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On returning to an away ground, I tend to feel more trepidation if Sunderland won last time than I do if we’ve lost. Like pretty much all comedy sequels, there’s the nagging sense that things can’t possibly be as much fun the next time around.
On a heady day in August 2022, in what now seems like impossibly glorious sunshine, Alex Neil’s newly promoted team edged a 3-2 thriller to start off what would be a season of memorable away trips. This season has been a different story, with goals and wins proving thin on the ground, and sadly this pre-Christmas trip to BS3 would be no exception.
At least the back-to-back home wins over West Brom and Leeds had raised everyone’s collective mood. Plus, we’re now firmly in the “let’s circle back on this project in the new year” season, so we set off to the South West on Friday in good cheer.
Spirits quickly dampened, however, when the news filtered through that not only were we close to appointing dull salesman Michael Beale as Head Coach, but that we’d also decided to welcome six thousand of our blind eye-turning neighbours to smash the ground up and take the piss out of us. This club boasts an impressively varied arsenal when it comes to shooting itself in the foot.
Nonetheless, we had a great Friday evening visiting various hipstery pubs in North Bristol, discussing our prospects for the rest of the season and the aforementioned derby.
Views ranged from miserable gits like myself, who’d be content with avoiding a thrashing, to the admirably but arguably misguided optimists confidently predicting a cupset for the ages. How much of a role the extra strong cider and ales played for the latter viewpoint is anyone’s guess.
After breakfast on a crisp Saturday morning, we headed to the King Street Brew House, which contrary to its Google Maps entry was due to open at noon rather than 11am.
Hilariously, the only place nearby open for early “refreshments” was a nearby gym, where locally-brewed beers were on offer next to an array of protein/creatine post-workout supplements. It was quite disconcerting mingling with those healthy, well-adjusted people who don’t allow a perennially disappointing football team to dictate their mood every Saturday, so we quickly decamped back to the Brew House to re-join our own kind.
Halfway through the East Anglia derby we were joined by a trio of Santas, who’d opted for the Megabus rather than the traditional sleigh. I suppose Rudolph and co needed to rest up ahead of the big one next week.
The team sheet revealed that Bellingham had been benched despite his match-winning performance in midweek, which gave the first indication that it wasn’t going to be our day.
As usual, the Lads started off brightly enough, dominating possession without creating anything of note. A rare error from Patterson gave them a first half penalty. Their scorer then felt the need to shush our fans, who hadn’t even been booing him as he stepped up to take it.
Scoring against Sunderland really is a career highlight for some of these lower-league journeymen. We never looked like bouncing back despite creating a few half-chances, and we trudged back to Temple Meads without a point or goal to our name once again.
Michael Beale will absolutely have his work cut out to win around a distinctly unimpressed fanbase. Rectifying our miserable away form sooner rather than later would be a good start.