I have got to be honest - some of the reactions from my fellow fans to certain things during last Saturday’s loss to Burnley really made me uncomfortable.
For the first time in a long time we had a mass exodus of supporters before the final whistle had been blown. There was booing, jeering and all the usual stuff that comes when your team capitulates at home - something that was standard fare if you go back five or six years, but not so much nowadays when supporters have a far better relationship with the players than we’ve have had in many years.
I successfully avoided Sunderland social media after the game - pretty easy now that I no longer have a personal Twitter account - but I can only imagine what it was like. I did hear the BBC Newcastle phone-in on the way home though and, well... it was as expected.
Something I haven’t felt in a while occurred after that fourth goal went in - the mood soured. Apathy set in. People thought “here we go again, same old Sunderland”, and lost faith. And some would say rightly so - the team let themselves down. They jacked it in. They made stupid mistakes. They self-destructed.
I guess with hindsight we probably view things differently. When you’re in the ground and in the moment you’re irate, you’re pissed off, you’re frustrated - so things explode.
Anger takes over.
We’re a few days down the line now, and I think most people would probably have a more balanced take on it having allowed the dust to settle.
Aye, we were shite... but we were great in the first half.
But after half time we lost control - and I don’t believe it was down to a lack of effort.
The opposition had the right mentality in the second 45, we didn’t. We lacked a plan and the inexperience of our side showed in some of the goals we conceded.
We’re all very much aware of our injury troubles - last weekend we were missing Patrick Roberts, Dan Ballard, Ellis Simms, Ross Stewart and Lynden Gooch. All starters if they’re fit.
We’ve got through these last few months as best we can, but last week is perhaps the first time where I can look at a performance and can see the scars of those injury issues - we were, in the main, lacking in physicality. We were lacking in players who can turn a game for us. We were without big lads at the back who could cope with ten or twenty minutes of sustained defensive pressure - there was only one outfield player on the pitch and amongst the substitutes, Danny Batth, who was over 6ft tall.
So, it was interesting yesterday morning that I found myself nodding and agreeing a lot with the words of Alex Pritchard, who made an appearance on SAFC Unfiltered.
️ Alex Pritchard joins Frankie and Danny in the latest episode of #SAFCUnfiltered!— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) October 26, 2022
Listen now via your preferred platform...
Listen to it for yourself - but it’s obvious from the off that Pritch wants to make a very clear point to the supporters listening about sticking with the team.
He was there in the ground, and he’s one of the most experienced players we have - he’ll have heard the boos, the jeers, the grumbles and will have seen in the dressing room afterwards how that affected some of the youngsters that were out on the pitch.
He mentioned it repeatedly - chatting about the part that the fans played in getting us promoted, and the part that fans play now in ensuring that things improve from here as the season progresses.
He talked about how the fans here are “different” to other clubs he’s been at. He said that if the players give 110% then we’ll give them 110% back, but if they’re only playing at 80% then they’ll give you a bit of stick for it.
We can argue and debate all day about how players should and shouldn’t react, but at the end of the day, they’re human beings with emotions and feelings like you and I.
And like you and I, we all react differently to criticism.
Experienced players are usually better equipped to deal with it.
Often, they’ve been there before and seen it all - they know what it’s like to go through adversity, because most clubs have a period in their season where you go on a run of bad results and you’re looking for a way to turn things around.
And to me, listening to Pritchard, it’s clear that he can see where things could go if we’re not all on the same wavelength. He knows the impact that supporters can have on the inexperienced players, both when things are going well and things aren’t.
When things are going well it’s great - the young players are showered with love and affection and it makes them feel ten feet tall.
But when things aren’t going so well, their character will be tested and the way they respond to it will likely define where their Sunderland careers end up heading.
Like I say... listen to it for yourself. I’ve listened to it a few times now, and there are some important messages that I’ve taken from it.
Like the players on the pitch and the manager in the dugout, we have a huge part to play in the way things go from here, and that could be crucial.
So whilst I was already sound in my own thoughts and feelings on where Sunderland’s season is at right now, I think it would be wise for us all to take heed of some of the things Pritchard had to say in that interview - he’s a smart lad with his head screwed on tightly, and he’s seen both sides of football before.
We’ve started the season brightly, we’ve dealt with the adversity that injuries to key players brings fairly well, and we’re playing some decent football.
Given the fact we’ve been missing Ballard, Simms and Stewart for most of the season, I’m pretty content with where we are - but concede we still need to improve a lot... starting tomorrow with the trip to Kenilworth Road.
Luton’s a tough place to go - everyone says it so it must be true.
But, we’ll give anyone a game in this league. We can beat anyone on our day.
Why not Luton? Respond in the best way possible to last weekend’s loss by taking it out on them. Perform well, work hard, take the three points and everyone will be happy...
For now, at least!