The January transfer window was an illuminating exercise in the sense that despite a great deal of transparency, speculation, angst, drama, anger, frustration, promise and foreboding, Sunderland managed to pull off five transfers which to all intents and purposes appear all in all to be pretty good.
Only Kaz Sterling is unknown but I’ve yet to read or hear a bad report about his potential, and speaking to him you can’t fault his ambition and his willingness to succeed. The 20 year old heard about the transfer at 4pm and by the end of the day was on a train to the north east desperate to get started. You can’t question that sort of commitment.
There’s no point in me going over the mechanics of the window as they have been well traversed by Stewart Donald and Jack Ross here on Roker Report, other than to say I am sure all parties involved learned a good deal to take into the next window in the summer, but specifically next January’s which could be as important as this, whichever division Sunderland are playing in.
The first opportunity to see a number of the new signings was the AFC Wimbledon match and no-one will deny it wasn’t very good, but Sunderland won and those three points were critical.
In the aftermath of that match there has been much debate about Sunderland being pedestrian and not seeing teams off in more style. There’s no question that is an issue, but counter to that is the fact that winning 1-0 playing poorly is not to be sniffed at.
The aim this season is to win promotion, and for all the doom and gloom that seems to creep like a Dartmoor fog across the club at the first sign of a hiccup, Sunderland remain in the race for automatic promotion with games in hand and with a much strengthened squad.
No-one promised Dutch freestyle football in League One. Perhaps we were spoilt by those moments against Peterborough and Barnsley when Sunderland did play like Brazil.
Inevitably, with a new team and new faces and a new manager, there was a dip in form but even that dip only saw one defeat with mitigating circumstances at Portsmouth. Sunderland continued to score a goal a game and refreshingly against Wimbledon kept a clean sheet thanks to the continuing excellence of Jon McLaughlin.
Ironically where the goalkeepers last season arguably cost Sunderland relegation, the goalkeeper this season could win Sunderland promotion.
One supporter called BBC Newcastle’s Total Sport to bemoan the quality of the football against AFC Wimbledon. For me he seemed to miss the point. The point in my mind this season is to remain in League One for only one season, and the results to achieve that aim are the be all and end all.
I didn’t expect pretty football this season. I’ve seen too much lower league football over the years and I know it’s rare to find a team who can consistently play with style on a consistent basis.
League One is brutal. Unforgiving. Teams want to give Sunderland a bloody nose.
It’s to Jack Ross’s credit he’s maintained a calm equilibrium and never betrays a sense of panic or even a hint that he’s anticipating failure. Last season St.Mirren won promotion under Jack Ross with a win percentage of 62%. That was in what I would argue is a less competitive league than League One. This season Sunderland’s win percentage is 55% and they remain on target of two points a match, playing it could be argued some way short of their potential.
Now with Will Grigg in attack and the promise of Lewis Morgan on the wing, and with the energy of someone like Luke O’Nien and the vision of Grant Leadbitter in midfield, Sunderland may well push on.
Of course the January transfer business can only be judged at the end of the season. Jack Ross will be judged then too but I find it surprising that he is being criticised in some quarters now when the circumstances of his appointment and the tools he had to do the job are put into perspective.
Statistically Sunderland are on course to go back up to the Championship. It may not be pretty but it’s pragmatic and for all the calls for more goals, better set pieces, better defending, I don’t think Sunderland or Jack Ross are in a particularly bad place at the moment.
Could do better? Of course they could. Will they do better? Yes they probably will. Will they get promoted? Yes, I still think they will. There is a determination, will and spirit in the squad and Jack Ross is a steadying hand on the tiller.