First off - I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas!
Even if you didn’t, I’m sure Sunderland’s win at Hull helped to raise a smile.
I don’t think anyone is pretending that it was the best performance we’ve ever seen from this team, but we did play pretty well and I think in the end we deserved the three points.
I’ve seen Hull a few times recently and they’re as good as anything I’ve seen outside that top three, so to make them look so average and then take three points on their own patch isn’t to be sniffed at. I didn’t expect to go there and win and would have taken a draw if it was on offer, so to escape with a victory and a clean sheet was beyond expectations.
Importantly, it gives Michael Beale his first win as Head Coach and it helps to relieve some of the pressure already mounting on him after being mullered off Coventry at the SoL.
It was interesting to hear him reference the overall mood after that first match and I’d like to think that it served as a reality check for Beale, who perhaps didn’t fully understand what he was walking into. Rightly or wrongly, this is a highly-charged fanbase who don’t need to be given two chances to boot off if they’re not happy about something, and the manner of the performance against Coventry was nervous and sloppy. At Hull, we righted some of those wrongs and the team stuck together, with the fans in the away end, which ensured we got the job done.
Beale’s going to be in a constant fight to prove himself at Sunderland given the attitude towards his appointment from a large chunk of supporters, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. I mean, sure... I think as a fanbase it’s our duty to support the team from the start to the finish of a game — so I don’t condone jeering players off when they get subbed after a poor performance, or chanting for the old manager while there’s a game going on on the pitch — but I think it can only be a good thing if Beale is kept on his toes at all times. It’s up to him to prove his doubters wrong and to prove to the supporters who didn’t want him in the first place that he’s a good coach capable of taking Sunderland to the next level.
I was not a huge fan of the appointment, but at the same time I think it’s up to me as a fan to get behind whoever is in the job until they give us a reason not to back them, and there’s no real way to judge the full scale of Beale’s impact on the team until he’s several months into the job — and certainly not after only a week or so, where he’s barely had a few days on the training pitch with them to get his ideas across properly.
That said, I don’t think we’d have won that Hull game under Mowbray. Our away form under him this season was shocking and he just didn’t have a plan B to deal with teams that like to get down the sides and cut us open. Against Leeds (under Mike Dodds) and now Hull we’ve found a way to win differently in the wake of Mowbray’s departure, which is a sure sign of progress. Two victories against very decent sides, sides that will accrue an awful lot of points this season and will be right up there in the playoff places.
The next challenge for Beale is to do something Mowbray also failed to do on numerous occasions — he needs to go up against a struggling side and beat them.
We’ve looked incredibly poor against the sides down the bottom this year for a multitude of reasons, the main one being that these teams know that they just have to sit deep and stay organised to frustrate us.
Rotherham are bottom of the table but have been a thorn in our side for years now, particularly at their place. It’s a small ground and a tight pitch, which really doesn’t suit us, and as they demonstrated against Middlesbrough on Boxing Day they’re capable of picking up scruffy wins.
For those who didn’t see the result: their goal was a mishit cross, they had 29% of the possession and only two shots on target in the game, finishing with an xG of 0.08. That’s the type of performance from a rubbish side that usually beats us, so I’m really not looking forward to the game... even though I’ve got my ticket and will be there in person.
Here’s hoping Michael Beale and his team have finally cracked it and worked out a way to beat these horrible sides who we simply haven’t had an answer to all season — if we come away with a win and another decent performance it’ll set us up nicely for the visit of Preston on New Year’s Day, which precedes the big one in the cup against the Geordies.
I know we can’t look too far ahead but if you’re one of those players now, the chance to start in that game against the Mags should be all the motivation they need to push on and perform in these next two games.
It’s going to be an interesting and thrilling couple of weeks, so strap in — it’s sure to be a bumpy ride!