It was almost symbolic to stand at a urinal at the Stadium of Light, look down and see a discarded season ticket floating in the liquid. One or two had also been thrown at Peter Reid at the final whistle; although it should be pointed out that Sunderland folk have a canniness about them. Many had talked of tearing up their season tickets but they waited until they no longer had any value before doing so.
Sunderland ended this season with 10 wins, 10 draws and 40 points, the same record with which they finished their first Premiership campaign. The one, stark difference was that in 1997 they had been relegated and now they had survived, although by no stretch of the imagination was this a great escape.
The club had agonised over whether to perform a farewell lap of honour and decided against. Real Zaragoza's players had been involved in a punch-up with their own supporters after their final game and it was not beyond the bounds of possibility, given the discontent that has long been simmering on Wearside, that something similar might happen here. They need not have worried, the sun shone, Sunderland actually played well against a Derby side which finished the game full of newly-blooded young players and Liverpool helped matters by scoring early and often against Ipswich.
Reid has long commented that the most difficult task in football is to put a ball into the net but this season Sunderland have made it look the equivalent of translating Shakespeare into Icelandic. No club, not even poor, wretched Halifax, managed fewer than Sunderland's 29 goals. Kevin Phillips scored 11 of them; one on the opening day of the season – which crucially was enough to beat Ipswich - and one at its close.
Despite the fact that Sunderland had 25 shots, struck the post and crossbar, the goal which ensured they would not have to rely on events at Anfield came from a piece of comedy which saw Warren Barton block Phillips' shot before disastrously giving him the ball back to leave the admirable Mart Poom stranded.
It was not, however, enough to ensure a rare victory since Marvin Robinson, one of those in whom John Gregory has decided to place his faith on the grounds they are young, keen and considerably cheaper than Fabrizio Ravanelli, profited from a defensive error to drive home the equaliser.
Reid would not comment in any detail about his future but Phillips may not appear in a Sunderland shirt again in the Premiership. There is certainly an air of retrenchment at the club, reflected in Michael Gray's honest assessment. "A club of this size and ambition should be scrapping at the other end of the table," the Sunderland captain said. "We have underachieved. You get 48,000 people watching you week in, week out wanting to see entertaining football and we haven't given it to them."
Sunderland 1 Derby County 1
Goals: Phillips (17) 1-0; Robinson (68) 1-1.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen 6; Williams 6, Craddock 6, Bjorklund 6, Gray 6; Kilbane 5, McAteer 5, Reyna 5, Butler 7; Quinn 6 (Mboma 6, 72), Phillips 7. Substitutes not used: Thirlwell, Bellion, McCartney, Macho (gk).
Derby County (4-4-2) Poom 8; Barton 4, Rigott 5, Higginbotham 7, Zavagno 4 (Jackson 6, 73); Bolder 6, Lee 5, Evatt 5, Boertien 5 (Twigg 6, 73); Christie 5, Strupar 5 (Robinson 6, 58). Substitutes not used: Grenet, Foletti (gk).
Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood) 6
Booked: Derby: Barton.
Man of the match: Poom.
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