The best part of the season is upon us, squeaky bum time, with United needing to pick up all three points away to Sunderland on Sunday. The Liverpool Chelsea game will finish 45 minutes before our kick-off and the implications of what this weekend could mean to our season are massive.
Collin Randal from the popular Mackem blog, Salut! Sunderland, has take a few minutes out to answer some questions ahead of the big game.
Scott the Red: Sunderland are currently six places higher than where they finished last season. Which player has been your best in helping you achieve that?
Colin Randall: Simply no contest. Without Darren Bent’s goals we’d be in trouble. No opponents, however grand, can rely on him not to score and to say, as some do, that he has no game beyond scoring goals is to overlook the function of the striker.
STR: Well, he’s in for a good shout of the golden boot, particularly given that both Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba might not play again this season. He’s already doubled his league goal tally of last season so some might see his form as a surprise, but which player has surprised you most this season?
CR: Spending a lot of my time in France, I worried about John Mensah, having followed his unpromising progress at Lyon. But when he’s played, he’s been a rock. If only he could remain fit, he’d be one of the best centre backs in the Premier League.
STR: One of your players has been in the news a bit following the injury to Shay Given. Are you happy for Fulop, who said it would be an “honour” to play for a club with “such a great history”, to join City on loan for the last two games?
CR: Yes. He makes utterly crucial saves but is now some way behind Craig Gordon – who we really must keep – and cannot be blamed for wanting to try his luck at a smaller club with pots more money.
STR: On the contrary, City are a massive club. They’re not in the top four but Kenwyne Jones is certainly looking for a move up. Is he good enough for the best clubs in the league?
CR: I value Kenwyne. But to me, is finishing is too poor, too often for him to expect to play regularly at top four level. Steve Bruce is right. On his day, he’s worth £20m. On too many other days, he seems lazy and incompetent.
STR: What did you make of Hutton’s red card?
CR: Technically comprehensible, I suppose, and he could not have complained about a yellow. But it meant a silly gesture was regarded as being on a par with a full-blown assault; I’d say the one-match ban therefore shows a bit of belated common sense.
STR: What do you hope to achieve next season?
CR: We cannot finish higher than 9th, lower than 13th, this season. The realist in me would settle for an improvement on ninth next season.
STR: Now on to your United links. Given how many former United players have been at your club recently – Keano, Yorke, Cole, Bruce, Richardson, Bardsley and Campbell to name but a few, do you feel any connection to United?
CR: I’ve always quite liked United. Old enough to remember my mother breaking news of Munich to me as a kid, mature enough to recognise quality and appreciate great football from a team that isn’t mine. But no, I don’t feel a special connection and am just furious with you for not letting us have Jonny Evans back.
STR: Having bought so many former reds, if you could have any of our current squad, apart from the obvious Rooney, who would you go for?
CR: Jonny Evans but often, in the last two or three years, I’ve harboured hopes that Giggs or Scholes might suddenly regard Wearside as a decent place to end their careers.
STR: Sorry, they’re one club men, although they are an interesting choice. They have been central to all our success over recent years, with Roy Keane as their captain. What do you think of Keano?
CR: No one can take from him the achievement of turning a demoralised team that had lost its first four games in the Championship into champions. Despite having money to spend, he couldn’t then cut it as a Premier League manager. And his dark side grew darker. But I remain grateful for the good things he did and am delighted that he managed to salvage Ipswich’s season.
STR: Has Bruce done a good job?
CR: A qualified yes. I overcame tribal misgivings and welcomed the appointment. He had money to spend and some of his purchases have proved spot on. Then the long, winless run made us look good candidates for relegation. But if we blame him for that, as I do, then we have to applaud him for the revival that has given us a good chance of a top 10 finish. I’d stick with him.
STR: Whilst I expect Bruce to be a total professional, I’m sure it won’t break his heart to see us win knowing that it could help us win the league. However, only 1,000 or so United fans (officially!) would join him in seeing the win. What do you make of the decision to restrict our tickets?
CR: Salut! Sunderland is split on this. Pete Sixsmith, who reports on just about every match, thinks your fans have brought it on themselves. I disagree and have written twice at the site, and once at yours, in opposition to what I regard as a petty, unnecessary and potentially counter-productive decision. Pete argues that our travelling fans stand only at grounds where it is permitted, but I have to say I am not so sure.
STR: United could almost wrap up the title this weekend if we beat you and Liverpool take any points off Chelsea, although that puts the scousers in quite a predicament. Would you want Sunderland to win their last home game of the season even if it meant Newcastle winning the league?
CR: Thing is, I always want Sunderland to win and that desire would always triumph over my dismay that it would help Newcastle gain promotion, avoid relegation or – not very unlikely – win a trophy.
STR: Who do you want to win the league?
CR: Heart would say United but head knows Chelsea have done more to deserve it.
STR: And finally, what are your predictions for the game?
CR: The last time I saw us beat you, we were relegated. We can’t go down now so a carefree 2-1 would be sublime, even though I fear the worst as usual.