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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One

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7 games, 6 wins – how do you feel about Sunderland’s start to the season?

We’ve won six out of seven this season – and the one we did lose really should have been a convincing victory, too. So, how are our panel feeling about the start to the season so far?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil West says...

I won’t sit on the fence here. I think we’ve had an absolutely superb start to the season, and I’m extremely excited about the direction the club is heading in.

Without getting too carried away, the club feels completely rejuvenated right now, and there’s genuine optimism about the direction in which we are heading.

Saturday’s victory over Wycombe, in front of 29,000 fans at a sun-drenched SOL, felt like further proof that maybe, just maybe, the club is starting to emerge from its slumber and is beginning to purr once again. Being at the top of the league as we head into the international break is a massive boost, and given the tricky run of games we’ve opened the season with, it’s been no mean feat in getting there.

Off the field, our transfer business has been impressive. The new model of recruitment took some time to yield results, but at the time of writing (with maybe one or two new players set to arrive before the transfer window closes) we’ve got a squad that contains both quality and depth in abundance.

Gone are the days of scattergun recruitment and opting for run-of-the mill L1 fodder. Instead, players with the potential to grow and improve have been brought to the club, and we’ve struck an impressive blend of youth and experience. We were told by Kristjaan Speakman that, transfer-wise, things would change for the better, and so far, he has been as good as his word. Massive kudos must go to him, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, and the recruitment team for delivering on that front.

On the pitch, progress is also being made. We are now playing a style of football that is both exciting to watch and extremely effective when we get it right. Gone are the days of slow, stodgy football, to be replaced by a positive, creative system, in which players like Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart are absolutely thriving. We’ve also developed a good foundation at the back as well, with the ever-improving Callum Doyle and Tom Flanagan forging a solid and effective partnership that has brought some much-needed calmness to the backline.

So far, so good! 12 points from five games, and the kind of start we all desired. There is a hell of a lot of hard work still to come, and there will be setbacks along the way, but at the moment, I think we’re looking in very impressive shape indeed.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One
Doyle has formed a solid and effective partnership at the back with Flanagan
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Matt Smith says...

I had high hopes for this season but I expected them to be fulfilled in the slow-burner, with delayed gratification in terms of results on the pitch being served up by late autumn at the earliest. New signings would surely take time to bed in, a new style of play doesn’t emerge overnight. So, as George Best was apocryphally asked while he supped champagne in a plush hotel room surrounded by stunners, where did it all go wrong?

The strangest aspect to our expectation-surpassing start has undoubtedly been the performance of some of last year’s under-achievers. An accumulator that forecast Flanagan’s renaissance, Winchester’s revelation as a right-back and O’Brien bagging a hat trick against Championship opposition would bankrupt many a bookie.

Just as impressive, and so encouraging for the longer term, has been the ability of academy graduates to seamlessly make the transition into the first team. Embleton had already shown his ability to compete at this level but his immediate impact, and that of Neil and Patterson, has been no less astonishing.

I always felt confident that we’d get our transfer business over the line, anticipating youthful incomings from Championship sides. Turning the heads of promising youngsters from EPL clubs, with them demonstrating their potential so early, has been cannier recruitment than I dreamed of.

Even the defeat at Burton has offered a reassuring sign that the undoubted progress being made has bought a degree of patience that has often been lacking. Not all signings will work out and not all performances will reap the results we’ve been treated to, but the more expansive, fluid style of play on display so far suggests any later challenges may be met with a stoicism and faith in the club’s overall direction that have been lacking for many a year.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Winchester’s displays at full back have caught the eye
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

Put quite simply, this is the best I have felt about our team, our footballing style and playing approach for many years.

Don’t get me wrong, we had good spells in the past, both with Parkinson and with Ross. That said, at no time have I felt that both the football we are playing and the culture of the club we love so much are fully aligned with what I wanted to see… it feels like we are very much set up for a successful season for once.

We have stumbled into sequences of wins in the past and accepted them, but have we ever looked like we really deserved to be top of the league? For me, not before now.

The confidence and team spirit are way up from where they were too. The appointment of the leadership team has made senior players feel proud but also accountable for the outcomes, and for the support of the excelling youth all around them. Flanagan is a leader, and a new man. Small things can often make such a difference to people, and everyone is over the moon for him and others.

The transfer period was a slow starter, but has also proved to be very well navigated so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more activity before this afternoon’s deadline. Not a single rumour has leaked that we are after a player to then see him snapped up by a rival which has historically wound me up more than most things. Jobs are being done properly on and off the pitch, and while that should not be a big ask, it has been missing for a long while.

I totally get that the road to the end of this season will have bumps and potholes along the way, but as displayed after the loss at Burton, we seem very well equipped at brushing off disappointing blips and going again. I truly hope we maintain that mental strength, as this physical game is most successfully executed with a large portion of mental robustness which we have at times really seemed to lack at vital points in the calendar.

Our business has been well executed in many ways and in my view, we are poised – and way more likely than ever – to end this season in the next league above.

24 more wins. The way we’re playing right now that will not be a problem at all.


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