Sunderland came up just short against Premier League Fulham at the SoL in midweek in a match we took our time growing into. After a slow start, we started to show signs of the football that has made us fantastic to watch this season.
The narrow defeat was frustrating, but it was nothing to be ashamed of. Post match, Tony Mowbray made a point of praising his young players and the fans who turned out to back the side.
Following the match, Mowbray said:
I think the supporters deserve huge credit for keeping the players going.
We’re fighting for these people who come to support us.
I like a lot of what Mowbray says, both before and after matches, but this line in particular resonated a lot with me and where we currently are as a club. Usually, words along the lines of ‘the players are fighting for the club’ usually seem empty and can’t be backed up with much cold, hard evidence.
To some extent, managers and players roll out lines similar to this as some form of appeasement when a club is going through a rough spell in an effort to keep fans onside. However, in the Mowbray context, there’s plenty to back this up.
Our young squad gets asked a lot of questions and is often criticised for not having that experience. This is to some extent stating the obvious - 19, 20 and 21 year olds generally don’t have lots of first team experience.
We have looked raw at times this season, and the cup replay against Fulham was no exception, but one thing this crop of players has never lacked is effort. Despite playing against some seasoned Premier League players, we kept on going to the very end.
This attitude has seemingly been drilled into the players from the very start of the Mowbray era. In his first interview as boss, he outlined why his players needed to give their all in every match.
The players must understand what they are fighting for because they are the standard-bearers for the city and win, lose or draw, we must ensure those who come to watch us see a team that gives everything in every game.
So far, we’re seeing the results of this. Our players are putting their heart and souls into performances and, although it doesn’t always go to plan, we are getting more things right on the pitch than wrong.
At full time on Wednesday night, many of our players slumped onto the SoL turf. They looked exhausted and disappointed with the result - both signs of players who have put in a shift and are disappointed due to falling short.
So there you have it. For me, when Tony Mowbray says he and his players are fighting for the club and the fans. What helps towards this is having a coach who is from the area and who has regular experience of the city, the fans, and the club. It’s clear that Mowbray gets the club, and what’s obvious is that he’s making sure his players know who they are playing for.
There are plenty of games left this season and no doubt plenty of ups and downs to come, but it’s going to be an adventure whatever happens.
If we continue to play the full blooded, entertaining football we’ve seen for much of the season so far, then we will be far from disappointed.