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Opinion: This is OUR club again - Sunderland are back on the right track

Sunderland’s victory over Barnsley comes just over a year after a 3-1 half-time lead over Brentford was relinquished in a painful second half that ended 3-3. Does this Tuesday’s result signify our side’s outright improvement?

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

As painful as this may be, cast your mind back to last season: the pain, the hurt, the unrelenting anguish that seemed to cling to the club like the smell of old smoke as our club burned from within.

The club lacked a coherent strategy from top to bottom as Martin Bain attempted to fill the enormous hole left by Ellis Short’s exacerbated absence from all things SAFC. Times were grim, if truth be told, and the club was dying before our very eyes as we lurched from one crisis to the next.

The man in charge was flat and tedious, his attempts at rallying the fans and players were about as futile as bald men fighting for a comb. The black hole into which we were hurtling seemed to grow ever larger, the club in real danger of collapse both on and off the pitch.

Clueless.
Image: Sunderland AFC

Looking back, I remember losing my last modicum of hope in the wake of a 3-3 draw away to Brentford. Yet, as painful as that day was back then, now it feels like a yardstick by which we can measure our rebirth.

We were playing quite well so not to win is frustrating and disappointing, but it was one of those games where we might have taken the point beforehand. That said, when you are in the position we were you want to go and win it.

Grayson’s anatomy of his side’s shortcomings were simply pathetic. This was a game whereby fans found that small spark of anticipation born from a brilliant first half where the Lads found three goals to Brentford’s one.

The Lads had struggled at times, but they had found a way to beat the Brentford keeper and looked on course for a desperate win. Meek voices echoed in the farthest reaches of the brain - places long such abandoned by reason and belief - that perhaps, just perhaps, there was hope.

However, less than an hour later, fans were back in the depths of despair: Sunderland had found a way to lose three points in favour of a draw.

Brentford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21: Simon Grayson, manager of Sunderland looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Sunderland at Griffin Park on October 21, 2017 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Fast forward fifty-seven weeks, and Sunderland once more found themselves up 3-1 at half time, this time against fellow high-flyers, Barnsley.

Yet, the comparison between these two games tells a story far greater than three points and a clutch of goals.

Things aren’t always black and white, yet the stark contrast between Sunderland’s fortunes in these two games acts as the perfect metaphor of Sunderland’s overall change in fortune. While last year we laboured to a 3-3 draw, holding on by the skin of our teeth, this year we were able to find a way to win despite facing uncertainty and pressure.

This Sunderland side shows a resolve and mettle that was absent from our club for so long. Where was the leadership, where was the guidance, where was the belief? Was anyone in a position of power within the club last season truly attempting to drag our beloved institution by the scruff of the neck into calmer waters? It certainly didn’t feel like it.

Instead of bemoaning our luck and suggesting a point would have been welcome beforehand, we’re now led by people desperate for success. Jack Ross commented after the game that:

It had a special feel and it was a test for both sides. To come through in the manner we did just strengthens the belief of the players.

Where was that hope and desire last year? Its absence was felt immensely.

Brentford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21: A Sunderland fan celebrates his sides third goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Sunderland at Griffin Park on October 21, 2017 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

This past Tuesday’s game pays testament to the complete turnaround of the situation in which we inhabit. The job’s not done yet - not by any stretch of the imagination - however, when held up for inspection, you can clearly see the strides we’ve made over the course of the last six months.

From poltroons to plucky winners, our club is changing for the better: maintaining this momentum is paramount to our success, and with strong leadership to be found throughout our team, from boardroom to pitch, you can’t help but find that once abandoned corner of your mind suddenly re-awakening.

This is hope, this is joy, this is our club again, back on the right track.