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Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship

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The connection between Sunderland’s players and supporters is now stronger than ever

After many setbacks over the years, a team has been built that espouses all the values we expect: hard work, skill, determination and passion. For Sunderland, this is a foundation for future success, writes Phil West

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

When Amad was substituted during the second half of Saturday’s gritty encounter with Reading, he exited the field of play and walked three quarters of the way around the perimeter of the pitch to return to the dugout.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As he did so, the fans in the east, south and west stands rose to their feet and showed their appreciation of his efforts after a typically wholehearted performance that didn’t quite yield the magic we’ve become used to seeing from the Manchester United loanee.

The reception was quite something and in many respects, it was an image that encapsulated all that’s good about this Sunderland team.

Amad is a player who’s genuinely loved by the fans, and he’s not the only one, because these lads are making trips to the Stadium of Light more than worthwhile as they continue to impress in the Championship. Even when the games are frustrating, they’ll never give up and they won’t allow spoiling tactics to derail them, as was the case on Saturday.

Over the years, we’ve fielded players who were honest and dedicated but not quite at the level required (2005/2006), detached, disinterested and lazy (2017/2018) or frankly forgettable and simply too mediocre to make any real impact (2019/2020).

Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Whether that was down to a lack of funds, bad management or poor recruitment, we’ve all lived through seasons where comfort was hard to find and the positives were few and far between.

Of course the passage of time can alter perceptions, but I don’t think even the most cynical fan could deny that this squad is significantly above the levels of recent seasons in just about every area.

One result of this is that the connection between the players and fans is now stronger than it’s been for some time. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and there’s a growing and mutual sense of belief, both on the pitch and in the stands.

The most skilful and talented group of players we’ve had for some time is also one of the most likeable and relatable, which can sometimes be a paradox in itself.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With this comes the risk of rampant egos and an inflated sense of self-importance, but there’s none of that on display.

Instead, the values that we hold dear as fans- dedication, passion and commitment to the cause- are at the very heart of this squad and are propelling the club forward.

Tony Mowbray’s influence is clearly significant, but the players are also taking the lead in their own way and demonstrating a level of professionalism that often belies their relatively tender years.

They’re solving problems on the pitch and are doing so impressively, while Mowbray is there to provide guidance when necessary. The slow-burning evolution of the likes of Edouard Michut and Trai Hume is proof that faith and patience will be rewarded, even as they experience inevitable dips in form.

From the no-nonsense attitude of Danny Batth to the impudent brilliance of Patrick Roberts and the admirable confidence of Hume, the mixture of personalities has certainly gelled. There’s just something different about it. Something exciting, progressive and likeable.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Moreover, you can’t overlook the fact that these lads are revelling in the opportunity to make their mark in the red and white stripes.

It’s obvious that they appreciate the chance they’ve been given, as opposed to many of those who came before them who pocketed the wages regardless of how badly they performed and thought that it was enough to simply turn up for games and stumble from one disaster to another.

For someone like Jewison Bennette, who took the brave decision to up sticks and move from Costa Rica in order to further his career, this must be quite an experience.

Bennette, who’s obviously loved by Mowbray and scored a sumptuous goal against Fulham in midweek, swapped domestic football in his homeland for a chance to make his mark on Wearside.

Through his humility and eagerness to learn, he’s showing that we’re now a club where you’d actually want to come and play, instead of avoiding at all costs for fear of your future prospects being damaged.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Of course there have been frustrating results and performances this season.

That’s simply part of the journey, but these players have earned their place in the affections of the supporters, and as they continue to evolve, that connection is only likely to grow stronger.

A unified team and fan base can lead to incredible things at any club, and if we’re to achieve the long-term aim of bringing top flight football back to Wearside, it’ll be something on which we rely heavily on during the years to come.


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