Following Saturday’s defeat to Coventry, a game in which we controlled possession but ultimately lacked the cutting edge, there was the usual criticism of tactics, team selection and player performance.
Yes, we need to be able to take something from these type of games, and perhaps a more ruthless and effective style of play is needed.
There’s no doubt that it’s been a disappointing week for Sunderland.
Rotherham is never an easy fixture, not least because they’re scrapping for their lives, and Coventry are on an upward trajectory right now. League form has swung back and forth this year, with various teams hitting highs and lows at different times and sometimes you simply catch a team on a good day for them.
You can argue about whether we should've started with a more combative midfield in Luke O’Nien and Pierre Ekwah but the latter is still raw and untested, and if you start O’Nien and he makes a bad pass or gets an early booking, the same people shouting for him to play would’ve been on his back very quickly.
Whether you think it’s brave or naive from Tony Mowbray to keep playing our ball players and giving extended runs to lads who look like they need a break is a divisive topic.
Personally, I’d rather we try to outplay teams than drop to their level.
This weekend represents a chance to get back to basics, make our possession count and keep our playoff hopes alive.
I think it’s important that Mowbray acknowledges that we can and do want to make a charge, just as Mark Robins did on Saturday.
If you’re constantly downplaying the team’s chances and talking about fitness and tiredness, it can transmit to the players and provide them with an excuse before the game has kicked off.
Now is the time to galvanise the team, ask for that last push and tell them to go for it. Our squad, and particularly our first eleven, is full of young and fit players who should be capable of playing two games a week with minimal rotation.
Whatever happens between now and May, we’ve had a great season and some of the football played, goals scored and individual performances have been a joy to watch.
The players are giving their all every week and deserve patience and leeway from the fans when it doesn’t go to plan.
The flip side with a young team is a lack of consistency and mistakes and blips in form, coupled with injuries and a steep Championship learning curve, meaning that it’s not always plain sailing.
To a certain extent, 2022/203 has been ‘what if?’ season.
What if Ross Stewart had stayed fit? What if Dan Ballard didn’t miss those early games, and what if we’d signed a backup striker? In any event, we have to put that to bed, focus on what we do have, and back this group of talented players for the run-in.
If Joe Gelhardt can take confidence from his goal against Rotherham and Amad can recapture his best form, we may still have a shot at back-to-back promotions, which would represent a minor miracle from where we’ve been and considering the obstacles thrown at this team over the course of the season.
We’re in great shape for 2023/2024, and we can build on the solid foundations put in place by the recruitment team and coaches over the last year.