“Of course, you know what’ll happen don’t you?” I was asked this question on Friday by a complete stranger, who interrupted one of my many and infinite conversations about football. It’s an occupational hazard.
This rather ill-mannered person was referring to Sunderland’s chances in the forthcoming play-offs which, as could be divined from his tone of his voice, he was dismissing out of hand.
My answer was: “No. And neither do you.”
I was admittedly sharp with this bloke; although I considered even more unsparing responses to his silly rhetorical question.
Undeterred, he then declared: “It’s written in the stars.”
Oh my. He believed in astrology too.
I suppose if anyone is dim or gullible enough to accept such obvious flapdoodle as astrology, then we can assume that such people also believe in the predestination of the football results.
Lacking confidence going into the play-offs is perfectly understandable. Stating, as though it was fact, that Sunderland have zero chance is perfectly daft: even if it does turn out that they lose loads-nil to Portsmouth.
Why is it that those who wrongly predict favourable outcomes are ridiculed and dismissed as happy-clappy Walter Mittys; whereas those who wrongly predict disaster and ruination are overlooked for mockery?
When Sunderland were finally relegated from the Premier League in 2017, the doom-blathering community (and we all know a few members-for-life) were keen to point out that they had told us so.
They overlooked the fact that they had predicted relegation in each of the previous nine seasons and been completely wrong. One out of ten ain’t great.
So what are the current reasons for those who loudly insist in pubs that the worst will definitely happen? What do the other three play-off contenders have that makes Sunderland such apparent no-hopers?
Jack Ross’ team are in bad form. But they didn’t take their last two fixtures as seriously as they might. Certainly we expect radical changes to the starting line-up to the one we saw four days ago.
Furthermore, form changes. But let’s hope that Portsmouth’s doesn’t. They return to Wearside on Saturday, with their flawlessly charming supporters, and don’t exactly look invincible either.
They did beat Sunderland in December. But that was in a game where they did precisely nothing until their opponents obliged them by having a man sent off in the second half while he also conceded a penalty.
Sunderland took four points from Charlton Athletic, who only secured a point at the Valley with a rather flukey own goal.
The three teams are much of a muchness. Yet it could be argued that the other side in the play-offs, Doncaster Rovers, are equally to fear.
They were the happiest of the four teams on Sunday morning, having only ensured their play-off place the day before. They are full of beans and also have the relative luxury of being the bookies’ outsiders.
Nevertheless, Sunderland beat Rovers twice and finished 12 points ahead of them for a reason.
The other “reason” proffered for the seemingly undoubted slide from a cliff edge awaiting SAFC is history. They have won two semi-finals but do not have a good play-off record, starting with defeat to Gillingham in 1987.
However, the relevance in 2019 of 32-year-old football results is yet to be explained. Ditto the failures of 1990 and 1998. The most recent play-off failure was in 2004. Today’s club captain, George Honeyman, was nine at the time.
Be in no doubt. Sunderland can win the play-offs. Please do not confuse this fact with a blithe assumption that disaster is not also a stark possibility. Everyone is acutely aware that they are beset by a mental fragility when they take a one-goal lead.
So I’m going to make no prediction whatsoever because it’s impossible to rule anything out.
Naturally this doesn’t apply to the idiopathically negative people, armed with opinions they believe to be facts that the rest of us have to endure.
While the failure to achieve automatic promotion has done nothing to lighten the mood, we may as well try to enjoy the play-offs if at all possible. The situation isn’t ideal. But nor is it hopeless: so up and at ‘em.
The Americans have a saying. When life gives you lemons – make lemonade.