Has there ever been a greater turnaround in Sunderland’s history than that masterminded by Phil Parkinson? Famously, but slightly before my time, the introduction of the young’uns in 1977 nearly led to Sunderland pulling off an unlikely great escape from relegation. However heroic that purple patch was, the club ultimately dropped back to the second division. In contrast, will this transformation have an end product?
On Boxing Day I gloomily contemplated the league table and began wondering whether we might end up dropping to League Two. It seemed unlikely, as Bolton and Southend looked doomed, but with Sunderland nothing can be ruled out.
If we kept playing so poorly and failing to win we would continue to drop down the league. Parkinson would be sacked at some point and who knows what would happen next? Looking on the bright side, I remembered the likes of Wolves and Burnley playing in the fourth division. Perhaps a spell in the basement wouldn’t be so bad?
Yes it would. League One Sunderland is bad enough, but League Two? No. And thankfully we don’t have to imagine this scenario, not this season anyway.
How did it all go right? Parkinson has been as old school as can be, working out his best 11 and then sticking with them, virtually no matter what. Jettisoning McGeady and dropping Grigg were big decisions, but totally justified given what has happened in these first two months of the year. I see some fans complaining that we don’t have squad rotation, and he doesn’t change the team. Why? This used to be a sign of success.
How much confidence must these players have, knowing that the manager backs them and that, as a unit, they are succeeding.
So will we go up? My heart says “yes, we are the champions-elect, just watch as we power past Rotherham and Coventry”. My head is less convinced.
We are tight at the back, so are unlikely to lose more than a couple of games before the end of the season, but our tactics have been effectively stymied by some of the better teams in the division, and we still look short of goals.
We are also very vulnerable to injuries. I have a feeling that much will depend on the January signings, in terms of making an impact as substitutes or slotting into this system when players are injured. The jury is out on all of them so far.
I have a sense that when it comes to the crunch games we will fall just slightly short. The Coventry game will tell us a lot and I hope to be proved wrong. But if I am right, it’s the play-offs again. Have anyone’s nerves recovered enough from last year to stomach another trip to Wembley?