We’re ten matches into the League One season – a traditional marker of what one can expect as we plough into what already seems an interminable season with the lack of fans in the grounds.
What to make of the season that has already led to both a cacophony of ‘Parkinson Out’ calls, as well as a more revisionist approach to Parkinson’s abilities following the start to the campaign that saw the team keep five clean sheets?
I write on the back of Sunderland’s 2-1 win over Ipswich Town. A gruelling ninety minutes plus of attritional football defined, as it was at Gillingham, by penalty and sending off decisions.
The football isn’t pretty, but when was it ever in League One, Division Three or Division Three North and South?
The lower leagues have traditionally been the playground for sloggers and grafters. The elite and flash soon gravitate to the higher divisions.
Sunderland, this season, will have to dig deep and work hard if they are to finally get promoted – and there is some evidence from the matches against Swindon, Gillingham and Ipswich they are capable of demonstrating those characteristics.
This is a team that lacks pace, something that has been highlighted on a daily basis. Its forwards are bastions of a bygone era. Reminders of the burly centre forwards that adorned the pages of ‘Shoot’ and ‘Match’ – but they still have their place, as Charlie Wyke has been demonstrating in his inimitable way these past few weeks.
Like him or loathe him he’s scoring goals and that’s why he’s in the team.
One can only hope Danny Graham finds some form and, as for Will Grigg, I actually have some sympathy for him.
I thought he looked leaner and sharper in pre-season and was unlucky to get dropped following the Bristol Rovers match.
As Stephen Elliott discussed on BBC Radio Newcastle this week, Grigg offers something different and if he’s not given opportunities how will we ever find out if he’s put last season behind him ?
Of course there has been a clamour to see the young players involved.
Jack Diamond has been a token presence on the bench these past few matches – whether to appease or please, who knows, but at least with matches against Mansfield Town and Fleetwood Town coming up in the FA Cup and ‘Papa Johns Trophy’ – a sponsorship which has taken the opportunity to ridicule the competition to a whole new level – we are sure to see the fringe and young players involved.
Phil Parkinson has proved his conservatism over the forty odd games he’s been in charge.
He rigidly sticks to a formation. He rarely makes early tactical substitutions and once he has an eleven in mind he rarely wavers from it.
He may tinker, and when he does make wholesale changes – as he did at Rochdale – one can see why doing so is anathema to him when it goes so wrong. At least they didn’t lose at Spotland.
On the flip side, this dogmatic approach sees Sunderland sitting just a point behind Ipswich with a match in hand. It’s where we all want to be.
At the start of the season I spoke with a number of fans who didn’t care about the style but just wanted results.
However since the Portsmouth defeat the issue of style over substance has dominated the forums and phone-ins.
Parkinson won’t waver from his way of doing things.
While he’s grinding out the results, which in essence is what this team is doing, his position in reality is secure. Why would you change the manager with Sunderland sitting in the top six?
Would you change the wallpaper if there was a smear on the wall or a carpet if there was a wine stain?
You may not like them but you put up with them.
Many Sunderland fans I suspect are in this bracket.
Everyone’s ambition though is promotion and, at the moment, after ten matches that is still achievable. The team is flawed, without question. It is what it is, a League One team, but nine performances out of ten it has been showing some character and resilience even at times, like any team, it has ridden its luck.
There will be bumps and hiccups down the road. However, with a little fortitude and determination this team can rise above its weaknesses and get itself out of this league.
There are players in the squad, Grant Leadbitter, Bailey Wright, Luke O’Nien, Lynden Gooch to mention just a smattering, who give Sunderland an edge at times.
Others like Chris Maguire and Josh Scowen are more maverick but nonetheless when they are in form are players that give the team a cutting edge.
Denver Hume continues to improve and waiting in the wings are the likes of Elliott Embleton, Jack Diamond and Dan Neil.
As Phil Parkinson is at pains to point out, this league and the position Sunderland find themselves in, that is a third season at the third level, is not the time for experimentation or gambling.
It truly is a marathon and not a sprint and there are still THIRTY SIX league matches to go!!
Look at it at as you would a Picasso. You may not understand the picture or like it at all but as a canvas it has a result.