Two home games, one away — seven points. Not bad, right?
I think that given the negativity that surrounded Michael Beale ahead of the Stoke game — lots of which was, quite frankly, ridiculous, but each to their own — he’s ridden through it superbly and has steered his side to two important victories on home soil, scoring six goals in the process, and a decent draw on the road at Boro, becoming the first manager since Ricky Sbragia to avoid defeat at the Riverside in league action. Stat.
That in itself is quite something, because I daren’t think what the mood of the place would be like had we not picked up those points over the last few weeks. I guess what it does teach us is that social media opinion has very little say in what happens on the pitch; the stuff that REALLY matters. The lads worked hard in training, got on with their jobs, and got their rewards. In the last two matches we’ve come from behind too, which is yet another sign that everyone is buying into what we’re trying to achieve right now.
I think deep down, whether you were #BealeIn, #BealeOut, or #JustGiveBealeAChance before Stoke, the majority of fans have gained some new-found respect for our Head Coach because of the way he’s conducted himself recently, both in front of the media and then out on the touchline. Riding through the pressure and coming out the other end swinging has gained him some admirers, and I’m happy to admit I’m one of them.
One of the big criticisms we heard of Beale from Rangers fans was that he failed to connect with supporters on a basic level and that ultimately contributed to his downfall, so being able to see a more human side to him recently has certainly softened people up to him.
He’s been through some immense personal trauma recently, with the passing of a close family member and then the horrific news about his four-year-old niece and her cancer returning this week, and whilst those are non-footballing issues, I think it’s easy to see how things may have bubbled over for him a few weeks back when he perhaps made a few wrong turns in the press following the Hull defeat. He’s clearly under a lot of pressure, is living away from his family and has a tonne on his plate. I really feel for the bloke.
You can hear in his voice and see in his demeanor that the last few results have had a huge impact on the way he carries himself. The barrier seems to be slowly coming down and he’s being himself more, which can only be a good thing. Beale is liked in the game by people who have worked with him, so clearly there’s charisma there — it’s perhaps just something we haven’t seen too much of since he arrived. But, we’re getting there.
That said, we have two massive games in the coming week, starting at Huddersfield on Wednesday and then visiting our old pal Mogga in Birmingham next Saturday. Both on the road, both tough games against sides struggling towards the bottom — and those are usually the games where we struggle to get a foothold and show our quality.
Beale isn’t daft and he knows this, so I’m interested now to see whether he’s worked out a way to get Sunderland firing on all cylinders on the road again. Our shoddy away form is a big reason why Mowbray lost his job, and whilst Beale has worked out how to get us more organised and has worked out how to convert some of the chances we create, putting our poor home form right isn’t something he’s quite been able to address yet.
Despite this, we all know what will happen if the next two games don’t go our way. I fully expect us to be circling back around again, with the #BealeOut campaign ramping up once more. It’s just the way it is though and I accepted this before he even took the job — when he’s not winning games he’s going to be up against it.
That’s why winning on Saturday was so huge, and it came across in Beale’s post-match interviews. He knew that out of the three winning this one was the big one as it took some of the pressure off the next two and means we go out on the road with a bit of confidence.
I’ve talked about what’ll happen if we don’t win — but... what if we do?
We’re seventh now, joint with sixth-placed Coventry, who are ahead of goal difference. They and West Brom are the only teams above us that we realistically stand a chance of catching, but if we win the next two — and we are more than capable of doing that — we could be sat in fifth place by Saturday teatime, with everyone else looking up at us thinking “phwoar, bloody hell... how are we going to keep pace with them? They’re great”.
I’m choosing to think positively, because the team have given me plenty of reasons to be positive this last week or so.
The mood about the place is great right now, so let’s capitalise on it.
If we do, we could be set for a fantastic end to the season — and then, who knows what could happen.