Kudos, Sheffield Wednesday. For a moment there some of us began to hope a little. There were hordes of Wearsiders skipping through the rain on Friday evening with that tiniest inkling that another great escape could be on the cards.
Hats off Sheffield Wednesday - you have saved us from four weeks of pretending we could crawl out of this mess and prosper once again.
Unfortunately, as we entered a sodden East Midlands we thought there was a chance that Sunderland could emulate the exploits of big JC back in AD 30. For we were here to mourn the death of a club, only for it to be resurrected on these holiest of holy weekends. And to celebrate, the good Lord of Sky Sports had chosen us lucky pups for an evening game on a day where we were all granted the day off.
Well, everyone except the pillar of the community that is yours truly. However, fear not, as this whimsical scribe of elegant and encapsulating prose would be gracing the office with my presence before travelling to the land of the Ram - a land in which the Lads never seemed to lose, no less.
We were in town to complete the ‘Battering East Midlands Jobbers Triangle’ which began in November with the slaying of Burton Albion. The absolute bodying of Nottingham Forest the day before New Year’s Eve only left Derby County - and what’s that? They haven’t won a game in two months and haven’t beaten Sunderland at Pride Park since 2001? You know it’s on today, boyo.
With this air of newfound (and completely misjudged) confidence, armed with a lukewarm can of Stella, in our midst we swaggered into this beacon of hope. On my travels I have seen some truly delightful places and some downright awful places, but fair play to the good people of Derby - this is pretty nice.
It’s a got a Pitcher & Piano, a Turtle Bay and a lovely bus station - what more could you want from a city of such repute? The only black mark against this corner of the Midlands’ name was the torrential rain which was playing havoc with my luscious auburn locks, although that can hardly be levelled at the town itself.
While a large number of the Sunderland contingent were getting to know their Derby counterparts outside a Yates’ in town, we snuck in a ‘home fans only’ pub to honour the death of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ.
It is Good Friday after all, you heathens.
Another dollop of torrential rain accompanied our wander to Pride Park but was about to be overwhelmed by the sheer stench of booze emanating from the away support. A buoyant Fosters and (most likely) Strongbow Dark Fruit atmosphere greeted the two sides and then something odd happened - Sunderland turned up.
Derby were doing their very best to give us their own rendition of ‘Sunderland AFC 2017/18: The Musical’ and started in excellent fashion by nodding in George Honeyman’s wayward shot. They weren’t even done there as man-with-the-most-haunted-face-in-English-football Richard Keogh played a lovely pass to Ashley Fletcher who, even more bizarrely, took on three players and leathered it in the bottom corner.
This is weird, this is a weird feeling.
It was a scene pretty hard to comprehend as Sunderland continued to pour forward against a side that was meant to be challenging for the play-offs. Lynden Gooch and Fletcher both missed further chances and even when Derby pulled one back, Sunderland didn’t falter. They stuck to their task, they played like a good football team. This is so very, very weird.
After Aiden McGeady rifled in a penalty and the Big Dawg John O’Shea added a lovely dollop of banter to the proceedings and a lot of what appeared to be malnourished teenagers felt the need to disrobe, it gave me time to peruse the finer elements of Pride Park. Like, for instance, why does East Midlands Railways advertise a £51 return from Derby to London as though it’s cheap?
Derby is only an hour and a half from the capital yet these companies believe that shelling out fifty notes is somehow acceptable. Virgin East Coast have been doing this as well recently, advertising a £29 single fare from Leeds to King’s Cross as being as an absolute bargain. Well, Dicky Branson, before your company took over you could regularly get £30 returns on the same line.
What I’m trying to say is ¡VIVA LA MEGABUS!
Shame we lost to Sheffield Wednesday, innit?