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Sunderland v Oxford - Sky Bet League One

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

Today feels like a big day. How are those pre-match nerves holding up?! Let’s be loud, let’s be proud - we are Sunderland, and we can do this.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Today, for the first time in a long time, I’ve got those pre-match nerves. You know the sort. The sort that dominate your thoughts in the days leading up to the game. The sort that have you waking up at night. The sort that have you counting down the seconds to kick off.

The sort that means it matters again.

Friday’s victory over Oxford, and the manner in which it happened, means we head to London Road with justifiable optimism.

Who’d have thought we’d be saying that 13 games ago?

Rewind to that Shrewsbury game… the takeover seemed to be taking an eternity, we were struggling to get any real momentum on the field, and thanks to a 2-1 defeat we were sitting in seventh with no real hope of automatic promotion.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
It’s less than two months ago – but it seems like a lifetime ago
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

How quickly things can change.

Of course, a lot of that is to do with the very presence of new owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

While he’s not had much opportunity to influence things on the field since his official appointment, he’d evidently been involved in the appointment of Lee Johnson and the implementation of a far more professional set up behind the scenes than has been there since the days of Niall Quinn; a sporting director and a new COO being the key appointments.

While the recruitment and appointment process was started prior to his official arrival, it’s a stretch to believe that it would have happened without an impending takeover. Either way, it’s an irrelevant point – all that matters is now. And, while we need to be cautious – we’ve been burned before – it’s provided hope, which as we all know is the equivalent of football supporter oxygen.

The ghosts of ownership past had been removed, and it has felt like a brand new start. The supporters were communicated with immediately by the new owner, well and without the underlying business-to-customer tone that underpinned some communications of the past.

Football isn’t about customers.

The streaming service was immediately upgraded to a standard that more befits a club like Sunderland, or at least what we aspire to be. They didn’t have to do that, but they did.

The academy was zoned in on as a focus for the future – music to the ears of everyone who has the club at heart, and a world away from it was let to become; a footballing equivalent of a Sunday morning car boot sale.

Sunderland Training Session
The Academy of Light is being positioned as the focal point of the club
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The season card renewal process was handled well – the video to accompany the launch hit the right notes, the messaging was right and the information clear.

While there has been the odd hiccup with the TicketMaster platform (and there’s still the moral issue of whether season card holders who accessed the streaming service should get a credit of some description) it’s a world away from the mess at the end of last season, when Jim Rodwell had to issue statement after statement, each one trying to rectify the previous, but somehow creating a new problem at the same time.

And this new-found professionalism off the field gives confidence to everyone else associated with Sunderland Association Football Club. It looks like we are creating a club that players will want to be part of. Last week, Jack Diamond hinted at this when talking about his new contract.

I’ve been here since I was 14, so to be offered the chance to play for Sunderland – when they are on the up – is a fantastic opportunity for me.

When they are on the up.

That’s the feeling.

Accrington Stanley v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Jack Diamond’s new contract was welcome news
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Lee Johnson has to take credit too. Backed by Kristjaan Speakman – who’s going to be the critical person football wise over time – he’s created a mentality that the players are buying into. You can see they’re enjoying playing for him – the tactical flexibility he’s brought is outstanding and while performances haven’t always been great, the attitude, application and – more times than not over the past few weeks – the outcome, have been.

It’s a world away from what we were subjected to under Phil Parkinson, and just shows how much has changed behind the scenes in terms of attitude to what’s needed to build a successful football club in the 21st century.

But today, all that matters is Peterborough. It’s a game that has a similar feeling to that Easter Monday match against Southampton under Keane. What a goal from Leadbitter! Or when we played QPR at home on Good Friday under Peter Reid.

One went the right way, one didn’t.

I still curse Mike f•••••g Sheron.

Southampton v Sunderland
Hit it!
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Lee Johnson talks of fire in the belly and ice in the head, and that’s what all of us need – players and fans alike during this run in. We’ve not left ourselves with a great deal of room for slip-ups.

But the result today isn’t going to be decisive. Yes, if we win – or even draw – we can make things a hell of a lot easier for ourselves.

But if we don’t there’s still plenty of time. We lost at Colchester in the run in under Keane; at home to Reading in the run in under McCarthy, and everything still worked out alright.

We’ve got hope. We’ve got momentum. We’ve got heart. And we’ve got the prospect of a very bright future. We are cautiously optimistic.

So enjoy the build up, crack the cans open, and let’s roar this club – our club – to victory.

Because, throughout it all, we’re the constant. And, while we can’t physically be at the game today, we most definitely are there in spirit.

Ha’way, ha’way, ha’way me bonny lads!


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