On my way out of the ground on Saturday, an old friend stopped me to chat about the game. We both agreed that it was a good win, and as we headed off in seperate directions, he quipped: “this feels different”.
And he’s right - this does feel different. Very different, in fact.
When we were winning games under Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson at this level, it never felt like... this. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but the team and fans seem in unison.
Perhaps the key difference is that under those two previous regimes, we struggled to play consistently across a full game. We’d have strong starts or ten minute spells in games where we’d take a lead, followed by the players completely taking their foot off the gas. Just look at how many games we used to draw, or the amount of leads we used to lose.
Nah - now, something has definitely changed.
The injection of youth, the change in philosophy, the shift in dressing room dynamic - all of these things and more have come together to create a perfect storm.
We’re by no means perfect - the performance against Accrington wasn’t exactly stellar. We conceded far too many set pieces, particularly against a big organised side geared towards taking advantage of such situations (and they did - their goal came from a set play).
But, we were dogged and clinical in possession. We created chances from all areas of the pitch, and our striker did a superb job of occupying Accy’s three central defenders.
This was first v second, and Sunderland arguably should have won by more.
Despite missing a weekend of football due to international call-ups, the teams below us couldn’t take advantage, and we remained top of League One.
We knew that another win on Saturday would put us clear of teams below us with a game in hand, and we made them pay by achieving maximum points.
We’re at the top, looking down at the rest, two points clear with a game in hand of virtually everyone except second-placed Wigan - what a fantastic position to be in.
The only real frustration is that our performance at Burton warranted another victory, and we could and probably should be five points clear - but, ultimately, it’s pointless dwelling on it.
This season, for the first time in four miserable campaigns, we sit at the top of the tree. We’re now the side with the biggest target on our back - and yet, we’ve played five of the six sides below us in the table. What a fantastic position to be in.
It’s nice to see a Sunderland team strutting their stuff. We should never get ahead of ourselves or be over-confident, because that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable, but why the hell shouldn’t we act like the biggest club in the division? Why shouldn’t we present ourselves as the side that everyone should fear?
I want to see Sunderland sides playing with swagger, and enthusiasm. All the best sides at all levels of football do it, so why shouldn’t we?
We know how good we can be and we know we have the best squad in the division - so let’s use these games as an opportunity to showcase to the rest of League One just how powerful we are.
Because, why not? Let’s own this situation and build towards having the best possible campaign that we can have. We know that we have the players with the ability to do it, so let’s show belief in them to carry through on the task at hand.
I love being top of the league. I’m so f**king proud of these lads and the way they’ve flown out of the blocks. We are top of the table because we deserve to be there - now, let’s ensure that we never shift from this spot. Let’s keep on winning games and become a real dominant, unstoppable force in this division - let’s make 2021/22 a season to remember.