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Roker Roundtable: Will games without fans put Sunderland at a disadvantage this season?

If this season begins as expected without fans, would this put Sunderland at a disadvantage, or is there a possible scenario where this could help Phil Parkinson and his side?

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Roker Roundtable: Will games without fans put Sunderland at a disadvantage?

Philip West says...

I think the prospect of playing the opening matches of the season in virtually empty stadiums could have both negative and positive influences on Sunderland’s approach to games, and our chances of winning them.

On the negative side, many of our players are heavily reliant upon a raucous atmosphere to produce their best football. Chris Maguire is the best example of this. Will he and the other players be able to get themselves ‘up’ for games, knowing that there’ll be almost nobody there to cheer them on? It’s going to be an interesting test from a psychological point of view, to see whether they can generate their own motivation and overlook the fact that their efforts will be seen, in person, by no more than a handful of people.

On a more positive side, no fans in the stadiums equals no prospect of booing or jeering when things go awry. The Sunderland fan base is, to put it mildly, restless at this moment in time, and when 30,000 fans at the SOL express their displeasure, it’s always becomes a very fraught arena in which to play football. Without that prospect, perhaps Parkinson and the players will be able to loosen up and play with a greater degree of freedom and without fear of being barracked when they make mistakes.

This team is not the strongest, mentally, and some of the players may find it a welcome relief to be able to play without that ‘knife-edge’ vibe of never being more than one misplaced pass away from villain status.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Chris Maguire
Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Gary Engel says...

Sunderland’s crowd has been the club’s greatest asset and its Achilles’ heel for too long now. When unfancied Championship and League One clubs come to the Stadium of Light, repeatedly use the same tactic, ‘frustrate them and get the crowd on their backs’, you know there is something amiss.

There are many fans who, in recent years, have attended home and away matches only to be baffled how many of our better performances have been as the visiting side. Just look at the debacle of our Championship season where it took until December to register a home win, JUST avoiding the humiliation of going an entire year between wins at the Stadium.

So, does the proposition of an enforced empty Stadium of Light worry me, or concern me how the team are likely to perform? No! If we are bringing in the right players for the job this time around to bolster the likes of Maguire and Gooch who play to the crowd, psychologically it shouldn’t be hamper them.

Our football club needs to take this next few months to re-evaluate and galvanise like many people have been forced to do; all in the hope that better times and those much-missed Saturday afternoons are not far away!

Sunderland v Bristol Rovers - Sky Bet League One
Lynden Gooch
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dan Sullivan says...

I think it may do the team some good to play in front of a largely empty stadium. It must be a daunting prospect for the young players in particular. The likes of Maguire and Gooch feed on the energy of a crowd but at the same time those are the professionals you would expect to raise the team in such a situation and not let it affect their game too much.

I think it’s naive to expect that the season will start without mistakes or hitches or questionable decisions. Perhaps an empty stadium will free up time for the team to settle without the worry of inviting negative pressure from a crowd of long-suffering supporters. The likes of Denver Hume suffered last season from uncertain performances exacerbated by the anger they generated in some of the fans.

There’s a case to be made for an empty stadium stripping back some of the trappings of match day and letting the team focus on telling together, building a good standard of performance and confidence that can give them an excellent foundation to their campaign. It’s also worth pointing out that the Stadium of Light has been a shadow of its former self in recent years.

The ubiquitous question of “Is this a library?” drifts down onto the north stand every week without fail and the home fans rarely summon a response that lasts longer than 10 seconds. Granted, it’s hard to get excited at times playing at this level, but I think talk of the “power of the crowd” can be overstated. If anything, playing in front of an empty stadium might be easier than playing in front of a brooding, quiet mass of uninspired supporters.

Gateshead v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly
Denver Hume
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

I honestly think that the team may play better with no audience, but it’s hard to predict as some thrive with a crowd, and others crumble unless everything is going our way (as we have all seen over the past seasons).

We are among the most committed and loyal fans in the world, period. When operating even at this level, putting 46,000 in the SOL recently was a huge achievement for the club and most of all the fans, but with such a passionate crowd come high expectations and standards.

While we would love to be there to shout the lads on from friendly number 1 on, there is an argument that giving the team a chance to forge their relationships and connections with the formations and (hopefully many new) team members without a live audience may help them. I acknowledge that they will not feel the rush of 30,000 or so fans when they score or play very well, but equally they will go through the pre-season and early games with a chance to gel without direct and very vocal criticism being pointed at them when things don’t come off or don’t go as well.

Also, asking League One players to perform in front of lower or no audience is more akin to what they are used to, and let’s face it, we have a lot of League One players now. Expecting them to manage a stadium response like Messi or Kane is possibly asking more than they can do, so this may help them grow into that too.

Yes they get paid a lot for doing something they love, so yes they should work their socks off and take the good and bad from the stands, but they are people like you and me, so emotions and management of the game’s stresses will always be a factor.

It will be very interesting to see if the lads do well before the gates reopen, though if they do, we need to hope that continues when stands start to refill. Our home ground will always have a good crowd, so my recommendation to the selected players is make the most of the chance of a quiet few games. When we can get in, we will and in great numbers, and we want you flying by then.

Sunderland v Hull City - Premier League
Stadium of Light
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Jimmy Lowson says...

I think the boys have done a great job outlining the reasons why empty stadium football will have positive and negative effects on the team. The one thing I’d add though, is when the Stadium of Light is rocking, we generate an intimidation factor that is unique in League One, maybe with the exception of Portsmouth.

I’m convinced our draws against Accrington Stanley and Blackpool at home in our first season at this level would have been defeats had it not been for the Wearside faithful roaring the team on as we built up momentum in the second half. Opposition players can sense they’re under pressure when the crowd gets loud and once that snowball starts rolling down the hill, it’s bloody hard to stop.

Also, the standard of officiating in English football drops off a cliff once your relegated from the Premier League. In League One especially, dubious decisions and 50-50 calls often go our way as our fans are the loudest. As we’ve seen from behind closed doors matches referees can still be influenced by players and the coaching staff that shout most enthusiastically for decisions. But without 30,000 fans to back Parkinson and his team up, it’s another advantage we’ll lose in what’s bound a totally bizarre season.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One
Phil Parkinson
Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

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