Sunderland begin their EFL Cup campaign at the Stadium of Light tonight against League One side Shrewsbury Town, hoping that they can bag their first win of the season and mould come confidence into a deflated squad.
Our opponents have began their new season, like ourselves, in disappointing fashion, winning just one of their opening four league matches and currently sit in 20th place in League One. However, they did cause an upset in the EFL Cup first round defeating Championship side Huddersfield Town 2-1, earning them a trip to the Stadium of Light this week.
It is no secret that we have had a ‘typical Sunderland’ standard of start to the season. Off-field antics in pre-season and beyond have left us massively short in terms of preparation, with a change of manager, philosophy and plan, causing our transfer planning to go out of the window. A wave of misery appears to have swept over Wearside as the weeks and days go by without any inspiring incomings, and with two defeats in as many games, fans are beginning to panic already.
The situation that the Black Cats are currently in has similar feelings to the beginning of the 2013/14 season under Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet. The club were in a similar position, zero points in the league and discontent from the stands as the transfer window had failed to go to plan. That summer, we did invest, but my lord did we invest poorly, you have to wonder whether being cautious with our transfer activity is better than being rash with our finances.
That season was a disaster, the club played catch-up due to a poor summer, however, one thing that was superb about that year was our road to Wembley in the Capital One Cup. The cup games were a way of distracting the team and fans from what was turning out to be an awful league campaign. A series of fine performances from fringe players slowly built morale around the camp, those players ended-up playing a vital part in the club’s league campaign and contributed to the ‘Great Escape’.
This year feels very similar to that time, if we can get a decent cup run along with a few new arrivals then I feel that our fortunes in the league can swiftly be turned around under David Moyes. Yes, without new signings, and the right signings, then even the most optimistic of Sunderland fans will admit that this may be the season that we make the plunge to the second tier. But, if we can get a handful of quality players to improve the squad, and if we can breed some confidence into the side with a good cup run, then when our injury list subsides and our fans get onside, we may actually be able to make that small bit of progress that David Moyes promised.