The dust has finally settled on another eventful week in the life of Sunderland AFC. The emotions of the Leeds defeat seemed to take longer to leave the system so to speak; personally due to the fact that our start had been somewhat encouraging compared to what I was expecting.
The first four matches had yielded a heck of a lot more than I’d originally hoped for. Many other supporters have aired the same views. The phrases “brought back to Earth” and “reality check” were bandied about incessantly in the days after our indifferent home performance against Leeds - such is the emotion connected to our current situation. Players turned in poor performances and we never looked like coming away with anything, but was it really necessary to go over the top with the criticism and negativity the way some fans did?
Had Lewis Grabban’s shot hit the back of the net instead of the bar, might we have seen a different outcome to proceedings? It’s obviously difficult to say, but goals do change games after all. The Leeds game will not be the last time this season that things don’t go to plan for us, and it is time we took that fact on board.
In terms of playing personnel, the need for reinforcements is apparent, and that’s without any more outgoings. The squad lacks a bit of strength in depth; a centre-back and striker are clear priorities while another wide player would also be welcomed. Our over-reliance on Aiden McGeady’s creativity is already very evident, and I’m already praying he stays injury-free for the full campaign. He will have a big influence on our fortunes this season, and for £250k, has been an absolute steal. Factor into the equation Duncan Watmore’s imminent return and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Simon Grayson concentrate on strengthening other areas of the squad.
The journey through our first Championship campaign was always going to be a testing one though. Our first four fixtures this term were arguably the hardest hand dealt to any side in the division, and to come out of it with five points was highly commendable.
The Leeds defeat has left something of a sour taste in the mouth for many, but there were always going to be days like last Saturday. There will be a few more contained within the next 42 league games. Had we lost to Leeds on the opening day, and then picked up five points from the games afterwards, I think that the feeling on Wearside would have been a lot more positive than it is currently. A quick win away at Carlisle will have helped; certainly benefiting the players anyway. More youngsters got game time, gaining more valuable first team experience, which is very encouraging.
One thing that has really got my back up this week, however, is the subject of attendances. I’m not usually a particularly emotive person, but this topic really annoys me. It is how some people solely measured the size and character of an entire club. It is one element of course, but there are so many other things to factor in when analyzing such things - which is a debate to be had another time.
‘Empty, pink seats’, ‘looks bad on the telly’, ‘poor turn-out’, bla bla bla. We’ve heard it all this week, coming from fans of other clubs up and down the land. We had Jermain Jenas slagging us off last season for leaving early; people just don’t know what it’s like to live with the roller-coaster ride that is SAFC. Can I just say, for what it’s worth to anyone, that a gate of 31,237 at home to Leeds United, after the dross we’ve been served up for the past few seasons, is never in a million years a poor attendance by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve not heard one pundit or so called expert say actually, that support is fantastic all things considered. I feel that it certainly needs saying.
Sunderland, for years, have been blessed with the luxury of phenomenal backing. Some people can only take so much, and by that I mean they feel that their time would be better spent elsewhere, and that is their given right to choose. The fortunes of our club still remain at the forefront of their daily lives. For some, coming to such a decision can take ten years, others twenty, and it won’t be taken lightly. For a lot of us, that day will never come.
Relegation brings the inevitability of a drop in attendances. That is the nature of the beast unfortunately, and it happens at all clubs. Gates of 31,000 is a genuine positive for Sunderland to have right now. Songs have been sung that I haven’t heard for many a year and the atmosphere has definitely returned. In terms of the quantity of support, yes that may have waned, but the quality has been cranked up; without a doubt people care more than ever about the plight of Sunderland AFC.
So how dare people have a pop at Sunderland and the individuals inside the Stadium of Light? It’s far easier for people to focus on and comment on, those that aren’t there than are. I think it should all be seen as a positive that upwards of thirty thousand people still want to come and see their team play. At least they see honesty, commitment and hard work for their money, and won’t feel short-changed. If that continues, I’m confident the results will come and eventually, people will return.
Sunderland is and always will be, a special club. I often ponder, romantically almost, what exactly can our club become if we finally get things right, both on and off the pitch?