Derek Carter says…
This is the first article I’ve contributed for while, and that was down to the fact that after many years of writing for various outlets, I began this season with a distinct lack of mojo.
The truth is that I didn’t have a clue which way it would go, and although I had faith in Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, the thought of Stewart Donald and company lurking in the background had me thinking we’d spend the year treading in quicksand. Indeed, if they had the nerve to commission another documentary it would have been titled: ‘Sunderland: S**t or Bust’, because that really was the case.
Fortunately, Alex Neil has been a breath of fresh air after all the nonsense we’ve been fed, and heading into the playoffs, I never had any doubts we were finally going to get out of this tinpot league. In my humble opinion, the day out at Wembley is definitely the way to go.
I was fortunate enough to be at the 1973 FA Cup Final, and whilst those lads wrote themselves into folklore, the current squad has saved the club from possible oblivion.
The hard work starts now, but the difference is that any new documentary would be titled: ‘Sunderland: Onwards and Upwards’.
Malc Dugdale says…
I have to say my normally positive perspective took a right battering in the New Year, after a great first half to the season. When we once again told a coach he was the long-term option, before getting got rid of him post-Bolton, my hopes were at a season low. We then went through farcical episodes like Roy Keane and Jermain Defoe, and it was hard to see how we would ever emerge from this league.
All of that makes the achievement so much more enjoyable, however. To bounce back from all of that and win the playoffs in such a professional manner is like night and day. In fact, the last few months have simply represented an incredible turnaround for the club.
Alex Neil came in, took a little bit of time to assess his options- as well as our existing and potential tactics and strategy- and he has pulled off what I would say is a ‘manager of the season’ performance, in a mere sixteen games.
We now need to put our shoulders behind what could be one of our best coaches in my lifetime and get sorted for the challenges to come. I’d love to think that Alex will be fully backed by Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman, but only time will tell.
Until all of that all pans out, my overwhelming feeling is relief, a feeling that put tears in my eyes when ‘Wise Men Say’ started playing at full time. We are finally out of the third tier and we have positive momentum. Let’s hope it lasts for some time to come.
I honestly did, although my optimism wavered at varying points - namely, after the two defeats in Yorkshire against Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday, walking away from the Bolton game having been humped 6-0, after Dodds and Proctor managed us to two defeats against entirely beatable opposition, and after we scraped a draw against Burton Albion.
However, I liked the cut of Alex Neil’s jib right from the off, and I had full confidence in his ability to do the job.
It’s pretty scary to consider how similar a job he’s done here to the one he did at Norwich - he took over both clubs during a difficult period, and at both clubs he created a strong team spirit and defensive solidity that carried them to promotion through the playoffs.
I wasn’t fearful of anyone else in the league, not even the top two, so why would I fear the playoffs under this fella?
As much as I’d like to be able to say that Sunderland finished the season as league champions, not even winning the league feels as good as winning the playoffs. I’ve seen us win the league on numerous occasions and it never felt as good as that.