Seven games – 3 wins, 4 draws.
No, I haven’t got that the wrong way round.
That was how Sunderland started in the third division in 1987-88. Brentford and Doncaster had been beaten away and Mansfield were thrashed 4-1 at home. It wasn’t a bad start, but nor was it wholly convincing. Game 8 saw us lose to Brighton and game 9 was a dire 2-0 defeat at home to Chester, which left us 12th in the table.
We all know what happened next. Six straight wins took us to the top of the table and, bar a blip in March, we stayed there till the end.
We don’t know what’s going to happen this season but experience from the past should provide reassurance that a steady unbeaten start is a cause for quiet satisfaction, not something to worry about unduly.
There are issues to address. We are conceding too many goals, particularly from set pieces, and are not taking control of games from the start. I’m not sure Jack Ross knows his best eleven yet and not all of the combinations he has tried, particularly in midfield, seem to work.
However, the positives easily outweigh the negatives.
The squad’s resilience in the face of going behind is a refreshing change from the previous few years: this is a team with a winning mentality. Players like Gooch, Maja and Oviedo are unplayable at this level when they’re on top form. And we’ve yet to see the best of the likes of Wyke, Sinclair and Flanagan.
I feel confident that we will at least make the play-offs this season and much could hinge on what happens during the January window. The key signings in 1987-88 were Marco Gabbiadini, who made his debut in that game against Chester, and Colin Pascoe, who arrived in the second half of the season and helped with the final push for the championship.
Sunderland may well look an attractive destination for ambitious League One and Championship players, who would like a championship medal and want to experience the exuberant atmosphere of a club on the up. The club should be aiming for a good window to propel us back into the Championship.
The question in my mind is, what happens then?
Can the Donald/Methven business model succeed at a higher level?
I think it can in the Championship. Signing young, hungry players, eager to progress, combined with a tactically astute and equally ambitious manager in Jack Ross, could see us challenge for promotion back to the Premier League.
However, I fear that a different model is required for sustainable success in the Premier League. Juan Sartori is perhaps the answer, helping to channel South American talent into the club, but we have seen the risks in bringing in overseas players at bargain prices. Such signings often fail – indeed, we still have the dregs of the last regime hanging around, showing us with their Instagram posts how they are spending our money on their holidays.
Is there a way of combining good young British talent with foreign players with the right attitude, without breaking the bank?
If there isn’t, British football is broken and I’d rather watch League One endeavour than over-paid posturing in the Premier League from players who are nowhere near as good as they think they are.