Third-tier clubs don't win trophies so it's best Sunderland don't worry about tonight
When I were a slip of a lad and Sunderland were in the Premier League '“ I refer to last year '“ I was always enthused by cup competitions.
The cups offered possibilities to any club in that division, not just those who can spend Â£20million on a ball boy, of actually winning something.
This was proven in the last decade by Birmingham, Portsmouth, Swansea and Wigan. Sunderland themselves almost proved it in 2014 (and why don’t the likes of Burnley try harder to win a cup?).
Trophies are the raison d’être for football fans. Not share prices.
When Sunderland were top flighted I would never say they couldn’t win a trophy. But in 2018-19, down in the third tier, this is not the case.
Third tier clubs simply don’t win trophies, so it’s best not to worry about them.
Sheffield Wednesday are on Wearside tonight in the first round of whatever the League Cup is called these days.
I want Sunderland to win – and they might. But I don’t expect too much wailing and gnashing of teeth if they don’t. Only the league can provide such eschatology this season.
I suspect most supporters will be satisfied with a sterling performance against higher opposition, regardless of the result.
Realistic ambition in this season’s knock-outs would be to reach the third round of the FA Cup. It would be a minor embarrassment for Sunderland to fail to make the last 64 – as it was in 1988.
Other than that, cup competitions for Sunderland right now really are an unwanted distraction. This isn’t to say that the League and FA Cups should be held in complete contempt.
Complete contempt should be preserved for the Checkatrade Trophy.
Two games into the 2017-18 season, cautious optimism seemed reasonable.
Hands up: I wrote in this column a year ago: “I suspect Sunderland have already shown that the very darkest fears of some supporters for this season will prove unfounded.
“Sunderland will not be relegated.”
So there you have it. Even I am wrong occasionally. I can’t deny it. However, mine was not an uncommon view. Really, anyone now claiming to have predicted differently is either a liar, or one of those dreary people who never say anything positive about the club they claim to support.
Some of the latter have been heard having their customary whinge about “only” drawing at Luton.
Luton Town are currently Sunderland’s peers. You don’t have to like this fact, but a fact it is. Despite claims you may hear that “Sunderland belong in the Premier League” – they don’t.
Both clubs belong in League One because that’s where they deserve to be. In fact every team contests the league they deserve to be in: with the exception of Sunderland Ladies.
How “terrible” are Luton? They came at Sunderland in the second, half much as expected of a team trailing by one goal at home. They weren’t sublimely skilful, but played to their (mainly physical) strengths and took advantage of a misguided substitution as well as their opponents’ errors at both ends of the pitch. It was a fair result.
Furthermore, I can’t claim detailed knowledge of Luton from watching them in one game. But the bookies make them 12/1 fifth favourites to win the league. If this is anything like accurate, then Sunderland had a decent, though not wonderful result at Kenilworth Road.
There are myriad improvements for Jack Ross to make and Jermain Defoe isn’t coming back. The squad is limited, but what did anyone expect in this league?
Happily, judging from the opening games, only real fans are attending games (if they can afford to – never forget). I say this after witnessing the rousing applause the players were given at half-time against Charlton following a pretty insipid 45 minutes.
Those muttering predictably about “the same old story” and finding it offensive that Luton weren’t beaten 9-0, presumably didn’t attend the Charlton game. The atmosphere there was too good to conclude otherwise.
I don’t deny anyone their opinions. But there is something odd about people who can’t derive positives from Luton. Nor has it escaped my notice that four points were raked from the first two games of last season too.
But this also happened in 1998-99: the 105 point season. The last time Sunderland were promoted, 2006-07, they lost their first five games.
The moral is something I learned a year ago: we can’t predict anything this early. What we know for certain is that positivity is necessary to succeed at anything.
Displaying it does not signify a departure from reality.