Sunderland 3 Barrow 0 had a mildly satisfying ring to it. Sunderland 3 Bolton 0 or Portsmouth/Coventry 0 SAFC 3 would feel even better. Steve Bruce and his team have little time – or cause – for self-congratulation before sleeves need to be rolled up for the more important tests ahead …
On a forced march through Parisian department stores, I felt the mobile vibrate. Salut! Sunderland readers know all about Sixer’s Sevens, Pete Sixsmith’s indispensable seven-word summary of each game. This was what I call a Sixer’s One, a goal alert and, happily, the single word was Steed.
First thought? One up and only three-quarters of the game left to try to avoid what has become the inevitable equaliser. Second thought? Hang on, we’re playing Barrow, not Everton. And of course, another name that doesn’t normally appear on the scoresheet featured in Sixer’s subsequent one-worders, except that the last one was stretched to two to read “Campbell again”.
So, job done. As Pete remarked later, we did exactly what was expected of us, proceeding to round four, to be – as it turns out – sent to Coventry or on an unappetising trip to Pompey.
But first there is the small matter of Sunderland v Bolton, at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. In bleaker seasons, we’ve talked about games we absolutely have to win, as if failure would bring relegation closer. Surely, our Premier status cannot be seriously at stake this season, after all the promise, all the expenditure.
Supporting Sunderland means never saying never to such a scenario. But I cling to the belief that we will not be sucked into yet another battle at the bottom.
That confidence needs to be nourished, however. We simply cannot afford to get things wrong against the likes of Bolton Wanderers, managerless as I speak and the only club we’ve managed to beat away in the league this season. If you doubt my word, remember who we have next: Chelsea away.
As it happens, we also need – if we genuine in our ambitions – to regard the fourth round of the cup as eminently winnable, a tie that represents a challenge, whoever we play, but one we must, with our squad, feel ready for.
Whatever transpires in the transfer window, and whatever happens to us at Stamford Bridge, these – Bolton (h) and Portsmouth or Coventry (a) – are two games we should regard as ones to define the turn our season is about to take.
Will the dismissal of Gary Megson, a manager who divided Bolton fans, make things easier for us, or – especially if an appointment is made quickly – harder? Can we be trusted to defend as well as attack for once? Bolton will not roll over for us this season any more than they did last.
It’s early in the week to be fretting about Saturday’s home game, and much too early to worry about the next round of the cup. Let’s just call it mature reflection, and hope for the bloody best.
* Click here for Pete Sixsmith on the pre-match encounter with a Samaritans fundraiser that had him briefly wondering how he’d be spending Saturday evening.