Going down with dignity
Report by Kate Holmes
Travelling back from work in a train full of Mackems, I decided that we were going to get a result out of this game. They were all very confident of getting a tenth straight win, and I was confident because my train was actually running - for the first time in about two weeks - and that had to be a good omen.
When I arrived at the ground, it was a case of "spot the Hornet", as we had been invaded by countless Mackems. Where were they when they were shit? Team news for this one saw Mooney and Fos back from suspension, but Moralee out injured. We started the game with three centre halves, with Ludden and Bazeley on the wings. Rams was in midfield, with Dixon and Mooney up front. Porter was dropped to the subs bench.
With the Mackems pretty much filling the Rookery, the attendance looked almost reasonable. Once again, we were forced to shoot the wrong way. By half-time I was grateful we did. We actually started quite well, although we were unable to create many chances. Unfortunately, as is the case with our luck, as soon as they put together an attack, they scored. A cross came over, and they had a player unmarked in the box. He controlled the ball with his arm and put the ball in the net while we waited for the whistle. It was an obvious handball, the ref must have seen it. If he did, he ignored it completely.
As is usually the case with us, we conceded another a minute later. Our defence was carved open, and Kev was given no chance again. Two shots, two goals. This did seem to kick us into action, and we managed to pull a goal back soon after. A cross from the left was met by a great header back across the face of goal by Dixon. Tommy Mooney had his back to goal and managed to spin and hit the ball into the back of the net in one movement. He looked as surprised as we did. Having seen it since on TV, it does appear that Tommy meant to do that and it was even better than I first thought.
From this we began to attack them with greater purpose. Rams curled a free kick over and curled another shot just wide. Rams also had a great opportunity to equalise, with the keeper off his line, but seemed to stumble over his shot and the effort was cleared. Our bad fortune was really summed up when Hessy's shot deflected off a defender and flew straight into the keeper's arms. An inch either way and it would have gone in.
Having had the vast majority of play since scoring, we were hit by a sucker punch a couple of minutes before half-time, when they opened up our defence again and scored a very undeserved third goal. It is a well known fact that conceding a goal just before half-time is the worst thing you can do, so when the interval was reached, it was a fairly depressing affair. I still felt that we would get something out of this, bearing in mind what happened at West Brom, but I was in a minority of one. Everyone else thought we would get hammered (Oops - Ed).
The start of the second half saw us put on Gary Porter in place of Fos, who has having a complete nightmare. Usually I would hate to see Porter, but he does normally try his best against Sunderland. We got off to the best start possible, by scoring after a minute or so. From what looked like a fairly innocuous cross from Baze, Tommy managed to head the ball over the keeper and into the goal. This gave us a fighting chance, and we had plenty of time to salvage a point.
We kept plugging away, and without Fos we looked more solid at the back. Page and Millen both had outstanding second halves, and Ludden added some pace. Palmer had a very good second half (Louder, please - Ed) but Hessy is still not back to his usual self. At times you just want to pick him up and turn him ninety degrees so that he runs forwards. He is a bit like a supermarket shopping trolley - he doesn't go straight forward.
We stuck at it, putting the crosses in and trying desperately to get an equaliser. With fifteen minutes left, we finally got the goal we deserved. Ludden took a long throw, which their defence allowed to bounce. Rams managed to flick the ball delicately over the keeper and in. All that was left now was to keep our cool, and not allow them to carve up our defence again. We still pushed forward looking for a winner but it wasn't to be.
This was a very good result, bearing in mind they had won nine in a row and are full of confidence. For a team at the top, their defence looked extremely suspect, but going forward they look one of the best teams we have played. Their fans were not amused at throwing away a 3-1 lead to the team at the bottom, but Sunderland did not deserve to win. I think most of us have accepted the inevitable, but at least we are going to go down with dignity, if such a thing is possible.
Another remarkable comeback
Report by Ian Grant
The fact that I saw about two dozen Sunderland fans for every Hornet on the way to the ground seemed to be a fair reflection of the states of the two clubs - one Premiership-bound, the other way adrift at the bottom. I'll be quite honest - I didn't fancy this one at all, especially after getting stuffed at Wolves. I'd rather boil my head than see us get slaughtered in meaningless games, so I wasn't looking forward to the game one bit.
I was wrong. Hey, it happens sometimes. For a start, I'd reckoned without certain players - Mooney, Palmer, Millen, Page, Dixon - treating the challenge of a game against the leaders as a one-off cup match, a chance to prove that we're better than our league position suggests. That was the difference between this match and Wolves, typified by Mooney's insane refusal to accept defeat. The guy's a bloody hero as far as I'm concerned.
As at Molineux, we didn't start too badly. The first fifteen minutes the game was reasonably even - then it all fell apart. On sixteen minutes, Gray broke down the left, crossed for Russell who knocked it back to Agnew - the finish gave Miller no chance. At the time, it seemed that Russell controlled the ball with his arm - having seen it on TV, it wasn't so clear-cut. There were no doubts about the second goal two minutes later. We hadn't regained our composure and were caught out again - this time it was Bell's shot that ended up in the bottom corner after another quick break.
Bearing in mind that I wasn't confident at the start, if someone had suggested a drink down at the Rifle at this point, I would've been severely tempted. Sunderland looked like scoring every time they went forward - I could only see a real thumping as we were caught on the break searching for goals.
We kept going (it's not as if being two or three down is alien) and created chances. The best one fell to Steve Palmer, freed in the box by a neat interchange of passes, but his attempt to flick the ball over the keeper was saved and Ramage scuffed his shot from the rebound. We got the reward for our efforts after half an hour - Ludden's cross was headed back at the far post by Dixon and Mooney netted with an overhead kick. More of a hook-over-the-shoulder than an overhead kick, really, but a neat goal nonetheless.
That woke up the Vic Road end and seemed to fire the boys up - we pressed forward in search of an equaliser but were caught on the break again just before the interval. This time it was Stewart who burst through and slipped a ball in for Russell to score. A potentially fatal blow to our hopes of a comeback. Certainly, the feeling at half-time was pessimistic - I just couldn't see how we were going to score, whereas Sunderland looked dangerous with every attack.
Amazingly, we weren't finished, though. The replacement of Foster with Gary Porter signalled that we were going for it and it took just a minute of the second half for a lifeline to arrive. Darren Bazeley, having spent all evening hitting the first defender with crosses, finally got a half-decent ball into the box and Mooney got his head to it, putting the ball out of the keeper's reach. Bearing in mind that the cross was above and behind Mooney, it was a fantastic header - typical of the bloke's commitment.
The rest of the game was tense and scrappy. Sunderland's attacking potency was nullified by the midfield, which closed every player down to break up passing moves. Only once did they really get through and then Keith Millen's last-ditch header saved us - it was his mistake that had given Sunderland the chance in the first place. For our part, we huffed and puffed but attempts to bludgeon our way through met with failure.
Until fifteen minutes from the end. Dixon contested hard for Ludden's long throw but it missed everyone, bounced up and Craig Ramage flicked a header in off the bar. Terrible goal to give away but we deserve credit for hassling Sunderland enough to force errors. Another remarkable comeback was complete - Sunderland attempted to rouse themselves but they'd left it too late and their run of wins was ended.
The huge ovation reserved for Tommy Mooney at the end was well deserved. As long as he's around, we'll have at least one player who has enough pride to want to get his club back on the rails. That counts for a lot in my book.