Over the many years that I’ve followed Sunderland I’ve witnessed two common themes that tend to stand out above the rest: hope and disappointment. While the disappointment has, more often than not, remained, I feel the hope is beginning to dwindle, and unfortunately, it comes as no surprise.
Though our win on Saturday gives us some breathing space, it is a serious concern that our beloved Sunderland AFC are facing relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in thirty years - and I’ve no doubt that the battle against it will go right down to the wire.
Ever the optimist, attempting to discover the positives in difficult times isn’t often as difficult as the present. Despite that, here are some straws on which you can briefly clutch.
The Gaffer: Chris Coleman
I still can’t get my head around how we persuaded Chris Coleman to leave what was a superb, safe job with Wales in order to take the reins here, especially considering our position not only in the league but as a club under the current ownership.
In Coleman we have a manager who is proud, and will fight to get this club back up and running. Recent outgoing transfers support his stance of players needing to be up for the fight if we are to progress as a team and a club.
In recent interviews, Coleman has voiced his frustration in an empathetic manner, therefore identifying with our long-suffering fans - a trait that has been missing since Sam Allardyce successfully turned our season around in 2016 and kept us in the Premier League.
Even though our form has been patchy, it definitely seems like we have the right man in charge to take us forward, especially when taking into consideration the options we could’ve ended up with. Managerial appointments at Stoke (Paul Lambert), West Brom (Alan Pardew), and Middlesbrough (Tony Pulis) prove that we haven’t done as badly as our position suggests.
Standard of other teams
Despite our position at the wrong end of the table, there are a still nearly twenty games left to play - and that amounts to a lot of points.
There have been very few ‘WOW!’ moments this season, either from Sunderland or our opponents. The quality of the football and players in the Championship isn’t great, so it’d be safe to assume that even the slightest upturn in form may be enough to ensure our survival.
Though teams around us have been picking up points in recent weeks, it’ll all come out in the wash once all 46 games have been played and, even despite our injury problems, you have to think that we’ll have enough about us to edge ahead of the likes of Bolton, Burton and Birmingham. Teams in this league can lose form just as easily as they gain it, and it’s about time we took advantage of the trend.
Young Guns: The Academy Lads
Our squad may be bare but we are being given something fans have cried out for for years. A lot of our current first-teamers have recently made the step up from the U23s side - even in our predicament, it is refreshing to see the likes of Robson, Maja, Asoro, Gooch and Honeyman continue to get minutes, showing the kind of effort and commitment that is desired at this great club.
Irrespective of how things pan out this season, these lads, along with others who have impressed, will be key players in the rebuilding of the club. This has become more apparent in recent times with our limited funds and visible inability to sign players.
The run that our Under-23s went on in the PL International Cup last year is proof enough that the players have some quality and maybe more serious potential if handled in the right manner.
Chris Coleman was an advocate for introducing young talent into the senior setup as the national manager of Wales, which is another reason his tenure here has the potential to be so prolific.
The impact that Robson, Maja and Asoro had at the weekend against Hull shows that if you give these players a platform to showcase their abilities, as a collective they can pull it out of the bag and help us to achieve the results that mightn’t seem otherwise possible when you’ve got such an injury-stricken squad that is devoid of any confidence whatsoever.