As everyone knows, football has always meant so much to Sunderland.
‘Our city built on industry, where these colours run true’ were the words of the Spirit of ‘37’s banners in another phenomenal fan-led display before kickoff, and never have they meant as much as they did on Sunday.
As the new season kicked off, over 40,000 supporters packed into the Stadium of Light to witness Alex Neil’s team make their mark on the Championship, uniting a city in the process.
After weeks of waiting, anticipation and optimism, the Lads returned to competitive action for the first time since their play-off final magic under the Wembley arch back in May.
That day, 45,000 Mackems were inside the national stadium for their first step on the journey, and with 40,851 in attendance on Sunday, football is being reborn on Wearside.
Quite rightly, after four years in League One, the love for the game began to die out, but through a combination of a Wembley victory and the return of second-tier football, it feels like the big crowds are finally returning to the Stadium of Light. Of course, it is unlikely that we will average over 40,000 for every home match this season, but this felt like the first stepping stone towards bringing those fans back home.
On the pitch, meanwhile, Neil’s team are doing everything they can to give the fans something to shout about, and the intent was clear from the first minute, as we played with a positive mindset, and looked to attack whenever possible.
For the majority of the time, League One was a slog, but Sunderland have finally reached a level where their style of football can certainly work well.
Naturally, it is going to take time for the Black Cats to adapt to the Championship, and towards the end of the match on Sunday, it was clear that their energy levels had dropped, which coincided with Coventry’s upturn in momentum.
However, in looking at our failure to deal with a heavy Coventry press in the latter stages of the game, it is important to consider the Sky Blues’ reputation.
This was a side that finished comfortably in mid-table last season, and will be looking to challenge for the play-offs during this campaign, with Mark Robins at the helm. In doing so, it provides fans, and Neil, with a blueprint of exactly what this Sunderland side wants to achieve over the coming seasons.
The club’s plan to return to the very top was described as ‘sustainable’ by Neil last week, and so in looking at Coventry’s gradual rise up the table, it is arguably a good idea to mirror their development since their promotion from the third tier.
Not so long ago, this game was a League One affair, and the most notable encounter was arguably a 5-4 victory for Coventry in the Black Cats’ first season in the third tier. With that in mind, kicking off the season with a point was satisfactory.
After scoring early, Sunderland had chances to extend their lead. Jack Clarke fired a shot into the gloves of Simon Moore, before Ross Stewart arrowed his effort over the crossbar. The same could be said about Coventry, particularly when Matt Godden somehow shot wide following a defensive error.
Largely, this was a day filled with more positives than negatives, and an afternoon where we stamped our authority on the Championship.
Of course, there is plenty of work still left to do: this was only the first of forty six league matches this season, and Neil has plenty to ponder, but it was an impressive start against a good, solid side.
Sunday will be a learning curve for everyone involved with the club, and we need to adapt quickly, but if they continue in this vein, it’s going to be a very, very positive campaign, and the big crowds will continue to flock to the stadium.
In the words of the Spirit of ‘37: This is Wearside.