The team has been ordered to Mr Sixsmith’s study. They fear the worst after that dire mid-season run, the unfulfilled promise, the indiscipline and the damp squib of a season’s ending. But no, Sir is in a good mood. He sees really encouraging signs. Here, in our final review of the season, those signs are assessed by a man who has provided exemplary analysis of Sunderland AFC week after week …
We would all agree, I think, that the season just gone has been an improvement on the last two. I think that we would all agree the dip in mid season was worrying. I think we would all agree that the disciplinary record has been poor and needs to improve.
So, let’s try to put a different slant on 2009-10. Let’s look at where we were four years ago and let’s look at where we are now in the overall context of the Premier League.
At the end of 2005-06, my faith had been sorely tested as we departed the top league with 15 points, 1 home win and the taunts of the Mags with “4-1, and even Chopra scored” ringing in our ears.
The club was in serious danger of sliding into the kind of oblivion that Leeds United, Bradford City and Swindon Town were experiencing, as the money ran out and the will to carry on appeared to be lacking. Fans had turned their backs on the club, crowds were down, we had a strike force of Jonathan Stead and Anthony Le Tallac and there was the added attraction of Calamity Kelvin in goal.
At the end of this season, we have the fifth highest average crowd in the Premier League. We look a reasonably comfortable mid table side with the potential to move on. We have an owner who is wealthy and who appears to be prepared to speculate to accumulate, we have a 25 goals a season man and a goalkeeper as good as any in the League. Progress.
All of that equals a club that has revived itself over three fascinating years and one relatively ordinary one – and that is this year. That we went into April with precious little to play for is progress in itself. A lack of “promotion/relegation six pointers” meant that, for the first time since Reidy took us to seventh, we could enjoy games for what they were rather than for the impact they had on our season. Progress.
There have been personnel changes. Michael Turner for Danny Collins. Lorik Cana for Dean Whitehead. Darren Bent for Darryl Murphy. John Mensah for Nyron Nosworthy. Progress.
Young players have been given a chance. Jordan Henderson and David Meyler have had looked like Premier League players. Martin Waghorn and Jack Colback have had rewarding seasons with decent Championship clubs, while Ryan Noble has thrilled regular reserve watchers, if not the Watford manager. Progress.
Whereas in the past we had a loyal and committed owner with insufficient financial clout, we now have probably the best chairman in the League and an owner who is the third richest man in Ireland – which I think is good news. Had he been the third richest man in Greece I might have been worried. Progress.
Steve Bruce will always have his critics. He is no Mourinho or Ancelotti and, thank goodness he is not a Benitez, but he is what the club needed after Keane. He brings experience, solidity and a dose of common sense to us. He is an ideal choice after the ups and downs of the Keane era and the Sbragia interregnum. Progress.
In the mini world of North East football, we are currently top dog. Middlesbrough are in serious danger of disappearing below the radar for a good number of years, while our Tyneside chums have done well to get back into the top league in one season. But where are they going? It looks like they are turning into the footballing equivalent of Sports Direct; pile ‘em up high and flog ’em off cheap. Is that us? Do we do that? No. Progress.
In the Premier League, we have left the strugglers behind and have joined the third group of clubs who appear to be settled. Bolton, Blackburn, Fulham have all had decent runs in the League and appear to be free of relegation problems. All three have appeared in Europe recently. We can compete with them. Progress.
Fans have re-engaged with the club. There is a positive feel coming out of the Stadium. Players linked with the club are of a better standard than at any time since the halcyon days of the sixties. Instead of mercenaries like Diouf,, Chimbonda and Cisse)we have men in the team like Da Silva, Cana and Mensah who have suffered hardship and who appreciate playing in the self styled “best league in Europe”. Progress
In Michael Turner, we have a centre half to build a team around, an enormously influential player (although he needs to avoid taking so many early baths) who is a natural captain. In one game, he saw that David Meyler had not touched or even got near the ball in the opening 10 minutes. The next two passes that Turner made were to Meyler and the Irishman w
ent on to have a really good game in the centre of midfield. Would Nyron have had the vision to have done that? Would Danny Collins have been able to understand why a young player needed two touches? Progress.
I am probably going to be accused of looking at the world through rose coloured glasses, but I really do believe that we are on the edge of a major breakthrough. There have been difficulties, but we need to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negatives and make sure that, for once, Sunderland fans look on the sunny side of life without having he delusions of grandeur that some clubs have.
Now that would be real progress …