Stunning seats, remarkable Simon Grayson comments & new manager anniversary remind us how far Sunderland have travelled
One year ago this Monday, the lights came back on.
At least, that’s how it seemed.
Chris Coleman gave his first press conference as Sunderland manager.
Measured, charismatic, ebullient. Coleman’s decision to come to the Stadium of Light after his Wales success, and the way he spoke about the club, felt like the kind of love and attention that this flatlining institution had been so badly short of.
Though it perhaps didn’t seem it at the time, the most notable development that day was Coleman admitting that there were no reassurances about a January budget.
Particularly after Lewis Grabban’s departure, proven quality was needed.
Despite a plea to Ellis Short for more, it never arrived. Coleman was left to rely on young loan players, all of whom will be better for their experience, but none of whom had enough to lift Sunderland from their malaise.
Could he have done more?
No one would deny he took too long to settle on his best system. The 4-3-3 he settled on in the final games of the season looked like it could produce results, but by then it was far too late.
Aiden McGeady’s recent comments, while not aimed personally at his former manager, were withering and many fans would agree.
That, though, is a debate for another day.
Coleman’s travails are put into perspective by the remarkable interview with Simon Grayson in the recently-released ‘Tales from the Red and Whites, volume 3’.
Grayson, like Coleman, never found the right formula for his Sunderland squad and by the end, the constant changes in system and personnel were dizzying and muddling.
Some of his own choices for signings, Marc Wilson, Jonny Williams, Jason Steele, were flawed.
But like Coleman, he was working for a club with no direction and no leadership.
There is little doubt that it will come to be viewed as one of the worst seasons in the club’s history.
The interview details how Grayson was sacked in his office just minutes after a 3-3 draw with Bolton Wanderers, the message passed from Ellis Short via Martin Bain.
Grayson opens up on his experiences working with a group of players whose wages well outstripped their ability.
In one particularly damning statement, he admits he’d probably have done better had he brought his Preston North End squad to Wearside with him.
It’s a reminder that in football, everything starts from the top.
Jack Ross has done well to quickly win over Sunderland fans. His substitutions have by and large been well received, his starting selections rarely generating too much debate.
His signings are making an impact and his communication is nothing short of outstanding.
Players have been won over by both the quality of his training sessions and the fact that he is so hands-on in delivering them.
In short, he has convinced in a way that few of his predecessors have managed, and that includes many of the illustrious names of the Premier League era.
He would be the first to admit, however, that he has benefited at least in part from the change in atmosphere generated by the new regime.
Stern tests lie ahead for the ownership, but the unity they have built is remarkable.
Nothing sums that up better than the change at the Stadium of Light.
The music may be an ongoing debate but visually, the Stadium is taking your breath away again.
Changing the pink seats would have been the easiest decision to avoid.
Had the new regime said that the money needed to be spent elsewhere, no one would have batted an eyelid.
They went ahead anyway and plans are in place to give the South Stand a more fitting name. A mural depicting five iconic captains will swiftly follow.
Giving the Stadium greater identity is long overdue and a sign of the care that has long been missing.
It’s not the reason for this revival, but the atmosphere these small touches have helped to generate has gone an awful long way to rebuilding some broken bonds.
Sunderland were disappointing on Saturday, but at home they are slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with again.
No one knows how Chris Coleman, Simon Grayson or anyone else would have fared under better ownership.
It is to Jack Ross’s credit that no one has any need or desire to ask the question.
Nothing is more important to the club than the fact that he has built confidence in his methods and that they will deliver results.
As with those before him, however, his work is only part of the story.
What we can say for certain is that one year on, the lights are very definitely back on.