If you were an alien who was visiting from a distant planet, and one of the first things on your to-do list was to check how the 2023/2024 Championship season was unfolding, you might get a shock.
Judging by some of the recent reactions on social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sunderland were in a relegation scrap, had sold their best players and signed washed-up nobodies to replace them.
However, the reality is that despite some fair and unfair concerns and criticism, Sunderland are continuing to fight the good fight.
We’ve never been further than around three or four points from the top six, and we’ve regularly occupied a position on the fringe of the playoffs throughout the season. Also, whenever we’ve gone on a poor run, we’ve turned it around before the rot set in.
Comparisons are constantly made to last season and after thirty one games, there’s very little to separate the two campaigns.
At this stage during 2022/2023, we were in fifth place with forty eight points, whereas in 2024, we’re one point and two places worse off in a tight battle for the top six. We’ve also beaten many of the teams around us, and we’ve often played better against sides in the top ten than those at the wrong end of the table.
Consecutive 3-1 home wins against Stoke City and Plymouth Argyle have helped to get things back on track.
Michael Beale has to be given credit for this, and he’s making us harder to beat whilst also giving our attacking players more room to be creative, something that’s often been successful during the last twelve to eighteen months.
The lowest we’ve been in the table since August was following the defeat to Huddersfield Town, which turned out to be Tony Mowbray’s final home game as head coach. Since then, we’ve floated between sixth and ninth, winning more than we’ve lost during a mixed run of games.
Our recent run under Beale read three defeats in nine games, with four wins and two draws.
It’s not form that sets the world alight, but it’s better than Mogga’s final eight matches in charge, of which we lost five. Slowly but surely, Beale is starting to get the best out of our players and they’re seemingly enjoying their football under him.
We’re very much in the mix for the top six, during a season that’s set to be as exciting as any other in terms of who might sneak in.
Games against West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, and to a lesser extent Cardiff and Watford will have a big say in keeping us in the picture, but this is the key factor: we’re major players in the race for the top six and we have been for much of the season.
The way we’ve kept in touch even during rough patches is a testament to a level of quality and grit that we may not always credit this group with, and coming from behind in the last two games to pick up four points is an attitude that’ll be key heading into the final quarter of the campaign.
We’re moving in the right direction under Beale, and suddenly the waves of criticism (much of which was bordering on pathetic) is starting to look just that. Tougher tests will come, but beating whoever’s in front of us is a skill that any football club must possess.