Grand day out leaves survival odds on

AS I WAS driving down Fulham Palace Road a couple of hours before our game at Craven Cottage on Saturday, the unmistakable frame of Niall Quinn was striding in the opposite direction.

Within a few minutes of him disappearing, a text message arrived on my phone to tell me the big man had just stepped into the betting shop for a last minute flutter.

Truth be told, I’d been too busy figuring out all the different permutations that could happen after the match against Fulham and had completely forgotten it was Grand National Day.

Although I know very little about the horses, Comply Or Die seemed a fitting theme and my beer money went to the bookies instead of pre-match Dutch courage. Fortunately on the pitch it was Sunderland who complied and Fulham who died, as they now look doomed.

All four sides of Craven Cottage enjoyed the 3-1 victory, with pockets of red and white being revealed every time we scored a goal. Outside the ground, prior to kick off, there were scores of ticketless fans desperately offering cash to Mackems and Fulham fans alike. When our supporters are willing to make a-600 mile round trip for a sold-out match without even having a ticket, it’s truly frightening to think what could happen if Drumaville’s vision for our future comes off.

A win at home to Man City this weekend would see us mathematically safe if Bolton and Fulham lose, and the welcome sight of mid-table obscurity now beckons. Niall and Roy have been talking about a €65 million summer transfer kitty. If Keano spends as well in the summer as he did in January, then next season could be a walk in the park. Another factor that may help us out are the teams who look set to come up from the Championship. Bristol City, Stoke and Hull occupy the top three slots in the second tier right now. No disrespect to them, but they aren’t big clubs with money to burn, and chances are at least two of them will do a Derby.

It seems that the arrival of Andy Reid has lifted us to another level. His missus corrected me on a minor error on the front cover of our fanzine on Saturday. We printed the popular terrace chant, (Andy Reid he plays left wing, he loves McDonalds and Burger King). She chuckled that it’s actually KFC he prefers, but if he continues his run of form until the end of the season, and proves that on the pitch, big is beautiful, I’ll buy our rotund wizard a Bargain Bucket.

Speaking of mid-season arrivals and Reid, I remember back in 1997 when Sunderland were fighting for survival in our very first year in the Premiership. Our then boss Peter Reid had a supposed transfer kitty of £10m, but didn’t spend it. When West Ham went out and spent £6m on John Hartson and Paul Kitson, Reid suggested we’d see who the bigger fools were come the end of the season. As the duo fired the Hammers to safety, it was us with the relegation egg on our faces.

Thankfully, having splashed out on Phil Bardsley and Johnny Evans to shore up the defence and Andy Reid to add guile and flair to the centre of midfield, we’ve finally pulled away from danger zone while those who didn’t buy well in January have found themselves sucked back into the fight.

Interestingly, Roy Keane is now talking about the errors he has made this season. He said after the Fulham game: “I’ve made that many mistakes this year you wouldn’t believe, but my players have got me out of it sometimes. But if you’re not prepared to make them you’re not going to get anywhere. I made mistakes this year with picking the wrong team, looking at training schedules, whatever it might be, there are so many, many mistakes, making the wrong substitutions.” It’s refreshing to see a rookie Premiership manager not afraid to admit that he’s only human. Having criticised him for playing Kenwyne Jones as a lone striker, McShane and Higginbotham in the centre of defence and Yorke and Etuhu anchoring midfield, I’m glad he’s redressed these issues, and since he has, we’ve gone from bottom three to 13th.

On my way out of Craven Cottage I bumped into an old pal who wasn’t just celebrating our almost-certain survival. He’d managed to get odds of 120-1 on Comply Or Die two months ago on Betfair. Flogging a dead horse that pulls clear at the most important stage of the race? Hello survival and thanks for my night out to celebrate the win, Mr Bookmaker.

* Read Martyn McFadden at www.a-love-supreme.com

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