Malcolm Dawson was back at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and enjoyed the feeling of an opening day win as much as anyone. But here in the post match light of day and with another difficult fixture at the weekend, he appeals for patience if the result from Kenilworth Road is not the one we may be hoping for.
Taking Stock after the Euphoria.
I write this waiting for the window for permanent transfers to close, expecting some last minute comings and goings, though with the loan window still open until the end of the month and that on mainland Europe, today probably won’t be the end of the ins and outs at Sunderland.
This summer has already seen a big change at the club and the general air of pessimism and despondency seems to have evaporated in the minds of most supporters. After Saturday’s win, the optimism and expectation, which preceded the game and the susequent nerves for the first half of the game, resulted in the euphoria of a come from behind victory. With a tricky game at Luton coming up, maybe it’s time just to sit back and actually look objectively at where we are and temper those expectations. We will not win every game, much as we would like to.
If we start with the playing side of things it would seem that in Jack Ross we have a manager with ambition, tactical nous and an appreciation of what the fans want to see, both in terms of playing style and commitment to the cause. But let’s not forget this is a team in transition. It is a squad of players made up of those brought into the club who haven’t played together and a batch of inexperienced players who have come up through the U23s, with two of the three longer term members possibly on the way out.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we have the ability to mount a definite title challenge this year but it will take time for the players to get used to each others’ strengths and weaknesses and with so many injuries, even this early in the season, it could be a lengthy process. That Jerome Sinclair, who looked lively and changed the momentum of the game when he came on, took a knock and will be out for a few weeks is a blow, especially with Charlie Wyke’s first appearance still a while away.
The first half of the Charlton game showed that there will be plenty of opposing teams who will give us a run for our money. I thought we started brightly with attacking intent, but it is fair to say that The Addicks looked the more dangerous in the opening half hour. Our back four were not cohesive in those early exchanges but over the 45 minutes I thought we were unfortunate to be behind. Though there was no argument with the penalty it was perhaps a needless challenge.
The whinging of some Charlton fans is understandable. Losing in the last minute after being ahead for so long is always hard to take but we bossed that second period with Oviedo and Sinclair causing problems and Jack Ross’s change of tactics making the defence more secure. I didn’t see anything untoward and having asked a couple of people who watched the game on TV, one a Boro fan and the other an Everton supporter, neither saw anything other than an honest hard fought game and certainly nothing that suggested Gooch should have been shown a red card, as some of the away fans have suggested.
Of the new players, McClaughin looks like a decent keeper, Maguire was lively, Loovens steady if a little ponderous. O’Nien ran about a lot but was mostly anonymous and Ozturk looked shaky to begin with though he improved playing wider in a back three than in the centre of a back four. Of those who weren’t making their debuts, Gooch I’ve always liked the look of since first seeing him at the Hetton Centre and he looked to run with the ball at every opportunity, Maja worked hard and seems to be getting into the habit of scoring 18 yard efforts from nothing, Matthews was steady if unspectacular, Love might be OK at this level but is no Oviedo. Mumba played well. Unless you were aware of him beforehand there is no way you would have thought that he was a 16 year old with just one minute’s previous experience of senior football. Honeyman was efficient and should make a good skipper.
Those Charlton supporters criticising the way our fans reacted were totally wide of the mark in my view. They would have no idea of just how apprehensive we have become after years of dismal home form. Over thirty thousand home fans at this level is some achievement and for followers of a club whose average home gate last season was around the 11,000 mark to criticise the attendance is a bit rich.
Were we quiet? Well for some periods yes but nowhere near as silent as they would have us believe and there was decent volume for a lot of the game. I used to have a season ticket in the area where the away fans are now seated and believe me the noise from the rest of the ground does seem muted up there. What it’s like when there are no home supporters anywhere between them and the Directors’ Box I can’t imagine.
But the roar of encouragement from the home support following the Charlton goal, was something that must surely have lifted the players. Of course there was apprehension after going behind. After all it is not unusual for us to be in that position and resign ourselves to defeat as our record in recent seasons after conceding first is abysmal, but there was plenty of vocal support and none of the negative vibes which had become a factor in recent seasons filtering onto the pitch.
Just as important was the crowd stayed to the end, with just a few trickling out to beat the traffic or whatever and there was no repeat of the mass exodus of recent times which must be a dispiriting sight for the players and staff.
One of the great positives for me over the summer has been the way the new ownership team has interacted with the fans. Not only the involvement of the supporters in the replacement of the faded seats, the appearance of the board in the fan zone pre-match and the inclusion of pieces by The Roker Report, A Love Supreme and a bit by M Salut in the revamped programme but by their constant reinforcement of the principle that the club belongs to the supporters. The manager has also talked about the need for unity and the responsiblility he and his players have for giving something back to the fans.
This is a refreshing change of attitude from the previous regime. In the early days Ellis Short was appearing to try to get to know the club and the people who follow it but it soon emerged that he saw it as his club, just as he sees any other business he owns as his business. I think it is hard to overestimate just how big an influence a feeling of unity can have on a football club and how it is perceived by others. I hope that should we suffer a few setbackbacks in the next few weeks the crowd will still stick with the team and maintain this togetherness.
I am grateful to the Roker Report for directing me to Charlie Methvin’s interview with FC Business magazine in which he outlines the financial issues which the club need to address in the short and medium terms. It is well worth a read if you haven’t already seen it. (See it here.)
All clubs, and Sunderland is no exception, have some fans who are impatient and who look at things in very simplistic terms, thinking the solution to all problems is to throw money at the business, that players can be brought in and offloaded just as easy as buying and selling at a car boot (and that any player we approach will jump at the chance to play for Sunderland) but the reality is more complex. As we have seen in recent seasons being profligate with our spending has resulted in our current situation. It seems the new owners have identified the problems and are looking to restructure the club in a way which will be viable and hopefully competitive in the long term by cutting the cloth accordingly.
We would all like to see our fortunes change immediately and that this season will bring instant gratification but it may not. I am optimistic that the way things are going the club is heading in the right direction and things will improve. I hope however, that should we suffer a few setbackbacks in the short term that those who turn up to the games and comment on social media will show some patience and not instantly turn their frustrations into criticism and negativity. Here’s hoping we win at Kennilworth Road, but should we not then it won’t be the end of the world.
Ha’way the Lads