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OPINION: Sunderland’s players need nerve - not sympathy

“Over the past week I’ve repeatedly heard how the “toxic” atmosphere created by the Sunderland faithful is helping to cause our players to under-perform. Rubbish - the players need to show us their resolve and get our season moving forward“, writes Graham Macmillan-Mason.

So another weekend has passed in the depressing world of Sunderland AFC and with it came another weekend without three points, as our winless home run stretches into month number eleven.

I was at the match on Saturday and found myself taking in the crowd & atmosphere rather than watching the game, such was the apathy I felt towards the men on the pitch marauding as alleged professionals.

It was strange to see fans in the south west corner were no longer standing as they have done for the last twenty years, but sitting in amongst empty seats, arms folded and heads tilted towards the grey skyline. Nobody appeared to be having any sort of fun whatsoever.

It’s a tough life right now on Wearside. QPR manager Ian Holloway alluded to the fact that coming to Sunderland isn’t too difficult for our opposition - turn up and keep the crowd quiet and you’ll most likely leave with a point, or maybe more.

Holloway’s words were, as always, honest and respectful, but they did ultimately give the media the means to point out one of our main issues: the crowd’s disdain for the team’s poor performances. It’s our fault, isn’t it? We should cheer and whoop after six seasons of misery and mediocrity because that’s what these poor little millionaire’s need - to be loved. What a joke.

Now I’m not stating that money makes you devoid of human emotion. We can all understand feeling fear and nervousness when 26,000 people are ironically cheering you controlling a ball (which was completely out of order, for the record), or a large boo rings around the stadium when you make a hilarious attempt at catching a cross. I would 100% understand people criticising the crowd’s reaction if this was a one-off incident.

But it wasn’t.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
I would 100% understand people critisising the crowds reaction if this was a one off incident; but it isn’t. We back even in the darkest days.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

For too long now Sunderland supporters have been lectured about needing to get behind the team, like we don’t already, like it’s our job to lift the team to make them deliver - and I’m sick of that.

Fact is, these players need to have broader shoulders. Criticism is part and parcel of the game and whether the players can cope with pressure or not, it’s nothing new.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s bloody tough. I assume that playing professional football for a living can sometimes feel like the best job in the world, but by the same token it can be a lonely place - and whatever the situation, these players should be experienced enough to take on the chin.

Fact is, Sunderland supporters have been stamped in to the ground now for as long as I can remember and only the delivery of good performances and wins can possibly help to foster togetherness. Right now we’re fractured, dismantled by the ineptitude of the football club we all happen to follow.

Sunderland can be the best place to be if you just show some character - if you lift your head and show the crowd you want to win and work hard for them.

Aiden McGeady is capable of game-changing moments, and look at how much praise he has received during this torrid run of form we find ourselves in. Similarly, Jonny Williams took the game by the scruff of the neck on Saturday - he actively sought the ball, passed it and moved it and always looked forward - intent on attacking and forcing an opening. And, in turn, the crowd responded positively.

Sunderland supporters really are not that hard to please, we just like to see players that have some character themselves and aren’t shrinking violets who cry off at the first sign of things getting tough. If our expectations (which aren’t huge, let’s be honest) are too big for you, then please find the nearest exit and stop making your lack of backbone and self-confidence our problem.

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