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Captain's Blog: Sunderland Derby Heroics Must Not Be Allowed To Go To Waste

Sunderland's beleaguered squad of players took the first step in repairing strained relations with the supporters with their colossal derby day efforts, but it will count for nothing if they don't make it count.

Richard Sellers

Engage a Sunderland fan in a discussion about last season's 3-0 derby success at St James Park, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it won't be long before the words 'it kept us up' enter the conversation.

It is probably true, of course. The shot in the arm it provided roused the spirit sufficiently to battle and scrap for the remaining few points that were required to stave off the dreaded drop.

Right now it is tough to really gauge if the situation is more or less desperate than it was back in April. Sunderland are more entrenched into the mire now, but with considerably more time to effect a change in fortune.

Whether or not last week's besting of Newcastle has the same impact as last season's remains to be seen. However, one thing is abundantly clear: a moral-booster on Wearside has nary been needed more.

Fabio Borini's sumptuous winner is the headline moment, and to be honest in 20 years time it is all anyone will likely remember of what was, in truth, a fairly dour game of few chances and little quality. Hopefully by then, Sunderland derby wins have just started to get lost in each other, such is their regularity.

But it was really the smaller things - the things we won't remember - that have probably left the most tangible impression.

It was a day for the reconnection of a fragmented club. Ellis Short started it with his programme notes:

"The club has been in turmoil as a result of the change of head coach so early in the season," wrote the Chairman. "I have to take the blame for that. Clearly at least one of the decisions I made over the last several months was the wrong one."

To some, it didn't seem like much. Scant consolation, some may say, for the hurt that has been felt of late; cheap words where only actions count for anything. It's a minority view as far as I can ascertain, but a sufficient one to mention.

For the majority though, myself included, it seemed to be bang-on tone. Acknowledgement of the situation and accountability got people on the same page where before there was something of a disconnect. There was no hiding away from an uncomfortable truth like there has been up the road which saw sections of the press banned, essentially for a refusal to be an extension of their own propaganda... I mean press... department.

But as well-chosen words as they were, they were still only words. The real work in repairing ailing relations was done by the players, and what an incredible amount of work they put into it to.

I have been as critical as anyone of this set of players. I have described them as "institutionalised cowards" and "con-men in footballers' boots". My patience in them completely exhausted by weekly surrenders.

However, there has to be credit where it is due. To a man, they ran themselves into the ground to deliver. I consider myself very pro spectacular Sunderland late winning goals. Definitely more of those please. But we have always known there are players in the squad capable of that.

Adam Johnson, Seb Larsson, Phil Bardsley... they have all had their great moments in red and white. David Vaughan and Craig Gardner too if you want to talk about those who didn't feature as well. It was whether they truly had the heart for the battle that was the real question mark.

And those questions do still remain, to be perfectly honest. Am I ready to declare myself wonderfully wrong and hail these players as misunderstood and at times victimised seasoned warriors? No. Absolutely not.

Neither am I prepared to claim the fractures often felt between club and supporters have fully healed over-night, or this season suddenly a roaring inevitable success.

But what we at least have now is a start, which is considerably more than we had this time last week. We have a sense that the wounds, though not healed, are beginning to close. I'll take that. It's not like we can get to the end without it.

To briefly return to the 3-0 derby win last season, there is one extra crucial point to remember. A resounding stuffing of your bitterest rivals will always go down in folklore, but what made that one legend is that it carried an ultimately satisfying conclusion. It wasn't sullied by it being allowed to go to waste.

Whatever happens, please let us say the same about this one. Hopefully the players won't let it get lost in a relegation season. No matter what anyone thinks of them, their efforts on Sunday deserve far better than that.

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