WHEN it comes to Sunderland’s rather grandly named abode, it represents both a place of light and plight in equal measure for Ryan Mason.
Mention of the Wearside venue yields mixed emotions for the Hull City midfielder, with his appearance there for former club Tottenham Hotspur 14 months ago proving a watershed moment in his career and time with the North London club.
Mason scored the only goal of the game to help Spurs triumph, but it came at a price.
In the act of scoring and securing his side’s first league win of the 2015-16 season, the Enfield-born player collided with Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon and suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action for six weeks.
Things were never quite the same for Mason after that, something he is the first to acknowledge ahead of his return to the ground.
He trusts that there is no repeat cruel twist of fate this afternoon.
On his bitter-sweet memories at the Stadium of Light, Mason said: “It was probably the start of the end of my career at Spurs, to be honest.
“I was starting every game until that point, but I got the injury from scoring the goal.
“For 12 or 14 months, I started every game. The people who then came in did well and deserved it. What happened is just part of the game.
“I could not really get back in. That is part of football. But it is still a good memory in scoring that goal as it got us the three points.
“Hopefully, I can repeat that this weekend.”
If things had panned out differently, Mason could well have been lining up in the red and white stripes of Sunderland this afternoon and not in a visiting jersey, with the Wearsiders making a big pitch for his services in the summer.
The Londoner elected to go with his “gut feeling” in heading to East Yorkshire and not the north-east in a £13m move and he remains happy with the choice he has made.
Hull may have endured a testing autumn following some late summer highs, but Mason insists that confidence remains high, with his mindset likely to have been emboldened by a priceless victory over Southampton last time out that ended a torrid streak of six successive league losses.
In fairness, Sunderland also enter the game in renewed spirits after the fillip of their maiden top-flight win of the season at the 11th time of asking – at Bournemouth a fortnight ago.
Given the stakes going into this afternoon’s game, which could have big ramifications for both clubs in their quest to pull away from the quicksand at the foot of the Premier League, it is probably just as well for both sides.
Perhaps more especially for Hull, who are in the middle of a run of games against their rivals in the bottom half of the table where the value of a win or two is inestimable.
Mason said: “Coming into a game off the back of a win gives you confidence.
“The week before, against Watford away, we put in a very good performance and we were disappointed not to take a point.
“Hopefully, we can go on a little run and pick up some points.
“We had a very tough run of fixtures against four or five of the big teams. Now we have a run of games where, hopefully, we can pick up some results.”
On his decision to rebuff interest from the Wearsiders, he added: “It was all pretty crazy, to be fair. It was all in a matter of two days that the move came about.
“I was always coming here. I couldn’t not listen to my gut feeling. The rest is history, it was a pretty straightforward decision.
“I am enjoying it, how could I not be? I am playing football and there were times last year when I was only getting 10 or 20 minutes here and there.
“I took the decision to come here and play games and that is happening at the minute. I am happy.”
Victory this afternoon for either side – or conversely a defeat – could represent a bellwether moment in the seasons of both combatants.
It is easy to deduce the individual on whom the home supporters are banking to come to their aid. Not for the first time, either.
It is someone who Mason knows a fair bit about from his time at White Hart Lane, evergreen striker Jermain Defoe, who is still going strong despite approaching veteran status at the age of 34, having scored six of Sunderland’s haul of nine league goals this season.
Today is just the sort of high-stakes occasion in which Defoe has come to the party over the years for a number of clubs, with it clearly up to Hull not to hand out any invites.
Mason said: “I have not spoken to him (Defoe) this week, but I would definitely class him as a friend.
“We played together for quite a few years and when I was a young player training with the first team, he was there.
“He is a top-quality professional. At his age, he is still fit as a fiddle and you just don’t see him slowing down. He is still scoring goals.
“He is someone to look up to for young players that want to be successful.
“He has still got that hunger and you can see when he scores, it still means the same to him as it did 10 or 15 years ago.”
Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole will be out of action for four months after undergoing surgery in America to address a long-standing hip problem.
The 28-year-old midfielder, who has made just three appearances to date this season, had a procedure to repair a torn cartilage in his hip on Monday and faces a long haul back to fitness.
Sunderland manager David Moyes said Cattermole will return from the States after the weekend.