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Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship

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Editorial: This is the best football I’ve ever seen a Sunderland team play

This young, exciting Sunderland team mean business and are playing some unbelievable football - whisper it quietly, but it feels like we could burst onto the scene and give everyone a shock at any minute.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Seventeen passes from back to front, finished off by Amad Diallo.

I imagine that some of the neutral spectators watching Sunday’s game on Sky Sports probably didn’t realise that this isn’t the first time Sunderland have scored a goal like that second one this season - in fact, they’re so regular now that I’ve lost count of them.

We deserve a goal of the season competition on our own just because of how good some of the team goals we’ve scored actually are - from Clarke’s at Reading to Amad’s versus Boro, we’ve played some absolutely beautiful stuff since we returned to the Championship.

On the Podcast we recorded after the game, Phil asked me a question about whether this is the best football I’ve ever seen a Sunderland team play.

Immediately my mind went to the side that ran roughshod over the first division and Premier League under Peter Reid, and something deep within me was trying to stop me from saying that this was even better than that... but I have to say that yes, this is probably the best football that I’ve ever seen a Sunderland team play.

At the height of the Reidy years we were unplayable, and those were probably some of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever had as a fan, but in terms of the actual playing style, I think I’m now prepared to admit that yes... this is as good as it has been for me.

I know we’re *only* in the Championship, but the freedom and expression in our play that I’m seeing from some very talented young lads is a joy to watch.

And let’s not forget, this is a side mostly made up of young lads trying to prove themselves every single time they step out onto the pitch.

This is the type of football that fans of all clubs want to see their team play, whether they’re a side challenging for the top four in La Liga or performing in front of one man and his dog in the Wearside League - it’s exciting, it’s energetic, it’s poetic, and it’s beautiful.

This is how the vast majority of footballers want to play, but often don’t ever get the opportunity to do so, usually because results are more often than not placed ahead of performance in a high-pressure professional environment.

Tony Mowbray deserves a huge amount of credit for creating an environment within the football club that encourages players to show off a bit and enjoy their football.

For instance, in an interview after the game he mentioned how he’s spent time explaining to Edouard Michut that playing football is supposed to be enjoyable - he noted he sees the boy frowning and tutting too much for his liking out on the pitch, because this is the greatest job in the world. He’s encouraging him to express himself.

Mowbray’s got nothing to lose. He’s seen and done everything in the game, and right now he’s in a very safe place where the people above him want to see him do with his players what all coaches, from the pro game to grassroots, deep down want to see from their team - playing football that is just fun to watch.

Whether we lose 4-2 to Burnley or batter Rotherham, one thing you can guarantee from this team is that at the least you’re going to see a team that tries to play football the right way.

And they’re a team. They’re a team who works hard for one another.

There are no egos.

The experienced internationals like Evans and Wright understand the importance of placing faith in players like Hume, Neil and Diallo. There are kids coming in from underneath like Ba and Bennette who understand they’re here to learn. There are players on the sidelines like Cirkin and Huggins who wait at the entrance to the changing room to welcome their friends back after the game, because they understand that none of this is just about them.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I know I’m often guilty of getting too carried away but I feel like we’re on the cusp of something very special with this group of players, and it won’t be long before we see what they’re really about.

I noted a Burnley fan on Twitter after the game who said that Sunderland are one of the best sides they’ve faced, and he was soon backed up by a Sheffield United fan who agreed and said the same. Fans of the top two sides in the division, both of whom beat us earlier in the season, who watched that display from Sunderland against Middlesbrough and recognise the rapid and sharp progress from what is a very young but exciting and developing side, under the management of a man who is well-respected and a lot more capable than many people will ever give him credit for.

Exciting times indeed.

I’m just happy to be here for the ride, watching some fantastic football from a very likeable side that truly care about playing for this football club. My football club. Our football club.

We fear nothing.

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