OK, let’s get the anti-reactionary stuff out of the way first of all.
Tony Mowbray is not a tactically inept clown; Ellis Simms is not a useless plodder of a centre forward, there’s not a shred of concrete evidence that Ross Stewart is destined to leave Wearside in January, despite his absence last night, and this loss, as galling as it was, won’t define our season.
Monday night’s 2-1 reverse at the hands of West Bromwich Albion was another jolt and another poor result at home, without a doubt, but as 2022/2023 has unfolded, we’ve already seen how unpredictable the Championship can be.
Any team can beat anyone else on any given day, and if you serve up opportunities as we did in the second half, the likelihood is that you’re going to pay a price.
The real frustration in the aftermath of this game was that for forty five minutes, the players did everything we would’ve expected, and there was little sign of such a sour ending.
In the first half, and even despite the surprising omission of Jack Clarke, we were efficient, controlled, and composed.
In attack, Amad was enjoying another stellar evening, and his penalty, both won and converted by the on-loan Manchester United attacker, gave us a perfect start. At the back, Luke O’Nien was magnificent, heading everything that came his way and doing his cause as a stand-in central defender no harm at all.
However, as we’ve seen so often this season, the second half was a total contrast, and in the worst possible way.
As the visitors started to move the ball with confidence, we started to retreat, and nerves started to fray as the tension mounted and the dynamic of the game completely shifted. ‘It was coming’ is a common refrain among our supporters, and when they did peg us back, it became the go-to phrase again.
What made West Brom’s two goals so maddening is that they were both completely avoidable.
Yes, Mowbray botched the timing of his substitutions, leaving it too late to affect real change in the game and opening the door for a barrage of criticism, but individual and collective responsibility on behalf of the players can’t be overlooked, either.
Tom Rogic’s well-taken strike came about as a result of a game of penalty-area pinball when the danger should’ve been cleared sooner, and Daryl Dike’s winner was due in no small part to some ridiculously slack marking and too much space afforded down the right hand side.
Jed Wallace was a growing threat as the half wore on, but we simply didn’t deal with him and the end result was painful.
Dealing with such situations aren't elaborate skills, after all, they're the kinds of fundamentals that any team with aspirations needs to develop, and only hard work and discipline will bring results in that respect.
Against Millwall two weeks ago, we looked as though we were starting to master the art of game management and how to see matches through at home, but this result, while not a calamity, did bring the need for composure into stark focus yet again.
The boos at the final whistle weren’t a surprise, but they were perhaps indicative of the ongoing uncertainty of some supporters and concerns about the club’s direction of travel. Granted, we aren’t the finished article, but surely the overall picture is generally positive?
Our form is no more erratic than many newly-promoted teams, and with January not far away, burnishing a promising squad could well lead to a successful end to the campaign.
For me, however, the abiding image of the night wasn’t anything related to the on-field action. It was the sight of a van, fully laden with food parcels and other donations, that filled up over the course of two fabulous hours thanks to the heartwarming generosity of match-goers.
At this time of year, the tireless and selfless work of the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen can quite literally be the difference between life and death, and even though the team fell short on the pitch on Monday, outside in the bitterly cold Wearside air, the absolute best of Sunderland AFC was being showcased for everyone to see, and that meant an incredible amount.