Sunderland is throwing its support behind the city’s football team as players prepare for tomorrow’s crucial clash at Norwich City.
The Black Cats are four points behind the Canaries ahead of the game (kick-off 12.45pm), which is expected to go some way to deciding who will stay in the Premier League next season.
I’ve taken real heart from the players’ attitudes. They understand what this means to the whole city.Father Marc Lyden-Smith
The East Anglian club are four points ahead of Sunderland, who remain in the bottom three, albeit the Wearsiders have a game in hand on their rivals.
City priest Father Marc Lyden-Smith, who is club chaplain at Sunderland and speaks to a number of Sam Allardyce’s players each week, has composed a special prayer which he hopes will be answered come tomorrow afternoon.
Fr Marc, who is priest at St Mary’s Church in Sunderland city centre, told the Echo: “It’s unfortunate that we are in this position once again, but I am sure our players have got the character and determination to beat Norwich City and survive relegation.
“I’ve spoken to some of the players about the situation at mass at the Academy of Light and there is a real sense that they know the economic disadvantage going down could bring.
“They are aware that it is not just 11 players on a team, but hundreds of jobs on the line and the hopes of thousands of fans too.
“I’ve taken real heart from the players’ attitudes. They understand what this means to the whole city.”
Giving his prediction for the crunch clash, Fr Marc added: “I think we will win and then survive.”
Joint editor of A Love Supreme fanzine, Paul Dobson, told the Echo that Sunderland supporters have grown weary of the almost annual battle against the drop but will still back their team to the hilt tomorrow.
“We should be used to our team being in the situation by now, so maybe that’s why we aren’t as panicky as other teams’ fans are,” said Paul.
“All we want is stability, that’s what all of our fans crave, four or five years where nothing happens.”
Speaking of what relegation to the Championship could mean, he added: “It would be pretty terrible, there’s no getting away from it.
“There’s so much money floating around the game that you have to invest wisely and we haven’t in recent years.
“As far as tomorrow’s game goes, we need to start taking our chances. If we do then the wins have to come sooner or later.
“I can see us squeezing a 2-1 win and then it’s between us and Norwich who stays up.
“Crystal Palace are too high now and Newcastle just look like dead men walking.”
Veteran supporter George Forster, who is part of Sunderland Supporters’ Association, declared the match a “must-win game”.
“We’ve said it plenty of times but it’s one we have to win,” said George.
“We’re still in with a chance of getting out of it but it’s up to the players to perform now.
“They can only give 100% and do their best for us.”
George added that he would like to see Swedish international midfielder Sebastian Larsson be brought back into the fold by manager Sam Allardyce.
“I don’t think Larsson should be forgotten.I would like to see him come into the equation because he has the experience with us being in this position before.
“Sam knows we are running out of games so we’ve got to start winning now.”