SUNDERLAND fans head into this weekend gradually getting used to the idea that the new man in charge of their club is Gus Poyet.
It has been a bruising, head-spinning, roller-coaster few months on Wearside even by this club’s typically bruising, head-spinning, roller-coaster standards.
And it is to be hoped that Sunderland can now find a little bit stability – even if the offer of just a two-year contract for the Uruguayan might suggest owner Ellis Short does not have the greatest confidence in the medium, never mind long-term, future of the club.
You can see why.
Sunderland are on their fourth boss of 2013 – Poyet succeeding Kevin Ball, Paolo Di Canio and Martin O’Neill, the Irishman having been sacked as far back as the end of March – and it’s worth pausing to absorb that remarkable statistic.
To put it into perspective, my predecessor in this seat, the Echo’s original Argus – Captain Jack Anderson – covered the club for more than 30 years and had to deal with only three Sunderland managers in that time, Robert Kyle (in charge from 1905-28), Johnny Cochrane (1928-39) and Bill Murray (1939-57).
I’m on my fourth in a year – and it’s only October!
This sort of stuff matters because it is a truth universally acknowledged that football clubs which chop and change their managers by the month, never prosper.
Multiple managers is always a sign of crisis at a club and those clubs tend to head in only one direction: Downwards.
So all Sunderland fans must hope for the best for Premier League managerial novice Poyet, who does at least start the job with one advantage: low expectation.
Many fans fear, understandably, that he might be Paolo Mk II and that has caused them to be cautious in terms of their hopes for the new head coach.
The similarities are obvious – like Di Canio, Poyet is a passionate foreigner who left his previous club in controversial circumstances; another youthful coach, untried in the Premier League – although those fears about his combustibility were somewhat allayed by the new man’s calm and measured performance in his first Sunderland Press conference.
At least most fans agree that Poyet represents the “least worst” choice (think Steve McClaren, Tony Pulis), hardly a ringing endorsement for the South American, I know, but a starting point that the new head coach is prepared to accept while he sets about winning folk over.
His appointment represents the answer to one of the two questions that have dominated the conversations of Sunderland fans in recent weeks: “Who will be the new man in charge?” and “Will he keep us up?”
Now that we know the answer to the first question, we can turn our attention to the second.
By the most basic criteria, he has a chance – Poyet’s win-rate at Brighton was 44 per cent and if replicates that at Sunderland, he will get the club past the 40-point mark which remains the basic yardstick of Premier League survival.
It’s never as simple as that, of course.
But the one-time Chelsea player does have half-a-dozen years of major coaching experience under his belt to call on as well; he did prove successful in his three years as manager of Brighton, and he does have the profile and the playing background to command the respect of Premier League players.
He also has the benefit of starting the recovery job so early in the season.
Few clubs have come back from a start as bad as Sunderland’s to stay in the Premier League.
But it is only October and 31 games remain, so it requires only an average of little more than a point a game between now and May to edge the club over the finish line.
Nor should there be too much doom and gloom over the new man’s first three fixtures in charge: Swansea City, coming into the game off the back of a defeat; Newcastle United, hardly world-beaters; and Hull City, who have enjoyed a decent start but, let us not forget, are newly up from the Championship and have Danny Graham up front.
It is quite possible that by the conclusion of those fixtures, Sunderland’s fortunes will have been transformed.
And in that respect we have to hope that Poyet, like O’Neill and Di Canio before him, sparks an immediate upturn in results.
Poyet was at pains to point out at the Academy this week that he is his own man and not another Di Canio.
But, in one respect, he won’t mind if a similarity is sustained between him and the Italian – Di Canio’s first two games brought a superbly gutsy debut match, followed by an utterly stunning derby victory.
In this one particular instance, Poyet would no doubt settle for history repeating itself.