Sunderland fans inspire Bristanbul comeback but players must prove they are fit to wear the shirt every game

Sunderland fans celebrate the stunning comeback to rescue a point at Bristol City. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland fans celebrate the stunning comeback to rescue a point at Bristol City. Picture by Frank Reid
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Picture the scene at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate ground at precisely 3.46pm on Saturday.

Loud boos ring out from the Atyeo Stand housing the 1,523 Sunderland fans who had travelled the length of the country only to be rewarded with another dismal display.

The subject of their ire was the Sunderland team.

Not for the first time this season, the players were booed from the pitch to contemplate, in the sanctuary of the dressing room, whether they are, after all, indeed fit to wear the shirt.

That chant was aimed at the players when the second and third goals went in during a hapless opening 45 minutes, as Lee Johnson’s Bristol City side racing into a commanding 3-0 half-time lead.

The chant only lasted a few minutes, but the point had been firmly made.

Yet somehow, against all the odds, Sunderland pulled off a remarkable comeback.

On Twitter, a couple of fans dubbed it Bristanbul – a nod to Liverpool’s famous Champions League final win – and so it will forever be known.

Nobody could blame the Sunderland fans for their half-time anger, it was the 10th time this season they had seen their team concede three goals or more in a game. Ten times!

Manager Chris Coleman certainly didn’t. He agreed with the fans.

Despite the chant and boos at the break, Sunderland fans on the terraces had shown great restraint and they got their reward.

It could easily have turned toxic. Ahead of the game, there had been talk of possible protests at future home games.

Anger and frustration has been growing over Sunderland’s plight, with the club again battling relegation, only this time to League One. Unthinkable.

Coleman had appealed for fans to stick with the team in their hour of need.

Of course, protest talk isn’t aimed at Coleman or the players.

No. If a protest is staged, it would be aimed at owner Ellis Short, now based in the US.

Short, looking to sell the club, continues to write the cheques to keep Sunderland – with debts of £110million – going. but there has been next to no investment in the team these past two transfer windows.

Just £1.25million was spent on players in August, with no money for signings in January. Free agents and loan signings were the order of the day.

It remains to be seen whether protests do take place, but who could blame the fans if they did?

What it would achieve at the moment is up for debate, but at least it would give some fans the opportunity to get a few things off their chest.

Sunderland’s support has been remarkably patient given the struggles on and off the pitch.

Was automatic promotion a genuine hope this season? Probably not. How about the play-offs? Possibly.

What fans didn’t expect, given the squad available, was another battle against the drop.

Coleman is now trying his best to repair the damage done from the start of the season, which saw just one league win in 15 under Simon Grayson.

The Black Cats have been chasing their tails ever since.

Coleman has the full backing of the Sunderland support.

And the fans showed at Ashton Gate just how big of an impact they can have.

Once they’d finished booing the players off at half-time, understandably so, it was non-stop support from then on in.

The backing from the away end was relentless, as it has been all season.

It could easily have turned toxic, with Sunderland fans accepting their team’s fate.

But it didn’t. They didn’t. And that is testament to the support that this Sunderland side is fortunate to be able to call upon.

Supporters are the heartbeat to any club and that is certainly true at Sunderland.

The scenes at the end were one of unity and togetherness – players and fans celebrating together. It was a world away from the half-time boos.

The hope is for similar scenes after the pivotal games against Brentford, Bolton Wanderers and Middlesbrough in the next 10 days.

The players proved in the second half that they are fit to wear the shirt. Now the challenge is to prove it every week.