Saturday’s game against Wycombe was an immense advertisement for the EFL and specifically, League One. Two contrasting styles, two charismatic managers and two teams truly trying to win the game.
I loathe to speak for the entire fanbase, but I think this is what we want to see from our team.
As I sat last Saturday in a pub in central Dublin with one of my best friends who is a fellow Sunderland fan, I sensed a mutual pride between the two of us in the team we support. The late equaliser did very little to dampen our mood.
We knew it. We have a bloody good football team on our hands. We have a team to be proud of yet again.
It was a quiet pub at the time, typically the case in January. The pandemic doesn’t help. As we watched the game unfold, we were joined by the barman who took a fascination in the fact that we were Sunderland fans. Maybe it was sympathy. Or even bewilderment.
Either way, he couldn’t help but be impressed by our style of play. The intricate passes, the roaming defenders and Alex Pritchard’s magical feet. He could see the excitement in our faces as Ross Stewart got the ‘winner’ and almost felt sorry for us when Wycombe equalised.
In addition, before you ask, of course he mentioned Netflix.
The game itself displayed the controlled chaos that Lee Johnson has brought to the Sunderland team. They are more than capable of playing any team off the park, but just as liable to concede a couple of sloppy goals at the back. I love every minute of it.
This Sunderland team are exciting. The attacking prowess and style of play is probably the best I have seen from any team since Peter Reid’s team. Fans can go to the matches with excitement. They can be confident in what they are going to see.
For too long has this club flattered to deceive, even in the third tier. Going to the matches was becoming a chore. A sense of duty almost. We didn’t know what was going to happen, and quite frankly, sometimes, we didn’t want to know.
The policy of the club has helped this sense of endearment return. The club have bought players who are on a mission, and who want to be here. It is a welcome relief to see the back of players coming for the money. For a ‘Piss take party’ as one well-known name said in the past. He was not wrong.
In players like Carl Winchester, Alex Pritchard and Ross Stewart along with our young starlets in Callum Doyle and Dan Neil, the blend between young and hungry alongside the senior pros with a point to prove is almost perfect.
These players love playing here and are eager to be successful for the club. Naturally, this creates a bond and connection between staff and fans. The fans can observe this. They notice that these players are trying their best even when things aren’t going well.
The saying, ‘Get’s it’ is probably overused at times but it does appear that Lee Johnson is fully invested in creating a successful team. He appears ravenous for success and his passion on the sideline is infectious.
As the club hit a rocky patch in October/November, my respect for him grew after that period. The loud minority were calling for his head. In contrast, he kept his and his cool to lead us out of the negative times.
As the club enter the last few months of the season, it is likely to be another rollercoaster ride. If the first part of the season has taught me anything, it won’t be for the faint-hearted. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s great being proud of my club again.
And if you are ever in Dublin, make a visit to the Bleeding Horse pub. I think the barman is now a Sunderland fan.