It’s said that a week is a long time in politics. It can feel even longer in football, and it can feel an age in the world of Sunderland AFC.
Our previous game away to MK Dons was just over three weeks and five League One games since our disastrous Boxing Day performance that led to a series of well-documented events in a painful aftermath.
An official crowd of 33,821 at the Stadium of Light witnessed Sunderland struggle against bottom of the table Bolton Wanderers. This was a game where the quality was so poor it would have simply taken one moment of competency to gain all three points for either side.
In isolation a goalless draw isn’t the end of the world, but in the context of dropping to 15th in League One with the form guide reading 2 victories in the previous 9 league games (14 in all competitions) for some it felt like it.
Fast forward to 5pm on the 18th January 2020 and the world is a different place - and Phil Parkinson just may be at the beginning of the biggest turnaround in a Sunderland manager’s fortunes that I have seen in my lifetime. But it’s easy to forget how early we are into that process, the previous five games have been great, but these successes are amplified due to the previous form and that the improvement came from nowhere.
Let’s rewind back to the 5th October 2019. Sunderland had just lost at Lincoln City, and that would mean it was the final time Jack Ross would take charge of a Sunderland team. After eleven games we found ourselves sitting 6th in League One, with the defeat at Sincil Bank being the second league defeat of the season so far. In terms of points, Sunderland sat four points behind Wycombe Wanderers in second place with a game in hand.
After last year’s disappointment everyone connected with the club had an ambition to take one of the top two automatic promotion positions at the end of the 2019-20 season. Taking up the final play-off position almost a quarter of the way into the season wasn’t good enough, and a change at the top was deemed the remedy to meet those ambitions.
What followed after that Lincoln City game was the dramatic loss of ability to pick-up points whilst not performing well which led to the dismal form laid out previously. These performances up to and including the Boxing Day bore-draw weren’t just below-par, they were simply dreadful which makes the current form taste that little bit sweeter.
The previous five games that have resulted in four wins and a draw, have now put us back in our old stomping ground of 6th position in League One. In terms of points our situation is very similar to what we had back in October of last year as we are now sitting six points behind Wycombe Wanderers in second place with two games in hand.
We’re in almost an identical situation halfway through the season as we were after just less than a quarter of the season, the only difference is we’re currently in a good run of form similar to how Jack Ross began the season before tailing off.
Analysing the previous five games, the away performances have been an impressive aspect of the upturn in form. Although the improvement in our pressing game contributed to our home victories, Lincoln City and Wycombe Wanderers were very poor on the day. On occasions they gifted us the opportunity to score, especially the Imps handing Lynden Gooch a boost of confidence with a brace.
The win at MK Dons came after a game where both sides are evenly matched and it takes a moment of magic backed up with the determination and organisation to see it through to take all three points. These are the games that will make or break our season, and consistently coming out on top is vital which is why the MK Dons could be the blue print for many of our remaining games.
With half of the season remaining we’ve had two managers who both had good runs and both had bad runs, and we now find ourselves back to the position we started the Parkinson era. However unlikely it looked three weeks ago, we have simply achieved getting back to where we started. Judgment on how much of a feat this is will ultimately depend on the outcome in May.
With roughly a quarter of the transfer window still to negotiate as well, in typical Sunderland fashion this season still very much has the potential to go either way.