Spirited, improved, unlucky - you could certainly describe Sunderland's performance against Manchester City as such.
Unfortunately, those sorts of displays don't guarantee anyone any points. If they did, the Black Cats would be amongst Europe's elite by now. Yes, admittedly, at times our supporters have been witness to some truly awful football, especially over the last few seasons. Generally speaking though, you could overlay those words above onto the vast majority of Sunderland's performances I've seen during my lifetime. However, as we know in football, success doesn't always follow.
The cold hard fact of the matter is - in a fight for survival, ‘spirited' performances, without results, don't matter one jot.
It was Manchester City of course and we, the fans, should take heart from that - shouldn't we?
Well, no frankly. As supporters we're quick to criticise players when they appear to lack belief and effort. We've been a Premier League team for nearly ten years now. West Brom and Stoke managed to inflict some damage this season, in fact we've beaten City in the past too - even Ji scored a winner. Why should we not expect something from any game we play in?
Unfortunately it seems like the team have let us down on so many occasions that there's a growing number who have become conditioned into being thankful for a ‘improved' performance - both supporters and players alike.
The team appear to have left themselves too much to do (again) and we shouldn't be happy to simply console ourselves with a nice little metaphorical pat on the back after a ‘spirited' display. Not at this stage of the season and certainly not after Sunderland's near ten year Premier League return.
Another word for ‘spirited' is ‘effort' - that surely is the bare minimum we should expect to see. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy with Sam Allardyce as manager but some of the squad could do with a Roy Keane attitude at present. Keane was never satisfied with anything less than success as player or manager. Success for him was winning games - no matter how they came about.
Yes, the game against Manchester City was much ‘improved' but I'd argue that particular level of performance should be Sunderland's benchmark in terms of what we can expect and build upon anyway. Ideally, that display should be sustained for the remainder of the season and what we're witness to every week. However, experience tells me it won't. No, I don’t expect that it will nor should Sunderland’s survival chances depend upon it and here’s why.
There is a misconception in football that positive results always follow on from those ‘spirited' performances or ‘improved' displays - that's not my experience as a Sunderland supporter. Think back to last season's result against Everton and Danny Graham's ‘goal' or Newcastle at home this season for that matter where we haven't been anywhere near our best but have managed to get those all-important wins. We've made the score-line look more comfortable than it was in those two examples but it was the three points that mattered in terms of securing Premier League safety.
Sunderland require points. It's that simple and frankly I couldn't careless whether the results are ‘unlucky', much ‘improved' or ‘spirited'.
The Black Cats are languishing and four points from fourth bottom. If the club's main concern is to stay in the Premier League then there needs to be a shift in the current mind-set from everyone. We're fire fighting and there needs to be a win at all costs mentality. Win ugly, win dirty, win pretty - just win.
It's fruitless clinging on to morsels of positivity. We're beyond that and it gets us nowhere - it's about getting points on the board now at all costs and ask questions later. As long as we climb the table those ‘spirited' displays can take a back seat for the time being as far as I'm concerned.