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Editorial: The fear of failure is never too far away

Every goal scored at the moment appears to define our season... until the next one.

Seven points out of nine in the space of a week would, in most other times, at the very least be given a nod of gratitude in a sort of “that’ll do me lads” type of way.

But these are certainly not “most other times”.

We’re in a hurry, a hurry to get out of this division - and rightly so.

If I think back to the first season of our current spell down here in the third tier of English football, I was thinking it would just be a repeat of how Denis Smith picked us back up by the scruff of the neck and told us we were too big to be down here and he’d get us back up no bother.

I thought it would be that easy. It’s safe to say I got that one wrong.

We had new owners, who sounded different to the last lot in so many ways, and in my mind, we were getting straight back. But we fluffed our lines at that first attempt, and it just kept getting worse.

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

The Phil Parkinson era had a feeling of inevitability about it, in that I fully expected us to remain in League One. I ran out of hope we would ever get out of this division unless something changed, and then Lee Johnson, with the boost of a new owner, gave us half a chance, only for us to fluff our lines once again at the business end of the season.

Entering our fourth attempt this season, I wanted this to be the one, but as the season approached, I kept it at a level of being ‘cautiously optimistic’. I wasn’t sure of how I felt about Lee Johnson as manager, nor did I really know the level of the players we were bringing into the club, it was a leap of faith.

Then our blistering start happened, and it then became, you know, “Denis Smith” time – this was it, we were going to just romp home this time, I was sure of it. Won seven and lost one of the first nine - top of League One, I might kick-back and enjoy this.

But no, we hit a wobble, and the fear returned. I really don’t want a fifth season in League One if I’m honest. The novelty wore off very quickly during our first season here and I want out now please.

Cambridge United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Nathan Broadhead shoots on goal at Cambridge on Saturday
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Back at the end of September, it felt like it was our year to run away with it, especially because I wasn’t really expecting it back in August, I was a tad excited about the whole thing. But having that expectation be raised to that extent means that our current position feels much worse than it currently is.

There’s two thoughts that I grapple with when I consider the position we now find ourselves. The first being that if you had asked me in mid-October, ahead of Charlton’s trip to the Stadium of Light, if I’d be happy to take the position we’re in now come the beginning of December, I’d have twisted my face in a sort of “do I have to?” sort of way. But, if you’d asked me that question back in August ahead of Wigan’s visit to the North-East, I’d have snapped your hand off.

The pace we came out of the blocks this year combined with a sudden drop-off, has resulted in the fear of yet another failure amplifying the regular ups and downs beyond any recognition.

Take Saturday’s game at Cambridge - we grab an early lead and we’re back on track. Just over ten minutes later, we’re pegged back by the hosts and our world has caved in once more. The panic lasts another ten minutes or so until we’re back on track.

Cambridge United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Alex Pritchard has been a key player this week for Sunderland
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Every goal seems to define our season, and it seems like it’s that fear of missing out once again that is at the root of it all.

It’s clear that this younger squad, which is now depleted with our ever growing injury crisis, are not going to be steady Eddies this season, and we’re in for a year where we will inevitably have dips in results/performance.

It’s how we manage those dips. For instance, I’d argue in the last week we have achieved the seven out of nine points while actually performing well below where we know this side can play. Even then, we should have taken maximum points from the week. It’s hoping the results/performance combinations seen twice in quick succession down in South Yorkshire around four weeks ago were anomalies. Time will tell.

I’ve had to accept that this season isn’t going to be that year we collect a hundred points and be on our merry way, League One is going to be tight this year.

Cambridge United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Bailey Wright has impressed after returning to the side recently
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Starting with our trip to Portsmouth, we’ve just come off the back of a run of only two games at the Stadium of Light in League One out of the last nine, which has taken its toll - especially as we lost one of those home games.

We now have three successive league games on home soil to really cement our place as one of the main contenders for promotion: December becomes a huge month containing eight games with a now injury-riddled squad. It’s a month to make sure we are in a position to negotiate with a strong hand in January when it comes to adding to the squad.

And as much as I want to look ahead at what fixture we might possibly be celebrating our return to the Championship at the fourth time of asking, it’s unfortunately going to be a case of taking it game-by-game, where the promotion picture could well change on a daily basis.

But, taking into account that this time last year I didn’t feel like we’d get anywhere close to promotion as the Parkinson reign was coming to its likely conclusion, I’ll take being in the hunt for one of those automatic promotion spots.

And, who knows, I might even enjoy it.


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