The international break is almost over, and as the last of the matches take place attention is slowly turning back to the bread and butter of league football. For Sunderland, this starts with a trip down to out-of-form Stoke City.
Before the 4-0 demolition at the hands of Middlesbrough, we were looking good on a run of one loss in eight games. Even with the off day against the Boro, we sit fourth and look highly competitive in a tough league.
The trip down to Stoke is a chance to immediately put this nightmare day out at the SoL behind us and, depending on results elsewhere, move up to third in the table. The game also gives the opportunity to well and truly consign the 5-1 defeat at home to Stoke to bed.
A match that came following back-to-back defeats, everything that could have gone wrong for Sunderland did that day. Abysmal defending and no clear idea going forward made it so ex-boss Alex Neil enjoyed a stunning return to Wearside. Seven months later, however, the teams are looking in different directions of the Championship table.
Since that grim day in March, we’ve lost just five league games and, especially this season, have looked much more ruthless when it comes to finishing teams off. We fully deserve to be in the top six and, if fortune was on our side in some other games this season, we could have been even better off.
Bouncing back quickly from these heavy defeats is something we’ve done well, including after the Stoke debacle in March. We lost just 1 of our last 10 matches after this one, and that only defeat was 2-1 to promoted Sheffield United thanks to a suspect goal. The 5-1 Stoke loss was one which set us on a run of form which led to a play-off spot and we showed all the fight we have so far this season.
The hope and anticipation going into that Stoke match was off the scale, with the plan to get back on track expected to come from beating Alex Neil six months after he jumped ship to Stoke. In a very Sunderland way, this couldn’t have gone more wrong.
With Stoke struggling down the wrong end of the table with just three wins in 11 games. Ahead of what is set to be a tough run of games, taking three points off Stoke would be nice in more ways than one. If we were the team to finish off Neil’s dismal spell at the bet365 Stadium then I’m sure that would make the journey back to the north east even sweeter.
Getting back to winning ways is always important, it of course doesn’t take a genius to come to that conclusion, but having had a fortnight off to get players back up to speed and extra time for anyone still out injured to rest up needs to be seen as positive.
Bringing three points back from Stoke would be great first and foremost because it will get us back on track and make our current form look that bit better, but getting our own back on Stoke and Neil for that clash back in March will be a tasty bonus.