You’re sitting down to watch your team play their first match of a new year. It’s cold and dark, just after Christmas - the kind of day when the overindulgent festive period has got a bit too much for you. You’re looking to get past the no man’s land period of Christmas Day to New Years Day and hoping that a good performance from your team will help kick off the year in the right way.
Alas, you are a Sunderland fan; and your team doesn’t do things like that.
We had a two and a half week wait between our last match of 2020 and the first fixture of the new year, and it’s fair to say the trip to Northampton had us more excited than it should have. Sunderland were lining up against a team which had recently gone on a four match losing streak, losing two of these matches 4-0. It looked like the ideal opponent to face after our impromptu festive break.
Unfortunately, everything about the 0-0 draw at the PTS Academy Stadium reeked of a woeful match in poor conditions on a pretty disappointing pitch.
The draw might have been a perfect metaphor for 2020. Sunderland huffed and puffed without creating any real chances; looking every bit the team which had recently overcome a dozen coronavirus cases.
We could be forgiven for putting in a lethargic performance, but the truth is that Northampton were there for the taking, and we never looked like heading back up north with all three points.
To describe the contest as scrappy would be a lethal understatement. Northampton were playing like a team that had won their last match and knew that a draw at home to Sunderland would always be seen as a huge point on the board.
For a newly promoted side that lies 19th in the table, they gave as good as they’ve got. Even so, there shouldn’t be the excuses for our failure to beat them. If Sunderland are to even contemplate making a charge at the automatic places, a trip to a side like Northampton should be a straight forward three points.
We looked alright moving the ball forward on what was a poor pitch, until our play arrived in the final third. Against a back four made up of towering defenders, we were rarely given the chance to get a shot on goal. Northampton were never going to sit back for a point, but we didn’t half make it easy for them to register just their third clean sheet of the season.
The biggest concern is Sunderland’s continued inability to beat teams at the foot of the table. We have now faced all of the current bottom seven sides, and we’ve only beaten one of them. Eight points from a possible 21 from these teams will be a big reason why promotion could be very hard to come by.
A win at Northampton would have at least made this look a bit less grim, but it honestly felt like a match where we could have played until everyone in the UK has had a coronavirus vaccine, and we still wouldn’t have scored.