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OPINION: Change is welcome, but Stewart Donald HAS to get it right at Sunderland - for OUR sake

Stewart Donald is doing a great job of getting fans onside with what he wants to achieve, but the ability of our team to provide good results on the pitch will be what defines his tenure as Sunderland owner.

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For the first time in what was beginning to feel like a lifetime, Sunderland fans seem to have something to be cheerful about - a new owner, with considerable cash, saying all the right things, with the feeling he genuinely has the right intentions is a far cry from the previous regime.

In the past our summers have been tormented with managerial turmoil, a less than impressive turnover of playing staff and comparatively low amounts of expenditure. We had a previous regime that took the club - and most importantly the fans - for granted, whose mismanagement on and off the pitch was terrible, supplemented by the fact that their negotiating skills were terrible and left the club saddled with serious financial baggage.

Enter: Start Donald. His buoyant and bullish opening interview was as impressive as it was required. An instant breath of fresh air was felt whistling through the corridors of the Academy of Light, in turn lifting a much-battered fan base up from it’s dreary sorrow.

Swift action followed - players considered as deadwood were released, communication with fans restored like never before. No more square pegs in round holes. This was everything fans had been crying out for.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It wasn’t just talk. The long-standing joke of Sunderland’s pink seats were tackled in one fell swoop. Thousands of them have already been replaced, and engaging fans in allowing them to physically be a part of the club they’ve felt so distanced from was something many supporters had never experienced.

And it didn’t stop there - there were appearances on Podcasts, local and national radio, and he even turned up to a fans wedding.

Stewart Donald, on the face of it, appears to be just about everything that Sunderland fans could have hoped for. He deserves a huge amount of credit for instilling hope and trust in the fans, and whilst there have been grumblings around transfer activity it is through his hard work that he’s already gained fantastic respect from the supporters, something that is shown in the sheer volume of season ticket sales.

But all that rests on a knife-edge.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Take a look back to a time not to far in the distance for an example of how times can quickly change.

A rudderless Sunderland under Sam Allardyce were fading towards what seemed like a hopeless relegation, and fan unrest was at an all-time high. The club were saddled with debt and were not spending on a level with the rest of the division. Ellis Short cemented himself as a divisive figure amongst the fanbase with the distant nature of his ownership. Off the pitch, Sunderland could not have been in a worse shape - both physically and financially.

Then something happened - we managed some big results, and all of a sudden Sunderland were riding on the crest of a wave. Talk turned to the possibility of a mid-table finish, or even a push for Europe, with even a cup run sprinkled in there alongside it. There was genuine joy in the Stadium of Light. The noise during the game with Chelsea that helped to secure survival from relegation was deafening - and the pure, unbridled joy was unmatched when we defeated Everton, relegation Newcastle and Norwich in the process.

The club that was saddled with over one hundred million pounds of debt, without a pot to proverbially piss in, felt as though it was on the brink of something great.

Good feeling, hope, and positivity were the theme of the summer of 2016, and underneath all of that, a deep thrombosis of woe and torment was just forgotten about because of three wins and survival.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Despite all of the passion and effort that Stewart Donald has put in to his Sunderland project to this point, not one or the sum of all of his actions have created anything like that feeling... yet. But how could it?

Whilst football fans are - rightfully or wrongfully - described as fickle, they are easiest people in the world to please. Donald has simplified everything and made the club so welcoming and boundless that success will ignite a passion and identity not burned since the days of Peter Reid - but failure will leave an open passage to destroying that bond faster than it was ever created.

Whilst this isn’t the place to go into excessive detail on what needs to be done with the squad, players, style and approach, it is the place to highlight that getting it right on the pitch is the ONLY way to appease our beaten and bruised fanbase.

Like the wins that dissolved the fear and anguish of debt and direction in 2016, all of Donald’s back-breaking toil to get the club feeling as good as it does now will be obliterated if Jack Ross and his men can’t go out there on a Saturday afternoon and win games of football.

Sunderland have some serious work to do before the first ball is kicked against Charlton Athletic. A summer of exertion, positivity, change and hope hangs desperately in the balance.

If the Sunderland chairman and his carefully-assembled group of aides don’t get it right this time, the will and trust of the Sunderland faithful may never be offered again.

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