Well, it’s been a funny season. I wish I could tell you that I’ve spent it all serenely confident that we’d pull off our usual trick and escape from the jaws of relegation at the last minute, but that’d be a lie.
So confident was I of our inevitable demise that, the week before our thrashing by Arsenal I put £10 on us to beat Derby County’s record and finish with 10 points or fewer. 50-1. Would have paid for next year’s holiday, that.
Yet here we are, four games later, and suddenly the world has been turned on its head.
We’ve won three out of four, with a 2-0 defeat at Anfield hardly making or breaking our season. The team is playing like, well, a team. Beautiful Seb Larsson is back, just in time for Christmas. Victor Anichebe is playing like a Scouse Incredible Hulk in a particularly cheesed-off mood. David Moyes’ substitutions, enforced though they were on Saturday, are actually starting to do what he intends them to do - turn games in our favour.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re still in the relegation zone. And we may well go down. It may just be that ten games headstart is too much to give the teams around us, that we’ve pushed our luck far enough and this is going to be the year that it comes back to bite us.
But on Saturday we saw a team which looked like it had a sense of what it was doing, a plan, an idea of the kind of football they wanted to play and how they might go about putting that into practice. Leicester might be struggling, but they weren’t champions last year for nothing. And at times on Saturday Sunderland outfought, outthought, outplayed and outmuscled them - though the last one of those was mostly Big Vic.
The most marked thing for me about our recent run of form is the games we’ve done it in. Away to Bournemouth, a team you’d expect to see in the bottom half of the season. Home to Hull, guaranteed to finish somewhere in the bottom six. And home to Leicester, a team struggling to find their form. These are games you’d have expected us to pick up points. But they’re also the kind of games that, in recent years, we’ve failed to win.
Losing those games, capitulating in six-pointers or against teams out of form, is one of the reasons we’ve lived such a fraught existence over the last few years. At the back end of last season it looked like something Sam Allardyce might have worked out how to crack. After a wobbly start, it looks like something David Moyes might be starting to figure out as well.
The test, of course, will come this month. Swansea, Watford and Burnley, three games you’d think we’d be able to take something from. It’ll not be easy, but it’s the Premier League.
It’s not supposed to be easy.
If we’re going to kick on, start to justify David Moyes’ decision to take the job and Ellis Short’s decision not to sack him, we need to pick up points this month. Only then will we start to figure out whether there’s really a light at the end of Sunderland’s tunnel.