Chris Young’s Analysis - Jon Stead out to have the last laugh over Sunderland

The A Love Supreme Jon Stead t-shirt
The A Love Supreme Jon Stead t-shirt
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ONE goal, 34 appearances, 15 Premier League points. There wasn’t a lot to smile about for Jon Stead during the 2005-06 campaign.

As the most costly signing in Mick McCarthy’s petty cash spending spree, Stead endured a red and white torture which was to similarly befall Jozy Altidore a decade or so later.

His remarks earlier this week were laced with a hefty dose of understatement when he said: “I have many memories from my time at Sunderland – unfortunately not all of them were great.”

But Stead’s troubles in front of goal – when there was little to work with as a supporting cast – didn’t dampen his sense of humour.

When the ex-Huddersfield frontman’s goal drought finally ended at Goodison Park, 10 months after arriving in a £1.8million move from Blackburn, ever-enterprising Sunderland fanzine A Love Supreme had a new t-shirt range ready for the presses.

The “I Saw Jon Stead Score a Goal” shirt may have been laced with irony, but the striker appreciated the humour.

ALS even put one in the post to the Academy of Light, where Stead had the good will to sport it in training.

It just didn’t work out for Stead on Wearside and it wouldn’t be the first time he experienced that feeling in a nomadic existence which took him to eight clubs in the subsequent eight years.

But on the evidence of Bradford’s huge upset at Chelsea, maybe Stead has finally found the club suited for him to convert potential into substantial gains.

The 31-year-old began the Bradford comeback at Stamford Bridge with his ninth of the season, made a couple more and will be desperate to be similarly influential in this weekend’s fifth round tie.

It’s a similar scenario for Bantams team-mate Billy Knott, one of a multitude of Sunderland academy products only used fleetingly by the first team that have gone on to have productive careers elsewhere.

Knott was always a talent coming through Sunderland ranks, even if his size probably counted against him in making the grade in the Premier League.

But at League One or potentially Championship level, Knott is more than capable and he is one Sunderland will have to keep an eye on, particularly his long-range shooting ability.

Knott, like the rest of his Bradford team-mates, will sense the possibility of an upset on Sunday – even more so after the manner of Sunderland’s midweek defeat to QPR.

Buoyed by a sold-out crowd, Sunderland have to resist the home charge and ensure they can still make the most of their quality on a pitch which really is a level playing field.

The Valley Parade quagmire – although admittedly not too dissimilar to the awful current state of the Stadium of Light pitch – will force Sunderland into a more direct approach, ironically given Poyet’s reiterated comments about patient, passing football.

There is certainly a case for Danny Graham to be recalled as a good old-fashioned centre-forward, while if fit, Jack Rodwell’s extra physicality will be beneficial in the middle of the park.

Wes Brown may come back in too, as a wise head who has experienced plenty of would-be upstarts looking to knock Manchester United off their perch.

The 35-year-old, nor John O’Shea, will be thrown by the noise at Valley Parade.

If Anthony Reveillere is injured – as seems likely after coming off the other night – then Santiago Vergini may have to move to right-back anyway, should Billy Jones fail to recover from his latest hamstring problems.

But Sunderland have to remember that despite this weekend’s encounter having all the ingredients for a cup classic – and it could well turn out to be one – the Black Cats are the Premier League outfit.

They have the extra class. They have to make it count.

For all Bradford are the fairytale story of this year’s FA Cup – even if the TV executives don’t think so – this is still a golden chance for Sunderland to progress into the quarter-finals for the second year running.

Win on Sunday in front of more than 4,000 travelling supporters, and the painful memories of Tuesday night will begin to fade.

Verdict: Away win