Last season, Sunderland’s home form was often spoken about.
Less than half of our final points tally was won on home turf (thirty, to be exact), with a total of seven wins, nine draws and seven defeats.
In the end, our record at the Stadium of Light was nowhere near good enough to be competing for automatic promotion, with slack defeats at the hands of the likes of Cardiff and Swansea and a number of draws that ultimately should’ve been victories.
You only have to look at the records of the eventual promotion winners during 2022/2023 to see exactly how significant it is.
Burnley, the champions, only lost once at home all campaign, winning sixteen games out of twenty three, while Sheffield United and Luton Town both only lost four times at their own stadiums on their way to promotion to the Premier League.
Ultimately, this poses the question of whether Sunderland can make the Stadium of Light a fortress during this campaign, and the immediate signs are rather positive.
Two wins out of three at the Stadium of Light represents a solid opening to the campaign, and Saturday’s remarkable victory over Southampton might prove to be the catalyst for Tony Mowbray and his players to utilise the full potential of our home stadium.
At the weekend, the Lads turned in one of their best home performances since our return to the Championship, as everything clicked.
The sun was shining, we completely dominated the contest against one of the favourites for automatic promotion, and there were some scintillating individual displays from those in red and white.
Pierre Ekwah dictated the play in midfield and netted two sweet long-range strikes, while Jack Clarke and Abdoullah Ba stretched Southampton’s defence and carved them open on the counter attack time and time again. At the back, the visitors’ attacking threat was very rarely shown as we defended superbly.
So, could this be the platform that Sunderland’s home form can be built on? Hopefully.
Many managers and head coaches have tried to make us harder to beat at the Stadium of Light in recent years, but very rarely have they been able to keep it up for the whole season.
Mowbray acknowledged it on a couple of occasions during 2022/2023, but without an out-and-out striker for much of the season, we often lacked a cutting threat at the top end of the pitch, with teams heading north, posing the question and trying to force us to break them down.
Without a centre forward, however, we look more adept on the counter attack, something which was evident on Saturday and on occasions last season.
Against the Saints, the gameplan was clear: allow them to pass the ball around at the back and once it went into the midfield areas, step up the press and counter.
It was something we saw during last season’s memorable away trips to West Brom, Norwich and Preston, as well as the draw against Burnley at Turf Moor.
However, when we finally have an opportunity to field one of either Nazariy Rusyn or Mason Burstow, that’s when we can potentially start to improve our home form.
The visit of Cardiff is our first home outing after the international break, before the visits of Watford and Middlesbrough in what’ll be some key matches at the Stadium of Light.
And with the crowd fully behind this young but talented team, there’s no reason why they can’t be the ‘twelfth man’.
To really push for promotion from this division- whether that’s this season or in the future- we need to make the Stadium of Light a tough place for opponents to visit. So far, there are signs that we may just do it over the course of the next nine months.