The joy of giving. That seems as good a theme as any at a time when supporters of Sunderland AFC, deprived of much of substance to cheer about in recent weeks, are in dire need of presents from the team.
Click on the picture and you’ll see what the poor woman in my faded old birthday card had to settle for. We don’t ask for much more; points on the board will do nicely.
Which brings us to Fulham at home. You don’t need a brain the size of a planet to see that we could hardly have a better opportunity to put an end to the worrying run of losing games. So if any of the Lads happen to be eavesdropping, the none too subtle hint is: deliver on Saturday.
A draw will not, I am afraid, be enough. Anything less than three points and even my heroic attempts to respond optimistically to the West Ham defeat, praising a second half performance that should have brought a first away win, will begin to look nonsensical.
I still think our squad, though in urgent need of strengthening, is much better than what we had during the last three relegation seasons. We are in better managerial hands (which does not make me a Peter Reid detractor; I just recognise that his value to SAFC evaporated after our second seventh top Premiership finish).
But as other fans have pointed out, this is beginning to resemble the Sunderland of Old, the relegation seasons where, match after match, we were losing despite playing reasonably well.
The habit of losing is an addictive one, and has been especially so for the Sunderland of far too many Premiership seasons.
While most of us want to put on brave faces, we know that Keano is troubled by the defensive weaknesses that have cost us so dearly. All the fine work by Kenwyne Jones and Liam Miller will continue to count for nothing until the gaps are plugged. Pete Sixsmith is right to say that if our faith in Nyron is not repaid quickly – likewise Keano’s in Collins, Higginbotham and Halford – they simply have to be replaced. It is nice to hear one of our players praised but not if, in the same breath, the speaker says “except for one glaring error that led to a goal”.
After so much effort on restructuring the club, Sunderland cannot afford to be consigned to another spell one divison down. We need, as we needed before the season began and frankly didn’t get, proven Premiership quality.
The aim of preserving a sensible salary structure is commendable. But come January’s transfer window, players who fit the bill must be offered wages that compete with the levels available even at smaller clubs, Boro and beyond. Relegation get-out clauses have to be included. All the respect top or at least toppish players have for Keane has to be exploited and translated into high quality acquisitions.
The good news is that Keano knows all this perfectly well. Better still, perhaps, the fans’ natural concerns are shared by board members. If it is clear to the SAFC leadership that the slip must not be allowed to turn into a slide, we can at least hope I was right on Monday to urge fellow supporters not to despair.