After my expectations were tempered somewhat by the loss at home to Cardiff, I was expecting the usual Sunderland capitulation to a team everyone was dying to play in Sheffield Wednesday on Friday night.
Years of watching terrible football from a myriad of equally terrible Sunderland teams for 20 years has made me somewhat of a pessimist, so it is no surprise that I went into the game against the Owls with a sense of foreboding.
Thankfully, this new incarnation of Sunderland is far more resolute than in the dreaded Di Canio and Moyes eras, and I really need to start trying to be more optimistic when it comes to the Lads. At Hillsborough, while nowhere near our electrifying best, we were still clinical, professional and efficient in what was an incredibly comfortable victory.
Jack Clarke has been mesmeric since the first whistle this season and was again imperious in front of goal, tormenting Wednesday’s defenders the entire time he was on the pitch.
What I like about Clarke is that he always plays like he has a point to prove; there’s a real tenacity to his play which we all love and he was again superb.
Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard have been incredible as a centre-half pairing this season. Tony Mowbray spoke before the start of the season of Ballard’s elevation to a senior member of the squad, and that extra responsibility is proving dividends for us - he wins everything, is an aggressive, commanding leader in the spine of our team. What a great player!
Similarly, O’Nien, seemingly loved by every Sunderland fan and also a first port of call for criticism when we play badly, has been strong at the back, and it is clear his passing ability and calmness in possession is what made him more suited to our evolving style of play under Mowbray, something Danny Batth I feel could not match up to.
All these traits were demonstrated against Sheffield Wednesday and we should feel totally confident in our centre-half pairing, even though that worry and cynicism can lead me to think otherwise at times.
Whenever I feel cynicism creeping up on me in relation to the Lads, I will now remind myself how often these players prove me wrong and give all us fans reason for encouragement.
After years of suffering as fans, it is hard to give over to that feeling of optimism and belief that things are finally going in the right direction, but we must, otherwise we just end up criticising players and Mowbray, something that helps no one, and, more importantly, is undeserved.
So let go of your cynicism, embrace the optimism and quality exalted by this current crop of players, and start enjoying watching the Lads. I’m trying my best to.