Salut! Sunderland – along with the original Salut! site, the folkies’ haven Salut! Live and even the much neglected Salut! North – wishes all readers, regular or casual and even if they do not support Sunderland, a happy Christmas and prosperous new year.
If that greeting sounds hollower than in most years, prosperity being something we hardly dare hope for in austerity Europe, those of us owing allegiance to SAFC do have reasonable cause to be happy after Martin O’Neill’s encouraging start.
The year just ending has brought a classic ride on the roller coaster that is the life experience of the Sunderland supporter.
It is frustrating to remember that it began with a 3-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers that took SAFC into the top six of the Premier League.
Nearly everyone will know why the second half of the season then turned into something perilously close to a relegation battle, before a couple of late wins and some kind combinations of results elsewhere took us to a creditable 10th place.
The few who don’t know need only glance at the names of the scorers on Jan 1 2011: Danny Welbeck, Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan. Welbeck was badly injured that month and Bent was crazily allowed to leave without any other striker coming in. That left Gyan. And no sooner had our new season begun than we heard he was jetting off – with the club’s blessing, however reluctant – in search of his fortune, again without proper replacement.
Gyan looked unfit and uninterested immediately before he left. But the collapse of Steve Bruce’s reign will always be defined by what he called the Bent deal: a “calculated gamble”. It was one he, or the club if the decision was forced on him, lost. Goals dried up, dismal performances took us disturbingly close to the drop zone and the vocal minority that had always opposed the Bruce appointment, often on tribal grounds, gathered more considered support.
And with Gyan gone, we were left in August with one on-loan striker and two bright prospects, albeit expensively bought. No wonder we got off to a faltering start; it ensured the Bruce Out momentum would grow, its outcome increasingly likely.
Our owner, Ellis Short, followed the Salut! Sunderland line – of his own volition, we’re sure – and gave him until the end of November. A good or even promising run against a mixture to top six and lowly opposition would have saved him. Instead, the long-suffering fans were subjected to uncreative, punch-free and really quite ugly football – and drearily familiar results.
So in came Martin O’Neill. And with two wins from his first three games in charge, he has brightened the already glowing sentiment the fans feel for him.
Of course, Bruce would argue that he, too, might have obtained results against Blackburn at home and QPR away. He seems a decent, likeable man but must now see on reflection that most Sunderland supporters probably think that under him, those three games – Rovers, Spurs, QPR – would have been more likely to yield no points than nine (or the six we gained).
The challenging times do not end with O’Neill’s arrival. Tough tests are to come: Man City at home, Chelsea away. Whatever happens in those games, we must do our level best to gain points from Everton tomorrow and Wigan, Norwich and Swansea later.
But MON has a great fund of goodwill that will only grow if a) we pick up some wins and put relegation worries far behind us and 2) buys wisely in the transfer window.
As for Salut! Sunderland, can I just say how pleased I am with the feedback following our recent redesign? All comments, positive and negative, will be considered as we decide what further tweaks are necessary.
What is beyond doubt is that arriving on the home page – click here and bookmark it – gives you the best experience of the new look. There you find the introductions to the six most recent articles. Below you see a few more. It has to be better than having sight of only one and having to scroll down for others. The old design was attractive enough but, in practical terms, the site had outgrown it.
Keep the suggestions and praise and brickbats coming.
They are all welcome (and yes, the merchandise design could do with a heavy makeover even if some think the mugs are rather smart). Readers who value the work Salut! Sunderland tries to do can help us maintain the service, which takes up a great deal of time, not only by buying the mugs, t-shirts and other items we plug but by persuading bosses, partners and anyone else of influence that they should consider advertising on, or sponsoring, the site.
And DO have a great festive season.
Ha’way the Lads.