The story behind Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' special visitor at Sunderland's play-off clash with Lincoln City
Close to 10,000 Sunderland fans attended the club’s play-off clash with Lincoln City, while thousands more will have watched the game on television.
But there are a number of moments that may have gone unnoticed on a dramatic afternoon, which sadly ended in play-off agony for the Black Cats.
Here’s some of the moments that you may have missed from behind the scenes at the game:
SUNDERLAND’S TWEAKED PRE-MATCH PREPARATION
For the majority of this season, Sunderland’s players have arrived at the Stadium of Light individually.
The players have parked their cars spaced apart and have entered the ground on their own.
But for this big game, the pre-match preparations were tweaked considerably.
Instead of arriving on their own, the squad met at the Academy of Light where they enjoyed a pre-match meal and team meeting before departing for the ground in the team coach – arriving en masse.
That was standard practice during the club’s Premier League era, but has not happened on a regular basis in recent years.
It will be interesting to see if this is a change Lee Johnson looks to adopt permanently.
SOME INTERESTED OBSERVERS – AND A SPECIAL GUEST WITH KYRIL LOUIS-DREYFUS
Given the magnitude of the game, it was perhaps no surprise that there were a number of interested observers in the stands.
The lower tier of the West Stand contained a number of Sunderland players who were not involved – with the likes of Dan Neil, Denver Hume, Anthony Patterson, Josh Hawkes and even Dion Sanderson in attendance.
Above them, in the press box, was former manager Simon Grayson. The now-Fleetwood Town boss was part of the talkSPORT commentary team for the game, and will no doubt have been watching carefully ahead of the new League One campaign.
And there were a host of interesting faces in the directors’ box, too.
Former majority shareholder Stewart Donald was in attendance, as too were club legends Jimmy Montgomery and Kevin Ball – who have not been able to attend fixtures regularly this term.
But perhaps the most interesting – and unexpected – attendee was Margarita Louis-Dreyfus.
The Russian mother of Kyril and Maurice, Margarita is worth an estimated $5.6billion and this is the first Sunderland game she is known to have attended.
It is perhaps no surprise that she attended a game, given she took a great interest in the running of Marseille when the French side were run by the family.
Indeed, other big games this season – such as the Papa John’s Trophy final – have also seen those close to chairman Kyril attend, with Patrick Treuer (the Louis-Dreyfus Company’s CFO) one of those in attendance at Wembley in March.
THIS HAS BEEN MISSING FROM THE GAME...
The return of fans to the Stadium of Light was one of the major positives to take from the afternoon.
Their impact was profound, and was evident even from well before kick-off.
Sunderland’s players received a superb welcome onto the field for their warm-up – 10,000 sounding more like 50,000, as the side were roared onto the turf to begin their preparations.
And there were boos too, as Lincoln entered the field. That’s what’s been missing from the game over the last year!
THE CRUCIAL INTERVENTION FROM SUNDERLAND’S SUPPORTERS
But arguably the biggest intervention from Sunderland’s supporters came midway through the first half.
It’s a moment Charlie Wyke won’t to see again. He side-stepped Alex Palmer well and had the goal at his mercy, but saw a shot blocked after dallying and allowing Lincoln to regroup.
It could have been a real watershed moment. Sunderland had begun brightly and Wyke was part of an effective partnership with Ross Stewart, with the duo not giving the Imps a second to leave.
But that miss could have derailed things.
At that point, credit must go to the fans.
There was no negativity, just pure support. A few renditions of ‘Si Senor’ and other pro-Charlie Wyke chants will no doubt have helped to bolster the striker’s confidence after what was a big miss – and played a part in him netting what at the time was a vital second goal.
MOMENTS OF CONTROVERSY
Lee Johnson wasn’t shy in voicing his opinions on some key refereeing decisions post-match, and there were undoubtedly several moments of controversy in the clash.
The decision not to hand Sunderland a first-half penalty angered Johnson and stand-in assistant Jamie McCombe – who was regularly in dialogue with the fourth official throughout the game.
And so too did the decision not to award a foul against the Imps moments before they won a penalty of their own irk the home bench, with Callum McFadzean injured during that very incident.
HOW SUNDERLAND’S PLAYER REACTED AT FULL-TIME
The full-time whistle yielded screams of joy from the Lincoln bench, as Sunderland’s players slouched to the turf.
There were a host of players on their knees, while Lincoln City players celebrated around them.
Many were visibly emotional as they made their way around the pitch to salute the home fans – and many will know that is the last time that they will grace the Stadium of Light turf.
After the vast majority of spectators had departed, midfielder Grant Leadbitter returned pitchside and took in a moment of reflection pitchside.
The boyhood Sunderland fan was given a vocal ovation by some fans who remained in an executive box, as they sounded their appreciate for Leadbitter.