Finally, we’ve made it.
A three-week break for the Qatar World Cup, a break that only a few weeks ago felt quite distant, is here.
This pause in league action marks the end of the first half of Sunderland’s return to the Championship, so how are we doing after twenty games of our first season back in the second tier since 2017/2018?
In truth, given the nature of our promotion, not to mention everything that has happened since the Wembley triumph in May, the Black Cats have adapted quite well to life in this league, despite enduring some tough moments since the first game against Coventry.
Injury problems have doubtless resulted in a minor drop in results and performances, whilst a managerial saga after only a few weeks wasn’t ideal, either.
That said, it’s been an enjoyable ride so far.
Following our playoff final success, things began to look up for the club after four dismal seasons in League One, and to be on the path back to where we belong is a very exciting prospect.
During the majority of our opening twenty matches, we’ve challenged for each and every ball, and have always been a tough opponent to play against.
Even against the likes of Sheffield United, Burnley and Watford, the team wasn’t blown away by their quality. Instead, we’ve held our own and provided a different kind of challenge for those teams.
Another huge positive is the overall quality of football that we’ve been playing, which on many occasions, has been simply breathtaking.
From Jack Clarke capping off a stunning team move against Reading, to the superb passage of play that led to Alex Pritchard’s goal against Huddersfield, and Amad’s curling strike against Birmingham on Friday night, Sunderland have often been wonderful to watch.
From the performances against the likes of Cambridge, Cheltenham and Shrewsbury last season, to be battling against teams like Watford, Norwich, and Sheffield United – all of whom have had recent Premier League experience, has been a remarkable turnaround.
However, during the last couple of weeks, things have been tough for the Black Cats.
We let a two goal lead slip against Burnley to eventually slide to a 4-2 loss, and we were very poor in defeat against Cardiff last weekend, but those games aren’t going to overshadow an otherwise superb start to the 2022/2023 season.
We’ve had our troubles during the past four months, but finally it seems that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Ross Stewart could be set for a return to action when Millwall visit the Stadium of Light in less than three weeks’ time, whilst the likes of Dan Ballard, Lynden Gooch, Aji Alese and Edouard Michut could all be close to full fitness when the season restarts.
For now, though, there should be an air of optimism and reflection after an extremely enjoyable start to life back in the Championship.
Over 175 days on from our success in the sun in north-west London, a day when everything seemed to come together, supporting the Lads is an increasingly enjoyable experience.
Yes, there’ve been challenges along the way, but the club’s path is clear, with promotion back to the Premier League the target.
Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, Kristjaan Speakman and others have made it clear that Sunderland are heading in the right direction, but throwing everything at promotion in one go is a risk, and one look at Derby County proves it.
One day, we will be back in the top flight. Not yet, but soon enough.
At the moment, Championship life is good, but when the injury list shortens after the World Cup break, and given the highly competitive nature of the league, who knows what might happen?
After weeks of waiting, Sunderland have reached their first major pit stop of the season, and it’s time to regroup, improve as a unit, and try to push on when the season restarts.