'Bad day at the office' doesn't quite capture it. 'Catastrophic 90minutes at the workplace' is closer. This was the day that half the staff phoned in sick, and the rest performed as if they were all going down with something catching: the dreaded lethargy probably. Head Office decided that our recent application for a branch upgrade was 'premature'; the water cooler had been filled with piranha fish; the Sunderland branch had not been notified how important our delegation was, and they just didn't realise who we were! Ricky Gervaise clearly wrote the unlikely script.
In all fairness we can't complain about the reception we were given as ex colleagues crowded round to give us a very warm welcome which we found a little overwhelming and which made the rest of the trip uncomfortable. Darren Bent an ex- employee scored the fastest goal in the Premiership all season and, no doubt, spent the evening 'tweeting' like a cage full of budgerigars. Not that I begrudge him his revenge after Harry's out of order public remarks about his abilities. He has scored goals wherever he has been, including Tottenham, and does what he does extremely well. He has been more prolific than Defoe over the last few seasons, generally playing in inferior teams. A one-trick pony perhaps but scoring goals is not a bad trick for a striker.
He should have scored four. Gomes gifted him the first goal. A header from an unmarked Cambell from a corner in the first minute was ineptly palmed straight to Bent who whacked it into the net. He would have set off on a rapturous tour of Sunderland and the North East had the pitch barriers not confined him. Young Cambell who came to us for work experience last year has added a disconcerting ability to his CV which involves falling over in the main reception area.
The rest is mystery. Walker was unlucky to handle a ball that bounced up from a Gomes save. Bent scored his second from the spot. Modric and Palacios, two of our senior executives, conceded two more penalties from elementary errors: an uneccesary tackle when Cambell had lost control of the ball and was heading down the back staircase to the 'Smoking Zone'; and a once trademark Palacios (Security) lunge when no real danger threatened. Gomes saved them both to partially spoil Darren's celebrations, but not completely.
The absence of Dawson, (Back Office Manager: Acting) proved an injury too far. Without him the back four performed as if they had never played together: which they haven't. Their average age was 22 and it showed. Tom Huddlestone, Creative Director, was sorely missed and Palacios playing 'through the pain' could not stem the tide of Sunderland's lively midfield.
Apart from Gomes nobody had a good game. Neither Bale nor Walker could get foreward with any threat: Bentley and Pavlyuchenko vied with each other for worst employee of the day award, although there were one or two more contestants for that: Ekotto and Kaboul were among the front runners.
Gordon confirmed his reputation with a couple of saves and Gudjohnsen was unlucky from a close range prod from a Bentley cross that hit the keeper's arm. Defoe rolled one wide and that was about it. They had a goal disallowed which appears on the next meeting's agenda under 'contentious issues outstanding'. Crouch's goal could easily have been ruled out of order for 'unfair working practices'. We are fortunate to be still clinging onto hopes for the prestigious European contract which has been a major concern of the management.
What does this all mean?. Primarily that our fate is no longer in our own hands. City have 4 out of their 6 remaining fixtures at home, including us. There will probably be more twists and turns and it is a difficult choice between them and Liverpool who we would prefer to qualify if we don't quite make it ourselves: the return of the old order, or the power of money.
As we play the current top three and City we could decide not only our own fate but that of the Premiership title. We each have to decide for ourselves whether a Cup Final appearance and fifth is just reward for an excellent season. A single loss away from home doesn't change everything but many fans have gone from euphoric to suicidal in 90 minutes. It doesn't mean that we have blown our 'once in a lifetime' chance to make the Champions' League as some assert; we can improve and make progress as we have done this year.
It was not all bad news. A counter bid for our European contract by a Liverpool company foundered when their bus en route for Europe broke down at Birmingham and they seem to have missed the deadline.
Apparently in view of the injuries at both Portsmouth and Spurs Harry is offering to play next week's semi as a five-a-side game on a half pitch at Wembley. Avram is not certain that they can raise a squad even for this and permission is not yet forthcoming from the authorities. You couldn't make it up.