If you ever wanted concrete proof of the contrast that exists between Sunderland fans inside the Stadium of Light and the often unpleasant, ‘he who shouts loudest’ soapbox world of social media, you only needed to hear the response to an admittedly poor miss from Luis Hemir late in the game during Saturday’s victory over Norwich.
The young striker had made some some good runs after entering the fray, and might’ve scored had Jack Clarke squared the ball to him before winning a penalty that he duly converted, but when it fell to the Portuguese attacker late on, he blazed it over the crossbar when you at least expected him to test George Long in the Norwich goal.
A bad miss? Yes. A chance to make a major breakthrough wasted? Yes, but what happened afterwards was a true reflection of our support for the summer signing from Benfica, and it revealed far more about how we truly feel about our young players rather than the handful of critical voices in the virtual world.
In the North West corner, where I happen to sit, there was no booing, jeering or cries of ‘He’s rubbish! We've bought a dud!’ as the ball sailed over the bar and Hemir stood in disbelief.
Instead, all I heard was encouragement and several shouts of ‘Pick him up!’ and ‘Get behind him!’, as everyone tried to lift the spirits of a player who all too often has been dismissed as lazy, disinterested, and another signing who’s never going to amount to much for Sunderland.
Despite the fact that we haven’t exactly struggled in the goalscoring metrics this season, goals from strikers have undoubtedly been a problem, with Mason Burstow not making the impact we hoped he would and Eliezer Mayenda yet to play for us. On Saturday, Nazariy Rusyn’s performance gave plenty of cause for optimism, but Hemir remains a fixture in match day squads.
Personally, I don’t think Tony Mowbray did him any favours by only giving him a couple of minutes to make an impact against Leicester, but at the same time, he clearly has a plan, and his judgement should ultimately be trusted.
With a squad comprised of many players who are taking their first steps in English football, there’s been an acceptance on behalf of Mowbray and his coaching staff that patience will be required as these lads find their feet in the hustle and bustle of the Championship.
At the club’s most recent talk-in, the question of ‘game ready’ Championship strikers was raised, and the thorny issue of premium fees and availability reared its head again. It’s not inaccurate, but it does shine a light on the need for patience and a longer-term view.
The simple fact of the matter is that different footballers develop at different rates, and just because someone’s not a fully formed, Erling Haaland-type marksman at the age of nineteen, that doesn’t mean they’re destined to fail.
Had we applied this hyper-critical theory to Ross Stewart when he first arrived and didn’t exactly set the world alight, he would’ve probably been loaned out during the summer of 2021, and we all know what happened once he was anointed as our main striker and we learned how to play to his strengths.
It may be the case that we don’t see the absolute best of Hemir this season, and that’s OK.
In addition, you get a sense that players such as Luke O’Nien, Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts will be determined to help him succeed, and it’ll be another illustration of our team spirit as they continue to help him adjust and develop an understanding of how to get the best out of him.
He’s clearly been brought to the club for the longer term and you’d hope that the more experience he gains, the more he applies himself and the more his confidence grows, he’ll become ever more influential.
To my mind, Saturday’s missed chance was purely a composure issue, and in three or four games’ time, that opportunity is hopefully taken.
A quick glance at our squad highlights several players who’ve been slow burners in red and white, and whose status and importance is growing substantially.
Abdoullah Ba, for example, has been on Wearside for a year and it’s only in recent months that he’s made the transition from a promising if erratic #10 to a genuinely exciting winger.
That’s come about as a result of patience and backing from Mowbray, and the understanding that these players will endure ups and downs in form. You accept inconsistency and moments of frustration for what they can bring in the longer term, and Hemir is undoubtedly in that category.
The win on Saturday was heartening, but the support for our young striker was equally so.
Most supporters can see that there’s a talented and promising there, and it proves that when it comes to a true representation of our fan base, the voices inside the stadium will always trump the doubters and sceptics on social media.