I ended the Leeds United preview saying we simply had to win or else our hopes would finally evaporate. When I looked at the early result and saw Barnsley had beaten Sheffield United, my hope almost gave up the ghost there and then.
Yet, if we could win, just nick it at Elland Road, we could still be in the hunt for safety if Bolton or Reading slipped up. Twelve minutes into the afternoon, Reading were one up and my gut was telling me that it was all over. Bolton were one down at that time and two down by halftime. We lay seven points from safety.
Things were looking bleak. Then I heard Burton had taken the lead against Birmingham. On one hand, seven points from two teams meant we might catch one or the other, but then Donald Love dinked a ball between the Leeds defenders, Paddy McNair latched on to it and lashed a shot into the net!
The place erupted and we were now five points away. Dreams sprang up. Could we hold on? Could we take that into Tuesday night? And, if we could get through those 135 minutes, could we beat Reading and Burton to pull off the most unlikely escape?
I had started the Leeds preview by saying how topsy-turvy the life and emotions of a Sunderland fan were, and this was proof. Bolton were now three down. It’s on!
... until Pablo Hernández equalised. Not so much a goal, but as a dagger through the heart. As the clock wound down, it was a case of what might have been. Again. At least Birmingham equalised against Burton with minutes to go. Or did it really matter?
The Sunderland fans were outrageously awesome, singing their hearts out for a team that had succumbed again. Just what would it have been like if we were top of the league? I suspect it may not have been all that much different, for this fan-base is something very special.
But what has that got to do with tonight? Well, true, we find ourselves seven points from safety again and, yes, Barnsley have a game in hand, so it could be eight.
But what if we won tonight? Is it really too late?
Norwich have little to play for, in reality. Entrenched firmly in mid-table represents a decent season for them and their recent results reflect that position: two wins, two defeats and a draw from the last five. On the back of two defeats, the win against Villa was perhaps a surprise, but will they be the same team tonight?
There is a chance, there always is, but our home form has let us down before.
Chris Coleman will undoubtedly call on fresh legs as both Marc Wilson and Paddy McNair miss out tonight. McNair in particular will be a huge loss. If we are to retain his services, we surely have to be a Championship club come May 7th.
Ovie Ejaria will more than likely come in to replace his energy and presence. The on-loan Liverpool youngster has potential and provides a like-for-like replacement in midfield. Bryan Oviedo is also available after his knock, so hopefully we’ll see some semblance of balance again in our back four.
It is important we carry the attitude from the last three games into this one. Coleman has said himself that something has finally clicked, if not the results:
We’ve just gone out and played with no fear, we’ve had a really good edge to us, a good vibe. That’s something we’ve been looking for, for some time and it’s been good in the last three games, it’s been good. That’s all we can do and we have to continue that and hopefully a result will come with it.
Barnsley are at Ipswich whilst Bolton host Millwall. If they were both to lose, we could conceivably be a win and a draw away. And with games against Reading and Burton to come, the equaliser at Elland Road would not have killed us off.
So do I give up all hope and call it a day, or do I dare to dream, just one last time?