Last Saturday morning I was ready to write my next Roker Report piece - it was about how average the current Sunderland squad is. League One players pretending to be interested in promotion but happy, every game, to let things slip. Frightened of success, this is a squad which knows that if Sunderland somehow do go up, the most almighty clear-out will follow. A squad with no incentive to put a run together, completely summed up by the phrase “seventh in League One”. All hope for this season was gone, and I was beginning to wonder if Lee Johnson was the man for the job. After all, his record seemed no better than Parkinson’s or, indeed, Jack Ross’s.
Then I watched us play Doncaster.
It wasn’t the complete performance, and it was at League One level, but there was plenty in this game to suggest that the season is far from over and Johnson might be on to something.
All the attention has been on McGeady, Wyke and Burge and rightly so.
The goals were just surreal. McGeady’s performance was one of the most captivating I have ever seen from a Sunderland player, on a par with Kieron Brady’s one-man destruction of West Ham in the late 80s. Wyke has been an absolute revelation under Johnson and was similarly unplayable by the Doncaster defence.
Lee Burge – regarded beforehand as Sunderland’s least dodgy keeper, if only by a narrow margin – looked strong and confident throughout and excelled in saving two penalties, particularly the first. But there was just so much more to this game.
The shape of the side looked good. Power and O’Nien were particularly excellent in midfield. Sanderson shone and I though McLaughlin had a strong return to the side. The passing was sharp – there was one particularly excellent move on the left in the second half which tore Doncaster open – and we kept up a great tempo, particularly in the first half. Sunderland also controlled the game well in the last few minutes.
All of this was in the context of Doncaster being a decent side who played a full part in what was a really entertaining game.
So the hope is back. Play like this for the rest of the season and a play-off place is in the bag and automatic promotion is a realistic possibility.
Do I think we can push for the top two?
At the moment, no.
The odds are that we’ll slip back to the more pedestrian style we’ve seen in previous games where we end up with a nervous 1-1. But there must be real confidence in the squad that Johnson has finally found the winning formula.
This is the key moment where the rest of the season will be decided. We have to beat Burton and go on a run where we win, say, 8 of the next 10.
I really hope we do but, even if we don’t, I feel more confident now that the club is finally turning a corner and the League One nightmare will start to come to an end.