Well... nobody saw that coming, did they?
Credit has to go to Tony Mowbray and his players for responding to what was the worst performance of the season against Stoke, turning up as the unfancied outfit at Norwich and escaping with three points and a clean sheet in tow.
The stats don’t tell the full story as, despite only ending the game with 27% of the possession, we were by far the most dangerous team and probably could and should have scored another one or two goals to kill the game off.
It’s not often that we face a team who like to keep the ball more than we do, and the fact we were forced to adapt and change the way we play ended up suiting us down to a tee - it’s a shame in many ways that there aren’t more teams like Norwich at this level, because we have the players to cut teams open on the break if they give us the chance to do so.
We knew what to expect from Norwich well ahead of the game, yet most fans - myself included - didn’t think we’d have a chance of winning. But, that’s Sunderland for you - they spring a surprise when you least expect it, and with tricky games coming up over the next six days against Sheffield United and Luton Town it was important that mentally we were able to reset after this particular performance, win lose or draw.
I spoke a fair bit last week about how there was nothing to be gained from holding a mid-season inquest, and that it felt that noises emanating from the club suggested that they’d be happy if the season ended sooner rather than later.
Yet this classy, workmanlike performance from Sunderland showed why it would be foolish to write the season off just yet.
The playoff places seem a distant memory, and the five point gap between ourselves and Millwall is pretty hefty, but it’s certainly not insurmountable.
And I think it is wise of Mowbray to try and divert our attention away from them, publicly at least, because that’s probably a pressure that the players can do without.
The emergence of Abdoullah Ba as a match-winning performer ensures we have another solid midfield option going into the final ten games, and there are others on the fringes waiting for a chance should it be presented to them.
That added to the fine core of established talented we have means that this squad is in far better shape than some people would perhaps have you think.
I think we perhaps lose sight of how far we’ve come, particularly after a run of bad performances. I know I’m as guilty of it as anyone.
Tony Mowbray has done and is doing a cracking job and has my full support - he’s had us playing some of the best football I’ve ever seen at Sunderland, with a young squad of talented hopefuls. Nobody could possibly argue against that, he just had a bad couple of weeks where some bizarre comments and decisions didn’t tally up, but he sounded mightily relieved when he spoke to Sky Sports after the game on Sunday, and I just hope the win gives him the confidence boost he clearly needed.
To even be in the position where the playoffs are within reach having been promoted out of League One after finishing fifth, with so many long term injuries to key players, is nothing short of amazing.
The players are learning on the job - in most cases this is their first time in the Championship, and whilst that can often show in performances, there’s a fearlessness at times that I’ve never seen from a Sunderland side since the days of Quinn and Phillips.
We all know where the squad is short, but I see no point in holding a mid-season inquest, like some supporters have over the last week or so. Some have even called the owner and Sporting Director into question and seem eager to hold them to account when there’s still plenty of football left to play. Personally, I’ll save the inquest for the end of the season.
The most important thing is the here and now.
We needed a response after the Stoke game and that’s what the players gave.
That, for me, is enough.