Leon Dajaku’s interview after his goalscoring return against Crewe summed it up.
After netting an absolutely superb solo goal, a goal that capped off a 4-0 away victory that propelled us back into League One’s top two, the on-loan German attacker could barely conceal his delight, and you couldn’t help but smile as you listened.
He is clearly loving life on Wearside right now, and he made no attempt to hide it.
Make no mistake, there is a positivity surrounding Sunderland AFC that we have seldom seen in recent seasons.
After losing a farcical game of water polo down at Fratton Park, a game after which the fallout was messy, to say the least, we have responded in superb style.
Four victories out of four, including two EFL Trophy matches featuring a much-changed XI, and two away victories in the league. Confidence has been restored, Lee Johnson’s faith in his players and his system has been vindicated, and we have demonstrated that the 4-0 reverse on the South Coast was merely a blip, one that has not had a detrimental effect on the squad’s morale.
It goes without saying that standards and expectations have been raised this season, and rightly so, but it would take a brutally critical level of analysis to claim that our start to the season, with 14 wins from 17 league matches, has been anything other than superb.
Post-Pompey, Johnson’s admirable refusal to panic and dismantle his blueprint has been justified comprehensively. Considering the level of expectation under which he is working, he is not showing a Jack Ross-like sensitivity to criticism, and he is proving to be far more inspirational and tactically shrewd than Phil Parkinson, as well.
Looking at the last fortnight, the results themselves have been made all the more impressive when you factor in the injury crisis that we have had to deal with.
Stripped of many of our first-choice players, Saturday’s victory against Gillingham was borne out of resilience and adaptability, whereas Tuesday night’s stuffing of Crewe was the kind of no-nonsense display that promotion-winning teams turn in with regularity.
A fairly inauspicious opening to the game quickly gave way to a professional and ruthless performance, and the likes of Dan Neil, Ross Stewart and Aiden O’Brien raised their game accordingly, and ultimately, that was the difference.
It was also uplifting to see Alex Pritchard turn in a much more influential performance after some hit-and-miss displays so far.
The upshot is that the visit of Charlton on Saturday is set up quite beautifully.
After what has felt like an eternity without hosting a league match, the Stadium of Light ought to be at its raucous best when the out-of-form Addicks arrive. There is history in this fixture, most of it negative from our perspective, so perhaps that can be the extra incentive the players need to deliver the victory.
Ahead of Crewe, I read with interest a column penned by Thorben Hoffmann, who offered a fascinating insight into how he has settled into life at Sunderland, and how the squad is shaping up in terms of mindset.
Not only was it great to hear how the classy German stopper is loving life in red & white, it was also uplifting to hear how Lee Johnson’s ethos is permeating through the squad. Unity has been a hallmark of every promotion-winning Sunderland team I have seen, and I do get a very similar feeling from the current squad.
One major factor in our current form is that, unlike last season, we are not solely reliant on one player to carry the goalscoring burden, and nor are we pinning our hopes on one player to create chances.
Ross Stewart is doing a fabulous job in leading the line, but around him, we possess goalscoring and creative threats in abundance. This will only improve when the likes of the speedy and exciting Nathan Broadhead, and the industrious Lynden Gooch return to the team, and hopefully Johnson will have some genuine selection dilemmas in the not-too-distant future.
Every game in this league is a different kind of test, and Saturday will be no different, but as we continue to build momentum, we ought to go into the game with full confidence that another victory will be achieved. Bring it on!