Here we are. Another week, another column for The Durham Times courtesy of ourselves. Tackling it this week was Michael Graham, who ably filled in for myself who was due to write it. Quite glad in all honesty as he probably did a much better job than I could have.
Anyway, If you want to read this on the day it actually comes out, head down to your local newsery and pick up a copy. It's only like 30p or something equally insignificant. The type of money you've probably got down the back of the sofa, and it gets you a top draw newspaper. Failing that, if you're all Buck Rogers living in the 21st Century head on over to this address to read it online - http://www.durhamtimes.co.uk/sport/rokerreport
And with that, I'll hand you over to the previously mentioned Mr Graham, to explain why supporting the lads just got fun again...
Those of you familiar with our website will know that we produce a weekly podcast in which we try and discuss, will varying levels of success, all things Sunderland AFC. This week as we gathered for the recording, all looking forward to the Blackburn Rovers game, and then we suddenly realised that none of us had the foggiest idea about what to actually expect from it. After weeks of what had descended into soul-shattering predictable monotony under Steve Bruce, it came as a great relief to us all.
More than that, actually. It was genuinely exciting.
At time of writing, the ink on the newspapers' coverage of Martin O'Neill's first press conference as Sunderland manager is barely dry and his dulcet Irish tones are still ringing in our ears, prompting us to actually look forward to our club's future once again. That future starts Sunday against Blackburn Rovers, but just what it has in store for us is very much shrouded in mystery. We know that Lee Cattermole is suspended, but that's about it.
Questions such as 'how many people will be played out of position?' and 'one striker this week, or none at all?' have been replaced with wondering what system will be employed or which previously anonymous players have caught the new manager's fresh eye. I can still remember the day that Peter Reid breezed into the club and plucked Richard Ord and Michael Gray from the reserves with both players going on to earn the genuine affections of the Sunderland support. Or when Malcolm Crosby was placed in temporary charge and instantly saw fit to install Brian Atkinson into the midfield that would take him all the way to Wembley.
Is there a staple of the Bruce Sunderland team in which the new manager simply sees nothing? Will we see O'Neill return to the wing-backs of his Leicester days or the counter-attacking three-pronged attack he favoured at Aston Villa? Has he got something completely new up his sleeve? Having spent so long being force-fed a diet of Bruce's condescension and tactical rigidity, I defy anyone to not find such mystery exciting.
Longer term things are easier to predict given O'Neill's long and largely successful career. A physical brand of football is a given, as is a direct approach that looks to take advantage of width and delivery. The high emphasis O'Neill has historically placed on set piece situations will likely have him drooling at the prospect of utilizing Seb Larsson, despite Molineux misdemeanors. Asamoah Gyan may once again have a future at Sunderland, and appears to be the kind of player and personality that will thrive under the new regime, although how open-minded supporters will be to welcoming him back into the fold remains to be seen.
The biggest change however will surely be in pragmatism. Steve Bruce's methods in just about every facet of the job could be easily described as 'scatter-gun'. Throwing enough individuals at it, mostly shoehorned into a bland and unimaginative system, seemed to be his raison d'etre, his home-run swing. In spells it was successful, and even now no one will convince me that Bruce is anything other than a fine judge of a footballer. His was not a method which was especially conducive to consistency, however.
His successor could not be further from that. It is difficult to envisage another Stephane Sessegnon situation occurring, in which a player is brought to the club without any clear idea in mind of how best to use him. Transfer policy is likely to be dictated by design, not opportunity, targeting those who can fulfil a specific job in a well-drilled system of play rather than the bigger name players who just so happen to be available and attainable. Fans should not kid themselves that it will be especially pretty or glamorous, but if O'Neill's record is anything to go by, then it is certainly likely to be effective. I'll take substance over style any day of the week.
If there was any doubts about how desperately the entire club was needing a lift then last week's depressingly predictable showing at Wolves will have dispelled them. The club now moves forward with unity. O'Neill possesses the charisma and pedigree to capture the imagination, the unpredictability and mystique to bring some short-term intrigue, and the kind of proven track record that breeds patience and long-term stability. Whichever way you look at it, supporting Sunderland just got fun again.