Sunderland have become a club we have lots of connections with over the years, thanks mainly to Roy Keane’s appointment as their manager. His transfer policy seemed to be sign United youth team players, loan United youth team players, sign former United players or sign Irish players. That connection has continued now that another former United captain, Steve Bruce, has taken the position. For these reasons, it’s hard to avoid having a soft spot for Sunderland.
Colin Randall from Salut Sunderland has spoken to me about their aspirations for this season, memories of 1964 and Newcastle’s promotion.
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?
Colin Randall: How could anyone be happy with a run of 14 league matches without a win. We’d started well, beaten Arsenal and Liverpool at home and very narrowly failed to take three points from Old Trafford, only to collapse into a familiar spiral of incompetence and busted confidence. Then, after a reasonable recovery, we blew a good chance to end the season in 10th or 11th place.
STR: It’s frustrating to prove beinng capable of getting a good result, only to under perform. Can you see that changing this season? What are your aspirations for the coming year?
CR: We absolutely must improve on 13th and should be aiming for a comfortable top 10 position and a decent cup run.
STR: More optimistic then. If this is going to happen, who are you expecting to be your most important player in helping you achieve this?
CR: There will be pressure on Darren Bent to repeat last season’s goalscoring feats, and I suspect he may struggle to reach a similar tally, So responsibility will fall on Fraizer Campbell, who has had an excellent pre-season, especially with Kenwyne Jones seemingly on his way to Stoke. Cristian Riveros, who played well for Paraguay, is eagerly awaited and John Mensah, now his return is confirmed, will be a rock in defence provided he can avoid injuries.
STR: Glad to hear Frazier is doing alright. Are you also hoping to see Danny Welbeck join you on loan?
CR: Campbell was our most improved player – after a poor start – towards the end of last season and has been on fire in the warm-up games, admittedly against humble opponents for the most part. Potentially a key player, as mentioned above, for the coming season. Welbeck is a quality player and I’d welcome him with open arms at the Stadium of Light.
STR: On to another former United player, you’ve been through enough of them, and Steve Bruce. How do you rate his ability to take your club forward?
CR: I remain an admirer of Bruce despite him being a Mag and despite having been a little disappointed that we hadn’t gone for a more adventurous manager. But this season is his big test: he’s had money to spend, it’ll be his squad, and the team he has assembled must make significant advances.
STR: I’ll be hoping he does well. Except for when he plays us, obviously. Anyway, what’s your favourite chant you’ve heard sung at your ground?
CR: All those generic chants that can apply to any team bore me, but refinements of someone else’s property are OK. I interviewed our French former midfielder Eric Roy, now manager of Nice in Ligue 1, the other day and had to explain to him the last bit of the old Cantona-style chant for him which I loved: “Oooh aahh, it’s Eric Roy y’knaa”.
STR: Where do you think United will finish this season?
CR: Second, though I’d rather you won it than Chelsea…always assuming we don’t.
STR: If you could have any two players from United’s current squad playing for you, who would they be?
CR: I think I mentioned Scholes and Johnny Evans last time you asked, and everyone would say Rooney. But leaving them aside, Nani might get a game in our team and we could use Edwin van der Sar in goal with Craig Gordon injured.
STR: Nani might get a game eh? What are your thoughts on United’s debt?
CR: Corporate football stinks, but we’re all pretty much in the same rotten system. It seems a scandal that such a fabulously successful club – or brand if we are to be mischievous – can be dragged into this mess by people whose hearts are simply not in the game.
STR: Preach on. What is your favourite game your club have played against United?
CR: Sad, but I’m old enough to remember being swept into Roker Park on a tide of fans for the FA Cup sixth round replay in 1964. Gates were pushed down and the official attendance, under 50,000, was nowhere near the true figure. We’d almost won at old Trafford, United coming back from 0-2 and 1-3, and we nearly beat you at Sunderland. It was a magical night for a young lad, despite the disappointment of not winning. You walloped us in the second replay.
STR: They’ve got it down as 68,000 elsewhere. The Holy Trinity were on show that night – you’ll make a lot of us younger ones jealous with stories like that! In contrast, what is your worst game Sunderland have played against United?
CR: There have been quite a few I have seen, usually meek surrenders away, but the 4-0 trouncing at home, Boxing Day, with Keano choosing this of all games for a run-out for a 17-year-old striker, Martyn Waghorn, was one I was particularly pleased to have missed.
STR: I’d suggest maybe it was your defence at fault that day, rather than the teen striker. On to a player that had us impressed as a 17-year-old, Richardson. He’s just signed a new contract. What do you make of his Sunderland career?
CR: I struggle to see him as a left back. But it is a position we have struggled as a club to fill and I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. That said, he is a little patchy for my liking. On occasions, usually when playing in midfield, he’s been our man of the match; other times, perhaps more often, he might as well not have turned up.
STR: I’m glad our days of Richardson at left back are long behind us to be honest! Anyway, what do you make of Newcastle’s relegation and promotion?
CR: Laughed with the rest of the country at the relegation, which is fully merited on grounds of their unrivalled arrogance, but it also saved us from an equally deserved drop in an abysmal season. And I grudgingly accepted the immediate return as a reflection of an outstanding managerial achievement of Chris Hughton.
STR: Very gracious. You speak more kindly to your rivals than I do! Cheers mate and best of luck.