BY their inconsistency, Sunderland have made forecasting difficult for both the pessimists and optimists in playing through the first third of their League programme.
The imbalance which had them playing twice as many away games as they played at home invited a guess that they would be making a disastrous start, but they countered this by turning in a string of impressive results.
This dispelled the gloomy outlook. But the optimists who looked for a confident build-up on a good start when the rush of home fixtures came along have taken an even bigger blow. Home points have been squandered at an even brisker rate than last season, when the loss of 13 points at Roker Park was the barrier which prevented them from going up.
With two of their next three games at Roker Park, the big question is whether they can pull out of the dive which has plunged them to within three points in relegation in taking only one point from their last four games.
For those who were present at Villa Park in September, when a 0–2 score-line was a travesty of justice in view of the extent to which Sunderland dominated the play, the current trend could never have been foreseen. Nor was there any resemblance between the form shown against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road and that which cost them a home point against Fulham on Saturday.
But the hard luck stories which have attended many of their better performances away from home do not stand up against the evidence of what they have failed to achieve in front of their home crowd.
If onlookers are going to be convinced that there is a good case for getting back to Roker Park to influence a swing to better times, the proof will have to be paraded in front of them.
The resounding win over Nottingham Forest has been the only convincing home performance so far, and even that drew the comment that the 4–1 margin should have been substantially extended. That step did not carry them very far, however, for a week later they were tumbling to their heaviest defeat of the season at Oxford.
On Saturday they come up to the starting line again with promotion-chasing Aston Villa at Roker Park. It is the most attractive home game so far and the forecast a few weeks ago was that it would be pulling in the biggest Roker crowd of the season.
Recent events have taken some of the glamour out of the occasion, however, for instead of taking on Villa as promotion rivals, Sunderland will be going into the game from a vastly inferior position, struggling to make up leeway which has been surrendered largely through a marked inconsistency between home and away form.
There has been a lot of speculation on whether recent board changes point towards an early attempt to strengthen the team in key positions by going into the transfer market. The belief that such a move would bring immediate response from supporters is widely held, though the key to the situation regardless of how it is achieved, must always be winning form, and a standard of play which establishes them as live candidates for a return to the First Division.
The credibility gap which exists in the immediate areas is largely responsible for the depressing level of attendances, but there may well be a measure of consolation for the club in the quality of support which they enjoy in two far-flung centres.
One is among the London branch of the Supporters’ Association who lay on a reception for the team coach before every game in their area and at many other grounds within reasonable reach. The other is in central Northumberland, where the newly-formed Morpeth branch is setting up waves of enthusiasm which make it difficult to believe that this activity is going on in what should be Newcastle United territory.
The Morpeth branch held a typical gathering in the Comrades Club last night, when a capacity attendance welcomed representatives of the Sunderland club and left no doubt about the sincerity of their support.
There is only fringe impact from these branches but when the enthusiasm with which they pursue their interest begins to pervade the areas nearer home, Sunderland will know that they are beginning to make progress in the losing battle which they have been waging for too long.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on October 31 1972.