SATURDAY was about as good a day as Sunderland have had this season, which in 2014-15 is not an especially extravagant claim.
We suspected that Leicester and Aston Villa would win and just hoped that Dick Advocaat’s chaps would too.
But almost as welcome as the business on the pitch at Everton was Burnley’s victory over Hull City – probably the best result of the season in a game not involving Sunderland.
Burnley’s win couldn’t save them, but it provided both Sunderland and Newcastle with a massive favour and resulted in a surge of betting on Danny Ings as North East Player of the Year.
We could be honest and admit that Everton were clearly the better side. But I prefer to be dishonest and say that Sunderland’s enterprising and aesthetically mesmerising play meant that three points was the least they deserved.
A genuinely honest thing to say is that many Sunderland supporters were sniggering into their 1893 Veuve Clicquot in the hours after the game and did not give a monkey’s, or indeed any primate, as to how victory had been achieved. Memories of the staggering dumb luck enjoyed by Hull on Boxing Day – plus one or two other incidents – had seen to that.
Next up are Leicester City. The tension in that game has been lessened slightly by the win at Goodison, but it’s still a big fixture for both clubs.
Laughing up your sleeve at the manner of the Everton win aside, Sunderland will need to perform considerably better.
Leicester should be a more difficult prospect than either Everton or Southampton. They are in great form, have much to play for, possess pace and have the Premier League’s form player in Jamie Vardy.
Apart from a meaningless goal against Crystal Palace, Sunderland’s goals under Advocaat have consisted of, in reverse order, two flukes, two penalties, a gift from a goalkeeper and a wonder-strike. They were all fun, but the team can’t rely such things.
They have got away with some sloppy play, but the effort that has been called upon from Sunderland in recent weeks has, generally, been evident.
Now if only they can produce a bit more quality and fewer mistakes – they might just pull this off.
THERE is no point in pretending that Sunderland were not lucky at Goodison Park on Saturday.
We thought about pretending because we’re not exactly impartial, but there really is no point. Ed Balls will be Prime Minister before you could deliberately score two goals like that.
However, they were nowhere near as fortunate as Match of the Day would have us believe.
Last week we had to endure Phil Neville’s somewhat unhinged claim that Sunderland’s second penalty against Southampton had been injudiciously awarded. He arrived at this opinion despite having watched the incident – with his eyes.
Assigned to codswallop duties this week was Robbie Savage, who will insist on talking, although it was Phil who set us off with the “four bits of luck” that Sunderland enjoyed apart from the goals.
The first was allegedly when James McCarthy hit the post. Now it may be harsh, but when a shot is not put between the sticks then it is inaccurate – not unlucky. He missed. A fine effort but not good enough, because ten millimetres or 10 furlongs – the shot wasn’t good enough. Why do pundits say that someone whose shot is inaccurate is “unlucky”?
Robbie reckoned that the second bit of luck was when Séamus Coleman’s tumble, following the slightest of touches from Jemain Defoe, did not yield a “stonewall penalty”.
The third was a foul by Steven Fletcher on John Stones in the build-up to the second goal. Mr Savage was actually correct about that one, but his suggestion for the “fourth” piece of good fortune was the silliest of the lot.
If the ball hit Defoe’s hand before bouncing into the net, which I doubt, then it can only have grazed his fingers. But Robbie was adamant that: “If it hits his knee and doesn’t hit his hand then the ball goes wide.”
That statement was clearly preposterous, but even if we believed it we must consider the rules – because Robbie Savage won’t.
If it isn’t deliberate, it isn’t handball. Defoe was moving his hand away from the ball; he was trying to do the opposite of deliberately handling it. So Robbie Savage doesn’t know the handball rule and, as we have also discovered, Phil Neville doesn’t know the offside rule.
In the legal profession, an encyclopaedic knowledge of laws is required before anyone can even contemplate describing themselves as an “expert.”
We can only wonder what the criterion is in football.