In Sunderland’s recent history, 29th April 2018 was a huge moment and turning point. After months of false hope with would-be buyers, Ellis Short announced the arrival of a new owner and the exit of Chris Coleman.
Before that, the future was uncertain, and the club were staring into the abyss. With mounting debts, an uninterested owner and the club broken, it was hard to see the club not going into administration resulting in a major points deduction. Just what has happened with Bolton Wanderers this week is a stark reminder.
So, would a play-off place with a chance of promotion have seemed so bad at that point?
Maybe not, but Sunderland have partly been a victim of their relative success this season. As the club have hovered around the top four, without ever really nailing an automatic promotion spot, expectation has grown – likewise have the crowds and the nerves.
Just like a few thousand, I’ve watched this season with a hope that has been missing for some years. But I’ve also felt we were watching the 1997/98 season being replayed in glorious League One technicolour.
We certainly don’t have the same flair nor the firepower – more’s the pity. Despite that, this current crop ironically suffers the same Achilles’ heel of that 1998 Sunderland side. There has been much debate regarding Jack Ross’ tactics, lack of ambition in front of goal, too many draws and the inability to clinch automatic promotion.
Well, it has frustrated us all at times, but for anyone who didn’t realise how fragile Sunderland’s back line truly is, it has been plain to see since the Coventry match. Ross has been aware of this for some time, he is working with what he has and is astute enough to know gung-ho football would have left his fragile side exposed at the back.
That, particularly in recent weeks, has led to too many draws and not enough games won which as in 1998 has been our downfall.
But up until recently, Sunderland have gained more points in matches coming from behind than any other side in this league. There is a togetherness and a team spirit that keeps Sunderland going to the end of games.
Before Wembley in the Checkatrade final I wrote how a win over Pompey could have been a catalyst for our season – that wasn’t to be. If we had won that match the whole of Sunderland would have been far more confident ahead of the play-offs, ironically against the same opponents. Both sides have somewhat lost their way in recent weeks, blowing their last chance of promotion automatically.
Given the whimper in which our season ended, confidence has plummeted.
Fans are fickle, but if Sunderland can rouse a strong performance at home on Saturday the fans will back their side with an ocean of noise and confidence will quickly return.
No doubt, we will cheer them on to that last kick of this season whatever the outcome just as Sunderland have always done!