From The Durham Times: Slow Progress Better Than No Progress

Stu Forster

As we do every week, we bring our views to tip-top local newspaper The Durham Times. You can pick up the paper every week from your local newsagents for just 50p, or if you want visit them online at www.durhamtimes.com. Or just wait until we post it here slightly out of date.

Like many last month, I settled down to watch with a morbid fascination as Hurricane Sandy bombarded America's eastern seaboard. I checking in again the next day as the storm passed and the devastation that it had wreaked had been laid bare.

Of course, there was nothing actually wrong with America or its infrastructure. The subways that flooded were not let down by a design flaw. The roads did not turn to rivers because of faulty defences. It was just a case of battening down the hatches and waiting for the winds to change.

In all honesty, that hasn't been to dissimilar to the last couple of weeks that Sunderland have endured. Performances against Aston Villa and Everton were generally OK with nothing terminally wrong being detectable at all, but both games were lost.

The visit of Aston Villa was one of one of those frustrating afternoons that can befall any club on any given weekend. The game was mostly spent in the ascendancy but it just wasn't happening and the opposition grabbed a winner on the counter.

Then last week against Everton Sunderland bossed the game but fell victim to two minutes of class from a genuinely top quality player. It's the Premier League. It happens.

Taken on face value, as two defeats during a wholly uninspiring run of results which has left the club struggling towards the bottom of the table, and it is easy to understand why many are desperately searching for something - or someone - to blame and a problem to fix.

But sometimes there just isn't some overriding fortune-changing problem to fix. Sometimes, just like those in the eastern states of America, it is simply a case of sitting tight, doing the best you can, and waiting for the winds to change.

At Goodison Park, for the first time this season the much-heralded front-four played as if they were exactly that - a unit. Steven Fletcher apart, all have struggled to hit any kind of form, but they also looked like four lost strangers without any kind of appreciation of each other's existence.

That improvement was not illustrated any better than in the performance of Adam Johnson, who as well as helping himself to a neatly taken first goal for the club, had noticeably rediscovered his zip and purpose.

There was cause for a little optimism behind them, too. It has been one of football's little curiosities that Lee Cattermole, by virtue of a year or so of doing nothing different than he has ever done before, has somehow managed to go from being generally regarded by the supporters as being a talentless liability to now being perceived as a player Sunderland had might as well surrender the midfield without.

I think the feeling is unanimous that a midfield addition that can add some mix of guile, mobility, and strength should be next on the shopping list, but for the meantime Jack Colback and Seb Larsson at least showed there is a little more depth in the position than many are prepared to acknowledge.

Slowly but surely, piece by piece, it is just starting to come together for Martin O'Neill and Sunderland. Individuals are starting to come out of their struggles for form and partnerships are beginning to form.

It may not be as satisfying as over-analysing every facet of the play and nit-picking our way to a conclusion that everyone is, ultimately, rubbish, but there is every indication that the winds are starting to change on Wearside. In the meantime, it's probably best to dig in and wait this frustrating little spell out. The brighter skies don't look too far away.

MICHAEL GRAHAM

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