I'm probably not alone in watching the renaissance of Sunderland with interest. The fact Dean Whitehead has not only survived their abject season in the Premiership and the arrival of a new regime including the exacting Roy Keane, he has ascended to club captain in the process. The boy done good.
Watching their game against Burnley last night showed how far they've come as a club; 44,448 is more than double what they were getting at the start of the season. It shows what Keane and Niall Quinn have brought to the club.
There's a parallel with us in that everything about Sunderland should mean success - the size of stadium and support should mean resources and therefore success. What Quinn and Keane have achieved is the same as what Merry, Smith et al have achieved in 12 months. They've created a club that people want to be a part of. The fundamental error that Firoz Kassam made was applying standard business practice to a football team - which I still believe was principally through naivety rather than malice. This week's financial revelations and fan forum revealed how much money you have to pour into a club in order to build one.
Success is all relative, and although I'm loathed to agree with anything to do with Chelsea or Jose Mourinho, he is probably right when he says there is a different 'rule' for Chelsea and Manchester United with regards to the awarding of penalties.
It's not so much a 'rule' as a cultural thing but Mourinho probably uses his 'English as a foreign language' as a convenient ruse to stoke up pressure. Few non-Chelsea fans want to see Chelsea succeed because of their cynical approach to everything they do and how they are proving that more money equals more success, not the other way around - which is the traditional model. Referees are not likely to deliberately follow some dark understanding to disadvantage Chelsea, Mourinho said as much, but there may well be a tiny edge which favours United. On individual decisions, you might be able to pick out occasions where Chelsea have been disadvantaged by referees. Not that this is a sufficient excuse; their resources and squad dwarf any disadvantage suffered from cultural pressures.
Again, there is a parallel to us; there is no romance in us achieving promotion. Ask most neutrals whether they would prefer us, or say, Burton with Brian's son at the helm, to achieve league status and it's more than likely that they'll side with The Brewers. Aside from the detail of how it happened, superficially everything about Oxford suggests it's our own silly fault we're in the mess we're in - we deserve no sympathy at all. Referees are not averse to such cultural pressures especially not at our level, so, we're going into these play-offs all alone.