Having been thrust into the limelight at the Stadium of Light, our hero finds himself planning how to take down a disgraced former England manager. Merry Christmas, one and all.
Most people hope to spend their Christmas Day with their family, opening presents, sharing turkey and stuffing and watching the Queen give her speech. Unfortunately, the only speech I can focus on is the pre-match team talk I am giving on Boxing Day, away to Crystal Palace.
The formalities with the press, the chairman and the assistant out of the way, I go scouting for information to see just how much of a mess we are in. In terms of league position, it could be worse. We sit two points from safety, with our next opponents Palace hovering in 17th. I can just imagine Sam Allardyce smugly chuckling away at us from above, a thought I’m sure we’re all uncomfortable with.
When I open the team report, things become less encouraging. We’re 20th in goals conceded, 16th in goals scored, and bottom on goal difference. We lack strength, leadership and jumping ability, which may go some way to explaining our defensive woes. Oh, and we don’t work hard at all, which is encouraging for a manager staring down the barrel of relegation…
So Palace away, then. There are just two names who automatically take their place in the starting eleven based largely on their real-life performances, Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe. Close behind them is the one-man yellow card machine Lee Cattermole, to whom I give the captain’s armband, hoping he can lead us to the paradise of safety.
We set up with a counter-attacking mindset in a 4-1-4-1 approach, with Cattermole looking to break the legs of anyone that comes near the defensive line. There’s no room for fancy tricks or positive gameplans here. We are point-based mercenaries, this is Fixer Football. We are one. We are Sunderland.
Except for Jessica. She can do one.
I knew it would be hard, don’t get me wrong. We started without a fit first-team left back. In comes the man, the myth, the legend, Tom Robson. I certainly never thought this would be a cakewalk. That’s why we took the largest bus we could find to Selhurst Park, that’s why when we took an early lead through a Jack Rodwell worldie, I didn’t flinch, not even a single muscle flickered in response. This hope wouldn’t stick around for long. It was fleeting, a glimpse of happiness.
It took ten minutes for it all to unwind, and all they had to do was find Christian Benteke. They found him again just before half-time and we were deflated. With Jermain Defoe playing his own personal game of Where’s Wally in the Palace half, we had no chance of scoring again. Life grew ever tougher, with the dismissal of our debutant left-back Tom Robson. Eleven men weren’t good enough, ten men gave up. This wasn’t to be our day. Andros Townsend added a late third, and I had to put up with the obnoxious chuckle of the disgraced ex-England manager as he waddled down the tunnel. Palace 3-1 Sunderland.
Maybe next week.
Games remaining: 19
Position: 20th (13 points)
Points from safety: 4