The wind of change is blowing through the club again. Just over a year since Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven swept in, the Americans are coming and the club will metamorphose once again as it seeks to rebuild, stronger and fitter for purpose.
There was an inevitable meltdown following the defeat at London Road - some of the criticism was merited but much the sort of histrionic verbiage we’ve come to expect in the face of anything remotely ‘this wasn’t in the script’.
Twitter becomes a cesspit of abuse, most of it misspelt and much a vitriolic attempt at seeing who can use the most swear words. It’s hardly constructive and largely negative. The praise of victory at Burnley was replaced within days by calls for the manager to be sacked again. The pendulum swings from ‘Back Jack’ to ‘Sack Jack’ and back to ‘Back Jack’. In itself that’s not a good place to be, so the sooner some stability is established the better.
I looked back at last season’s League One table, firstly after six matches. First and second on sixteen points were Peterborough and Portsmouth. Sunderland were fourth on fourteen points. Luton? Luton Town were ninth, and Barnsley third. Luton only reached fourth place on November 24th. They broke into the top two on December 8th and only reached the top on January 26th.
Using ten matches as the barometer, which many fans have cited as the point at which to take stock, Luton were tenth and Barnsley sixth. Sunderland have now lost one match, but there was a school of thought last season that they are better off winning and drawing rather than clocking up draw after draw. Of course that increases the pressure on the games coming up against Accrington Stanley, Rotherham, Bolton, and MK Dons, all of which one has to argue are eminently winnable before they face Lincoln City at Sincil Bank, who are arguably their next significant challengers.
Analysing the match at Peterborough and picking up on comments made during the week, one thing is becoming apparent - and that’s the reliance being placed upon Aiden McGeady.
While Marcus Maddison had a dramatic impact on the game, he is not in the same bracket as McGeady in terms of skill and experience, but Maddison is more League One savvy than McGeady.
Sunderland have to explore ways to win matches without an over-reliance on Aiden. He is a luxury who on his day is a match winner but, as he showed at Peterborough - and if we go back two seasons to Barnsley - when he’s not at the races the team as a whole suffers.
It’s interesting that with both those examples McGeady was poor and gave the ball away too easily and both ended in 3-0 defeats. Of course I am being over simplistic to a degree, because other players were also culpable at Peterborough - the match again highlighted that Luke O’Nien is fundamentally not a full back.
The point I’m making is that to achieve success in League One teams tend to need physicality and strength, and at the moment I’m not sure Sunderland possess enough to compete with the likes of Peterborough, whose summer transfer business was dominated by six footers with League One and Championship pedigrees – Niall Mason, Mark Beevers, George Boyd, Josh Knight and Mo Eisa, a strong spine that complements the existing squad of the likes of Maddison and the busy but effective Louis Reed.
Now this isn’t to say Sunderland’s transfer business has been under-whelming. Far from it.
I see great promise in George Dobson, Jordan Willis, Mark McNulty et al and we are yet to see Joel Lynch and Laurens de Bock. The squad is unquestionably more balanced and in its performance at Burnley and against AFC Wimbledon the signs are there of a more robust team. It’s interesting McGeady didn’t play at Burnley and for Maguire’s hat-trick against AFC Wimbledon, McGeady’s contributions were less telling.
Not for one minute am I saying we don’t play with McGeady. Far from it. What I am saying is that Sunderland need to use him more intelligently. Play to his strengths. Integrate McGeady in a way the players around him can grow in stature themselves.
Returning to the point I made at the top, the club is in the process again of important change which will have a significant impact on the future but for that future to be positive is largely dependent on Sunderland winning promotion this season.
At the moment, despite the wobble at Peterborough, the signs on the whole are to my mind good. The table last season and the table this suggests Sunderland will be in contention and while there is inevitably a section of fans who do not want Jack Ross as manager, the club in the throes of change needs stability wherever it can be achieved.
At the moment the playing side is stable. The defeat at Peterborough was a wake-up call.
As Grant Leadbitter told me in his post-match analysis, Sunderland will probably lose six or seven more matches this season, but significantly they now look like a team who will win more matches this season than draw. All in all, as we await developments in the boardroom, the playing side after six league matches looks sanguine.