The 1959 song “What a Difference a Day Makes!” Bby Dinah Washington is a feeling we as a fanbase were collectively all too accustomed to last season.
24 little hours later, and the blow of a weekend or midweek defeat would inevitably soften (although in some cases it would ruin weeks). Yet, as those losses turned into losing streaks under the aptly named “Streaky Lee”, murmurings of discontent grew louder, and the difference of that single day Dinah Washington so passionately spoke of quickly became the difference of several.
Today marks the year anniversary of Lee Johnson and that fateful straw that broke the camel’s back. The 6-0 capitulation at Bolton signaled the worst defeat in the club’s decorated history and arguably, the lowest point we as fans had ever experienced.
What a difference a year makes.
After Johnson was shown our ill-fated revolving door I welcomed it with relief, but questions of “what the hell do we do now?!” rang around my head.
Calls for a Roy Keane-shaped return were met with promise, yet after a three-week stretch with Mike Dodds as substitute teacher, the Sunderland Class of 22’s results plummeted. From automatic contenders to play-off outsiders in a matter of weeks.
Passion, Pride, and Despair on Wearside.
Defoe came home for one last dance; unfortunately, his final waltz was performed with two left feet, rather than the left and right he had originally departed with.
Alex Neil’s appointment was greeted with underwhelmed shrugs and limited expectations.
Keep the faith, we said, it can only get better. And got better it did. Unbeaten in 15 from February through to May, our young squad achieved the unthinkable: put Wycombe to the sword at Wembley in front of our record-breaking 50k following.
Now, in January 2023, the club from top-to-bottom is unrecognizable. Rejuvenated by fresh ideas, and a recruitment strategy that holds the development of youth and young talent above all else, we are on track for five consecutive fruitful transfer windows with the recent acquisition of the exciting Pierre Ekwah.
Kristjaan Speakman has spearheaded this refreshing approach and thus far, his methods have borne fruit on the pitch. Following a certain bald Scotsman’s abrupt decamping, Tony Mowbray has come in and allowed this technically gifted and youthful side to express itself and thrive in a notoriously tough league.
Having played a substantial chunk of the season without a recognized striker, and with very few players with actual championship experience, our points tally is nothing short of remarkable.
Sitting 9th, a point off 5th and 6th, and just three off 3rd, it makes a change from last season that being on the periphery of a playoff spot at this point in the season is a testament to how well our side has been playing rather than how poorly.
It’s irrefutable that if we had either Stewart or Simms available during (or both) that 6-week, striker-less window, we’d have been a constant fixture in those playoff spots.
In retrospect, this is a thank you letter to Lee Johnson and that drubbing at Bolton; the catalyst for reform, and without that loss, who knows, we may still be playing the likes of Morecambe and Cheltenham…