If one image epitomised the fighting spirit and determination exhibited by Sunderland during the past seven days, it was surely that of Trai Hume making a thunderous and entirely fair tackle on Wigan’s James McClean during our trip to the DW Stadium last Thursday.
In front of the 4,500 travelling fans, Hume hurtled towards the Latics winger and made the kind of full-blooded challenge that can galvanise a team, and it certainly gave the fans something to cheer as well.
The former Linfield defender has had limited opportunities to show his worth during his time at the club so far, but he’s a shining example of why patience is key and in Lynden Gooch’s injury-enforced absence, he’s done his cause no harm at all.
Similarly, when Abdoullah Ba was introduced during our gritty battle against Blackpool on New Year’s Day, the young midfielder added some drive and energy to the engine room, and he looked completely unfazed by the challenge he was facing.
This followed an equally impressive performance against the Latics, and his recent efforts have hinted that another rough diamond may well have been unearthed by the club’s recruitment team. Ba is undoubtedly raw and nowhere near the finished article, but his ceiling is extremely high and his progress will be fascinating to watch.
The wider point is that although our squad is largely based around youth and potential, what’s really striking is the fact that there seems to be a growing sense of maturity about the players; an acceptance that in order to keep themselves in Tony Mowbray’s thoughts, they need to demonstrate a positive attitude.
Given the ethos that runs through the club now, one based on effort, pride and commitment to success, it’s not surprising to see every player embracing the challenge and for the longer term, it’s absolutely vital.
In terms of setting the tone, managing individual players and bringing the best out of this group, there’s an interesting comparison to be made between Mowbray and Alex Neil.
Neil was a no-nonsense taskmaster who placed a high premium on work rate, and with excellent results, but where they differ is that Mowbray has shown significant (and sometimes maybe too much, to be slightly critical) faith in the younger players, in addition to demanding that they give their all.
If we’re to achieve what many people are viewing as a realistic goal this season- a top six berth come May, the majority of players have a role to play. When we get a clean bill of health, there’s going to be, to quote Peter Reid, some ‘real good competition for places’, which is never a bad thing.
Another point to consider is that nowadays, you never get the impression that player X, Y, or Z will be left to sulk if they don’t make the starting eleven.
Instead, they’re always ready to contribute when called upon, which illustrates the cultural change that’s taken place in recent years. It’s been painstaking and we’ve had to take some hits along the way, but it’s definitely starting to take shape.
During the 1998/1999 season review, Kevin Ball made a point of emphasising that every member of Reid’s squad had played their part in achieving promotion, and the same will be true if this season is to end on a high.
Likewise, looking back at the 1995/1996 season, Reid himself said that everyone would get their chance, but there was also an understanding that a continued influx of quality was needed in order to keep things moving. Fast forward twenty six years, and I’ve got no doubts that a similar approach is being utilised by Mowbray,
This month represents an ideal chance to enhance what’s already an exciting group of players, and anyone who arrives during the window will need to tune themselves into the ‘Sunderland way’ of 2022, not least because they’ll be joining a very tightly-knitted, talented and unified squad.
Hume and Ba have demonstrated that patience pays off, and for anyone who joins the club this month, that ought to be an appealing prospect. Bide your time, take your chances when they arrive, and you could find yourself right at the heart of the action.