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Well, last week was pretty shit, wasn’t it?
After losing to Plymouth I was expecting a reaction that we didn’t get against Huddersfield, and after losing that game I was hoping we’d see something different at Millwall, but the truth of it is that we are very lucky to be sat here with a point after the ref wrongly awarded us a penalty that Jack Clarke just about scored.
I was completely deflated after Saturday’s game as I just can’t see where the next win is coming from. We’re going toe to toe with comparably poorer sides and not looking any better than them, and whilst that’s certainly nothing new for this squad, I just don’t have a good feeling about things. And that’s coming from the biggest happy clapper in the Sunderland fanbase - I just have a horrible feeling that we might be talking about another defeat last week.
Temporary respite came in the form of the FA Cup 3rd Round draw, however, when it was revealed we’ve finally got a chance to play the mags again. It’s a month or so away so I’ll save my thoughts and feelings on the matter til closer to the time, but it was nice to be distracted by something other than talking about how pap we were at The New Den when that particular news filtered through on Sunday afternoon.
I’m sure the players are looking forward to it, but we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball this week. Right now the most important game in the world is the one against West Brom, where the result really could end up being definitive when it comes to the direction we’re heading and, ultimately, the future of Tony Mowbray.
Saturday’s draw does feel like a case of “saved by the bell” (or in this case, saved by a dodgy penalty call) and if we had lost then I’m sure there would have been huge calls from lots of fans for him to lose his job. Nobody’s happy with the way we played but given how poor we were and that we went initially behind, a point on the road isn’t to be sniffed at.
The last three games were all against relegation-threatened opposition and that was on the back of drawing with strugglers Swansea, who had ten men. Our form over the last nine games reads played nine, lost five, drew two, won two. That’s just not good enough, and looks even worse when you see the calibre of sides we’ve faced over that time.
It doesn’t get any easier from here and the next two matches in particular are daunting - 5th placed West Brom and then 3rd placed Leeds United, two sides who are more than capable of beating us.
Really, the game at the weekend could define where things head from here depending on the end result. Win and win with a bit of style and we might be talking about how it was a turning point in the season, with the team edging closer to the playoff spots. Lose, and lose badly, and it could see us dropping as far down as 14th in the table — and the calls for Speakman and co to replace the manager will only grow stronger.
They’ve shown in the past with the sacking of Lee Johnson that there’s no room for sentiment if there’s a feeling that we’re heading in the wrong direction, and another crap performance and defeat could mean Tony Mowbray is out on his ear.
But - and this is the daft thing - I think we’re more than capable of beating West Brom, and you could even argue that we’re better equipped to play against a team with better players who come at you a bit than we are against a side like Millwall or Huddersfield who are happy to let you have lots of the ball while they sit inside their own half.
Let’s just see what happens. With a week on the training pitch there are no excuses for turning in the same level of performance that we’ve seen recently, where we seem to keep possession for the sake of it without having the cutting edge to break teams down.
We need to see something different, and with this being a home game on the back of a spell of bad form, anything less than a convincing performance and a victory will do.
Can we do it? I think so. Will we do it? I’m not too sure. My confidence has faded slightly.
I don’t want to see Tony Mowbray lose his job, but this is a ruthless business and we need to see some fight from this manager, who seems to have gotten comfortable in his position and perhaps needs to remind everyone of why he’s so highly rated and why he’s been such a success at Championship level over his career.
So - and it might seem a little early to be saying this - but is this game a must-win?
It may well be for Tony Mowbray.