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Barnesy’s Blog: 2020 has reached a new nadir now the coronavirus is spiralling out of control

BBC Radio Newcastle’s Sunderland commentator Nick Barnes hasn’t had a Boxing Day off in almost three decades, but, with the pandemic threatening the future of the EFL once again, it’s not something he’s celebrating.

On Saturday morning I had a lie in. However, where I should have been was somewhere on the A1 heading south and west to Shrewsbury. Now I have my first Boxing Day off in twenty nine years. I am discombobulated.

2020 has reached a new nadir. Pondering the next few months, it dawns this season is at another crossroads as more clubs fall victim to the Covid-19 virus and, when Matt Hancock admits the coronavirus is spiralling out of control, so too is the football season if more clubs have to postpone fixtures. The windows of opportunity in terms of rescheduling matches are fairly narrow with the Papa John’s Trophy quarter-finals and semi-finals squeezed within a fortnight of each other on top of the midweek League fixtures already positioned in January, February and March. Hopefully clubs can put a lid on the problem now Sunderland and Peterborough have both had to postpone three matches.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Meanwhile, in the background, the ‘take-over’ saga rumbles on but is seemingly close to some sort of closure. Whether fans are appeased or not we’ll find out in the coming days, but to put it to bed has to be some sort of positive so the club can start its rebuilding process. That the club has been largely rudderless has become painfully clear but now it does at least have in place the likes of Kristian Speakman and Lee Johnson, who appear driven and enthusiastic.

Johnson’s approach has been refreshing following the dour, humdrum Parkinson who it seems to me was well aware of his fate some months before the axe fell. A sense of inevitability exuded from his demeanour and seeped through to the players, who became crippled by association. Aiden McGeady’s comments on the club’s ‘Unfiltered Podcast’, that the players didn’t bat an eyelid when Parkinson left, were telling. An indictment of the torpor the club found itself bound in.

The January transfer window opens shortly and Johnson and Speakman can make some remedial repairs to the squad. That is largely what they will be, unless they can perform some wizardry in the market by moving a few out to get a few in, but at least we saw at Lincoln signs of a revival with the current set of players. Jack Diamond it seems could be the gem everyone has been crying out for, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself on the evidence of just a couple of matches. Nonetheless, his confidence and his desire to take players on is a big boost and a pleasure to watch. McGeady’s return is also a big positive. As Lee Johnson rightly pointed out; what is the point in not using arguably the best player in League One, whatever flaws he may have.

The damage caused by this unprecedented three match postponement is yet to become clear but at least the teams above have remained largely inconsistent which is another positive going forwards. I still remain largely sanguine about the season though with the impending changes the government are likely to make to the tier system. With the north-east possibly being positioned in tier 4, I am resigned to Benno and I not being able to travel to cover the away matches. It’s a totally understandable move as safety is paramount and, with the transmission rates of the mutant virus seemingly so virulent, it is an inevitable consequence of the pandemic. I’m keeping my fingers crossed though.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Of course we will still broadcast the matches, either by our colleagues at the respective teams standing in for us or we commentate from the studio via the club stream. There are options and we have to accept that all of us in some way or another will be affected. In these challenging times, however, we have found ways to clamber over the hurdles and if those changes do come to pass we can be hopeful it is only for the short term.

I have only missed one Sunderland match in the past thirteen years (the FA Cup tie at Bradford City. Entirely my own fault. I thought it was an international weekend and booked a week off to visit my parents!) so it will dent my professional pride if we are unable to travel but it is a small sacrifice compared to that made by all the fans who have not been able to attend any matches, home and away.

Short term pain for long term gain, because the sooner we get fans back into games the better. It’s ironic the match at Shrewsbury would have had spectators but they, like me, had a lie in on Saturday. Stay safe, and hopefully I’ll see you soon. I wish you a very Happy Christmas!