Are Sunderland better placed than first thought in predictably unpredictable Championship?

SAFC 1-1 DCFC Stadium of Light 04-08-207. Picture by FRANK REID
SAFC 1-1 DCFC Stadium of Light 04-08-207. Picture by FRANK REID
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An opening weekend left Sunderland 14th in the Championship, but with a positivity few would have predicted as Stuart Armstrong fired home Celtic’s fifth goal less than a week previously.

If that farcical afternoon had sent fans over the bridge and into the light with fear and trepidation ahead of the season opener, they began this week if not bouyant then at least with their enthusiasm partially revived.

The class of Lewis Grabban, the energy of Lee Cattermole, the skill of Aiden McGeady. When the real battle began, Sunderland looked to have both the fight and the quality to compete.

A complete side, they are not. Favourites for the title or even likely challengers, they are not.

Most, however, neither expected nor demanded that. On Friday night, Simon Grayson made a positive first step towards delivering his side of the bargain, to put out a side worth watching and worth supporting.

The cautious optimism that has come from the support in recent days suggests they are warming to the changes they are seeing.

It will only get tougher in the coming weeks.

A daunting trip to Norwich, who will have an extra two days’ preparation after the midweek Carabao Cup fixtures. Then to Hillsborough, where Sheffield Wednesday will have one extra day to recover from the weekend games, before Leeds United visit the Stadium of Light.

After those three fixtures, we will have a much clearer picture of how this new look Sunderland compares to the best in the league.

It says much, nevertheless, that so many will find themselves looking to that next home fixture with genuine excitement.

Partly on the back of their opening day performance, and partly because of a coupon-busting set of results elsewhere, a timely reminder that reputation and money spent counts for little in this league.

Fulham, the best footballing side in the league, looked in superb nick going forward but were pegged back late on at Norwich.

Middlesbrough fired a blank at Molineux. They will get stronger and better and more prolific, but ‘smash’ the division? Few manage that in this era. Perceived relegation favourites QPR and Bristol City secured emphatic wins. Much-fancied Brentford were beaten, Sheffield Wednesday fell to a Preston side built by Grayson on a pittance.

None of this will have come as a surprise to the Black Cats boss, who knows this division better than anyone. He will know, too, that opening day results count for little. Last season, after all, his side won only one of their first six before launcing an unlikely play-off push.

The key to this campaign will be how much quality he can add in the coming weeks of the transfer window, his squad promising but in need of more goals and greater variety.

His task, to compete with the big spenders on a modest budget, remains a difficult one. This opening weekend at least raised hopes that it is not insurmountable.