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Sunderland v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship

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Opinion: “For Sunderland, now is the time for resilience and clear thinking, not knee-jerk reactions”

“Despite the horrors of Saturday’s second half, this Sunderland team is talented and possesses a strong level of unity. That is sure to be tested during the coming week,” writes Phil West

Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

It’s fair to say that it’s been quite a rough week for Sunderland on the pitch.

After the frustration of Blackburn and two dreadful refereeing decisions, 37,000 home supporters flocked to the Stadium of Light on Saturday in the hope of seeing a response, and for forty five minutes, we got one.

However, as we sifted through the wreckage of an astonishing second half collapse that allowed Burnley to cash in and claim all three points, there was a familiar degree of scattergun anger as we tried to figure out what on Earth had gone on.

Sunderland v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tony Mowbray, Kristjaan Speakman (yet again, in what’s becoming a repetitive and frankly boring refrain) and very few of our players, in particular Edouard Michut, escaped a verbal lashing, and the swathes of empty seats at the final whistle told their own story.

However, despite the outcome against the Clarets (whose fans provided yet more evidence as to why netting should be installed between the upper and lower tiers of the north stand, so over to you, Sunderland) this result wasn’t terminal to our chances of a successful season, nor was it proof that the players aren’t up to the task.

The simple fact of the matter is that football is a sport during which the momentum will shift continuously throughout a game.

What our players need to learn, and swiftly, is how to ride out the spells in games when the opposition sense an opportunity and hit you hard, as Burnley did to devastating effect on Saturday.

Sunderland v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Can we maintain our composure and continue to play our natural game when things get tense? Can we stand strong in the face of an onslaught and not allow the opposition to do a number on us?

These are questions that only the players can answer. On the front foot, we are a match for anyone, but at times this season, we have been prone to showing mental frailties when games get tense.

The youthful profile of the squad means that, unfortunately, days like Saturday can occur.

That is not to detract from the excellence of Burnley in the second half, but they were aided and abetted by some poor play from us, and like any good team, they didn’t pass up the opportunity.

Similar to when Dean Smith was able to call on the class of Todd Cantwell and the nous of Teemu Pukki when we played Norwich, Vincent Kompany brought on Jay Rodriguez and Jack Cork, and therein lay a big difference.

With a core of ex-Premier League players, the Clarets possessed the guile and the experience of big-game situations, and therefore understood exactly what to do. We don’t have that in the same quantity at this stage, and that’s a simple fact.

As painful as it would’ve been for the players in the aftermath, the only way they will understand how to handle situations of the kind we saw in the second half is to go through them. It isn’t pretty, but it’s simply par for the course.

Sunderland v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

As for Tony Mowbray? This was undoubtedly his most chastening experience as Sunderland head coach, but now is the time for him to dip into his vast reserve of experience, continue to show faith in his players, and rouse them for a tough trip to Kenilworth Road.

Such is the level of scrutiny that modern footballers are under, there is a tendency to write them off after one bad performance, but knee-jerk reactions are not needed now. After all, these are the same players who’ve competed strongly this season, and will doubtless do so again.

As is so often the case, the reality of how good we actually are is somewhere in the middle.

We aren’t as bad as some would claim, and we haven’t got all the angles figured out and a fast-track ticket back to the top flight within reach, either. Did we embark on a four-year slog through League One only to throw everything out of the window when we hit a rough spell in the Championship? I don’t think so.

On the subject of the players, there is absolutely nothing wrong with their attitude and application.

Sunderland v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Comparing this group of players to the rabble that lurched from one disaster to another in 2017/2018 is night and day. Progress has undoubtedly been made, and there is now unity, pride and commitment, but there is some way to go as we take small steps forward.

The club is on a new path, one that will hopefully lead us back to the Premier League, but it won’t be easy. We’ve enjoyed plenty of highs this season, and some big lows- of which this was the most acute.

A new Sunderland AFC is slowly being constructed, piece by piece. Results of the kind we saw on Saturday don’t mean that the entire vision is flawed or that those in charge aren’t up to it, but that hard work, patience and resilience are going to be needed over the coming years.


Pause for thought


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