Before the start of the 2022/2023 campaign, many Sunderland supporters, myself included, were rather sceptical about how the Black Cats were going to fare on their return to the Championship.
A side predominantly made up of players who gained promotion from League One making the step up the football pyramid didn’t fill some fans with confidence that we would survive (and indeed, thrive) this season.
However, if you had told me that after the first month, we would be sitting comfortably in eighth position with eleven points, I’d have snapped your hand off.
On the other hand, our league position and points total doesn’t really tell the full story, because Sunderland have challenged strongly in all eight of their league matches so far, and have also stamped their name on the second tier.
In no match have the Lads been completely blown away, and although Monday’s game against Middlesbrough felt like the closest the Black Cats have come to that, on another day, it might have been a different outcome.
That result aside, it has been a start filled with plenty of promise, a good deal of confidence, and a slight hint of anger.
Sunderland have shown that on their day, they’re more than capable of matching the top teams. If luck was on their side against Norwich, for example, it may have been a different story, but that game ended in a narrow defeat thanks to Josh Sargent’s easy finish.
As well as holding our own against the Canaries, the same could be said about Sheffield United, QPR, and Coventry. Sunderland simply need some external factors to drop into their favour, and they’ll be able to kick on.
Considering what could have happened this season, and over the past six weeks, it has been a strong start.
After the controversial departure of Alex Neil, it would have been so easy for this side to lose faith in what they’re building on Wearside, but it seems that after the swift arrival of Tony Mowbray, the players have simply picked up the pieces.
Yes, there are some weaknesses within the squad, and also within the model the club are now using.
In certain positions, Mowbray’s side is wafer-thin, and that could be a huge stumbling block over the next couple of weeks. The injury to Dennis Cirkin provides a chance for either Bailey Wright or Aji Alese to stake their claim for a more permanent role, and a more troubling absence comes up top with an injury to Ross Stewart.
The Black Cats need to tread a fine line with the Scottish striker.
They can’t bring him back too early and risk further damage, but without him, the team misses their star marksman and their main source of goals.
Of course, there’s no denying that recent events mean that Stewart will have more time to rest, as well as fewer games to miss, which is probably one of the only bonuses to come from this mini-break.
However, Sunderland can’t always rely on Stewart, and ultimately, the upcoming period with him on the sidelines will be a test of how well the team copes in his absence.
The club’s first real pit stop of the season looks set for a week’s time after the trip to Watford – all depending on how the next couple of days pan out in the UK, of course – but during this gap in the schedule, it felt like the right time to assess exactly where Sunderland are at.
Overall, it has been a more than positive start to the season, and one where early-season scepticism has turned into opening-month promise on Wearside.