Sunderland fans are certainly not alone in swinging wildly from adulation to anger, in the space of a couple of games, but I can’t help feeling that we’re unique in developing this all-too-familiar trait into an art form: specifically a neo-Dadaist parody of the modern football fan’s fickle passions.
This past week on social media merely reinforces this feeling.
There’s no doubt that a run of three defeats on the bounce is a cause for concern, and the manner in which we capitulated to Wigan is unacceptable for a club with genuinely realistic aspirations for promotion.
To do so as we enter the business end of the season rubs white salt into red-raw wounds. Yet there’s still much to remain sanguine about amidst the hissing and gnashing of teeth.
Firstly it’s worth considering what success looks like for Sunderland. We all want continuous and instant success but, as we’re all painfully aware, football doesn’t work like that. Hull lost three games in February, Peterborough lost three games in March.
Yes, April has seen us lose three consecutive games and counting but the point, however patronisingly made, is that successful sides go through difficult periods. In fact, it’s essential for Johnson’s development as a manager, as well as for developing players, to experience such difficulties.
Like a teabag and a decent cuppa, the longer they’re in hot water the stronger they’ll get. Peterborough emerged from their poor run of form with a spectacular 7-0 battering of Accrington Stanley and haven’t looked back. If we can emerge half as well from our own recent setbacks then we’ll be heading to the play-offs in a strong position.
With automatic promotion being a realistic target before the Charlton game, it’s understandable that a probable play-off position feels like failure. Yet on Johnson’s appointment, a play-off berth seemed to be the best that we could hope for.
Perversely, there’s always a greater feeling of hope and momentum when a side scrapes into the final play-off position on the last game of the season compared to a team finishing 3rd after narrowly missing out on automatic promotion.
There’s no telling how narrowly we may or may not miss out on automatic promotion nor where, or even if, we will qualify for the play-offs.
However, it’s not where you finish but how you finish as far as play-off prospects are concerned. The performance at Blackpool, if not the result, suggests we’re more than a match for our rivals and that an upturn in fortunes in our remaining games is much more than just blind hope and wishful thinking.
There’s also the success measured by off-field progress.
For all the spleen-venting of late, no one is seriously calling for the removal of either manager or owner. Such stability and implicit satisfaction in the direction taken by the club represents an achievement in itself.
That’s not to say that either have been an unqualified success, just that it’s very early days and there are already signs of some encouragement. The root and branch reform of the club, neglected for so long, seems as astute in its attention to detail as it is wide in scope.
A more data-driven approach to identifying and nurturing young talent through the academy, revitalising the Sunderland Ladies team and developing a coherent footballing philosophy and identity throughout the club, overseen by a highly rated sporting director, all point to a potentially promising foundational base from which the club can hopefully prosper in future years.
Deferred gratification doesn’t come easily to football fans, least of all our own, and with no guarantee that such measures will eventually bear fruit, there’s a risk that patience will be tightly rationed.
Nonetheless, it’s been a while since we’ve had any sort of confidence in the ability of the club hierarchy to both diagnose and prescribe treatment for the club’s condition.