Football can be a funny old game at times.
Despite being edged out by Premier League-bound Sheffield United on Wednesday night, we’ve reached the stage of the season where it feels as though the pressure is off.
Sunderland sit in a decent position and although the playoffs look to be just about out of reach, we’ve still got a healthy gap to the drop zone, which we’ve maintained for most of the season.
This stage of the the campaign is often referred to as ‘mid-table mediocrity’, but that’s a term reserved for teams who are genuinely mediocre, and it doesn’t apply to Sunderland of 2022/2023.
These two facts are proof that for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, we’re set for a relaxed end to the campaign.
After four often desperate years in League One, having nothing to play for during the remaining games is unfamiliar territory for us, so how can we approach it?
We’ve certainly got some tough fixtures to come but in recent days, Tony Mowbray has hinted at how he wants the run in to unfold.
Ahead of the visit of Sheffield United, Mowbray spoke about how he gives free reign to our talented young squad:
“I live with this group of players and work with them every day. Just let them play, don’t burden them by saying ‘we HAVE to win, we HAVE to win’, because they’re young and carefree, so give them the confidence to accept the ball in tight areas, play one-twos, and pass and run”.
“If you’re too worried about losing, you end up never getting out of your own half and with everybody behind the ball all the time. This team is best being on the front foot, playing aggressively and looking forward.”
The pressure is off now, despite the fact that the lads have played with freedom for most of the season. After all, we’ve gone toe-to-toe with sides blessed with far more experience and we’ve rarely looked out of our depth.
Being in this position is sometimes associated with teams who are looking to tread water, but not enough is said about the benefits of stability.
Some teams in the division, such as Wigan Athletic, would kill to have the security of a mid-table finish. We’ve earned our chance, and I only hope we can grab the opportunity with both hands.
With the final worry of ending up at the wrong end of the table all but gone, we’ve been placed in a unique position with nine games left of what’s been a remarkable season.
We’ve witnessed some of the best football played by a Sunderland side in many years, and we’ve also seen a number of players give their all for the club.
Next season will likely be just as exciting and with a solid core already in place, it feels as though the only way is up.
However, let’s not wish this campaign away too quickly.
Let’s sit back, enjoy the run in, get behind the lads and make sure we end the season in the same way we intend to start the 2023/2024 campaign.