NIALL QUINN insists Sunderland will have performed the “greatest” of all escape acts if they confirm their Premier League survival this week.
Quinn was back in Sunderland colours yesterday, as the former Black Cats frontman reformed his legendary strike partnership with Kevin Phillips for Jody Craddock’s testimonial at Wolves.
But while the game at Molineux provided a welcome trip down Memory Lane for the members of the 1998-99 promotion team, Quinn was able to reflect fondly on the fortunes of the current Sunderland crop.
The ex-Sunderland chairman was critical of Gus Poyet last month, when the head coach claimed there were fundamental issues which were wrong at the club after the Wearsiders were stranded at the foot of the table; seven points adrift of safety.
But Quinn has been delighted to see Sunderland take 10 points from the subsequent four games, with a draw against the Baggies at the Stadium of Light tomorrow night sufficient for Poyet’s men to confirm their top flight status.
“The way things have worked out in the last few weeks have been fantastic,” said Quinn.
“I feel I was right to question Gus’s attitude before the Man City game. But whether you call that a speed-wobble on his part or what, he’s been terrific.
“To get his players to respond over the last few weeks has been exceptional.
“I hope now they can get this last point. This is Sunderland remember, so we won’t take anything for granted!
“But they’re very close to it now.
“It’s the greatest escape of all the great escapes.
“I’m thrilled for everyone connected with the club, Ellis Short in particular. He took a lot of criticism, but acted very quickly (in sacking Paolo Di Canio) and looks as if it will be justified right at the end.
“As one of the lads said to me yesterday, it’s been a really bad season full of highs.”
If Sunderland can confirm their escape from the jaws of relegation this week, with two home games available to secure the solitary point needed for survival, Quinn hopes it brings a period of greater stability at the club.
“They just need to get over the line and start the season next year with a more organised structure,” he said.
“I’m sure that will be in hand.
“It’s not just about signing players, it’s about the structure of your younger players and giving them the window of opportunity.
“They bought a lot of players last summer and it became counter-productive.”
Quinn netted the opening goal at Molineux yesterday, with the former Republic of Ireland international producing a trademark back-post header to Neil Wainwright’s cross.
But Wolves equalised in the second half through midfielder, Dave Edwards, before each of Craddock’s children - Toby, Joseph and Luke - netted from the penalty spot.
“I’ve played a few charity games over the years, but it was very special to play with your old mates,” added Quinn.
“Even just listening to the manager, Sacko (Bobby Saxton) in the dressing room brought it all back.
“I’ve missed all that.
“It just makes you remember how good all those times were. The dressing room we had at Sunderland was the best I’ve ever been in.
“Camaraderie is one thing, but there was genuine care for one another.
“To get another glimpse was great and I’m thrilled Jody asked me down.
“It was his day. He’s been terrific and even talking to the referee after the game, he said in all the years, he never gave him a moment of bother, unlike the rest of us!”