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Whisper it quietly - Sunderland are coming up on the outside, and no one seems to have noticed

After two seasons of being a curious museum exhibit, Sunderland finally seem to have found the required performance levels which will enable them to escape from the third tier.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

On Monday evening before going to bed I downloaded the EFL and NTT20 podcasts with the intention of listening to analysis of our win over Rochdale. Having spooled through all the nonsense (i.e. the Championship) I was dismayed to find that we did not warrant a mention on either.

Huh, I thought. That’s interesting.

It’s not as if we’ve been ignored by the rest of the league since dropping into the third tier in 2018. In fact, we have been an object of fascination for some time; a sort of strange anomaly which happens now and again - Leeds, Leicester, Wolves, Sheffield United and Southampton to name a few have all spent time down here in recent years.

It’s a bit like if a pilot whale washed up on Roker beach, all the locals would come out to have a gawp.

Now, however, the novelty appears to have worn off. Put it simply Phil Parkinson turned the club into League One also-rans. As such as a threat, Sunderland is being largely overlooked.

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Not that it’s a bad thing. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but this squad is looking equipped to finish the season strongly. More so, certainly, than our immediate rivals who all have their obvious issues.

Peterborough’s away form, lack of Clarke-Harris alternative and key injury to Jack Taylor - coupled with their recent form - means they have cause to be worried.

Hull City, while on the back of an impressive win on Tuesday, won their first four games of the season, but since then have lost one in three.

Lincoln meanwhile have lost their talisman Jorge Grant for the majority of the season, and have so many other injuries you’d think they’d been taking tips on how to pull muscles from Allan Saint-Maximin, otherwise known as the man who plays the minimum.

Sunderland on the other hand are now occupying the top positions in a lot of key indicators this season - something they rarely did previously. Top goalscorer, near the top of the form table, the best defence, one of the most potent attacks and second-best goal difference.

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

Yes, I’m interpreting statistics to fit a theory, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. Sunderland are winning matches: they are looking dynamic, fit and motivated.

One of the key things is this is a side that must be a nightmare to set up against tactically. They are so fluid at the minute the opposition is forced to adapt their game in an attempt to nullify any threat, principally from Jones and McGeady but from others too.

This means the attacking outlets which might cause us problems are considerably blunted. Too often it has been the reverse, but not anymore.

And the best bit about it all? No one is talking about us. I’m paraphrasing, but in the Peterborough press the other day, a comment was made about the friendliness of Sunderland’s fixtures - the clear inference being that we hadn’t had to work for our victories, and when the crunch time arrives, we will be left wanting.

Okay then, answer this, which defence in the division could have successfully repelled Jones’ cross to Wyke on Saturday? Yes it was Rochdale - who it has to be said played well - but we produced moments which could not be defended, no matter who the opposition.

So promotion is practically in the bag, right? Wrong. The biggest risk we face is a lack of application or attitude, or the assumption the results will just happen. An obvious point, but we’ve been there before, recently. If the Crewe game taught us anything, it’s that you’re only a short drop off in performance to being far from good enough. That wasn’t so much daylight robbery, but an Ocean’s 11-style heist, with all the accompanying bells and whistles. It must only happen once.

As supporters we are conditioned not to hope, dream or expect anything. A legacy of being let down on multiple occasions, particularly of late.

This feels different. The silent juggernaut is picking up pace.

Just don’t tell anyone.


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