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Forgive me for opening this article with one of the most overused cliches in football parlance, but a week really is a long time in this game, isn’t it?
It’s not as if things are getting any easier, either, as next up, it’s the small matter of the visit of Carlos Corberan’s rejuvenated West Bromwich Albion, followed by what’ll be a very high-stakes home game against Leeds United, now looking increasingly like the team we thought they’d become under Daniel Farke.
That was me writing just over a week ago, after Sunderland salvaged a draw at The Den that ultimately wasn’t enough to save Tony Mowbray’s job, to haul us out of the slump in which we were mired, or to stop the uncomfortable questions about Sunderland’s direction of travel from swirling.
At the time, morale was low and optimism was in short supply, and the two league games that we had to prepare for- on the back of being drawn against Newcastle in the FA Cup- hardly felt like a freebie for interim head coach Mike Dodds.
Before the draw against Millwall, performances had taken a major downturn and the verve and confidence that had so often characterised our displays this season had vanished.
What had gone wrong? Was it a case of simply guiding the players back onto the right track, giving them the belief and confidence to perform, and discovering whether they had the kind of qualities that you can’t gauge with algorithms?
That might be too simplistic a view for some, but just over one week from Mowbray’s departure and the ugly fallout that followed, Sunderland’s 2023/2024 season has been reignited and then some.
As I write, I’m still on a post-match high after the Lads backed up Saturday’s victory over the Baggies with a win that was arguably even more impressive, all things considered, against the visitors from Yorkshire on a drizzly Tuesday night.
Farke’s team, loaded with a mixture of young talent and seasoned pros, many of whom have top flight experience, were game and they certainly played their part in a cracking encounter.
However, Jobe’s late goal was the difference on the night and it was just reward for a display that few might’ve seen coming but was played out against the kind of raucous backing on which our players thrive.
From pessimism to renewed optimism in just over a week, two games, and two performances that demonstrated that this squad is talented, committed and willing to graft in order to eke out results, and that whoever replaces Mowbray on a permanent basis will have the raw materials which, if given time and patience, can be moulded into a team capable of challenging for the top six once again.
So much for ‘the model’ failing, Kristjaan Speakman’s credibility being at stake, and the ambitions of our owner being questioned.
We all know that at this crazy club of ours, things can always change on a whim and as the old saying goes, it’s amazing what a couple of victories can do for everyone’s outlook.
Without a doubt, these wins have vindicated the club’s decision to part ways with Mowbray and not to rush into a new appointment before the right candidate was chosen. They’ve trusted their instincts, held their nerve, and it’s worked out beautifully.
Dodds might’ve had a limited amount of time time to implement his style, and it may well be that he’s soon stepping aside for a permanent replacement for Mowbray, but he deserves immense credit- not least after his previous spell in charge which saw us slide to defeats against Doncaster and Cheltenham after Lee Johnson was sacked.
The difference between Tuesday, Saturday, and the lifeless display against Huddersfield was stark and in some ways, it was like watching a rebooted version of this team.
Under Dodds’ watchful eye, the players injected a new level of aggression, discipline, organisation and above all, resilience into their game. West Brom couldn’t cope with it on Saturday, and it ultimately proved the difference against Leeds as well, as we blunted their dangerous attacking outlets and turned in a colossal defensive display on which the win was duly earned.
After recent results, we could’ve easily gone into this home double header with our heads down, but the players- led in both fixtures by the enduring brilliance and guile of Alex Pritchard- showed no signs of suffering a post-Mowbray hangover.
Heads were high, shoulders were back, and you got the sense that these lads were determined to right the wrongs of recent weeks and prove that bad results can certainly be dealt with.
Make no mistake: these victories could prove pivotal in the wider context of our season.
With a new head coaching appointment hopefully imminent and everyone riding the crest of a wave, we can get our teeth into the hectic Christmas schedule with renewed belief in the players and what this season might lead to.
We rode the storm that followed the losses against Plymouth and Huddersfield, but we emerged on the other side and now it’s time to keep pushing forward, starting with this Saturday’s trip to Bristol City.