Much of the talk surrounding Sunderland AFC this week has been two-fold. Firstly, the fact that we were relegated for the second time in under a year and all the feelings associated with that, and secondly the ownership situation surrounding the club.
When Darren Bent took to the field last Saturday I suspect that everyone in the ground and following the game around the country knew what was coming.
Of course he would score. It was inevitable. The second thing that was written in the stars was the fact Burton would be the ones to relegate us. All the jibes to the Newcastle fans about enjoying Burton away when they went down would come back to bite us, every bit as much as Bent’s appearance.
But Sunderland AFC were not relegated simply on the back of last week’s home defeat. The fans quickly turned their ire from Bent to perhaps the only man who is hated more on Wearside - Ellis Short.
The lack of leadership, commitment and heart from the Sunderland owner has led us to a sorry state in our illustrious history.
I have been amazed this week how many people, who have kept largely silent on the matter of Mr Short, have come out this week. Media, pundits, and even our own CEO have given their views on the abysmal situation we find ourselves in due to the owner’s reluctance to engage with this football club. The fact he hasn’t even bothered to speak to Chris Coleman is simply unforgivable.
And yet, Coleman himself has continued to be open and honest in front of the cameras this week. I, for one, hope he is the one to turn this club around. I’m not saying he’s not made mistakes along the way - he readily admits he had hoped for more of an impact - but he has worked in the most difficult circumstances and still wants to be the manager of Sunderland AFC.
Tonight is sure to be a strange experience for him. Returning to his old club, Fulham, will bring back memories of an end to his playing days and entry in management. He will, I’m sure, proudly enter the ground as Sunderland’s manager and he will hope that the memories of yesterday can still be eclipsed before he leaves Wearside.
Fulham are on such a fine run of form, and this game comes at a critical point in their season, where all of the expectation will be on a home win. The ability the London side have within their ranks, the craft, guile and skill, will be on show for the TV audience and many Premier League managers will be eagerly watching a team they will likely face next season.
To do so, they have to win tonight. Cardiff occupy second spot by virtue of a single point and have two relatively straight forward games left, with a visit to Hull followed by a final home game against Reading. After tonight, Fulham end their season at Birmingham City.
Any slip ups will surely open the door for their rival to avoid the play-off lottery and take their place in the top flight. Coleman will not want to hand it to his old side, though, and will be keen for his charges to put up a fight. Perhaps, with the pressure off, Sunderland could be the banana skin that decides second place.
One thing Coleman could do is start to look to the future, though. He talked about the need to bounce back next season and the aim for everyone has to be promotion at the first attempt. Whilst we have a duty to perform tonight, we also have a duty to Sunderland AFC to start that rebuilding job. Picking a strong first team meets the first obligation, but Coleman could select a youthful bench and allow one or two future stars the chance to make their debuts and show there is hope for us to come back.
At Roker Report we have, for some weeks now, spoken highly of Luke Molyneux, Elliot Embleton and Max Stryjek. None of them are likely to start the game tonight, but it would certainly give the youngsters a huge boost to be selected for the squad. It would also give the fans a shot in the arm were just one of these prospects to take to the field at some point during the game.
In recent fixtures Callum McManaman has been taken off, so there is a chance, perhaps, for Luke Molyneux to stake a claim for inclusion in the first team next season. He will travel down to the capital along with Embleton and 16-year-old Bali Mumba, who is rated exceedingly high by regular viewers at the Academy of Light.
Personally, I would love the talk to change from the likes of Bent, Rodwell and Ellis Short to the small, hopeful whispers of a brighter future for Sunderland AFC in the hands of Molyneux, et al.