Sunderland 3 Chelsea 2: JERMAIN Defoe was man enough to admit he struggled to hold back the tears after his goal brought Sunderland the three priceless points that will surely bring Premier League survival this season.
Imagine the veteran striker’s reaction, therefore, if Sunderland manage to beat Everton at a packed Stadium of Light on Wednesday to make another top-flight season a mathematical certainty - and relegate bitter local rivals Newcastle while they are at it.
Make no mistake, these are tears Defoe has earned the right to shed. In fact, when the 15-goal veteran’s contribution to his team’s season comes to be assessed, there should be a freedom of the city thrown in for good measure.
There is no doubt that the Sunderland majority in the 47,000 capacity crowd on Saturday will allow their beloved striker any luxury he wants and while the north-east may be a region of England that prides itself on its no-frills machismo, Defoe may well not be the only one reduced to tears if - when - his team is safe.
“Don’t tell anyone!” laughed Defoe when asked if he had been tearful. “It is hard not to. It is crazy. The fans won us the game.
“Even when you are fatigued and tired - it has been a long season mentally as well - when the fans roar like that you find something. You find an energy. We knew it was a massive game but to win like that is unbelievable.
“It was just the noise. I don’t know what is wrong with me! As I get older, man, I am just getting too emotional. It is hard to find words to describe what it was like.
“To be out there playing a top Chelsea team, playing against the champions of last season, it was a difficult game and people would have looked at the fixture and thought they won’t do it. But we have always believed and I think we deserved to win that.”
The noise when Defoe fired home the winning goal after 70 minutes was exceptional. The loudest roar the 33-year-old has ever heard? “Yeah. It was even louder than the derby,” he said. “It was unbelievable. The fans knew how important the game was. The noise was frightening. I got goosebumps.”
That third Sunderland goal, three minutes after Fabio Borini’s equaliser, completed a second-half comeback necessitated after first-half goals from Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic. In between those two tidy finishes, Sunderland midfielder Wahbi Khazri volleyed in - via a slight deflection - a cleared set-piece from 20 yards.
Edgy at first, growing in confidence as the match wore on, Sunderland responded to manager Sam Allardyce’s claim that they had allowed nerves to get the better of them in last weekend’s draw at Stoke.
“It is just about mentally being strong,” said Defoe. “You can forget about the tactics and formations. It is mentally being strong.
“It is between there (points to ears) That is the difference. Mental strength. Being positive. Sticking together. Don’t let the pressure get to you. Don’t let the occasion get to you. Look at it like another game where we need to get three points.
“When it is all done you take it all in and embrace what you have done. The key thing now is being strong mentally and just trying to get that last win.”
This may have been about “lasts” for the visitors also - the last game John Terry will ever play in his 19-year Chelsea career after a late dismissal brought a two-game suspension and a premature end to this season.
Chelsea’s lack of a new contract offer and the silence from incoming manager Antonio Conte isn’t encouraging for Terry’s wish to remain at the club. And teammate Matic discussed Terry as if he has already left the premises.
“Of course, he is not happy we lost,” said Matic. “But we know what he has done for this club and what he has won. All of us in the team wish him all the best for the future and of course this is not a good way to finish in a club but we don’t forget what he won and what he has already done.
“Everything can change in a couple of months. We had a winning mentality and in a couple of months we lost it. In a couple of months everything can be back and we will see.”
Mannone 8; Yedlin 7, Kone 5 (O’Shea 55, 6), Kaboul 8, Van Aanholt 7; Kirchhoff 6 (Watmore 64, 6); Borini 7, Cattermole 7 (Larsson 71, 6), M’Vila 7, Khazri 9; Defoe 8.
Subs not used:
Pickford, Larsson, Rodwell, N’Doye, Lens, Watmore
Courtois 5; Ivanovic 6 (Baba 68, 6), Cahill 6, Terry 5, Azpilicueta 6; Mikel 5 (Traore 83), Matic 6; Willian 7 (Oscar 79, 6), Fabregas 8, Hazard 6; Costa 6.
Subs not used:
Begovic, Pato, Kenedy, Loftus-Cheek.
M Jones 8
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