From The Durham Times: A Failed Attempt At Positivity (Also Known As, Ignore Chris)

I have literally no relevant images that aren't soul-destroying. So here's a picture of a happy kitten.

Ohhhhhhhh balls. Right, let's get this straight. I wrote the following article BEFORE yesterday's debacle at home to Wigan. Before the world of Sunderland AFC got even murkier, before the side bottom of the league beat us, and before I changed my mind and realised Senor Bruce's position is now untenable.

You should have headed to http://www.durhamtimes.co.uk/sport/rokerreport on Friday, or even bought a copy when it would have made more sense.

In my defence, I was trying to be optimistic. I was trying to done rose-tinted spectacles and be positive, instil a bit of hope in us all. I shouldn't have bothered really. I'm sorry...

Back in January 2009, with the Western world in the very midst of recession, and Barack Obama nervously swearing the oath ahead of a difficult few years as America's first African-American President, the United Kingdom bore witness to a controversial “Atheist Bus Campaign”. Promoted by the British Humanist Association, buses across the land carried the slogan: 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.' Some laughed, some were outraged.

One cannot help but feel a similar message could be conveyed to Sunderland's current situation and their end of season prospects, one that may address the prominent fears in the minds of the club's fans – the Black Cats probably won't be relegated, so stop worrying and enjoy it.

 

Just as with that atheist movement, some will laugh and agree, while others will be disgusted at such nonchalant arrogance.

 

Yet, to this observer at least, the latter viewpoint seems to be one that is unfounded.

 

Saturday's draw with Fulham was, to all intents and purposes, a disappointing result. As is often documented in the national media, the Cottagers' away record is hardly good, and the game itself was particularly devoid of entertainment for the most part.

 

But, is it really all that bad?

 

Fulham remain an established Premier League side, with a talented squad. Furthermore, Sunderland were unfortunate. Both Kieran Richardson and Jack Colback struck the woodwork, while only Mark Schwarzer's excellent reflexes denied the Wearsiders a last gasp winner.

 

In all likelihood, the draw against Fulham merely underlines what Sunderland are this season – a not particularly exciting mid-table side.

 

The tendency on Wearside, and indeed throughout football, seems to be to abstain from the middle ground of analysis. Fans are forever drawn into describing their side as either 'brilliant' or 'rubbish'; the vast chasm in between is seemingly a No Man's Land.

 

It is frustrating then, that this is exactly where Steve Bruce's men currently lie. This season has been one of disappointment thus far, as many expected the side to push on from last season's tenth-placed finish, but that is not to say it has been disastrous.

 

Certainly, any fears of relegation for the red and whites smacks of a knee-jerk reaction. Anyone who believes that there aren't three worse teams in the top division than Sunderland is surely a bit wrong in the head. Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers all fall into this category immediately. Furthermore, once the winter cold bites and injuries hit, the ability of the three promoted sides to keep up their decent starts will be severely tested.

 

Due to a wide range of factors, from injuries to player departures through baffling tactics, Sunderland are not exactly streets ahead of those aforementioned. But, with a slight tweak in luck here or there, they could well find themselves moving upwards once more.

 

Contrary to the moans and outcries on certain Internet messageboards and in some local alehouses, the Black Cats are not an especially poor side. They boast the league's fifth meanest defence, have yet to lose a game by more than one goal, and remain capable of some excellent flowing football.

 

They are lacking in some respects, most notably up front, and Steve Bruce has alienated many with his comments to the media. But they are hardly in turmoil. This is no repeat of the dreaded nineteen and fifteen point seasons.

 

So, in that case, should Sunderland fans be happy with the current situation?

 

Well, not quite. Every fan has a right to be disgruntled. But it is the depth of discontent that this observer is somewhat bemused by. Following full-time on Saturday, boos could be heard emanating from certain pockets throughout the ground. This seems a bit silly given the club's tumultuous recent history – indeed, it smacks of many expecting too much.

 

Boring is perhaps the best word to describe the Black Cats right now. An overly cautious approach from the manager seems to be limiting his players, while the nervy nature of the crowd – especially at home – reflects this too.

 

The solution may well lie in fans, players and manager alike loosening up. One needed only to watch the second half at Bolton last month, when the eleven on the field were buoyed into attacking relentlessly by an enthusiastic and jolly away following, to see the possible results of a more relaxed and less nervy approach.

 

Sunderland's season has been a muted one so far, one that looks disappointing due to previous high expectations. The key to changing this could be for everyone to stop worrying quite so much, and go into things with a more cheery disposition.

 

After all, it's nearly Christmas.

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