Sunderland’s 2022/2023 Championship campaign has been characterised by, among other things, three defining traits.
These are the quality, innovation and positivity of our overall play, the resilience and fortitude we’ve shown in tough times and above all, the sheer brilliance of many of the goals we’ve scored.
In addition, we’ve garnered plaudits from a wide range of commentators and analysts, who’ve praised the way in which we’ve adapted to and added real value to the division, even as a newly-promoted team comprised largely of young players.
Much has been made of our lack of out-and-out strikers during the autumn and since January, but that hasn’t stopped us from making a significant impact on the scoring charts, even as the likes of Ross Stewart have had to watch from the sidelines and many of his teammates have stepped up in order to keep the bandwagon rolling.
With all of this in mind, it was nothing short of astonishing when, on Friday night, the EFL released a slickly-produced YouTube video showcasing their nominations for ‘goal of the season’, a package which didn’t feature a single contribution from Sunderland.
Was it an insult? Without a doubt, and it’s probably fair to assume that Lads fans up and down the country were left mystified by it, even in spite of the undoubted quality of many of the strikes that did make the cut.
Let’s make no bones about this: it’s difficult to recall a season, certainly in recent times, during which we’ve scored so many high class goals, either as a result of superb team play or moments of individual brilliance.
From Jack Clarke finishing off a dazzling move at Reading to Amad’s immaculate finishes against Birmingham and Wigan, we’ve hit the net in a variety of different ways and have almost certainly provided video producers with highlight reel fodder for years to come.
Why, then, have the EFL decreed that none of these goals are worthy of inclusion? Snobbery? A desire to keep a newly promoted team from garnering too much of the limelight and thereby upsetting the apple cart?
There are some exceptional efforts that have made the list and it would be churlish to claim otherwise, but to overlook Sunderland entirely smacks of bitterness, ignorance, and anti-red and white bias.
It also makes it more than a little jarring to hear Sky Sports commentators (with the exception of the seemingly perennially bitter Andy Hinchcliffe) often raving about the impact we’ve made, only for the league’s overseers to deny us the recognition that we deserve.
As a newly promoted team, the general rule of thumb is that you get that ball over the line in any way you can, but the fact that scruffy, lucky or scrambled goals only make up a fraction of our total tells a story in itself.
We’ve got players who are capable of making special things happen and as a result of the no-fear mindset with which they’re playing, they’ve had the confidence to take risks, with spectacular rewards.
Clarke’s strike at Reading, for example, was a masterpiece of quick thinking, spatial awareness, and superlative technique from everyone involved. It was the kind of goal that, generally speaking, you’d see once every three or four years, if you’re fortunate.
Likewise, his blockbuster against Bristol City was a shining example of individual brilliance, the kind of goal that a packed Stadium of Light will always appreciate.
‘He’s got that in his locker’ is a favoured truism of many football media figures, but after watching so many years of stodgy football, give me a risk taker who’ll try things over players who lack the conviction to back their skills and whose first instinct is to opt for the safe option.
Once the season is over, regardless of where we eventually finish, we’ll be able to reflect on a campaign that’s seen us achieve some eye catching results whilst scoring some all-time great goals along the way.
As Sunderland fans, we can appreciate that they’ve propelled us to the brink of the playoffs and we’ll be able to look back on them with a great deal of fondness, regardless of what the EFL judges in their ivory tower might think.