Two home matches. Two opportunities to start chipping away at the gap between ourselves and the teams currently setting the pace as the league campaign heads towards the key month of December. After another postponement due to international call-ups, we were forced to sit and stew as Wycombe proceeded to open up an eleven-point buffer between themselves and Sunderland at the top of League One. They are motoring, whilst we are still trying to click into gear. With Coventry due to arrive at the SOL on Saturday, followed by Burton Albion on Tuesday, we have a fabulous chance to haul ourselves out of the upper mid-table quicksand into which we have slipped.
I think that the time has now come for this group of players to demonstrate that they can perform under duress. They simply must enter this double-header of games with the mindset of, ‘six points is a must’, and do whatever it takes in order to achieve it.
If any of the players are thinking to themselves, ‘Oh well, we have games in hand, and if we win them, we’re flying, so don’t worry about it,’, then they are sadly mistaken. They simply have to cast their minds back to last season, where it was proven without any doubt that games in hand mean nothing if you don’t capitalise on them.
With the prospect of January’s transfer window growing ever larger on the horizon, there are several players in this Sunderland squad who ought to be feeling extremely nervous about their future prospects at the club.
Regardless of what they did last season, the likes of McGeady and Jon McLaughlin have simply not hit those same heights at any stage during this campaign, and you do wonder exactly how many more chances they will be afforded.
Phil Parkinson’s brief is to deliver promotion, no ifs or buts. If, en-route to doing so, he feels that ditching last season’s star performers and bringing in new blood in their place is the right thing to do, he should do so without hesitation.
The cut and thrust of a promotion battle leaves precious little room for sentiment, regardless of how much credit a player may have in the bank, and if we allow ourselves to carry passengers, the standards will slip extremely quickly.
And what of Parkinson himself? Statistically, and despite the positive signs that have been visible at various points during his short reign, he has not been an improvement upon Jack Ross. We can talk all day about a more attacking style and setting teams up to be proactive rather than passive, but that ultimately counts for very little if you are on the wrong end of the scoreboard after ninety minutes.
For as much as we often complained about the supposed lack of entertainment value offered by Ross’s Sunderland outfit, and his supposed tendency to lose his nerve during ‘big’ games, defeats were a very rare occurrence.
Post-Shrewsbury, I suggested that we would have to take some punches over the coming weeks in order to get some in ourselves, and as Parkinson attempts to mould the squad to his liking I stand by that. There is little doubt, however, that the pressure is growing on him, and his post-match interviews - anchored by the usual spiel about ‘showing character’ and ‘dusting ourselves down’ - are hardly likely to set the pulse racing.
He needs his players to respond, and quickly, and I sincerely hope that this week’s training sessions have some added bite to them, because it is certainly needed.
The good ship SAFC is currently in turbulent waters. With unrest at the ownership showing no signs of abating and the league table not currently in our favour, the situation is extremely tense. If we can take advantage of two consecutive home fixtures, bank six precious points and ease the pressure on Parkinson, that will be a blessed relief.
Conversely, if we trip up once again, the consequences may reach far beyond us being marooned outside the playoff places come next Wednesday morning.