Even before three points for a win, or the play-offs were introduced, supporting Sunderland has always meant that the end of the season could never be regarded as dull.
While supporters of other teams might look at the fixture list wondering whether to go shopping or have an away day, Sunderland supporters are busy working out a matrix of permutations for each game left in the season that would put a NASA scientist to shame.
Spreadsheets are created, old records looked up, reviewed and doubly scrutinised to find the loophole benefitting the lads. Opinions are tossed around between mates looking for acceptance that these completely irrational and probably extremely unlikely predictions will come to pass, or at least someone may offer an even more positive outcome than the one just predicted.
In seasons past – well, until we fell out of the Premier League – I had a pretty good record for seeing a way we would stay up.
And, of course, I was always right. Until the last season up there, when I wasn’t.
There hasn’t been much call to be bothered in the seasons since because, like the team, I was apathetic about our status and performances.
This season, with the free-flowing football, the dominance of the league and all-round optimism (well, at least for the first two games of the season) meant that by December I had dusted off the old laptop.
I was sat reminiscing about previous successful promotion pushes and I began forecasting way ahead.
I figured top two was a certainty. Even though Wigan and Rotherham were ahead of us, a glance at the fixture list suggested that with a fixture pile-up for Wigan in February, and Sunderland out of the cups by the end of January, should have us poised to go past Wigan and power home to the end of the season... certainly in second place, maybe even pushing to be champions.
‘Streaky Lee’ had been a criticism of Lee Johnson, but through the use of creative research and positive thinking, I could show that even Denis Smith in our record-breaking promotion push from Division Three (with Marco and Gatesy up front) endured a ten-game spell around January with only one win in the middle.
Surely ‘Streaky Smith’ should have been the cry?
We would strengthen in January and, for sure, push on to be the team we know we should be.
Sadly, in January, as we all know, ‘Streaky Lee’ decided one streak wasn’t enough, he threw another bad streak in the mix, I threw my laptop out of the window, and all my stupid predictions had become correct, or more correctly, had accurately become, ‘stupid predictions’!
All of a sudden we were being horsed at home by teams we were supposed to be pummelling, not only were we not catching Wigan and going to breeze past them, but we’d also sacked our manager and we were going backwards.
We might not even make the play-offs. I deleted my spreadsheets, swore at the cat (my black cat Sam), and I was glad I hadn’t told too many people about my stupid predictions.
Then after the last few games, beating Crewe and Fleetwood, and suddenly keeping clean sheets, a little optimism returned.
Once again I opened up the laptop, we were heading to Lincoln away, one of only eight games left, we were still in the top six with so many games against each other, and teams around us with games in hand.
Surely now was the time to actually sit and start a new Excel spreadsheet?
Just when you thought it was safe to be optimistic, Sunderland come along to slap you.
We were supposed to beat Lincoln.
Not only were we a better team on the day, but my spreadsheet said so. Not a draw, not a loss, a good away win to keep us right in the mix for the top six.
Before Saturday my spreadsheet had said that we were going to finish fifth. After Saturday I think we are now in a three-way fight for that sixth spot with Sheff Wed and Wycombe.
One good thing, even though we failed to win at Lincoln, Sheff Wed didn’t take advantage of our slip, and that might hurt them more than us on the run-in.
Despite our failure to secure the three points, I think we can still get to eighty-two points, and that might just be enough to see us in sixth.
Our goal difference isn’t strong enough so we need to be points clear. Surely, someone else other than us has to crack.
So, my top six are:
- Wigan (99 points)
- Rotherham (89)
- MK Dons (88)
- Oxford (83)
- Plymouth (82)
- The Lads (82)
I have Sheff Wed and Wycombe both between seventy-eight and eighty-one points.
To say it’s tight might be the understatement of the season!