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Normality returns this week for Sunderland - and after a surreal weekend, it’s welcome

The EFL’s decision to postpone the weekend’s games after the death of the Queen was controversial, but thankfully, we resume our league campaign on Wednesday night, and it is a chance to get back on track!

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

How did you pass the time over the weekend with no football to occupy you? A lengthy walk in the countryside, perhaps, or maybe a good old-fashioned Netflix marathon?

Following the cancellation of Sunderland’s game against Millwall - not to mention football being scrubbed from the schedule right down to grassroots level - there was a void to fill, and given the somewhat surreal events taking place around the country at large, the entire weekend felt like something out of a bygone era.

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Admittedly, following Queen Elizabeth II’s death, none of what happened in the aftermath was unexpected, although it was somewhat peculiar that football was the only sport to fall victim to cancellations.

Were the authorities worried about non-monarchist views being expressed in stadiums, perhaps? Did they simply pick the ‘postponement’ option and hope for the best?

For those who have no affinity with the monarch, nor the pomp and ceremony that accompanied her passing, the entire thing felt like an irritating inconvenience, rightly or wrongly. Regardless of whether you are a royalist or a republican, a love of Sunderland AFC is what unites us all, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling to be unable to cheer the Lads on.

Thankfully, the league’s state of flux is set to end in midweek, as the Championship schedule recommences with our trip to Reading, followed by a clash with a formidable-looking Watford team on Saturday.

An EFL statement released on Monday morning confirmed it, and although tributes to the Queen will continue to be paid you get a sense that most fans will simply be happy to be back inside the stadium and able to cheer the team on.

The spectre of Covid cancellations has only been lifted in recent times, after all, and the last thing any of us needed or wanted was another lengthy hiatus in the action.

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In terms of Sunderland, the postponement of Saturday’s game might actually have worked in our favour. It was one less game that we would’ve played without the talismanic Ross Stewart, so that was one positive to emerge from the overwhelming feeling of bewilderment.

After the disappointment of Middlesbrough, it will also have given Tony Mowbray a little extra time to work with his players on the training ground - to fully implement his preferred style of play - and will have afforded the players themselves some valuable time to recharge.

It goes without saying that Mowbray faces a multitude of questions in the wake of the loss at the Riverside.

Can he provide Ellis Simms with the confidence to lead the line effectively in Stewart’s absence? Does Aji Alese get his chance in the (hopefully) short-term absence of Dennis Cirkin? And perhaps most intriguingly, can Patrick Roberts - a peripheral figure so far this season - become either a creator or a scorer himself and begin to repay the faith shown in him over the summer?

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You would hope that the new additions to the squad are settling in nicely, and although Mowbray did reveal that Edouard Michut had fallen victim to some rough play in training, it would be nice to think that the younger lads will have been brought up to speed with the way we work at the club, as well as settling into the local area.

Millwall wasn’t a ‘must-win’ game by any means, but would there have been more than a sense of tension in the air had the game gone ahead on Saturday and we’d conceded early? Perhaps this mini-pause in the action has given us all a chance to catch our breath after a full-on start to the season.

As it is, there is no Lads’ game at the Stadium of Light for almost a month, and on Wednesday night, we can hopefully get things back on track with a positive result against Paul Ince’s team. Sunderland have enjoyed two excellent away victories so far this season, and with an international break looming, a third would be a timely boost for everyone.

After a surreal and admittedly memorable weekend the country may not be back to full normality yet, but for those of us who see football as an escape from the rigours of everyday life, Wednesday night will be a welcome tonic - and hopefully, the players can respond in a positive way.

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