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If you could change the outcome of just one Sunderland game, which one would it be, and why?

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If you could change the outcome of just one Sunderland game, any game that you want from our long and storied history, which one would it be, and why?

FBL-ENG-LCUP-MAN CITY-SUNDERLAND Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Mark Carrick says...

My chosen game would be Man City at Maine Road on May 11th, 1991. Sunderland went into that game level on points with Luton, knowing one or other of us would stay up. Luton hosted already relegated Derby but had lost seven from their last nine and had failed to win since early March. Having beaten them ourselves a couple of weeks earlier, there was still hope we could stay up. The previous week Sunderland had been on telly, playing out a thrilling draw with Arsenal at Roker Park. But for a world-class save from David Seaman, Gary Owers’ curling shot would have won us the game and provided a cushion of two points over Luton. However, Denis Smith’s young side knew what they had to do.

There are a few moments that would have had to play out differently. On 10 minutes, as a long ball is punted towards Niall Quinn on the edge of our area, John Kay starts to come across. As Quinn chests it down, the ball drops in front of the pair. Had Kay made contact and cleared the ball, we’d have stayed 0-0 at that point. Even then, had Brace or Tony Norman got a touch the goal may have been averted. A great, flowing move on 40 minutes that resulted in Gabbiadini’s bullet header would have put us ahead, rather than level, and then that late first half goal from Gary Bennett would have put us 2-0 up.

The second mistake that we’d need to wipe from history came just after that goal, when a hopeful hook into the box from Adrian Heath was falling nicely for Owers to hook clear. Had he made contact and landed the ball into the crowd once more, rather than miscuing his shot, the ball wouldn’t have landed at Quinn’s feet for a late equaliser. Had we gone in at half-time 2-0 up as a result of those mistakes being eradicated, the game may have ended significantly different.

Into the second half and Peter Davenport makes a surging run into the City half. He ends up clear of the defence, but his shot is parried. Had the ball landed kindly Kieron Brady would have had a simple tap in to make it 3-0. Equally, a great through ball from Brace a little later on puts Gabbiadini in, who goes around the keeper only for the angle to be a little too tight to steer the ball in. If either of those goes in, we’re cruising. Luton were 2-0 up against Derby at this stage, sitting on 37 points with a goal difference of -19. If Sunderland had secured that third goal, we’d have been on the same points but safe with a goal difference -18. If we could then have defended David White’s goal, we’d have been a First Division team going into the 1991-92 season.

With the Premier League barely a season away, with all the benefits that would have brought, could Denis Smith have added to the squad that summer? Would the remarkable cup-run have been translated as a successful league campaign to ensure Sunderland were a founder member of the richest league in Europe? Could Denis have kept his job and laid the foundations for Sunderland to be a long-term presence in the top flight? Who knows, but if I can change four minutes on May 11, 1991, who knows?!


Tom Albrighton says...

This may be unpopular, but there isn’t a result in Sunderland’s history that I’d change. Sounds stupid right? Let me explain.

To steal the line, football is a rich tapestry. If you’re in football because all you want to see is your team win, you’ve come to the wrong place. The beauty of football is as much in the disparaging lows as much as the heady heights of joy, it’s a universally shared emotion that binds every football fan together. I know we’re talking about a singular result but let us not forget that every action has a reaction.

To change a result would change Sunderland’s fate, for better or for worse. If someone was to kindly offer me a trip in a time machine to alter the course of history, I’d politely decline if this was its singular purpose. Every result that has befallen Sunderland has happened for a reason and set Sunderland on a defined course what has led us to this day today. Sure, we’d all have liked to win that fateful day at Wembley against Charlton, but then we’d lose the joy of the season that followed. Miss that season and you also miss the heady seasons of our two 7th placed finished and by that medium, you miss out on seeing arguably the best Sunderland side we’ve seen. We’d all loved to have won the Checkatrade to experience a Wembley win, but once we’ve experienced the peak, would we still get the same buzz and hopeless optimism next time we find ourselves walking Wembley Way or splashing around in Trafalgar Squares fountains? I’m not so sure you do. If we erased the 5-1 defeat to Newcastle, do we then win so many derbies in a row? Let’s not forget for some seasons those derby wins kept us dining at the top table. So you get the idea.

Because of this ’butterfly effect,’ there’s little value -to me personally- in pining to change the past. All of the highs and lows are what binds us to Sunderland but most importantly together as one. Every twist and turn, every win and loss has happened for a defined reason and therefore has placed Sunderland on a firm trajectory in one direction or another. For that reason, I wouldn’t change any result from the past as that would change Sunderland - be it for better or for worse. I love Sunderland as they are, as imperfect and frustrating as it may be, but that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way I like it.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Alex McCain says...

I appreciate your sentimentality of supporting Sunderland in its truest form, Tom, but I am absolutely changing the outcome of the 2014 Capital One Cup final.

I don’t even think I need to do that much to change it, either. Gus Poyet’s Sunderland side were absolutely excellent that day; we contained City with a resolute display from Lee Cattermole fronting the rearguard and we counter-attacked with real clinical intent as Fabio Borini routinely looked to capitalise on the woeful performance of Martin Demichelis that not even Vincent Kompany could compensate for.

Should I be tasked with altering the course of that game, so as to make my team ultimately victorious, all I would need to do is make the trajectory of Yaya Toure’s long-range effort drop about three seconds later than when it did in our reality. Immensely talented though Toure may have been, that precision of that goal was a complete fluke and shifted the momentum in a disarming and jarring way that our performance hitherto simply did not deserve. I’m not just chucking accusations around because I’m bitter by the way, the big Ivorian even admitted in a later interview that he didn’t intend to place that shot where it ended up!

If that shot didn’t find the back of Mannone’s net, I absolutely believe we would’ve frustrated City into a narrow victory. We might’ve even nabbed a second on the break if the energy of our first half performance was to be emulated!

Had these events transpired in the way they should have, there’d be a bronze effigy outside the Stadium of Gus Poyet leaping emphatically (just like how the Sky Sports cameras captured him when the final whistle blew) and the younger generation would be able to tell their future grand-bairns with warm vivacity the tale of Lee Cattermole hoisting the cup amid a resonating, deafening roar.

This is the world you denied us, Yaya. I hope you went home that evening, dipped a digestive into your cup of tea and had the whole thing break off into a big, soggy mess.

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN CITY-LEICESTER Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

Jimmy Lowson says...

Philosophically I agree with Tom, but for the purpose of this exercise my pick is an obvious one, Manchester City 3- 1 Sunderland in the 2014 League Cup final.

It was one of my proudest days as a Sunderland fan - we were brilliant that day. To get to half time ahead and force them to produce their absolute best was inspiring - we were beaten by two truly world class goals.

Gus Poyet’s men were excellent in the first half, denying City the chances they usually create and even after Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri’s quickfire double gut punch, we reacted brilliantly, dominating possession and leaving everything on the field.

Whilst I can’t in good conscience say we deserved to win, it was a performance worthy of champions and one I’d love to have seen rewarded as such.

Also, the current landscape in football is grim. I spent my first twenty or so years as a Sunderland fan convinced I’d see Sunderland win a major tournament during my lifetime, but now I’m not so sure. Watching City destroy one of the best teams in the country in Watford with absolute ease in a 6-0 drubbing in last year’s FA Cup final, really crystallised to me that modern football has gone too far in the wrong direction.

The gaps between the haves and have-nots has never been bigger at the highest level, and I’m not sure Sunderland will ever get a chance to meet the rich kids on a level playing field. I have no doubt that our team will compete against the elite regularly again, but I have serious concerns as to whether Sunderland will ever be able to win big at that level. or if the English football pyramid will still be in place by then.

The next time Sunderland are a top ten team in England, who’s to say the richest English clubs won’t have bolted to their own European Super League by then? And would winning a major trophy in a diminished competitive field taint the achievement?

I’d change the result on March 2nd 2014, as it could have been Sunderland’s final chance to recapture the magic of May 5th 1973.