In these uncertain and strange times, its important to look back on an occasion where being a Sunderland fan was actually alright, as opposed to 99% of the time when it’s just a bit crap.
Let me take you back to a dull and wet Saturday afternoon in November 2018. Walsall was the next destination for Sunderland’s League One magic carpet ride. The night before was a night out in Coventry which ended the following morning.
Others would be enjoying, or enduring, a lie-in or a hangover on that Saturday morning, but not me; a relatively early train across the beauty of the Midlands, through former industrial towns and drab city skylines. Coventry to Walsall via Birmingham isn’t the greatest of train journeys, especially on a dreary November afternoon.
Despite the hangover, the away day tradition of cans on the train was carried out. The short journey from Birmingham to Walsall may as well have been a Metro train from Seaburn through to St. Peters due to it being packed to the rafters with beautiful Mackems. The drizzle and mist was set in as I trudged over to the stadium, my hangover disappearing and being replaced by tipsiness made even better by the thought of my second away day of the season being moments away.
Me and my mate Harry - who would be resembling Columbian footballing legend Carlos Valderrama at the Checkatrade Trophy final just four months later - ventured up to the dizzying heights of the sixth row of the University of Wolverhampton stand. That put us just above the crossbar behind the goal which Sunderland would defend in the first half.
After being unbeaten in twelve matches it’s fair to say I was quietly confident about leaving this part of the world with all three points. That was until Max Power got shown his marching orders for the third time that campaign after just over twenty minutes had been played.
We were able to see the game through to half-time at 0-0, but any plans of carrying on the same way in the second period were dashed within ten minutes. At the far end we looked on as Josh Gordon guided in a near post cross past Jon McLaughlin, and then Josh Ginnelly thumped home a cracking strike to send the Saddlers fans, who just outnumbered the Sunderland mob that day, wild. Had I managed to curse my club after being on such a good run? At this point it certainly felt like it. Oh, and the hangover? It was starting to feel that bit worse.
Despite being down to ten men Sunderland dug in and kept themselves in the game. Just past the hour mark Aiden McGeady dragged us back into it with a deft finish. Half an hour to go, plenty of time to at least nick a point.
The optimism in the two stands holding Sunderland fans was on the rise, yet the clock ticked over to the 90th minute. A ball into the box fell to Lyndon Gooch, who managed to turn in a very small amount of space and drill the ball across the six-yard box and into the bottom corner. Cue pandemonium. Limbs everywhere, and I still don’t quite understand how I didn’t end up at least in the row in front. A much-deserved point and a fantastic comeback.
It didn’t make much difference come the end of the season, but that afternoon in Walsall was one of the more enjoyable I’ve had following Sunderland on the road.