In last season’s play-offs I was almost willing Portsmouth to get over the line and get promoted. Why? Well it wasn’t for any closet admiration for the south coast side, I can tell you that for free. No, it was because I am sick of the ‘faux rivalry’ which is creeping into the fixture.
This weekend sees Sunderland once again lock horns with one of League One’s more established and historically more successful clubs. Pompey roll into town having made a sluggish start to the campaign, but it will undoubtedly be a tough test for our recently impregnable backline. In an ideal world they would be getting pummelled in the Championship, but this is far from an ideal world at the moment.
The first third tier clash with Portsmouth set the annoying rivalry away. It was shortly before Christmas, and just after the first series of ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ was released on Netflix. A first half sending off of everyone’s favourite Dutch centre back Glen Loovens, and a consequential penalty saw Sunderland go in a goal down and a man down at the break.
The man advantage was telling, and resulted in a comfortable 3-1 win for Portsmouth. Social media lapped it up, with the official Portsmouth page getting a dig in about the documentary. The ‘we saw you crying on Netflix’ song was born. Brilliant.
Fast-forward to March 2019 and the two sides met at Wembley. After perhaps one of the best halves of football I’ve seen a Sunderland team play, we led 1-0 thanks to a beauty of a free-kick from Aidan McGeady. Unfortunately, Sunderland failed to turn up in the second half and deep into the second half of extra time found themselves 2-1 down.
Up pops McGeady; cue pandemonium. The resulting penalty shoot-out was almost perfect, with Cattermole being the only man to miss. The Checkatrade Trophy would don blue ribbons and be taken down to the south coast rather than the north-east.
It would be April before Portsmouth travelled up to the Stadium of Light for the return league fixture, and it would be a cagey affair. Portsmouth fans dropped a flare into Sunderland fans below. Neither team gave much away on the pitch, and a 1-1 draw was ground out; a draw which helped nobody.
Perhaps predictably, we met in the League One play-off semi final stage. A Chris Maguire strike gave Sunderland a 1-0 win in the first leg at the Stadium of Light, before a defensive masterclass at Fratton Park helped guide us to Wembley.
You may be spotting a pattern here, but yet again a flash point occurred when Pompey fans hurled abuse at Sunderland players and one appeared aim a kick at Luke O’Nien when the full back took a fall into the stands. It was a horrible moment to see on national TV, but at least we won the day. The less said about the play-off final, the better.
The 2019-20 campaign, although cut short by coronavirus, managed to squeeze in both games against Portsmouth played. It was just the second home game of the season when Pompey came to town in front of the Sky cameras. The visitors took an early lead as Sunderland’s defence fell asleep, but by half time the match was turned on its head. A Jordan Willis header and a cool finish from Chris Maguire would be enough to give Sunderland all three points.
By the time Sunderland visited Fratton Park in February 2020, Sunderland’s away form was poor. This was to be made worse as the hosts ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. The carnage that was the conclusion of last season, had Portsmouth qualify for the play-offs and Sunderland languishing outside the top six.
Seven fixtures with Portsmouth in the last two seasons and Sunderland have come out on top just twice. A third season against Kenny Jackett’s side isn’t something which appealed to me, but with our solid start to the season and the apparent defensive frailties of Pompey, a fifth win in seven is a real possibility. I hope more than anything in the footballing world that we are not in the same division again next season.