As I sit writing this, we have currently lost two games on the bounce, Charlton and Wigan, and word has just come down that Dion Sanderson, one of the team’s standout performers, is more than likely lost of the season. It may now seem that automatic promotion has slipped away and the playoff is something to hold our breath for.
But, with six games to play, I truly am confident that promotion out of wretched League 1 is not something out of reach or even something of little hope, but inevitable.
The bad news: Dion Sanderson is now lost for the season.
Unfortunately for Sunderland fans, long-term defender injuries are something that has gone hand in hand with the 2020/21 season. Sanderson now joins Arnbenit Xhemajili, Jordan Willis, Tom Flanagan, Connor McLaughlin, Jake Vokins, Bailey Wright and Denver Hume who all have missed or are currently missing extended time due to injury.
Sunderland defenders have collectively missed over 100 league games as a squad...... since January! Dion has been an absolute wall in the centre of our defence in his time in the squad and has become a player not only a highly rated prospect to us but to teams in the two divisions above as well. He will be a massive miss in the run-in.
Other bad news includes the run of form that we’ve now come onto. Charlton are a good squad, fighting for a playoff push as well, well-coached with decent talent for the league. Should we be losing to them? No. Is it a “bad loss”? In the grand scheme of things, no. That’s football. Every once in a while, you’re going to lose those games.
Wigan are a basement side. Not overflowing with bags of talent and not particularly a well-organised club, who have been fighting the relegation battle since the season’s first whistle. There is no way, 10 times out of 10, that the squad we rolled out on Saturday should be losing to that Wigan side. Period.
So how are we still going up?
The good news: Even with all the defensive injuries, literally patching together a back four most weeks, Sunderland have given up the fewest goals per game of any League One side this season.
That stat is beyond fathomable. We’ve been playing teenagers, midfielders and lower league quality players in the back-line and still post the league’s best defensive record. This is an excellent sign for the run-in as well. Mr. Reliable, Bailey Wright, seems fit enough to come back into the squad and marshal the defence in the last six games. Mr Sunderland, Luke O’Nien, will likely slot back in beside him where he has played solidly, albeit out of position for large parts of the campaign (also think he’d throw the number one shirt and gloves on if he was asked).
Max Power has done a job at right-back and will more than likely be asked to continue to do so. Denver Hume looks to be back and getting up to speed at the crucial time and let’s not forget, Lee Burge has made himself into a fine keeper at this level. I’ll take that back-line against anyone in the league if I’m honest.
If we can keep clean sheets, we’ll have done half the job.
The other half of the job is putting the ball in the back of the net. And I know it may be hard to believe, but Sunderland have done just that this season. We post the 5th best goals per game clip of all the teams in the league.
We’ve got League One’s second top scorer in Charlie Wyke and joint top assist man, who didn’t play his first game until December. We’ve got one of the best wingers in recent club memory out on the other wing in Jordan Jones, not to mention great impact players like Gooch, O’Brien, Diamond and Chris Maguire that can add to the firepower when necessary. The goals are there for the taking and if we’re keeping clean sheets on our way in, the pressure will be mounting on the teams above.
The best news: Let’s not forget the real bright spots that might be missed in this week of despair.
We’ve got a man in control of the club who seems to be the best thing to happen to Sunderland in a long time. Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is going to make this club massive again! He’ll be wanting an immediate show for his money this year with promotion, but it is already evident that he’s building something that will stand for a long, long time.
He’s brought in a coach who has, on the whole, turned all the right screws with the squad he’s inherited. He’s invested in fan experience, community involvement, and facility upgrades. He’s put together a business savvy boardroom and a future-minded backroom staff. What he’s doing is something Sunderland haven’t seen from an owner or ownership group in recent history, and the best part is, he seems to be loving every minute of it!
So we’re going up this year! And the future is bright! And come Saturday, I’ll be screaming from all the way across the pond:
Wise men say only fools rush in,
But I can’t help falling in love with you,
Sunderland, Sunderland, Sunderland...
Ha’way The Lads!