As I prepared to make my way down the stairs upon the final blow of the whistle from Ben Toner on Tuesday night I heard an all too familiar noise - a smattering of boos from a portion of the fans in the stands who felt it was necessary to let out that one last audible gasp of frustration, to really let the players and manager know how they felt about what they had witnessed over those ninety or so grueling minutes of League One football.
I’m not someone who boos. I never have been, never will be, and even on Tuesday I felt it was a little strong. Sure, the second half was terrible, but we still got a point and that’s still something. I don’t think much could drive me to booing the players off the pitch - it’d probably take something spectacular to get me that riled up, particularly that late at night after a long day at work - but I certainly don’t begrudge people of their right to boo. It’s not my cup of tea, but I’m not going to stand arguing with people for doing it.
Regardless of the fact that the manager got some of his tactical decisions wrong, that McGeady’s penalty was so tame, that we reverted from playing some excellent football to playing hoof-ball, or that Charlie Wyke missed an absolute sitter, the effort was still there.
Nobody who was out there on Tuesday failed to at least give it their best effort, which is a basic requirement of every footballer and, as Roy Keane said, is something that barely warrants an applause. They just weren’t very good. It wasn’t our night. We made mistakes, far too many to mention. Our opponents weren’t much better or worse and it made for a turgid game of football. It was just one of those nights where, despite giving it a good go, we just couldn’t maintain our levels from the start of the game and faded badly.
That happens - it’s part and parcel of football. Every team has good and bad days. Sunderland have lost once all season, yet anyone who regularly watches this team can see where we’re going wrong.
We’re defensively unstable and haven’t kept a clean sheet all season - we are still experimenting in defence, and taking into account the fact we’ve signed two defenders who still haven’t played yet suggests that more tinkering is to come before Jack Ross settles on a back line that he feels confident in.
That’s our biggest battle right now. We can just about put a team out there which should have more quality in it than just about every team in the league, but that simply isn’t enough to win every single game - and after a tough year where despite winning more often, fans have felt disappointed with our failure to gain promotion, every single mistake is microanalysed and every single bad performance is spotlighted more than we’ve seen at any point in our recent past.
It’s understandable - our fans in the main feel that we should be the pace-setters in this league, and it’s tough watching our players struggle to break down poor teams who have previously been swatted aside by our promotion rivals.
It’s good that people feel frustrated - that indicates that there’s no longer an acceptance of failure at this club. Can you imagine booing a 1-1 draw at home during that David Moyes season, for instance, or feeling dissatisfied with our performance after a 3-1 away win?
While it might feel like incessant moaning, it also indicates that people have high standards and genuinely believe that this club should be doing better; that we’re constantly striving to improve and work on our weaknesses. We want evidence that improvements are being made, and questions asked if something obviously isn’t working.
I supported Jack Ross when he hit back at criticisms of the Accrington performance, and the disappointing draw against Rotherham won’t change my stance - he’s got to defend himself publicly, and it shows that he’s got a bit of bottle and fight, something we don’t see too often from a man who is often stony-faced and a consummate professional.
It works both ways, though. Ross is the manager of a massive club with an expectant fanbase, he has to just accept that every single thing he does and says will be analysed to the nth degree - and, if he gets things right, he’ll be rightly heralded for his achievements.
Ultimately, though, Ross has achieved nothing yet as manager and if people want to boo him or cheer him that’s fine - you’re entitled to do whatever you want.
If you have high expectations then that’s good; it’s an indication that we’ve stopped thinking about this team as one that loses all of the time. If you feel angry because you didn’t win then it’s indicative of the fact that you recognise that Sunderland should be a dominant force in almost every game that they play.
That’s where we’re at right now - fans, players, managers and owners all have to understand that the pressure this club is under to succeed will not relent, and you either deal with it or you walk away if you can’t deal with it.