"Keep them in there!" There were hand gestures to point to the corner of the pitch. "In there!" near the Sunderland goal shouted Harry Redknapp.
The fourth minute of injury-time had just started. Harry Redknapp was back as a football manager.
He had walked down the tunnel with Martin O'Neill before the game started, hands tucked in his pockets and almost slipped unnoticed into the dugout, beside the Queen's Park Rangers backroom staff; his new home, his fifth with a Premier League club. It is surely his last.
The moral victory was his. Djibril Cissé was the game's most dangerous player. The jeers were for the home side, when referee Andre Mariner finally blew his whistle. The 375 travelling supporters from London, tucked away high in the North Stands, up in the gods, believing their owners may have done something right, just in time. The significance of last night to both managers could not be underestimated. For O'Neill, right, these are unexpectedly troubled times. On Saturday night, a stray tweet about an unconfirmed resignation had set about a series of emphatic denials.
The narrative hidden inside the fight to justify the airing of such speculation was the level of surprise if it was true. O'Neill resigning last season would have been unthinkable. Following defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, that notion was not quite so difficult to swallow. It was, eventually rubbished but the run before last night, for Sunderland, was five wins from their last 27 Premier League games, the prolonged struggle providing the identical win count to lead to Steve Bruce's sacking, and that the game's most dangerous player to that point used to play for Sunderland, did not help the growing impotency of the home side.
Opportunities kept coming for Cissé. In the fourth minute, his far-post header was tame. In the 12th minute, he drew a save from Simon Mignolet with a curling shot and seven minutes later he went for power from 25 yards, with an angled, rising drive. That drew a form of emotion from Redknapp, which was some achievement, the new man in charge leaning forward with increasing expectation, only to deflate as the net did not bulge. It was an emotion shared by many of the 36,000 crowd for periods.
Steven Fletcher produced a good save from Julio Cesar before the keeper departed the game at half-time, replaced by Robert Green. Green was similarly called on to do well in the 65th minute when a Seb Larsson corner found Fletcher and his header looked goal bound until Green stuck a hand out to his left. The reaction from O'Neill was telling, jumping too early in his technical area. The grumbles from the stands grew as the game wore on. Sunderland are running out of ideas.
By then Redknapp was officially back as a manager, away from the safety of the dugout, urging more from his players. Last night will have shown him little he did not know in terms of the fight that faces him but at least he will have learned some players will be standing alongside when he does, and there was still the substitutes Park Ji-sung and Shaun Wright Phillips to throw on.
Cries of attack, attack, attack came from the home supporters at that point. They were not talking to Wright-Phillips, or Cissé. That is never a good sign.
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