When this season began I don’t think that anyone could have predicted that we’d be sat 5th in the table with around a quarter of games left to play - yet here we are, just one point off the team above us and going great in the Championship under the stewardship of Tony Mowbray.
Despite how excellent this season has been I think I’d still be fairly content with a top ten finish - after all, you only have to look down the league to see how tight things are. Realistically, anyone from Middlesbrough in third all the way down to Reading in 16th should be aiming for a top six finish because there’s so little between most of the teams in terms of points accrued.
Sunderland’s form particularly since the return from the World Cup break in December has been outstanding, and that combined with the quality of our football makes us a proper contender for a place in the top six.
In truth, I’ve seen very little - if anything - to fear from the other sides in this division so far this season, and Sunderland are better than most of the teams at this level both in terms of standard of personnel, and our style of play. We have nothing to fear.
Bristol City, to be fair, are probably the best team we’ve faced in quite a while and their position in the table doesn’t really tell the full story. There are plenty of teams above them that they’d beat comfortably now that they’ve turned their form around, and I think we’ve seen enough football since the summer to suggest we know what the challenge ahead of us is at this level. It’s not a question of whether we can compete, more of whether we can last the pace and get to the end of the campaign with our best players fit and firing.
The most exciting thing for me is that lots of our players are only going to improve as the season progresses, whilst lots of other teams have players making up their sides that are likely to go in the other direction.
That can only be a good thing for our prospects - a confident Joe Gelhardt scoring and assisting, Isaac Lihadji contributing, Abdoullah Ba continuing to show why he’s so highly rated... all of that added into what we’ve already got, and you can understand why I’m licking my lips about where the season could go from here.
I know I’m often guilty of happily clapping when it comes to all things Sunderland, but I honestly believe deep down that it’s with good reason this time around. I’m so confident in what this team is capable of, and don’t see any reason why come May we won’t be one of the four teams duking it out for a place in next season’s Premier League.
Yet despite all of us knowing all of what I’ve said so far about this team to be true, it surprises me that there aren’t more Sunderland supporters sticking their flag in the ground and speaking more confidently about what this team is capable of achieving.
Are you scared that if you say it out loud that it might not come true?
Is it just your natural inbuilt pessimism that comes with being a Sunderland fan, expecting the whole house of cards to fall just as soon as you think we’re actually going to do something good?
If that’s the case... I don’t blame you.
We’ve been burnt many times over the years and it’s hard to get too carried away with Sunderland when you know you’re likely to be sat with egg on your face at some point, ashamed that you were ever daft enough to believe in them.
I’m going all in with this team though, and my RR colleagues will back me up on this - but I called a playoff push very early into the season, not because I’m some sort of genius with the power of foresight, but because Sunderland only deal in two absolutes - absolute disaster, or absolute elation. We never finish midtable because, well, that’s just boring. We either struggle and claw our way out of the dropzone or we’re at the other end challenging for promotion, and it’s never straightforward no matter which direction we’re heading.
So buckle up, folks, because the next three months are going to be bumpy. Get set for one hell of a ride, and feel free to berate me and send me the link to this piece at the end of May if it’s proven that I talk a load of shite and I instead put the mockers on a fine end to the season for Sunderland - let’s face it, that’s just as likely.
But for me, I think it’s about time we started believing in ourselves. We can do it, and I’m sure we will do it, because I know that this team is good enough to go all the way.