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Sunderland v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship

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Sunderland are growing in maturity - on and off the pitch

“There are times when you look at a team and realise that they’ve grown & matured into something much more complete than they previously were - the last two results are evidence that this is happening at Sunderland.”

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This season was meant to be difficult - history tells us that the transition from League One to the Championship is tough.

So far, so good though.

We’ve faced just about everyone, and we’ve competed well.

On occasion we’ve been unfortunate, on others we’ve benefitted from a little bit of luck - but that’s football, and that’s life. At no stage have we looked out of place in this league, and that is to the credit of the squad and the Head Coach.

Prior to the Birmingham game – the last match before the break for the world cup - we were hovering above that uncomfortable zone.

A defeat – which many feared or even expected - could have played on minds over the last three weeks. However, a battling performance against a big strong Championship-hardened team was gained. It was a performance of new-found maturity as was the win on Saturday, against a more than decent Millwall team.

Neither of these wins were straightforward. There were points in each game where a defeat was as likely as a win, however, the Lads found a way and our undoubted quality won over the opposition each time.

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

The most pleasing part was that we found a way to win.

We’ve gone head to head against the Championship know-how and physicality of Millwall and Birmingham City and won. This is something that we too often struggled to do in League One, so to do so at a higher level feels great.

These results have come from the maturity which is now running through this squad.

Who would have thought that Lynden Gooch and Luke O’Nien would cope and thrive in a Championship defence? Last season – and earlier this - Dan Neil and Jack Clarke showed class and ability on the ball but naivety off it, and that is no longer the case. Danny Baath looks like what he is - a quality Championship level defender.

Ellis Simms has taken some unfair criticism over his apparent lack of physicality - he is a big lad but he is no battering ram, he is a footballer. But in the last two games, he has gone toe to toe with central defenders who have tried and failed to dominate him.

Two goals for Simms, 6 points for the team – he is coming along very nicely, as are several others who are very much unsung heroes this season.

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

It’s exciting to think what might be achieved once the even younger players in the squad develop that game awareness and physicality. This squad is growing and growing by the week, and with Ballard and Stewart coming back in, the second half of the season could prove to be exciting.

After four years in League One and the disaster of the previous two seasons, the club shrunk off the field. It shrunk in its facilities, in its finances, in its staffing resources and in its overall confidence – it was a shell without a structure or a soul.

There are small signs that these things are returning.

A mid-season trip to the Middle East may have raised some ethical questions but this is what big clubs do, it isn’t something that would have happened in the last five years. The complaints over ticketing and club shop hours seem to have abated a little, the academy kids are back on the pitch at half time, presumably as there are now academy staff to organize them. There even seems to be support for the ladies team – although there is much more to be done there. All of these things are evidence that the club is getting its act together at long last, but there remains a long way to go.

So, the team is maturing, there are signs of off-field progress and club development whilst our home and away attendances continue to be magnificent. However, there is room for a little bit of maturity in the stands to complement the on and off field progress.

We have seen the Mickey Mouse behavior of certain sections in the lower leagues - that is not Sunderland, we are better than that.

Amad has given his views on the words to “that song” and his words must be heeded. In addition, can as many of us as possible please remain in our seats beyond 34 minutes please? These fast-maturing football players surely deserve that little bit of self-control from those in the stands. Maybe then, the team, the club and the supporters can all grow together and return to what we once were and what we should be.

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