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Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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The Lads gave it their all, and that’s the very least that I expect from them

Losing is never nice, but if you’re going to lose, you go down with a fight - and given what we’ve seen from Sunderland since Alex Neil arrived, was that ever in doubt?

Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

It’s strange feeling so positive after a defeat.

Our journey back to the Championship was a struggle, and four hard years in League One realigned the expectations of many Sunderland supporters who had witnessed the club lose its direction on multiple occasions during that time, both on and off the field.

Yet, when Alex Neil came in, something about the culture of our club changed.

Bar one solitary defeat early in his reign against MK Dons, wed went undefeated under the management of the former Norwich boss, eventually winning promotion after discovering a ‘never day die’ spirit that won us some vital points in tough games.

Thankfully, that attitude wasn’t lost over the summer, and we’ve started this season well - we’ve more than held our own in every league game so far, and that bodes well.

Yes, there are obvious holes in the squad that are only becoming more and more exposed each time another player gets injured or, in Dan Neil’s case, someone gets a suspension, but that’s not going to bog us down too much.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Not many sides will go to Sheffield United this season and give them as much to think about as we did - after all, this is a side who had one of the best home records in the country during the 2021/22 campaign.

For the first thirty minutes I felt that we were the better side - our passing was crisper, our work off the ball was excellent, and it seemed that if anyone was going to score the opening goal it would be us.

Perhaps we were a little too confident - something you could argue when you view the incident which led to Dan Neil’s red card, a slack touch that probably shouldn’t have been taken. But this is the Championship and good sides will make you pay - and within a few minutes we were down to ten men, and were a goal behind.

We battled on for the remaining minutes of the half, and then after half time, we were two down early doors after some fantastic football led to their second. There wasn’t much we could have done - it was a quality move.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Conceding twice and losing a player with about half of the game left to play is usually enough for most sides to jack it in, but we’ve got more fight than that.

The three changes made after the second goal seemed necessary if we were going to have a chance of getting anything at all from the match, and we definitely improved.

The game is never truly over til the final whistle blows, and the players never gave up. They never let their levels drop and, a man down against a side many expect will get promoted, we more than matched them.

Our goal was a tremendous bit of play and we showed we have some real quality in our locker - Lynden Gooch’s deft chip halving the deficit and giving us half a chance of earning a point.

We changed our shape and we gave ourselves a solid defensive base in the hope we could catch them on the hop again and get an equaliser.

It didn’t come but it wasn’t for the want of trying. Our football was still easy on the eye, and our goalkeeper kept us in the game at the other end.

After the match the pundits and Alex Neil on Sky were glowing in their praise for Sunderland - and how often does that happen when a team loses?

It’s another positive sign that we’re in a good place, and that with a handful of additions we’ll be more than a match for any team at this level.

A slightly tipsy Neil Warnock briefly joined the commentary team to say he felt Sunderland were going to finish top six this season - a bold statement if ever there was one, but that’s the impression some people outside the red and white bubble have of us. Everyone knows we have a good manager and good players, and that we play decent football. Everyone knows this team doesn’t know when to give up, and that they’re backed by amazing fans.

Now it’s time to back the manager with the players he needs to kick on.

We’re not too far off from where we need to be.

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