Our third and last mid-term report comes, as it should, from Pete Sixsmith. Pete gets to almost every match and applies uncommonly sharp analysis to what he sees. He reflects on whether it is now time to allow ourselves to dream of greater things at the Stadium of Light? But spare him dreams within dreams …
Recently I saw the Christopher Nolan film Inception.
For those who know nothing about it (approximately 75 per cent of the audience at Darlington Arts Centre, judging by the shaking of heads at the end), it looks at how dreams can be on three different levels, which is a bit like us Sunderland supporters at the moment.
Now I may do the admirable Mr Nolan a disservice by reducing his complex and visually stunning film to the level of an intro for an article on a “nearly there, let’s make a push for it” football team, but three levels is how I see us dreaming at the moment.
Level 1 is a very pleasant dream, where we can see the spectre of relegation, which has stalked our club in five of the last seven seasons we have spent in the Premier League, banished well before Christmas.
I don’t think that it is being premature to say that we will not be looking over our shoulder at 18th. place at any time between January and May 2011. We have as strong and harmonious a squad as we have had since Peter Reid took us to seventh place all those years ago.
Had we been going to slump, it would have happened when we went through the Great Centre Half Crisis of November.
The Brucester was criticised for having a roster of central defenders on his book the size of a rugby pack, but he has needed them and has not even resorted to using the captain of Paraguay, the fourth best team in the world.
The dream continues when we look at a front three which is worth in excess of £30m and always looks likely to score – unless Diddy David Hamilton is at the game.
Whichever one of the three Bruce leaves out, the other two look dangerous; it’s been a long time since we had that kind of luxury. I can’t imagine Ken Knighton having the same difficulty in picking two from Wayne Entwistle, Alan Brown or Tom Ritchie.
Add to that two goalkeepers as good as any in the League and a midfield which, although shot shy, keeps on running and running, this is a dream which I am quite happy to be in. Nothing can harm us and we look a good bet for a fifth or sixth place with maybe a good FA Cup run thrown in for good measure.
The Level 2 dream is a bit more disturbing, but not many of us dream at this level – the dream within a dream scenario.
Things may go a bit wrong here. Our goals from the strikers may dry up and there is nobody there in midfield to pick up the mantle of goalscorer. Welbeck, Onuoha and Elmohamady may be recalled from their loans and Henderson and Gyan could be sold by the owner in order to stabilise the club finances.
The result would be that we have a blip, end up in the pack in the middle – and there’s another season gone. But I don’t see that happening, so this dream becomes redundant and we can move to the dream within the dream within the dream.
Still with me? The woman in front wasn’t and was well asleep by the time Di Caprio explained this to The Girl Who Was Helping Him.
The Level 3 Dream is a shocker, more of a nightmare really. It involves being heavily beaten on January 16, losing to the same opponents in the cup two weeks later and then appointing Joe Kinnear as manager. I’ve just come out in a cold sweat.
So, let’s go back to Level 1 which is one of those nice dreams that you have when you are feeling relaxed and comfortable in your life. Watching Sunderland is a bit like that at the moment.
You may lose your trousers in the concourse and the man in front of you may bear a grisly resemblance to Boris Johnson, but the rest of the dream sees the team moving steadily on, picking up wins at home, the odd one away and a cluster of draws.
Jordan Henderson turns down both Manchester clubs, Kieran Richardson takes a decent free kick and Lee Cattermole goes an entire month without a booking. Meanwhile, Angeleri, Riveros and Da Silva flit in and out of the team, adding a little South American flair to our English dependability.
In the film, to wake you they give you a shock – Edith Piaf singing No Regrets was one way. We got our shock at SJP at the end of October, which dragged us out of the complacency into which we were sliding and made the management team and the players realise that with a little more application, this team could do rather well.
In December, that would be my verdict – season going well, but needs to be maintained, particularly on January 16th. Our season revolves around that and our ability to bury the nightmare of October 31.
One of the characters in the film says: “Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger.” Could that be an omen for our first European qualification since 1973? Are we ready to do that? One player in midfield could mean the difference between a Thursday night in Belarus or a Thursday night in Shildon. What is it to be? Are we dreaming big enough?