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The Championship Cometh: We Start with Derby, End with Wolverhampton

By Colin Randall @salutsunderland
The Championship cometh: we start with Derby, end with Wolverhampton

Sixer: ‘can I just lick ice cream instead of fretting about the season ahead?’

Monsieur Salut writes: so now we know the who and the when of our Championship opponents for the coming season. We haven’t the faintest idea who will be managing Sunderland, owning Sunderland or playing for Sunderland except that – news update – it won’t apparently be Fulwell73, but the fixtures list doesn’t wait for such trivialities to be resolved. I believe we’re entitled to reproduce the full list these days and will do so in due course. For now, Pete Sixsmith casts an entertaining eye over the good, the bad and the ugly of the season to come – and it’s here in full at the Sunderland Echo site …

The fixtures have arrived. We know where we are going and when. We can start to plan our holidays (a week in Barnsley anyone?) and decide which trips are do-able (Sheffield United on Boxing Day) and which aren’t (Ipswich Town on a Tuesday night – [who are these clowns to allow such a thing – Ed?].

We start off on a Friday night with a visit from Derby County. Friday night suits me. The next day sees the Extra Preliminary Qualifying Round of the FA Cup so I will be able to watch Shildon or maybe venture south for that most holy of holy grails, A New Ground. I shall keep my loyal reader(s) posted.

It is a brutal programme with all of the difficulties that we anticipated. By the end of August, we will have played five league games plus a league cup tie at Bury.

The Famous Five are against clubs who did well last season; all of them were either involved in or were almost involved in the playoffs at the end of last season.

Take 10 or 12 points from those and we will have made a jolly decent start to our first month in this league since Gordon Brown (remember him) was Prime Minister, Theresa May was being confused with the violinist and skier Vanessa and Jeremy Corbyn was chatting with Monty and Rupert at Ashburton Grove.

First up are the Rams. Managed by Gary Rowett, they started badly last season, dumped Nigel Pearson for Steve McLaren (a bit like swapping Mike Winters for Bernie) and eventually bringing in Rowett who had been treated abominably by Birmingham City. He pulled them round and they finished the season strongly.

They will bring a decent following to Sunderland and some decent players, including Darren Bent. It’s eight years since we signed him and gave him an opportunity to rebuild his career. Alas for him, that hit the buffers at Villa and was diverted down a branch line at Derby, so he will be keen to prove himself to those who once chanted his name.

They have some other decent players and have just signed Curtis Davies from Hull. He might have been a good fit for us had we actually got round to finding a manager.

Scott Carson is a solid keeper and they have a promising midfielder in Will Hughes who has attracted the attention of Premier League clubs – but as he is not from outside this Sceptred Isle, they appear to lose interest fairly quickly when they can go and blow the cash on someone from that big place called “abroad”.

Rams are followed by a Thursday night trip to the Shakers at Gigg Lane (get your Sky pass sorted out quickly) for a Carabao Cup (henceforth to be known in this column as the League Cup) game followed by a visit to the incredibly nice city of Norwich, where we will take on the Canaries in what could be a Sunday game seeing as we play on the Thursday at Bury.

If that’s the case, the midweek visit of the Owls may well be put back a day to the Wednesday before those friendly chaps from Elland Road come calling.

No real nickname for them, although my maternal grandfather, who watched them on the odd occasion he had not spent his spare cash on Woodbines, Tetley’s Bitter in the Middleton Arms or at Parkside to watch Hunslet RLFC, referred to them as “the Mugs”.

So we will stick with that. They have a new owner and a new manager (lucky them; we can only dream of such luxuries), will bring a healthy following (as will the Owls) and will provide us with a stiff test, which, knowing Sunderland, we shall fail.

Whatever happens, they can’t be any worse than the last time they played a league game at the Stadium in our last promotion campaign.

Managed by that paragon of footballing virtue, Dennis Wise, a man who makes John Terry look like a mixture of Barack Obama, Bobby Charlton and Sir Paul McCartney in comparison, they turned in one of the most craven displays seen at the ground. More of the same would be welcome on August 19.

After that, we visit the Tykes and their homely Barnsley ground, a stadium that has many fond memories for me. It was where my cap blew off in 1995 and probably ended up in Wakefield. That was the night when Dominic Matteo made his sole appearance for us, despite not being registered correctly.

It was also the place where we clinched the Championship four years later, with Kevin Phillips scoring a sublime goal in a 3-1 win. And it was the venue where a simple 2-0 win in 2007 convinced me that we would not only get promoted but that Roy Keane had built a team to win the Championship and establish ourselves as a force in the Premier League. I got half of it right.

Phew – that is some opening. We have a week off for internationals and then it starts all over again in September, with home games against the Blades, Forest and the Bluebirds and visits to the lair of the Tigers, the garage of the Tractor Boys and the hot house of the Lilywhites.

By the time we are thinking of putting away the summer shirts and getting out the winter duvet, we will have played 11 league games and at least one League Cup game, assuming we don’t come a cropper at Bury.

Monsieur Salut prefers to winter in the UK so he may get to see us play the Bees at Griffin Park in late October and he might get to Loftus Road in March before he retreats to La Republique for the summer.

We pay our first ever league visit to that mecca of beer drinkers, Burton, in late November, never having played any of the three previous Burton teams (Town, Swifts, United) who flitted across the scene in the late 19th, early 20th Centuries.

There is lots of fine ale to sup in this town but none of it from the brewery owned by the wretched Coors Company of Colorado. Burton Bridge for me.

In the meantime, we wait and see who is a) going to own the club b) going to manage it and c) going to play for it. The word in the local press is that the German consortium is closest to inheriting the mantle of owner from Ellis Short.

The Fulwell73 group appear[ed!] to be reasonably serious players while M Salut’s consortium, consisting of yours truly, Malcolm Dawson, John McCormick and Jake Lark, has yet to make it past the work experience girl on the club switchboard.

We are patient.


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