Rowell Report: Rebuild the fortress

Gary Rowell, former Sunderland player and now Echo columnist
Gary Rowell, former Sunderland player and now Echo columnist
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SUNDERLAND have two games in a row coming up now – Chelsea and Stoke City. In fact, three of the next four are at home, because after Norwich City away, West Brom come to Wearside at the start of next month.

So now is the time for Sunderland to start making the Stadium of Light their fortress again.

No successful side has a poor home record.

And Sunderland’s home record in 2011 HAS been poor – just two wins and eight defeats over the course of the year.

Before that, though, it was excellent.

The Black Cats’ record in the first half of last season was outstanding and the Stadium of Light rightly got a reputation for being a hard place for any team to come – even the top teams.

In the 11 home league games Sunderland played up until January 1, last season, they lost only one – and that was the fluke defeat to Blackpool on December 28 when Steve Bruce’s men absolutely bombarded the Tangerines with more than 30 shots throughout the game, but went down to a couple of sucker punches.

In that run at home, Sunderland beat Manchester City, Aston Villa, Stoke City, West Ham, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers.

They also held Manchester United and Arsenal to draws, as well as Everton and Birmingham.

And it’s that sort of outstanding home record which has to be the aim this time around too.

Certainly, Chelsea will represent formidable opposition this weekend.

It was only a couple of seasons ago they were winning the league and cup double and over the last half-dozen seasons, only Manchester United can compare to them in terms of success.

But it can also be argued they’re a team in flux.

Don’t get me wrong – they’ve still got no end of multi-talented stars. I saw new signing Juan Mata score coming off the subs’ bench in Chelsea’s last game and there’s no doubt that sooner or later, Fernando Torres is going to start turning it on.

But they’ve got a new manager still finding his way in the shape of Andre Villas-Boas and they’ve also got a few players there who are nearing the end of their Chelsea careers.

On top of that, pretty much a whole squad who will have been all over the world on international duty.

Finally, Sunderland should bear in mind that last season they beat Chelsea in comprehensive fashion in one of the best games of the season. Quite a few players from the 3-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge last season are still at the club and will be involved this weekend.

So there’s plenty for Sunderland to be positive about going into the weekend.

First of all they have to look to give a good account of themselves, but above all, they have to start building a home record to be proud of.

They’re going to have home advantage in three of their next four games and if they can make the most of it they can start putting a whole new complexion on their season.

See tonight’s Sunderland Echo to read the rest of the Rowell Report.