Soon after our former manager Simon Grayson swapped Deepdale for the Stadium of Light he famously remarked that someone would get Sunderland moving in the right direction eventually.
It was reminiscent of Niall Quinn’s ‘Magic Carpet ride’ comments, the last time we were relegated.
Grayson probably uttered his words more in hope than from any position of confidence.
Confidence in an owner who wanted to sell.
Confidence in a squad of players who had lost their better colleagues, feeling hard done by the fact that they were now in the Championship - and, perhaps, that they were still at Sunderland themselves.
Confidence, ultimately, in his own abilities.
He may have found the words, but words are cheap. Proof is always found in the evidence of results.
Chris Coleman arrived here with similar soundbites: get the club moving in the right direction and who knows? Players who don’t show the right approach will go.
What Grayson said he’d do, Coleman is actually doing.
The difference between Sunderland’s Championship managers is Coleman isn’t looking at the current situation or the recent history of Sunderland AFC, but has come with belief in his own ability.
And it is that belief that poor Simon couldn’t muster - a nice guy, for sure, but not the right manager for Sunderland.
In the absence of that self-confidence, Grayson failed to manage this squad of players. He didn’t find a stable team selection, formation or tactics. With the players clearly not knowing which way was up, they just did their own thing. The away game at Barnsley showed such a lack of cohesion or understanding. The problem with not knowing yourself or imposing your ideas upon this squad, the problem with leaving them to their own devices, is that it only ever ends in failure.
Coleman has come with a style, a formation and a belief in his coaching ability. He has come with a trusted lieutenant who will help embed those core values.
It is those qualities that has turned Robbin Ruiter from looking utterly hopeless into someone who now keeps clean sheets for his manager on a regular basis.
It is Coleman’s belief in a system that has a defence working together and growing in confidence.
It is Coleman’s man-management that has turned a group of players who still appeared to be on their Christmas break in Sheffield into a team that ground out a result in Nottingham.
In fact, that’s what Coleman’s Sunderland has become - a team that can grind out results. A win at Burton, a draw at Wolves, a home win against Fulham and a win at Forest were results that would simply have eluded Grayson. In fact, they were results Moyes’ Sunderland wouldn’t have achieved either. The Burton result may have been hoped for, but certainly not expected under those previous regimes. In fact, had either of them led us out to a defeat down there, we’d all have shrugged our shoulders at the ‘typical’ Sunderland that was witnessed all too often under their watch.
But Coleman is different. Coleman has found Quinny’s Carpet.
His approach is no magic trick. If it were, we’d have beaten Birmingham and probably drawn at Villa. We’d have kept eleven players on the pitch against Reading and then... who knows?
His approach and his self-belief is real. And that reality is slowly being transmitted to the squad that Moyes left us with and the one Grayson failed to grasp.
Coleman comes out after every game with realism in his voice, confidence in his words, a humble grounding in what has just been achieved. A win is no reason to get carried away. A battling draw is a point in the right direction. A loss - even like that at Sheffield United - is a chance to reflect and find a more secure footing.
He doesn’t panic. He sticks to his style, his formation - dare I say an identity - for his Sunderland team. He shows faith, not blindly in hope, but based on the hard work he’s put into this team on the training ground.
It may not be pretty at times. We may have to ride criticism, but defending is every bit a skill in football as creative, expansive attacking. Big Sam knew if he could find a clean sheet to build on, things would turn. Coleman knows the same value. Never was that more evident than at the City Ground. Small steps.
And that’s why Niall’s Magic Carpet is being dusted down and rolled out again in the corridors of the Stadium of Light.
Three of our four league wins this season have come under Coleman’s guidance and game plans. Clean sheets are becoming a regular statistic under this manager. Points are being added to our tally and the gaps between us and the teams above are being reduced. The league table reads marginally better.
Small steps, Coleman will tell you himself. Foundations to build on. A long way to go.
But hop on to the Carpet and hold on tight - it’s coming out for another run!