How a touch of class from Luke O'Nien proves Sunderland have the right characters to bring the good times back
There was a photograph doing the rounds on social media over the weekend that captured the spirit, togetherness and character within this Sunderland squad.
It wasn't a picture captured at the game or from the stands, it was an image posted on Twitter by Roker Report of Luke O'Nien chatting with fans on the train home following the win at Home Park.
Sunderland had just beaten Plymouth Argyle 2-0 thanks to Aiden McGeady's brace, the Black Cats moving into second in League One, three points off the top with a game in hand.
Spirit, confidence and morale within the Sunderland fanbase is sky high after six straight wins in all competitions.
It is reflected in the relationship with the players this season. Can you imagine a Sunderland player over the past couple of seasons chatting with fans on a train post match?
Successive relegations had left the club on its knees, at rock bottom.
It was, however, also a chance to rebuild. From the bottom up under the new owners and management team. Stewart Donald, Charlie Methven and Jack Ross have led from the front.
The new owners had a clear vision of reconnecting with the fanbase directly, from the first day they took charge.
It has worked wonders, reflected in the attendances, the buzz around Wearside, the feel-good factor surrounding the whole club, even the Stadium of Light seat revamp.
The appointment of Ross has proved a masterstroke. It was a gamble given he hasn't managed in England before but he is proving to be a shrewd appointment.
Bold in his decision making, man management a clear strength of his and he clearly has an eye for a signing too. Only a handful of the dozen new signings yet to make a big impact.
Bringing in the right characters was absolutely key for Ross and the club's recruitment team. The days of signing the likes of Didier Ndong, Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Kone over.
The p*ss-taking party is over. There will, however, be one almighty p*ss-up should Sunderland achieve their ambition of winning League One and promotion back to the Championship.
With a third of the season gone, they are nicely on track.
And having a squad of top professionals, eager to play their part and bring success back to this proud club is proving key.
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The new signings all appear to be genuinely loving life at Sunderland, that is reflected in their interviews, their social media updates, the post-match scenes at almost every game -
especially away from home. Away days have become a real pleasure.
Sunderland were backed by another sold-out away following at Plymouth. Just shy of 1,400 had made the long trip south. An 806-mile round trip ticked off.
Home Park is undergoing a major refurb, the main stand has been gutted ahead of new seating, a new roof and corporate facilities being installed ready for summer 2019.
Sunderland's rebuild took place this summer and while it is an ongoing process, the signs are good that Donald, Ross & Co have put in place firm foundations for future success.
O'Nien spent the best part of an hour chatting to Sunderland fans on that train journey to London.
The summer signing from Wycombe Wanderers hasn't enjoyed the easiest of starts on Wearside.
It has taken him a while to adapt to his new surroundings at the biggest club in the division, one of the biggest clubs in the country.
He has, however, in recent weeks started to show the reasons why Ross was so keen to bring him to Wearside.
His first goal in the 2-0 win over Shrewsbury Town was celebrated wildly, both by O'Nien and the Sunderland supporters, delighted his hard graft had paid off.
Attack-minded O'Nien has been used mainly as a sub by Ross but he has made a positive impact and is pushing for a starting place. Within minutes of coming on at Plymouth, he'd won a penalty thanks to his direct play.
With the players enjoying a couple of days rest, O'Nien was heading for home and fresh from his train journey, tweeted: "Another great performance from the boys!
"It was a pleasure to share the train journey home with a lot of supporters who helped sell out the Plymouth end! Class from you all #6inArow".
It was a touch of class from O'Nien to give the fans, who travel up and down the country, his time - a smile always etched on his face that exudes the new-found spirit at Sunderland.