The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw: Sunderland's Phil Bardsley vs. Man United
"F***ing Phil Bardsley."
Those were the last words I heard before Sunderland scored their greatest ever goal.
It was the semi-final second leg of England's most prestigious cup competition, the League Cup. After battering United and securing a 2-1 victory in the first leg, we only needed to avoid defeat at Old Trafford to progress to the final.
Normally, Sunderland performances at Old Trafford fall into two categories - woeful and a bit more woeful. However, this time was different as we had David Moyes on our side. Quiet confidence was the order of the day for 10,000 travelling fans and that remained the case for a whole 37 minutes before Jonny Evans, a man who owes his whole career to Sunderland, fluked a back post header to put United 1-0 up on the night and ahead on away goals. The rest of the match flew by as Sunderland saw plenty of the ball and created several chances.
Time was running out and amid a widespread resignation that it just wasn't our night and we'd fall at the (semi) final hurdle. Step forward Phil Bardsley.
Now, I hate Phil Bardsley. Anybody who likes Phil Bardsley has, at some point in their life, fumed "Well, it's PC gone mad, isn't it?". There's not enough space on the internet to fully explain why I hate him. Imagine your favourite book was turned into a film and none of the characters were how you pictured them. Phil Bardsley directed that film and had final say on the script. Phil Bardsley being responsible for Sunderland's greatest ever goal is a constant source of conflict for me.
Extra time came and Sunderland were two minutes from defeat against a United side that included a grown man wearing a nickname on his shirt. After some neat passing around United's box, the ball broke to the Salford-born False 2 who opted to shoot because that's what he does. The shot was straight at De Gea and 10,000 people groaned. A guy two rows back screamed "F***ing Phil Bardsley!" and I leant over to say something similar, but far less printable, to my dad. And that's when it happened.
The normally solid, and not at all shaky, De Gea spilled the ball and it started trickling towards the line. It seemed to take an age to travel all of two feet. Excitement rising with every inch. "Surely De Gea would get back?!", we thought. "Joe Hart would save it, why not De Gea?!". Eventually, after an eternity of foreplay, the ball crossed the line. It was the closest thing to tantric sex those 10,000 fans had ever experienced. For a brief moment in time, we were all Sting.
The subsequent madness was like nothing I'd ever known. I ended up 15 rows away from my dad and clinging to an elderly man for dear life. I lost my glasses which meant I couldn't clearly make out Phil Bardsley's joyous expression. It was perfect. Sunderland were through to the cup final. For all of 60 seconds. Somebody, possibly a United player, immediately scored at the other end and the match went to penalties.
Anybody who watched those penalties will agree they deserve an article of their own and Sunderland eventually won by being slightly less shit at shooting from 12 yards. None of that matters though. For me, that match finished after the ball crept over De Gea's line. Anything that came afterwards is a myth. Sunderland secured the draw they required and it was one of the best nights of my life. F***ing Phil Bardsley.