FanPost

Sunderland v. Spurs, A Match Report from the Ghost of Grantland Rice

Because sportswriting is dead, and I intend to resurrect it...

The hands of watches in Newcastle and North London marched onward in lock step as the fleeting hopes of Lilywhites cowered in their cruel shadow. Having placed their fate firmly in the hands of their most detested and bitter rivals, Tottenham Hotspur lay impotent in their pursuit of Europe’s most exclusive fraternity, needing the capricious Gods of Football to act in unusual magnanimity.

Brought before the Divine, they were judged unworthy of the gates of Heaven, to spend yet another year in purgatory, where the faithful could only hope their sins be forgiven in the name of Saints Ledley, Glenn, and Bill. They would not be redeemed. It would be another summer spent East of Eden.

Arsenal, hated Arsenal, had come away with their needed three points and their earned glory.

No indignity would be too petty for Spurs on this day, as their Welsh wizard was rugby-tackled in the penalty area and booked for his troubles, adjudged to have "simulated" his fall under the crushing weight of Sebastian Larsson. No doubt a product of his ill-deserved reputation of crying wolf, it was the sort of victim-blaming that would have a feminist seeing red, and left Bale seeing yellow.

For those who believe the moral arc of the football universe bends towards justice, it did not in the gathering shadows of White Hart Lane, where referee Andre Marriner ignored that, and two subsequent penalty shouts for handling in the area. The Spurs technical area, marshaled by Portuguese Manager Andre Villas-Boas and German Assistant Steffen Freund, was apoplectic, writhing and shouting at each disgrace like men caught in the shrapnel of the £40million catastrophe waiting to happen.

The boys from East Haringey found themselves as they so often have this campaign: facing a team that was out-gunned and out-classed, yet with a fanatical will to sacrifice blood and honor to keep the back of their net (and their score sheet) clean. Sunderland, by the bookies reckoning a 12 to 1 long shot, appeared to be an underdog having its day.

The Black Cats even managed a few intrepid moments of brilliance going forward, snuffed out only by Hugo Lloris’s almost inhumanly cool head and a dash of good luck. Jack Colback was a man possessed, the selfless warrior who threw himself in front of attempt after attempt with zeal and gusto. Paolo Di Canio’s men withstood Adebayor in an unusually clever and useful mood, Aaron Lennon running himself aground, Kyle Walker and Bale surging recklessly forward, and Huddlestone lumping every ball he found into the danger areas.

Perhaps pity flickered across Fate’s face when, for the second week in a row, as Spurs found themselves at their most despairing despite their effort and skill, an out-matched team decided to become an out-numbered one too, with David Vaughan being sent off with a quarter of an hour remaining for an utterly unnecessary challenge and a second yellow card. Still, the wall buttressed by Simon Mignolet held.

With the zero hour approaching, Gareth Bale gave his adoring legions one last gift, a soaring note, ringing out across the ground, that sang bittersweet verses of the sort that only a moment of unwanted parting could inspire. The curling effort launched from 25 yards shy of goal, off of Bale’s Midas left boot, sucked the sound and the air from the stadium on its flight while the crowd contemplated if it was really possible that Gareth had saved them, at the death, one last time. It was only fitting that a trademark strike, after a trademark glide from the right touchline, at a trademark moment of need, would end up still coming short of what they’d need to hold onto the very man on whom their hopes rested.

Faith, then, is the belief that the cockerel will yet cry out next August; as the sun comes up, as it always has. Faith that Spurs will once again come marching in. Faith that to dare is to do, and little else matters.

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