Chris Young: Ellis Short is right to be giving high-fives with Sunderland on verge of survival
Beaming with relief at receiving a positive response from dismissing the popular Jose Mourinho, Roman Abramovich walked in tandem with returning caretaker Guus Hiddink across the Stamford Bridge pitch.
Amidst a swarm of flunkies, Abramovich was making a beeline towards the Chelsea dressing room after seeing the then reigning Premier League champions finally break sweat and swat aside Sunderland with alarming ease last December.
Five months later, it was Abramovich’s counterpart, Ellis Short, who was making the journey to congratulate his charges at the conclusion of a Sunderland-Chelsea encounter; high-fiving supporters down the Stadium of Light stairs as he joyfully bounced alongside football operations director Ryan Sachs.
There are not many days to saviour when you own this club, but Short relished this one.
A spot of bragging rights over the members of the Chelsea hierarchy that he gets on with so well will only have made it sweeter for the Black Cats chairman.
But amidst the enjoyment of one of the most memorable games in the Stadium of Light history, coupled with the joy of leapfrogging Newcastle in the relegation fight, some of the weight on Short’s shoulders must have lifted at the prospect of remaining in the Premier League.
Sunderland are not there yet. Far from it.
There are still ‘typical Sunderland’ attributes present after conceding the softest of goals in first-half stoppage time from a hopeful punt upfield, just when it looked like Chelsea were on the ropes and needed the interval to regroup.
It would be the most ‘typical Sunderland’ example in this club’s litany of them for the Black Cats to blow it now and fail to get the required two points from the final two games which would guarantee that Newcastle and Norwich face Championship football next season.
But from the prospect of having to bankroll the club to the tune of tens of millions in the Championship, suddenly Short can dare to dream of that long-cherished objective of financial self-sufficiency being achieved by remaining in the top flight.
Thanks to the extra £30million or so from the new television deal, Sunderland’s annual losses would be immediately wiped out and those pleading telephone calls from the manager for extra transfer funds would begin to become a little less frequent.
The epic comeback against Chelsea was about much more than the almighty dollar though.
This was about a group of players determined to show that they deserve to stay at football’s top table.
They have been showing the same attitude for months.
It’s not been a case of players suddenly turning it on to save their skins in the last half-a-dozen games, as looks to be the case at Newcastle and was arguably the same at Sunderland in previous seasons.
There’s a common bond among players, who have made a post-training restaurant lunch on a Thursday part of their weekly routine.
That might seem a small step, but, in the Premier League era of cliques and a kaleidoscope of nationalities, it’s a notable one sign of solidarity.
Sunderland wanted to win more than Chelsea.
It was that simple. Even when the visitors (who, for an hour, were excellent) toyed with the Black Cats through the slick interplay of Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard, there was no white flag.
Everyone contributed to the comeback:
The front three – particularly the tireless and sensational goalscorer Wahbi Khazri – pressed Chelsea’s unconvincing defence from kick-off.
Vito Mannone made a couple of splendid saves to prevent Diego Costa making it 3-1.
Patrick van Aanholt got his head up to lay on a lovely pass for Fabio Borini’s equaliser at 2-2.
Yann M’Vila produced his best performance of 2016 after shaking off the fatigue which has hampered him throughout the second half of the season.
And then there was Jermain Defoe. Oh Defoe. How immaculately he brought DeAndre Yedlin’s deflected cross under control before calmly thrashing it into the bottom corner and then ripping off his shirt as the Stadium of Light was propelled into delirium.
When he first arrived at Sunderland, Defoe spoke about how he wanted to emulate the club’s prolific goalscorers of the past and become a hero. He’s done that this season in spades.
Allardyce must also take credit for his substitutions after they turned the game in Sunderland’s favour.
John O’Shea had far more control over Costa than Lamine Kone, while Seb Larsson needed to be introduced for Lee Cattermole, who was walking a disciplinary tightrope after being booked for unceremoniously halting a surging Hazard run.
And in making the positive change of swapping Jan Kirchhoff for Duncan Watmore, Allardyce put his faith in a 4-2-3-1 set-up that Chelsea were unable to counter.
Suddenly, Borini was given the licence to join Defoe in the box, and it paid such dividends with the pair both getting on the scoresheet within a ear-splitting three-minute period.
After seeing out those agonisingly nervy final 20 minutes, Sunderland may not actually need to register another point. Newcastle would have to beat Spurs and Norwich take maximum points from Watford and Everton.
But Sunderland can remove any ‘ifs and buts’ by beating an Everton side who looked utterly wretched in Saturday’s coronation for new champions Leicester.
No-one on Wearside will be counting so much as a pigeon, let alone a chicken.
Yet tellingly, almost every second word from the players that emerged from the Sunderland dressing room afterwards was “Wednesday”.
Like the whole of Wearside, they have emphatically shown that they want Sunday’s final game at Watford to be one long party.