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“Relax! As a club we’ve waited 20 years for this exciting new dawn”

“We have a plan now – a vision and a direction. I like it and I’m willing to be relaxed and patient,” writes Joseph Tulip.

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but over the past 18 months I’ve become increasingly relaxed when it comes to all things Sunderland.

We have a clear plan which the club is strictly adhering to, progress on the field is being made year-on-year, we have a team full of exciting young players who for the most part are fun to watch, and attending matches is something I enjoy doing once again.

I therefore struggle with some of the reaction which has followed some of our recent performances. Despite our shortcomings at Rotherham, there were some positives to take from the game and my school of thought is to take them into the next one, and let’s give it a good go at home to Preston on New Year’s Day.

I understand many people didn’t want Tony Mowbray to go – and that Michael Beale wasn’t a popular appointment. But let’s face facts, we are where we are and we need a united fanbase to be at our best, both as a team and as a club.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It sounds negative to say “we are where we are” – but we’re actually sitting very pretty in the league table, just two points off the play-off positions in seventh place. This is only our second season after promotion from League One and we have a great chance of making something very special happen come May.

Yet there shouldn’t be any pressure. I know a play-off place has been mentioned publicly as a target for Beale, but if we were to secure a top six position for the second season running, it would represent a remarkable achievement, especially for a club that is trying to develop young players in an ultra-competitive league boasting recent Premier League sides with bigger budgets and parachute payments.

I think we over-achieved last season – and that has led to increased expectation. But let’s remember that there’s no God-given right to beat teams like Rotherham who are struggling for their lives and Bristol City – who are actually just a point behind us in the table.

The Championship is full of ups and downs. The only sides who are super consistent have generally been those occupying the top two positions – and we’re not at that level yet.

This young team needs time and patience. The likes of Adil Aouchiche, Abdoullah Ba and Jenson Seelt are getting to grips with playing more of a hands-on role this term, while Patrick Roberts remains a key element of our attacking play despite his poor stats this season.

Hull City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Beale himself needs time – he’s only been in the dugout for three games and walked into the camp as we were about to begin a hectic schedule of festive fixtures. I’m happy with the return of three wins and a draw from the last six matches. I genuinely believe we’ll only improve from here – and that’s without taking the January transfer window and possible signings into consideration.

Of course, we might face bids for some of our players, but most big money deals happen in the summer and like I said at the start – I have every reason to be relaxed at the moment as a Sunderland supporter, whatever happens next month.

That’s probably because the current situation is far more refreshing than much of what has happened over the past 20 years.

In 2003, the new dawn of the Stadium of Light move died a miserable death as we were relegated from the Premier League with the lowest number of points ever – not long after we almost qualified for Europe – twice. Then In 2006, we broke our own points record for relegation.

Niall Quinn and the Drumaville consortium brought fresh hope with Roy Keane and a team which showed much promise as we stormed back to the Premier League and survived.

But apart from a League Cup final in 2014, there was very little to shout about for us as a fanbase for a decade between 2011, when we finished 10th in the top flight, and 2021 when we finally got out of the third tier.

For most of those years there was no clear plan as we changed managers and coaches, overhauled squads and adopted different strategies.

Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We have a plan now – a vision and a direction. I like it and I’m willing to be relaxed and patient.

Let’s get behind the Lads against Preston – and whatever happens during those 90 minutes, I’ll be happy because I trust in the club and the process.

As I approach my 41st birthday next week, the lines on the forehead may be visible, but as far as Sunderland is concerned, I’m finally content!

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