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Sunderland AFC - The plucky underdogs (or should that be plucky under... cats?!)

Despite attempting to mount a promotion charge during a horrendous defensive injury crisis this season, Sunderland are still in a great position to achieve a return to the Championship. Let’s finish the campaign strongly.

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

There’s no denying that the current run of form Sunderland find themselves in is absolutely abysmal. Seven games without winning, particularly at this level, is incredibly poor.

Quite how and why things have ground to such a morale-sapping halt is up for debate.

I’ve seen everything on social media from people wanting rid of the manager because of his part in it, to some even suggesting that some of the players - particularly those who have deals which will soon expire - don’t actually want to get promoted.

We’re all searching for answers - Lee Johnson included.

Each fan has their own view on what needs to change, and what’s going wrong. I’m sure the players themselves will be questioning their own ability to get promoted - evidently, the pressure to succeed is too strong for some.

But, it’s important to reflect on the season so far when judging this lot, I reckon.

You’re all well versed already in how the campaign started.

We let a bad manager continue a bad job, we had an awful summer of recruitment, we let valuable young players leave, we signed a bunch of crap players that we knew were massive risks even before we gave them contracts, we left it as late as possible to bring the players off furlough, we had a poxy pre-season programme in which we only played three games, and then, guess what - we struggled to gain any momentum.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Hannah Fountain - CameraSport via Getty Images

We hung onto Parkinson for far too long - with a drawn-out ownership change to boot hardly helping things - and then when he did go, the club gave the incoming manager an incredibly tough task to overcome. He started slowly, and despite a decent January transfer window, we became hamstrung by a series of defensive injuries that continue to plague us.

Oh, and we had the squad decimated by a COVID outbreak, don’t forget.

You know what...

Normally I’d say “I’m not making excuses here, but...” - no, I am making excuses.

The sheer amount of serious injuries sustained by our defenders has been nothing short of a joke. We’ve been without Denver Hume, Tom Flanagan, Conor McLaughlin and Bailey Wright for large swathes of the season. We signed Arbenit Xhemajli and Morgan Feeney and both of them picked up serious injuries right at the start of the campaign having barely kicked a ball. Jordan Willis has basically been ruled out for 18 months, and even when he did play, he played whilst clearly carrying a knock - and it showed.

As a result, two of our most attack-minded midfield players have spent the majority of the season playing in defence. And despite their best efforts, they’re not defenders. We’ve missed their presence in the final third and it shows in the goal charts - if it wasn’t for Charlie Wyke, we’d be absolutely goosed.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

So yes, I am making excuses - there are some very valid reasons why this squad has fallen short of automatic promotion, and very few of them were avoidable.

It’s not fashionable to talk about The Lads as plucky underdogs, though. People outside the Sunderland bubble don’t realise or, quite frankly, don’t care that we’ve had one of the most horrendous injury lists in the entire country this season.

The fact we’ve kept so many clean sheets frankly amazes me, particularly considering that at almost any given time we’ve only had one central defender fit.

So please - PLEASE - just remember all of that when wondering why we haven’t managed to pip Hull or Posh to those spots inside the top two.

Until all is said and done, I’ll be giving the Lads and Lee Johnson as much support as I can realistically give. I can’t be there in person of course to cheer them on, but I can back them - online, at least - when they need us most.

I find myself reluctant to start pointing the finger of blame when the season hasn’t even ended yet. Whilst we threw away our chance of claiming an automatic promotion spot, the play-offs are still in reach.

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

We just have to get another point I reckon, but a win this weekend against Plymouth will do wonders not only for the confidence of the players, but also the fans.

I get why people are so disappointed - Sunderland did a Sunderland. They gave all of us hope that everything had finally clicked, and then... it was gone. People are hurting badly because the way things have gone seemed inevitable - at some point, this club will find a way to let you down. And when we capitulate, we don’t half do it in style.

One thing that supporting this club for the last twenty-odd years has also taught me is to expect the unexpected. It’s feasible that we can win our last two games, and go into the play-offs in a good place, both mentally and in terms of our on-field momentum.

Fans and players alike will start believing that we can do it.

But, only the players can go out this weekend and do anything about it. It’s down to them to beat Plymouth, get rid of that horrible winless run, and concentrate on moving forward.

I still have full belief that they can and will do it. And if they don’t, well, I’m sure there’ll be a time and a place for discussing what went wrong.

That time, however, isn’t now.

Keep believing... dare to dream.

Because you never know - it might just come true.

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