Maybe miracles do happen. It’s that time of year, after all.
However, don’t start believing in the Easter Bunny just yet. Sunderland still need a few more before mid-May if an unlikely resurrection is to be complete.
It is off to a good start, though. After a good week to bury “something wrong”, that much we can say.
The Black Cats pushed Everton all the way, should have beaten Manchester City and on Saturday shocked the world by ending Chelsea’s 77-game unbeaten home run in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho.
The ‘Special One’s’ praise for Poyet’s team was perhaps the only sincere component of his post-match debrief. As a former Blue, victory was a “privilege” for the Uruguayan.
That the winner came from Fabio Borini, who joined Chelsea just before Mourinho’s 2007 departure and who, as a Liverpool employee, has helped his parent club’s title hopes immeasurably with his late penalty, only enriched the tapestry of this tale.
Following his costly blunder at the Etihad, a series of fine saves by Vito Mannone added a further chapter to this teatime, sun-baked blockbuster. However, the miracle Poyet called for post-Tottenham? He said: “You don’t think it’s a miracle today. It was? Thank you very much, I was right! We needed something special, a miracle.”
That it was, but no less than they deserved against a team aiming to go top, owning most of the ball and even more of the opportunities - though few of them clear-cut.
Yet while a seven-point gulf to a position of safety has been slashed to three following failure to win over the weekend by Fulham, Cardiff City and Norwich City, and with West Brom at Manchester City tonight, Sunderland still prop up the table - and the four points accrued last week will only be of use in the long-run if backed up by more.
The Bluebirds visit the Stadium of Light on Sunday. Borini makes it their “Champions League final”.
Poyet has called for a full house and, given his side’s Jekyll and Hyde schizophrenia against opponents good and less so, called for Cardiff to – whisper it around Vincent Tan - don Real Madrid tops.
However, all hyberbole and humour aside, a team whose seven top-flight wins this season have come against five clubs in the top half of the table (they have beaten ‘go-getting’ Newcastle United twice, remember) plus Fulham, must redress that horrific anomaly, especially with West Brom and Swansea City still to visit Wearside.
Poyet added: “It is belief. I talk about the mental side, it’s so important. Then the players need to buy into it and if they don’t you’re dead.”
I’d be dead, or – easy, I’ll do my own deprecating, thank you – the size of a house-end, if I was covering Chelsea every home game, where unworthy hacks were treated to pie and pudding, a somewhat unimaginative cheese board, eggs of both scotch and Cadbury Creme variety and the best Lebanese Fattoush this correspondent has ever encountered. With respect, it’s not like Stamford Bridge at Seaham Red Star.
The point is, back on Wearside come the weekend, can Sunderland be like they were in west London? Because more of the same is the key.
Opting for an unchanged line-up arranged, like the hosts’, as a fluid variation of 4-5-1, Sunderland’s mastery of such an approach was marginally at first but increasingly less adept than Chelsea’s and, as such, the latter took only 12 minutes to satisfy most onlookers’ expectations and forge ahead.
Yet for all of any tactical ingenuity at work, Samuel Eto’o’s goal – hooked in on the volley, left-footed, from close range after a Willian corner – was devastatingly simple. Not devastating per se though, and Poyet observed the virtue of patience.
He said: “The good thing is we have accepted that the opposition can score but we can stay in the game. You are going to have a time in a game when you have to take advantage and we did today.”
He was talking the long game, Borini, victory. Yet despite that early setback, his side – you always have options and, thus, a chance, hitting feet and with movement – showed more instantaneous, admirable response.
Unlike Eto’o’s opener, this one was thought out. Knowing Chelsea prefer to leave two up when defending corners, Poyet could be seen imploring Marcos Alonso to advance to the edge of the Blues’ area as Sebastian Larsson pulled a flag-kick deceptively deep to the free Spaniard. His half-volley ought really to have been claimed by Mark Schwarzer - in for Petr Cech, who had a virus - but the former Middlesbrough goalkeeper could only parry his opponent’s effort, allowing Connor Wickham to slip John Terry’s offside trap and slot in the rebound from close range. hat’s three in two for the former Tractor Boy now, and Poyet said: “We hope he can win Player-of-the-Month for April, and I tell youif he wins that we’re staying up.”
With saves from Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic, Mohamed Salah, Willian and Demba Ba, who scuffed a sitter while Larsson denied Ramires and took a smash in the face in return, Mannone might also be in the running, and, of course, Borini too.
When Cesar Azpilicueta lost possession to then-impeded substitute Jozy Altidore, the Italian was nerveless from the spot. In response, Blues’ coach Rui Faria went bonkers. Perhaps he doesn’t believe in miracles.
Poyet? “Oh my god, that’s a good one!” he said, asked if a resurrection was on the cards. “Let’s leave it at that, it’s complicated . . . ”
The important point is, it’s possible.