David Jones: Tonight could rival Leicester title party '“ and take Sunderland to next level

Saturdays don't come much better than the one we just witnessed.

Wednesday, 11th May 2016, 11:15 am
Sunderland fans made an incredible atmosphere against Chelsea

Those lucky enough to be inside the Stadium of Light spoke of an atmosphere rarely rivalled in the ground’s lifetime of ups and downs.

The familiarity and class of the opposition, the comeback, the fight in red and white shirts and the eventual outcome all spoke of the most significant 90 minutes of this and arguably any other season.

We all know what relegation could mean this year. Football supporters in this age are becoming as familiar with balance sheets as the administrators, and now it seems safety is within touching distance.

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I wasn’t on Wearside on Saturday, I was at Leicester’s title party for what was just about my most memorable day as a Sky Sports presenter.

Their’s has been the most extraordinary tale in an incredible Premier League season and they celebrated with as much gusto as they’ve played throughout the campaign.

It was an honour to be on the pitch after the full time whistle, observing the trophy presentation and then speaking to the main protagonists who were clearly still trying to make sense of what they’d achieved.

I’ve never known a noise like it, which began half an hour before kick off and was still reverberating around the King Power Stadium 60 minutes or more after the final whistle had sounded: the experience will live with me for a long time.

And then there was the news filtering through from Oxford that the club I joined as a director 18 months had secured promotion from League Two; a long season of toil finally rewarded on the final day.

So now we move into League One for the first time in 16 years and suddenly new possibilities open up around recruitment, sponsors and engagement with the local community; it’s an exciting time to be involved.

All in all then not a bad day but the excitement could be cranked up again tonight.

As is becoming habit after the game at the Emirates 12 months ago and the night at Stamford Bridge a year before that, tonight I will find myself presiding over a Sunderland match of epic proportions.

We all know the script, if Sunderland win, Newcastle and Norwich are relegated and Sam Allardyce will have completed his mission, which at one stage was certainly starting to look impossible.

It was an irresistible conundrum for Sky Sports which is why late in the day we managed to make the switch to be here at the Stadium of Light en masse this evening.

Let’s be honest it would take quite a stumble for Sunderland to slip up from here and I’ve heard the suggestion that it would be typical of this club to put us through that.

I don’t agree.

For the fourth successive season the writing has been on the wall but each time this group of players roared on but this most passionate set of fans has stirred themselves when it mattered most.

The enduring survival story has been about heart and character but crucially now there is talent too, allied with the most astute management I can remember seeing at Sunderland.

Sam Allardyce has found a way, carving a lone striker role for Jermain Defoe when others said it was impossible and seeing him plunder 15 goals in the process.

Allardyce has made Sunderland hard to beat: a team which started the season losing six of the first nine has ended it losing only one of the last nine – and that was to the undisputed champions!

He wheeled and dealed in January to bring some much needed class into the team and I’m certain given the chance he will again to take this club to the next level.

But what is that? I’m not suggesting Sunderland can suddenly spring a Leicester, their plan which started life in the Championship is some years ahead of ours.

But wouldn’t it be nice to poke our head into the top half of the table again instead of scrapping around in the bottom four, which incidentally Sunderland have not moved beyond this season, nor will they.

We know the potential is here, tonight it’s all about keeping the dream alive.