October and November were awkward times for Sunderland and Lee Johnson - things were not clicking, injuries were mounting, and form was dipping.
Defeats to Portsmouth and Rotherham along with the FA Cup exit to Mansfield were notable for all the wrong reasons, and the culmination of these defeats emotionally dragged players and fans alike down. Negativity increased - justified or not.
Similarly, the aforementioned slide in form coincided with Sunderland’s attackers falling off the pace - players like Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady, two men who have been mainstays in our side throughout our time in League One, struggled somewhat.
Gooch really struggled to get up to speed, while McGeady’s red card against Rotherham was reflective of a player playing with an injury, cutting an extremely frustrated figure.
And after a blistering start, Ross Stewart struggled to maintain his goalscoring record having set the world alight in August and September - though, it has to be side that’s not entirely his fault as the creativity from players behind him dried up.
Unfortunately, the alternative options didn’t fire.
After the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, Lee Johnson was defiant. He was adamant when he insisted this was just a blip, and injuries were having a massive impact on the squad - and it was hard to argue with him, given so many players were sat out on the sidelines.
It’s also true to suggest that other players have come into form. In the likes of Nathan Broadhead and Alex Pritchard, Sunderland have got two players who have played some of their best football in recent weeks.
And for me, it’s the return to form of Nathan Broadhead that has been most welcome.
His start to life on Wearside has been stop-start since joining up from Everton in the summer - the Wales U21 international striker was unfortunate to pick up a hamstring tear having played out of his skin in our 5-0 win over Cheltenham at the Stadium of Light.
Since his return, his impact has been clear and somewhat vital. Sunderland’s attacking players hit a barren spell in the midst of their October/November struggles, and the return of the likes of Broadhead and a fitter Alex Pritchard has breathed life into our attack.
It’s a welcome boost for Lee Johnson, and also Ross Stewart. One could assume that the introduction of Broadhead playing up top with the big Scottish forward will relieve the burden that’s on him to bag most of our goals - his goal against Morecambe was certainly welcome.
Broadhead has brought a different threat to the team since his return - a different dimension. His pace and direct running has intent, and focus - he doesn’t just run down blind alleys. His physicality is underestimated, and he appears to have the strength and stature to hold off defenders.
His confidence and composure to shoot when he gets half a chance is great to see - and the goal he scored at Cambridge was evidence of just how much self-belief he has, something that will only grow as he gains more opportunities.
Alex Pritchard is a player who fascinates all Sunderland fans - understandably so given he cost Huddersfield £11m in the Premier League, something which naturally raised expectation of what he could offer our side at this level.
After a slow start due to fighting off COVID-19, he’s enjoying his football now, and is scoring goals. At times, it’s easy to see why he commanded such a huge fee in the past.
His natural and technical ability on the ball is streets ahead of most, and it is entirely plausible that a fit, in-form Pritchard could genuinely be one of the biggest assets to this team as we enter the second half of the season.
Most importantly, Sunderland are right back in the mix. Despite the recent negativity surrounding the team, Lee Johnson has the team in a decent position. With some winnable games coming up, and the Sunderland attack beginning to show glimpses of returning to form, things are looking good again.
It goes without saying, the form of the likes of Nathan Broadhead and Alex Pritchard will be key to the team kicking on and staying in the promotion mix over Christmas.