Watching this Sunderland team, I often look back to my early days at Roker Park - not a great decade for the lads, and not a great decade for football.
Long ball was the order of the day - “hoof ... offside ... free kick ... hoof ... offside”. Teams pushed up, safe in the knowledge that the offside rule benefited the defending side. You could pass the ball back to the keeper - always a good sign early in the game if your centre midfield looked for a 50 yard pass back. Safety first. Wingers were out of fashion - managers preferred industrious but dull ‘box to box’ runners. Full backs never crossed the half-way line, centre halves were not comfortable on the ball (to say the least).
The contrast with today’s team couldn’t be more stark. It’s a joy to watch so much attacking intent, whether it’s Roberts’ wing trickery, Ekwah surging from deep, or Bellingham’s sheer quality. I could go on: all over the pitch we have strong, committed, talented players, imposing themselves on the game and looking for scoring opportunities.
During our long decline in the late 2010s I couldn’t attend games very often and, when I did, I sometimes wondered why I had traveled so far and why I should leave the pub. Now I can’t wait to get in the ground and see what the lads have to offer. If things don’t go our way it won’t be for want of trying; and we have exciting options on the bench, game changers at this level capable of making a goal out of nothing.
I don’t think we’re the finished article. I don’t think we’ll get automatic promotion this season. I think we’re light on experience. It’s a long season and it will be difficult for so many young players to maintain their form over 35-45 games.
We look particularly short in centre midfield, where Ekwah’s injury is currently hitting us hard. Personally, I’d move O’Nien up, but Mowbray has other plans and, to be fair, he’s managed teams in 800 games and I haven’t.
Still, I think this division is there for the taking and it’s fun to watch.
A month ago, social media was at peak fume level because we hadn’t signed a striker (although we had, two, but one was injured and one had been dropped).
You would have thought at times that the club was in complete crisis, as fans queued up to vent about Speakman and ‘The Model’. Here’s a thought, can we all calm down and get a slight sense of perspective during the next transfer window?
It’s clear that our owner is committed to the club, has a clear plan, and the plan is working. Look at our squad now compared to 2020. Our record in the transfer market is nothing short of a miracle. Look at the football we play now, perhaps the best for 20 years, the most entertaining since the 1997-98 season.
No, we’re not perfect, yes, we can improve, and yes, I believe we will.
I’m loving The Model and looking forward to where it can take us.