After witnessing Sunderland’s dominant performance and 3-0 victory over Rotherham on Wednesday, registering their first home win of the season in the process, I was inspired to offer some thoughts.
It was a remarkable display, during which the whole team played well.
There were standout performances from Jack Clarke and Ross Stewart, and the defence also gave a good account of themselves- not just by keeping a clean sheet, but also in the way they maintained their shape and stuck to their individual roles. Our longest serving player, Lynden Gooch, was a thorn in the Yorkshire team’s side throughout.
OK, ‘new manager bounce’ sounds better than ‘head coach bounce’, but I do feel that in Tony Mowbray, we have a guy in charge who gets us.
He is from the North East, and everything he said before and after the game indicated that he knows what football means to supporters from an industrial city like ours. We want players who have talent but who also play with intensity, and in this context, that means playing with total heart and commitment to the cause, sweating blood for the badge of Sunderland Association Football Club, because it is such a major honour to wear it.
Pulling on a Sunderland shirt is a huge privilege and should bring out the strongest emotions and a real competitive streak in players.
Obviously, we expect the team to pull together, to show focused effort and to be much more than the sum of their parts, and if Mowbray can bring this out of our players on a regular basis, he will become a legend. Time will tell if this is a marriage made in heaven, but it’s a great start, and just like us, he wants to win every game.
New managers and head coaches often arrive at clubs that are in crisis, and when the previous incumbent has been sacked for a series of bad results or after losing the confidence of the players and the boardroom.
Alex Neil left for reasons which I will not speculate about much further on here, but power and money were clear factors. He is ambitious and somehow, he inexplicably felt that Stoke City could help him reach the top of the football tree.
Nights like Wednesday, however, will help us to quickly forget about the Scotsman.
He had only been around for six months, and although we can rightly have some gratitude for what was achieved in that time, he was not inclined to show allegiance to our beloved club. He showed his true colours and he needs to know exactly what he walked away from: a club at which he could have become a legend.
Mowbray has arrived after Neil did what no Sunderland boss had done since Jimmy Adamson in 1978: left Wearside for another club.
I have previously written on these pages about some of my earliest football memories, which were of Bob Stokoe taking over from Alan Brown in 1972. The team were languishing near the bottom of the second tier; the long-serving Brown was sacked to make way for the former Newcastle man, and their styles could not have been any more different.
Brown had built a promising side, as he had placed an emphasis on youth, but the team performed in a ‘straitjacket mode’ that forbade much creative play. Stokoe wanted Sunderland to play with the flair and freedom that matched their talent, and we all know what happened next.
Our opponents were unbeaten in the Championship coming into Wednesday’s match; they finished above us last season by six points, and also registered a 5-1 victory on a miserable, late October night when cracks began to appear in Lee Johnson’s strategy.
However, Rotherham were made to look ordinary on Wednesday night. It looked as if the players had been told that any rigid system which had been adopted by Neil was now dismantled in favour of the team expressing themselves as talented footballers.
If this ‘new manager bounce’ continues, all Sunderland fans will take it with gratitude, as an antidote to the uncertainty and doubt that had been hanging over the club for the previous week.