Joseph Tulip says…
There’s no disguising the fact that during our four seasons in League One, we’ve not quite grasped the nettle in front of big crowds, and have often sent the fans home disappointed.
There’s also no hiding from our dismal form in the playoffs over the past quarter of a century, but now it’s time to brush that aside and to focus on the present.
I’m very fond of Sunderland’s current crop of players, I believe in what they are capable of, and I believe that, in Alex Neil, we have a manager who knows how to get the best out of them.
Our players are a committed bunch, they seem to enjoy playing for the shirt and for the fans, and they know that they are capable of getting a positive result against a side we saw off comfortably at the Stadium of Light as recently as December.
I’m not saying it’s going to be 5-0 again, but I’d rather have 35,000-plus on my side, rather than the opposition, and I believe our players will rise to the occasion and do the business on Friday.
People can say what they want about games of years gone by, including the amazing atmosphere against Sheffield United back in 1998, a game I attended.
Back then, the excitement was partly fuelled by the novelty of our new stadium, and the prospect of a new dawn for Sunderland. Back then, Mexican waves were commonplace and matchdays were genuine carnival experiences.
It is a different era now, and we can’t recreate that same situation a generation on, but we have a committed team that can excel at this level, and for now, that’s all we can ask for.
There is a strong sense of unity between the players and fans, and I predict a rousing atmosphere under the lights. I don’t think we’ll buckle, and hopefully, this is our time. If we get behind the lads from start to finish, I believe they will deliver for us on Friday night.
It might just be the inner pessimism in me that comes from a lifetime of suffering, but I don’t feel overly confident that it will be of any benefit!
The Defoe homecoming game is still fresh in my mind… I dunno, it just feels like every time something feels ‘right’, it rarely is.
What I hope is that, regardless of whether there are 40,000 fans, or one man and his dog inside the ground, the atmosphere is supportive and the fans in attendance recognise that they can have a major part to play in how the game ends up.
There have been games at home recently - Shrewsbury springs to mind - where the mood in the ground was pretty toxic during a period of the game when we let them back into it. That’s always there, unfortunately - people lose faith and sometimes forget that the players can really benefit from us giving them our full backing right to the end of the match.
The extra effort shown by the newly-formed flag group in the South Stand gives me hope that this will be the case - that the atmosphere is going to be special, and that if the players do their bit and deliver a performance that matches the effort of the people in attendance, we will finish the game with a healthy lead going into the second leg.
My plea to my fellow fans is simple: never give up on them, even if they’re playing shite, because it doesn’t help matters at all.
I know of course that most people will - the majority of supporters are excellent. But let’s just remind ourselves of how important we can actually be on Friday - we could genuinely be the difference between a good and bad result.
Sam Blakey says…
The huge crowd expected on Friday night just highlights the fact that this playoff run has a different feel to it.
Before it comes back to bite me I will point out that I don’t mean in terms of we’re definitely going up or anything, more to do with the fact that in previous years we have been quite deflated going into the playoffs, due to it coming off the back of ultimately bottling automatics. This season we have had to put a very impressive run together to even make them, and the attendance on Friday epitomises the mood at the club recently.
Whether or not the atmosphere will impact the players remains to be seen. One thing I will say is I trust Alex Neil to do all he can in preparing the team for the game on Friday, it’ll ultimately come down to the players holding their nerves and carrying out their instructions. Our players will know what to expect and should be relishing the opportunity to play in front of so many fans, particularly at this level. They will know that we will do everything we possibly can to push them over the line and take a positive result to Hillsbrough (because we’re going to need one!).
The atmosphere on Friday should be spine tingling. I’m so nervous for the game, however I am very excited to see everyone in the stadium singing their hearts out for the lads.
When wise men say is being belted out by (hopefully) 45,000+ rabid people on Friday, take a moment to be proud of our fan base, because I know I will!