Another Monday, another Sunderland defeat (our 1,782nd if you're keeping count) and another chance for Black Cats fans all over the world to contemplate our beloved red and white clad heroes' future in the top flight of English football.
As a County Durham red and white growing up in the 90's and coming of age in the 00's, I missed our greatest moment at Wembley on that day in May of 1973. On the plus side, I have been able to witness our relocation from the late, great Roker Park to our current residence at the magnificent Stadium of Light. I have also been privileged enough to witness arguably, our greatest post-war team finish in 7th place on consecutive occasions under the once a Scouser, Peter Reid. I've also seen some rather dismal moments over the last 20 years. Finishing with a then record low points total in the Premier League is top of the list.
Of course, Sunderland being Sunderland, we had to do it twice. Away from Roker Park and then post 1997, the Stadium of Light, a certain Martin O'Neill was weaving his magic at Leicester City, Glasgow Celtic and Aston Villa providing silverware t o each of these provincial clubs. When Peter Reid's reign as manager came to an unfortunate end, when Howard Wilkinson failed to pick up the pieces, when Mick McCarthy led the club to a second record lowest point total and when Roy Keane eventually moved on to pastures new after guiding us to a period of stability, who was the first name on Sunderland's supporter lips? Martin O'Neill.
Well, when Steve Bruce's leadership of the club came to an unamicable end the red and white faithful finally got their man. O'Neill guided Sunderland from the foot of the table to the dizzy heights of the top ten teams of the Premier League with a flurry of impressive quick temp performances from the likes of James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon.
At the same time, he instilled a belief into the hearts and minds of Sunderland supporters that they could once again head "darn sarf" to Wembley and see their heroes lift the FA Cup once again. The Ulsterman guided the Wearsiders to the Quarter Finals where we due to play Everton at Goodison Park. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted thought the following hoardes to Merseyside but no, O'Neill made sure the Lads gave everything and we came away with a spirited draw. Back to the SoL where everybody thought it really was going to be our year. Alas, in true fashion, we cocked it up. With no fear of a relegation scrap and the excitement of a Cup run over, the season fizzled out in truly unspectacular fashion.
During the close season, supporters seemed to expect a handful of signings straight away but with the exception of veteran free agents Carlos Cuellar and Louis Saha, all seemed very quiet on the incomings at the SoL. The natives were becoming restless when Marty really started the party with the additions of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher thus ending two dragged out, will they? won't they sagas. In the midst of the excitement of the two high profile signings, MON snuck in highly rated Spurs youngster Danny Rose on a season long loan.
So there we were, at the end of August, having played only 1 game (a hard fought draw away at Arsenal) due the sudden start of the freakish weather season on Wearside causing the postmonement of the Reading game. After more well earned draws v Swansea, Liverpool and West Ham and a first victory of the season v Wigan, there was a real sense of expectation around the area that now was the time that we would kick on and start our season properly. Again, no. A knock on England duty for winger Adam Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon's lack of match fitness after missing pre-season and James McClean's inability to find the form that made him an instant success last season, robbed Sunderland of any momentum.
That's when things went downhill. Starting the month away at City, we were drubbed 0-3 by a far superior side, stuttered to a last gasp draw in the Wear-Tyne derby and picked up an uninspiring point at Stoke. Onto November and better things? Nope, sorry. Tepid defeats at home to Villa and West Brom and away at Everton where we were slightly improved didn't do anything for the growing tensions in the North East despite an encouraging victory at Fulham and a point against an upsurgent QPR. Jack Colback's poor run of form and off the field antics of James McClean added to his poor start has angered certain sections of the crowd.
Martin O'Neill's refusal to change an unsuccessful side and system as well as injuries to influential skipper Lee Cattermole and commanding defender John O'Shea has seen us drop to 17th place. Our first game of December, yesterday, was away to Norwich where a shambolic 30 minutes performance saw us 0-2 down and seemingly out of the game. Craig Gardner, coming out of his proverbial shell in recent weeks gave the Lads hope. A much improved second half display saw Connor Wickham finally thrust into the side in place of the injured Steven Fletcher. If truth be told, those of us at Carrow Road felt we played some of our best football in the second 45 and deserved at least a point.
All in all, an unflattering start for the Wearsiders but it's not without it's positives. Simon Mignolet's good run of form has seen him cement the first choice GK spot, Danny Rose has been outstanding at LB and in recent weeks we've seen good patches of form from Craig Gardner, Stephane Sessegnon and despite not being on top of his game, Adam Johnson. The makings of a good team are in place at the SoL and all we need to kick on is the full support of the crowd, the realisation that playing with the shackles off brings confidence and better performances and some good fortune. Keep The Faith! Nath.