid on his knees in front of the manager who had slammed his agent 24-hours prior and left him on the bench; and the post-match interviews were a classic car crash of misinterpretation seething with not so subtle hints of recrimination and bitterness.
In a way, this Easter Saturday afternoon was Sunderland at its best - or worst - dependent on your viewpoint. The crazy club imploded, hung its dirty washing out in public, produced a hero of sorts in mid-April like it always does and just about kept itself in the Premier League with a point when three was so badly needed.
Here's how the national press reported Sunderland's score-draw with West Ham.
It was perhaps almost a relief that a seething air returned to the Stadium of Light after such an apathetic atmosphere amongst the faithful. After weeks in which David Moyes had insisted he retained an understanding with Sunderland fans, sections of the crowd toyed at their leisure with the doom-ridden Scot every time he got up from his seat. Alan O'Brien was in the press box for the Independent:
A point does little for Moyes, and his miserable afternoon contained jeers from the home support...
When, in the 20th minute, he ventured into his technical area for the first time yesterday, there were jeers and catcalls and those Sunderland supporters in the South Stand turned their venom on their moribund manager.
‘We want Moyes out,’ came the chant. He was mocked whenever he stood up and in the second half, there was a prolonged chant of a song that includes the unforgettable line ‘David Moyes had a dream, to f*** our football team,’ and ends with ‘Championship football, it’s on its way back.’
It's almost as if a defeat would have finally and fatally put David Moyes' Sunderland out of its misery. As it was, a score draw seems to have opened all manner of sores at the Stadium of Light as Jason Mellor describes in the Telegraph:
David Moyes should have been reflecting on some crumbs of comfort as Sunderland belatedly displayed a little-seen backbone, but instead the manager was left to fend-off questions about strains in his relationship with both supporters and some of his players
It's been one of those seasons for the beleaguered Scot who it appears cannot do right for doing wrong. After thrashing home a 90th-minute equaliser when goalkeeper Darren Randolph failed to deal with Darron Gibson's ball into the box, Borini's pointed 40-yard run and celebratory knee slide in front of the manager stationed in his technical area suggested that all is not well between the pair. "I don't care where he celebrated," Moyes insisted. "I'm just delighted he scored."
Former Newcastle Journal writer Craig Hope - now with the Mail - notes that even David Moyes' team belatedly displaying some ability did little to appease the Stadium of Light crowd in their pursuit of the Sunderland manager:
Even when he caught a loose ball late in the game it sparked a fresh round of jeers, as if reminding Moyes that an improved performance had done little to quell unrest.
Long time Sunderland sufferer and Guardian reporter Louise Taylor noted the angst in the stands,
The anger directed at Moyes was all the more alarming as his rock bottom side turned in one of their better performances of the campaign. But the Wearsiders remain adrift at the foot of the Premier League, nine points behind 17th-placed Hull, with relegation seemingly inevitable.
Though the Guardian correspondent acknowledged that the derision displayed towards the home dugout abated somewhat after Wahbi Khazri drew Sunderland level,
The antipathy eased after Wahbi Khazri, recalled to the starting XI after being sidelined by the Scot for most of this season, equalised direct from a corner. The substitute Fabio Borini, another player often marginalised by Moyes, scored a second leveller with his first touch.
An improved performance eventually drew most of the sting from the early, and vehement, calls for his [Moyes] head that rained down from the stands. That said a point is far from sufficient to rescue the division’s basement team from relegation.
But a final word for Khazri. The mercurial Tunisian has, at times this season, been virtually subject to a bizarre character assassination from his manager such has been the adamant stance of Moyes not to pick him whilst claiming the midfielder was incapable of doing what he was asked:
Undeterred, Khazri kept producing sufficient pleasing cameos to beg the question as to why Moyes – booed by sections of the crowd during journeys out of his dug-out – had consigned him to the deep freeze for so long. The Scot keeps lamenting the lack of quality in his squad but the winger positively oozes with the stuff