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Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One

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Editorial: What a difference a win makes!

The time for speculating and talking a good game was over and the Lads stood up to be counted - we’ve achieved nothing yet, but it’s a start!

Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Look, it’s only one win and three points at the end of the day, but it felt a lot more than that after the final whistle on Saturday.

It had been 11 weeks since our defeat against Lincoln City at the Stadium of Light back in May, 11 weeks that had built up to a crescendo of anxiety for so many reasons - but we came through our first test on and off the pitch.

For so many of us, walking through those turnstiles meant so much following the last 18 months. Many returned without the company of people who they had come to rely on just being there on a matchday, and who were now no longer there.

For others, the events of the last year took their toll either mentally or physically, and Saturday was a significant sign that we were on the other side.

It was a step in the process that people had identified as a part of that feeling of restriction being released and returning to doing something we all love - and doing it together.

Standing in a queue, being in a group having a pint, talking crap in the build-up to kick-off in the company of friends, and probably realising there were some you probably hadn’t missed at all. The small things. The everyday things. The things we took for granted that we were able to experience once again.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One
It was good to be back...
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The media were full of it on Saturday evening and all of Sunday about our attendance of over 30,000 - “wasn’t it amazing” - but I’ll defy you to find a Sunderland fan who was surprised by the turnout.

Yes, we were kicking-off our fourth season in League One, and yes it was following a season of disappointment, getting within the realms of possibility of reaching the automatic promotion positions only to end up in play-off misery once again, but there’s anticipation around this new regime that is steadily growing.

And it’s not what we’re used to seeing in the past. No bold statements, no magic carpets, just quietly cracking on with the job, and it’s slightly unnerving in one sense, but exciting in another. It’s odd.

There were grumblings regarding the new approach during the summer, questions were asked, and going into the opening day without recognised senior full-backs required an element of trust.

During the week building up to kick-off, various links suggested that we might have at least one full-back to come in to boost the ranks, but it wasn’t to be, and Carl Winchester continued his run of games from pre-season on the right of defence - and Dan Neil did the same on the left. Two central midfielders doing a job they probably shouldn’t be asked to do, which only heightened the tension ahead of kick-off.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Dan Neil was forced to cover in at full-back against Wigan
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

We took the first ten minutes before we found our feet and grew into the game and despite that - and the fact we went behind after 15 minutes - our fans stood up once again and let the side know we were still behind them. We told them this would still be our day.

Two minutes later we got our rewards, as did Ross Stewart, who was refreshing as jumping in the North Sea with the mother of all hangovers, through being positive and actually committing players, by simply moving in the direction of the opposition goal whilst in possession of the football.

Who would have thought it?!

It reminded me of our first game in League One at the Stadium of Light against Charlton in many ways, where despite going behind we knew that we had enough to get back in the game and turn it on its head.

It is a sign of faith. We can see in our recruitment that we’re trying to do the right thing. It might not be to the level in terms of sheer numbers that would allow us to relax about our strength in depth, but the players we’re bringing in appear, at this early stage, to be a level above the ones they’re replacing. And despite the work still to do on the squad, we looked comfortable against a side who could well be in the mix come May.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Callum Doyle during his competitive debut for Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Callum Doyle, 17 - a Rolls Royce of a player in League One, and as Craig and Gav mentioned on the pubcast here, a talent that is already being talked about in the same way as Johnny Evans was discussed in the post-match pub analysis all those years ago.

Corry Evans looks like he can boss the middle of the park in this division, as he showed against someone we had in our ranks last season who was supposed to be doing that job. So much so that we didn’t feel the loss when he was moved out to full-back.

Other than the back four, it was pretty much how we’d expect the team to line-up for the majority of the season, with the potentially enjoyable headache for the manager to fit in Alex Pritchard when he returns. This gives us three weeks to resolve the full-back issues out and potentially bring in another central defender.

Bringing in players as back-up to the likes of Ross Stewart and potentially at full-back might be tough. Would clubs want to loan their players to Sunderland with the potential outcome that they have sat on the bench for a season?

It’s going to be an interesting three weeks, that includes four more League One fixtures and an EFL cup game as we’re still building the squad and results have the potential to help deals or hinder deals for us and other sides, with any domino effect tilting the balance.

1 down, 45 to go - it’s going to be a long season, but Saturday gives us hope it could be a good one.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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