Just a month ago, a tiny cloud of negativity started to creep into the minds of some Sunderland fans. We were drawing more than we were winning, and thus dropping points.
Our manager Jack Ross took a bit of flack - albeit from a small minority. Indeed, some are still dissatisfied with the team’s efforts, but four consecutive wins since then has done a lot to dispel that cloud. It seems Ross has turned it around, and figured out how to turn those draws into wins.
This is starting to look like a theme this season. Back in October of last year, I wrote an article about our leaky backline. At that time we had conceded twelve goals, and due to our struggle to keep a clean sheet, we were dropping points.
The fix didn’t look straightforward or obvious, but we soon went on a streak of four clean sheets in a row: against Shrewsbury, Doncaster, Southend and Plymouth. Since then, our “leaky backline” has not seemed so much of a problem.
Fast forward a few months, and we were all worried about our lack of goals, or even chances, from set pieces. Jack Ross, as calm and unflappable as ever, sat down for the Roker Rapport Podcast in early February and joked about it before explaining that he and his staff were working hard on it.
Since then we have hit five goals from set pieces (excluding penalties).
At the same time, many fans were concerned about our inability to score more than one per game. We certainly did drop points due to this, but once again Ross has seemingly found a solution, with Sunderland having been able to notch more than one goal in each of our last five games.
And most importantly, we seem to be through our “dry patch”. If this is so, I would argue that our dry patch wasn’t actually so bad. We haven’t been beaten since Portsmouth on December 22nd. Yes, we drew too many, but we continued to pick up points and kept calm. We now have the opportunity to kick on, and hopefully we are ready to do that.
Ross has proved that by focusing on the little things, the big things will take care of themselves. Those small problems that were holding us back have been rectified, and as such the larger issues - winning games, league position, the promotion race - look brighter.
Don’t think it’s plain sailing now, however. Ross has plenty more problems to get his teeth into. Particularly our new goalscorer, Will Grigg, who despite his impressive all-round displays has only hit one goal for us from open play.
Let’s hope that goal - a nice turn and cool finish - is the first of many. But if not, give Ross a bit of time and I’m sure he will find a solution, as he has done many times already this season.