We’re eight games into the season, not a bad point to reflect on where we are.
It’s been an eventful start to the season, even by Sunderland’s standards.
We have pretty much held our own. Alex Neil jumped ship to Stoke after having dealt them a defeat - and whilst there was much nervousness after his departure, a feisty show against Norwich saw us succumb to a goal 15 minutes from time.
As had been the pattern this season, we started well and played on the front foot for the first hour or so, only to then fade - and opposing teams capitalise on that.
If we hadn’t scored in that period, it was always likely that we’d get caught by experienced Championship teams who manage the game better, which was the case with Norwich - Josh Sargent scoring in his third consecutive game for the Canaries.
It was telling that we had not scored at the North Stand end of the stadium in the first three games of the season.
But, in strolls Tony Mowbray for his first game against Rotherham - a team which had been promoted with us and who we struggled to get a draw against in April, just ten weeks ago.
What a difference. Although we were more measured in the first half, we were considerably in control, and in the second half we turned on the pressure and romped to a three-goal victory, with man of the match Jack Clarke scoring a solo goal of beauty to cap off a fine performance from the team.
Ross Stewart scored the first two goals of the game, and he looked to have pulled up just before he scored his second. We thought no more of it as he slotted the second home and even gave a bit of an assist to Clarke for his goal.
But when he got injured in the warm-up before the Middlesbrough match, perhaps he was still carrying that knock. He’s out for six weeks and Dennis Cirkin for up to two weeks according to the club statements released yesterday.
Marco Gabbiadini on BBC Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport last night said that the injuries to Cirkin and Stewart vindicate Alex Neil’s decision to leave the club as we have so little cover.
Injuries happen. It’s up to the manager to deal with them.
We’ll see how we do against Millwall on Saturday.
The team didn’t play like they have done on Monday night. Middlesbrough were no better. The game clearly meant much more to their fans than it did to us - you’d have thought they’d won the league when you look at how they cavorted on afterward, both fans and players.
Going back to looking at our start. 11 points from eight games. Three wins, three defeats and two draws. We’ve never been outclassed and could argue that we deserved more than defeats in each of those three losses. So, it’s been a decent start to the campaign.
As a bit of geekery, I thought I’d compare our start this season to those of the last seven seasons. The table above shows our first eight game totals for each of the last eight seasons.
This season’s start is our fifth best start in that period.
We’ve started better in each of our four League One campaigns. But we have almost twice as many points as in our last Championship season - we’ve been much more positive this season than we were in Simon Grayson’s ill-fated time in charge.
Looking at the two Premier League seasons, it’s easy to forget how awful it was, with no wins in our first eight games and goal differences of -9 and -10 respectively. If we get promoted any time soon, let’s not do it to barely survive.
I have confidence in the team. We are not a one-man team, and we need to work out how to play without Ross Stewart. Let’s show Millwall how it’s done.