Tony Gillan: More important tests await Sunderland

Wahbi Khazri and Patrick van Aanholt
Wahbi Khazri and Patrick van Aanholt
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It is something of a pity that Sunderland are not playing this weekend, because for the first time in 2015-16, they are in good form. Until now blank weekends have been among the season’s highlights.

Optimism has been restored to Wearside, although as always it is of the cautious variety. Few would have been surprised if no points at all had been accrued in February and four have been trousered already.

It isn’t just that a victory was secured while the rest of the bottom six could only manage one point between them. Nor is it the fact Sunderland have done so well against three of the better sides in the past 15 days.

The main thing is that they suddenly look like a team that no one can take lightly. This is due in no small part to three new signings hitting immediate form; the first time this has happened since ... er ...

You’ll have to leave that one with us. We can confirm that the last time Sunderland beat Manchester United at home in the league, John Mullin scored the winner, John Major was Prime Minister and Greensleeves was number one.

Committed quibblers may point out – quite correctly – that Sam’s lads would have been better off drawing with United and beating Bournemouth.

But we said last week that Sunderland were the only team in the Premier League not to provide any surprises this season. They have now rectified this. The importance of beating Man U was not just about three vital points. It was a most confidence-boosting victory and, jammy though Wahbi Khazri’s goal was, a deserved one to boot.

While they are not what they were under His Royal Ferginess, United are still fifth still and capable of beating anyone on their day. Rooney, Mata, Martial, de Gea et al were not looking for defeat on Saturday and had only lost one of their last 10 league and cup games.

Like Liverpool, who also failed to beat Sunderland, Manchester United retain an aura and everyone wants to say that they have beaten them. They will always be the pride of Essex. Of course, it would be “very Sunderland” to perform with such aplomb against the top sides then go and cock it up against some of the cloggers at the bottom.

That happened during the relegation of 1996-97, the last season they beat Manchester United in a PL home game and when they also beat Arsenal and Chelsea. In fact they took points from every club in the top seven, but went down by dropping points to the wrong teams (Southampton, Blackburn, Forest, Derby).

At least the empty weekend means that Sunderland fans have a minimum of seven more days to feel smug about the United result.

More important tests await. Strangely, those tests are against the weaker teams.